Have you finally settled into your NBA offseason slumber, wherein you've come to grips with the end of summer league and the slowing down of roster shuffling to finally settle into your vacation period? Too bad. It's time to get excited again.
The NBA plans to announce its full 2014-15 regular-season slate at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Aug. 13, as part of a rollout special on NBA TV:
Of course, getting excited about games months in the offing can sometimes lead to unfulfilled expectations. Remember when Brooklyn-Chicago looked like a clash of Eastern Conference titans a year ago? Or how about the hype for Thunder-Knicks?
Injuries, underperformance and myriad other factors can take what looks like a Game of the Year candidate and turn it into just another contest.
On the other hand, games that look unappealing now may well become ones we circle on the calendar in March and April. In August 2013, I may literally have cried myself to sleep if you said Toronto-Phoenix was the best game on TV. By March, it was among my most anticipated on a Sunday marathon of games.
Even if the so-called "best" games may not look it in a few months, it's hard to blame anyone for getting excited. I mean...this is essentially the last mini-holiday on the NBA calendar until teams report for training camp. We'll take anything we can get at this point.
With that in mind, let's quickly preview how the whole shebang will play out.
2014-15 NBA Schedule Release Information
When: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBA TV
Matchups of Note
Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat
When LeBron James made his not-so-triumphant return to Cleveland for the first time since The Decision, he was met with perhaps the most vitriolic pregame jeers in league history. Now that he's come back four years later—a triumphant prodigal son brought back to fulfill his championship-winning destiny—we'll get to see just how much Miami truly loved the LeBron experience.
Since James announced his departure, it seems Heat fans have been incredibly rational about the whole ordeal aside from the defacing of his mural, which wasn't great. Taken as a whole, though, Miami seems more grateful for the four years it had with LeBron than incensed at his "betrayal."
The way James announced his decision played a part. There was no television special this time around, no speaking in the third person without a hint of irony. Only a grown man who thanked President Pat Riley, owner Micky Arison, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others for everything they'd done over the last four years.
And he wasn't abandoning the state in which he grew up this time around. That helped, too.
The Heat have been similarly civilized. Down the line, they've expressed disappointment without any hint of anger. Riley and Arison have cultivated a top-down emphasis on taking care of their own and handling things with class from the beginning.
And yet I still really want to know how this is all going to play out.
- The reaction LeBron will receive at AmericanAirlines Arena.
- How Bosh and Wade interact with their former teammate.
- Whether Josh McRoberts or Danny Granger can make an impact without James' presence.
- If there will be any increased chippiness between the former Big Three, a cooling of tensions out of respect or the type of formal but friendly competitiveness typical of an All-Star Game.
Odds are we'll get the most boring possible scenario. Fans will give LeBron a standing ovation; the Heat might even honor him before the game. Wade, James and Bosh will all give glowing quotes about one another publicly, and they'll all give statements involving the phrase "just a game." The thing will be handled how grown men who understand this is a business handle things.
That said, best believe every little piece of body language will be dissected from whistle to whistle.
San Antonio Spurs at Cleveland Cavaliers
The NBA could have thrown the Bucks out there. Or the Kings. Or the Sixers. It didn't matter. Whoever the NBA decided to put against King James and his reascent to the throne in Cleveland will be a part of the most electric atmosphere possibly since Michael Jordan came back donning No. 45.
The hatred, the jersey-burning and the horrific language used toward James will do a 180-degree turn. Quicken Loans Arena will be louder than any other NBA venue at any point in the 2014-15 season. It is going to be absolutely insane, and I can't wait to be there in person and experience it.
We're talking about a day no one thought would come four years ago. LeBron may have always thought he'd finish his career in Cleveland, but most assumed the damage done by both him and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was irreparable. Without digging too deep into the hyperbole well, it will be unlike anything we've previously seen in NBA history.
And then, the NBA went and topped it all off by throwing the defending champs James' way.
Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe reported in July that the NBA had plans in the works for the Spurs to visit Cleveland opening night. While it's a little strange to have the champs on the road for their first game, this is about the best possible showcase for Gregg Popovich and Co.
No regular-season game all season—minus Miami-Cleveland—is going to garner more hype than LeBron's first game back home. And who enjoys ruining everyone's fun more than Pop?
It shouldn't surprise anyone in the least if the Spurs come out, drop 40 points in the first quarter and wind up galloping away in an anticlimactic thumbing of the nose. After all, this is the team that helped expedite James' departure from Miami by dismantling the Heat in the Finals. What better way to re-exert its dominance than by throwing a wet blanket over LeBron's parade?
It's going to be a fascinating game from both a basketball and human-interest perspective.
- I want to see how Kyrie Irving, who is an elite off-the-dribble shooter but struggles with spot-ups, adjusts his game.
- I want to know whether Dion Waiters can do more than occasionally score and constantly scowl.
- I want to know whether Kevin Love will be a Cavalier and how he'll react to playing with the world's best player if he is.
It didn't matter who the Cavs were facing. Luckily, the NBA decided to make it a little more fun.
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Any time. All the time. Every time. Vince Gilligan could air a one-time-only Breaking Bad movie, and if the Clippers and Warriors were going head-to-head, I'd have to turn down a chance to see Walter White one more time.
With LeBron's departure breaking up the Indiana-Miami rivalry, Clippers-Warriors is far and away the NBA's best on-court rivalry. The entire Golden State frontcourt has essentially picked a fight with Blake Griffin at one time or another.
Watching Chris Paul and Stephen Curry systematically make each other look foolish on the defensive end is a thing of joy. Having a good majority of the players returning after some notable roster turnover for both sides the past two years will only help matters.
The Clippers and Warriors straight up do not like each other. The two sides battled through a bloody, seven-game series that ultimately cost former Golden State head coach Mark Jackson his job. So, yes, things are going to be bitter.
What makes this rivalry worthwhile, though, is that these are two incredibly good, incredibly exciting teams to watch. The Clippers and Warriors excel offensively when they're in transition and semi-transition.
A Curry pull-up jumper on a three-on-two break is among the handful of most exciting plays in basketball. A Clippers breakaway lob might be the most exciting play in basketball.
When you have two teams that rank in the top five in the League Pass rankings who dislike each other and are going to be battling in the same tier in the Western Conference, it's a recipe for brilliance. And that won't even change if the Warriors land Kevin Love. Given his Los Angeles roots, it might even enhance the rivalry.
Love trade or not, Clippers-Warriors will be the best basketball matchup every night it's on your television.
Other Games of Note
Derrick Rose's Return...Again
He doesn't turn 26 until October. He's still young. Plenty of his prime left. There is still time for him to be the best player on a championship contender. If these sound like the soothsaying of someone who is not so sure about Rose's status in the NBA hierarchy anymore, your reading inferences are correct.
The things we are currently saying about Rose mirror the narrative surrounding Penny Hardaway in the late '90s. Sometimes, sadly, it never comes back. We'll get to see Rose plenty with Team USA this summer, but #TheReturn2.0 is still something Bulls fans need to be watching with bated breath.
Kobe Bryant's Return...Again
He turns 36 in August. He has well over 50,000 miles on his NBA odometer (including playoffs). His prime died right around the time he decided to stop playing defense. Only the delusional think he can be the best player on a playoff contender—let alone compete for rings.
There are reasons to doubt Kobe Bryant.
Bryant's return and his next two seasons will be fascinating. The inexplicable contract extension the Lakers gave him is already hanging like an albatross (two years, $48.5 million). Right now, they're banking on Jeremy Lin being their second-best player. Bryant's last days could go down among the darkest in Lakers history.
If Bryant comes back to semi-competent form and this is the roster he's dealing with, we're in for some good theatre. If not, it'll just be a repeat of last season's struggles.
Restricted Free Agents Return
Chandler Parsons said he was "offended" when the Rockets didn't match his offer sheet with the Mavericks. The Kings chose Darren Collison over Isaiah Thomas and traded him for a stick of Doublemint gum.
Parsons and Thomas aren't All-Stars in the crowded Western Conference, but they're both very good offensive players at their positions who had a right to feel slighted.
The Rockets essentially chose cap flexibility over keeping Parsons—after making the strange decision to decline his option for 2014-15. No one has any idea what the Kings are doing.
Thomas was one of six players league-wide to average 20 points and six assists last year. Something tells me both will put a little something extra into their first matchups with their former clubs.
Obligatory Second Spurs Mention
There is no game on the San Antonio schedule that stands out, mainly because Popovich and Co. have vanquished all of their enemies. The Spurs are in a class of their own. Watching them play against any of the 29 other teams can be a joy for one reason or another.
They might not have one player among the league's 20 best, but they have the game so figured out and have such cohesion that it's borderline poetic. So just pick a random night and watch them play. Doesn't matter which one.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.
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