10 Mega-Important Dates for NBA Fans to Mark on Their Calendars
Opening night is inching closer, but it's just the first of many eventful dates that NBA fans should circle on their calendars.
Derrick Rose's return and the renewal of bitter rivalries are just bits and pieces of a glorious year that lies ahead, one that will conclude with a flurry of draft-related activity featuring Andrew Wiggins and all of the tank-related talk we can handle.
For those of you who can't wait to get a jump on preparing for the season, here's a primer of dates that you should plan your schedule around.
Note: For a list of all key dates next season, check out this post from NBA.com.
October 29: Derrick Rose's Return (Opening Night)
The highly-anticipated return of Derrick Rose is set to attract eyeballs from across the sporting universe when the NBA season kicks off on Oct. 29.
Rose's Chicago Bulls will travel to Miami for a showdown with the Heat in a nationally televised game on TNT. While the defending-champion Heat are considered favorites to capture an NBA title for the third year in a row, the Bulls may have something to say about that.
With Rose back in the starting lineup, the Bulls will have their full complement of stars ready to challenge the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy and will undoubtedly come out looking to make a statement.
Elsewhere on opening night, the Los Angeles Lakers and new-look Los Angeles Clippers will do battle at Staples Center in the nightcap on TNT.
November 7: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets
Consider it a gift from the scheduling gods that NBA fans will be able to take in a matchup between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers just two weeks into the 2013-14 season.
On Nov. 7, the Lakers will travel to Houston for a bout with Dwight Howard's new squad, one that could certainly get testy based on the events that transpired last year in L.A. Both sides will be out to prove that they're better off without one another, especially Howard, who failed to prosper in Mike D'Antoni's system.
For the Lakers, the game will be an opportunity to show that they can thrive without Howard in the middle and that his absence won't be detrimental to their postseason hopes. If Kobe Bryant is back in the starting lineup for this one, things could get very interesting.
December 25: NBA Takes Center Stage on Christmas Day
Christmas Day is arguably the most hyped day on the NBA calendar, and for good reason. The league's premier teams all face off, and do so on a massive national stage.
Two months into the season, Christmas Day can be used as a barometer of sorts to see where top title contenders stand, but when you get down to it, the 25th of December simply provides some the best ball we'll see all year long.
The following are dates and times for the games on this year's Christmas Day slate:
Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets, 12 p.m. ET
Oklahoma City Thunder at New York Knicks, 2:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers, 5:30 p.m. ET
Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs, 8 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET
Four Eastern Conference favorites and five of the top six Western Conference title contenders will be in action, so make sure to spend a significant chunk of your holiday parked in front of the TV.
January 26: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat in Finals Rematch
A surprising omission from this season's Christmas Day slate was a Finals rematch between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs.
Instead, we'll have to wait until Sunday, Jan. 26 to watch last year's conference champs do battle. The Heat and Spurs will tip-off at 1 p.m. ET in a nationally televised game on ABC and will do so down on South Beach.
The second and final meeting between the two teams will commence on Thursday, March 6 in San Antonio at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.
With San Antonio salivating at a chance to exact revenge on Miami, these games will be as entertaining as any we'll see all season. That is, if Gregg Popovich doesn't rest his starters.
February 14-16: All-Star Weekend in New Orleans
For the first time since 2008, the NBA's All-Star weekend is returning to New Orleans. Details regarding participants in various competitions will be hammered out over the next few months, but the Big Easy has a solid track record of producing fun weekends.
In '08, Dwight Howard took home the Slam Dunk crown after debuting his stunning Superman slam while LeBron James captured the All-Star game MVP after leading the East to a 134-128 win over the West. James came up one assist and two rebounds shy of posting a triple-double after dropping 27 points on 12-of-22 shooting.
Whether we see James throwing down legendary spikes in the 2014 Slam Dunk contest remains to be seen, but if there's one thing we know, it's that there will be considerable buzz surrounding his candidacy as the weekend nears.
Terrence Ross figures to return and defend last year's title, but he'll need to step up his performance from a year ago in order to truly revive an event that's on life support.
February 20: Trade Deadline
Of non-game days on the calendar, the trade deadline is the most highly-anticipated event of every NBA season.
By Feb. 20 we'll have a clear understanding of which teams are buyers and which are sellers, and the rumors will begin flying in the weeks leading up to the deadline. While the first few months of play will have a significant bearing on who becomes available in February, there are two big names to keep an eye on as the season gets underway.
Both Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph find themselves in situations conducive to being traded. That's not to say that there have been any substantial rumblings surrounding either big, but if the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies feel the need to make a move, both could be prime trade chips.
For the Lakers, Gasol is in the final year of his deal and would be an expensive piece to bring back in the summer of 2014 as the Lakers search to reload with a fresh group of max superstars. Should they stumble out of the gates for the second year in a row, Gasol could be a deadline casualty.
And on the Randolph front, it's really all about how confident the franchise feels about Ed Davis' future as a long-term solution at power forward. The 32-year-old has a player option worth $16.5 million due next season, and Davis is substantially cheaper at $4.3 million (qualifying offer) in 2014-15.
We've seen the Grizzlies be forward-thinking in the past when it comes to trading big names (see: Rudy Gay), so don't be surprised to hear Randolph's name crop up in trade rumors after the New Year.
April 19: Playoffs Begin
Examine the improvements made to top-flight contenders in both conferences and you'll want to fast forward straight to the postseason.
The Western Conference is positively loaded with the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies while the East touts the defending-champion Miami Heat along with star-studded powers in Brooklyn, Indiana, Chicago and New York.
If you're as excited as I am, then go ahead and cancel all your plans for Saturday, April 19 as you gear up to watch loads of basketball in peak form.
Last year's playoffs provided some brilliant last-second heroics and a few legendary games, but instead of recapping it all here, I urge you to watch this phenomenal recap of the 2013 postseason.
May 20: 2014 NBA Draft Lottery
The most historically significant date on the 2013-14 NBA calendar is the draft lottery. Like the legendary 2003 edition, the bouncing of a few ping pong balls will drastically alter the fate of franchises throughout the Association.
Squads like the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic will all be holding their collective breaths when the lottery takes place, and for good reason. The prize is Andrew Wiggins, who's the most highly-touted prospect since LeBron James.
But aside from Wiggins, there are several other consolation prizes that teams will be happy to walk away with on draft night. Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker, among others, have all received massive preseason hype, and if they ultimately live up to it, this could make the '14 draft class one of the greatest ever.
June 5: NBA Finals Begin
Only two teams will remain standing on June 5, when the 2014 NBA Finals are slated to get underway. A myriad of questions still need to be answered between now and then, but the biggest one hovering over the NBA regards the Miami Heat's quest of a three-peat.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the last team to pull off such a feat from 2000-02, and before them it was Michael Jordan's Bulls who did so twice in the 1990's (1991-93 and 1996-98). Capturing a third consecutive title would automatically vault the 2012-14 Miami Heat into the Pantheon of all-time great teams.
After failing to conquer the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, the Heat have become a shining of example of what pristine team basketball should look like in today's era that places a heavy focus on three-pointers, defense and exquisite efficiency.
Whether the Heat can even get through this year's Eastern Conference is another question, but at this point in time, there's little doubt that they're the preseason favorites to take home the Larry O'Brien trophy.
June 26: 2014 NBA Draft
Adam Silver's first NBA draft as commissioner is set to be an eventful one. It's widely assumed that Andrew Wiggins' name is the first Silver will announce when he approaches the podium on June 26, although the lucky team who will earn his rights is 82 games and one painstaking lottery away from being determined.
With implicit tanking soon to be underway, the 2013-14 campaign will be one in which fans can have just as much fun tracking the success of title contenders as squads in the cellar that are vying for the rights to the No. 1 pick.
It may be the final event on this season's calendar, but it's sure not going to disappoint. Stay patient, NBA lifers.
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