2014-15 NBA Schedule: Breaking Down Top 10 Games of the Season
The release of the 2014-15 NBA schedule has fans already circling games they are most looking forward to on the calendar.
With 82 regular-season games for each team, there is no question that even the best squads will have off nights and fail to perform up to expectations, especially against inferior opponents.
However, there are certain matchups that will be important enough for every player on the floor to give their best effort and create an exciting playoff-like atmosphere. This is usually reserved for competitions between the top teams in each conference or battles between bitter rivals.
No matter the reason, these games are most likely to be the best matchups to watch throughout the upcoming season.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat (Dec. 25)
Almost everyone was happy to see LeBron James return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason. Of course, the Miami Heat and their fans were the exception.
The four-time MVP won two titles in four seasons with the Heat, but he announced his return to the Cavaliers in a feature with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. He did have positive things to say about his time in Miami:
I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB. We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio. I believed we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I’ve talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are brothers for life. I also want to thank Micky Arison and Pat Riley for giving me an amazing four years.
Despite what appears to be an amicable split from both sides, it will still be an intense battle when these players reunite as opponents on Christmas Day.
Players like Wade and Chris Bosh will want to show that they were more than just sidekicks to James and they are still a contender without him. Beating Cleveland would go a long way toward proving this fact. It will also help the remaining Heat fans stay positive about the LeBron-less future.
Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs (Dec. 25)
Every year, fans and analysts expect the young Oklahoma City Thunder to wrestle control of the Western Conference away from the aging San Antonio Spurs. While they have certainly had plenty of success, this is still the Spurs' conference to lose.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continue to succeed on the court despite getting up there in age, while young stars like Kawhi Leonard have stepped up to make the difference.
Coach Gregg Popovich and Co. have won at least 50 games every season since the 1999 campaign and do not appear to be slowing down anytime soon, as their dominant performance in winning last year's NBA title in five games over the Miami Heat would suggest.
Oklahoma City still has an extremely young core with Kevin Durant (25 years old), Russell Westbrook (25) and Serge Ibaka (24), but these players are now in their prime. It is time to finally come together and win a championship.
Before the Thunder can do that, though, they must first find a way to get past the Spurs. If the team full of flair cannot defeat the efficient force from San Antonio in the regular season, it will not look good heading into the playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets (Nov. 22)
While most of the headlines during the summer were focused on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the Dallas Mavericks got a steal in restricted free agent Chandler Parsons.
The former second-round pick has steadily improved over the past three years and turned himself into a legitimate offensive threat from the wing position. Despite this, the Rockets were not willing to match the Dallas Mavericks' offer sheet, thus letting him walk.
Parsons wasn't happy about the way it all played out, as he told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
Honestly, I was offended by the whole process. They publicly said that they were going out looking for a third star when I thought they had one right in front of them. I guess that's just how they viewed me as a player. I don't think I've scratched the surface of where I can be as a player and I think I'm ready for that role.
He will now get a chance to show what he can do for an in-state rival.
The Mavericks also brought in veteran talents like Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Rashard Lewis and others to once again become legitimate contenders in the West. On the other hand, the Rockets lost Parsons and traded Jeremy Lin.
These two Texas teams have been among the most aggressive in basketball recently, but Dallas was the clear winner this offseason and will try to prove it against the Rockets.
New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets (Nov. 7)
The battle for New York is exciting no matter what sport you are talking about. With the star power involved in the New York Knicks against the Brooklyn Nets, this remains one of the top rivalries in basketball.
Brooklyn was easily the better squad last season, earning the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks could not even qualify for the playoffs. However, keeping Carmelo Anthony will certainly put them on the right track to make a return to the postseason in the near future.
Moke Hamilton of SNY.tv compared the two teams earlier in the offseason, tweeting: "Between #Knicks and #Nets, NYK have the best player. And Bogdanovic hasn't even played an #NBA game yet, so, like Mirotic, I'm not touting him."
The Nets are hoping for a contribution from Bojan Bogdanovic, but he is largely an unproven commodity. Aside from that, the squad has gotten older without getting much better. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have All-Star talent, but ultimate success will be heavily based on the health of Brook Lopez.
Either way, this matchup remains a highlight for both teams at the start of the year. The fans come out in droves and a win for either team leads to plenty of bragging rights for the next few weeks.
This type of atmosphere alone guarantees excitement regardless of how the squads perform on the court.
Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls (Dec. 22)
As soon as LeBron James signed with the Cavaliers, his new squad immediately became favored to win the 2015 NBA title. Numbers Never Lie revealed the odds at the time, with the Cavs out in front at 4-1. Adding Kevin Love to the mix makes the group that much more formidable.
That being said, there are a few teams in the Eastern Conference who aren't ready to declare Cleveland the champions just yet.
Chicago should have one of the best squads in the league with a healthy Derrick Rose coming back to a group that ranked first in the NBA in points allowed per game last season. With Pau Gasol also signing on as a free agent, the Bulls will have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors finished above the Bulls in the standings last season and return virtually the entire roster. More experience bodes well for this young team not just for the regular season but also the playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers should expect considerable regression this year with Lance Stephenson gone and Paul George going down with a devastating leg injury. As a result, these two teams represent two of the top competitors for the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
Before the playoffs, though, these two teams will battle a few times during the regular season. In each of the matchups, fans should expect plenty of intensity and hard-nosed play with only the strongest team coming out with a win.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Minnesota Timberwolves (Jan. 31)
After LeBron James went to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the biggest story for the rest of the NBA offseason was what would happen to Kevin Love.
The All-Star Timberwolves big man has a year left on his contract before free agency, and he was unlikely to return to Minnesota. As a result, the organization worked to find a way to get some value in return.
While the deal has not yet been officially completed, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports there is an agreement in place to send Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a future No. 1 pick. The deal also mandates that the forward agree to sign an extension with the Cavs.
This appears to be a great deal for both teams because it gives the Cavaliers another piece that can immediately help the squad win a title. And the Timberwolves receive some talented young players who could be stars at this level.
However, it will still be emotional for Love to return to Minnesota after six great seasons with the club. Hopefully there will be no hard feelings from the fans.
On the other hand, Wiggins and Bennett will try to show that Cleveland made a mistake by getting rid of them. Wiggins has remained patient in the process, telling reporters, per the Associated Press, via NBCSports.com, "Whatever happens is out of my control. I'm not worrying about it right now."
Despite always saying the right thing, you can be sure the first overall pick in the 2014 draft will be out to prove he was worth the selection.
With so many storylines to monitor and much more on the line than a victory, this game will have a unique vibe that fans on both sides will have no trouble getting into. These teams also compete in December, but the trip up to Minnesota will be when things really get interesting.
Miami Heat at Houston Rockets (Jan. 3)
The Miami Heat will remain competitive this season thanks to the return of both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
However, Bosh's decision to return at the last minute ended up having major implications for the Houston Rockets, who were certain the forward was going to sign with them. General manager Daryl Morey explained on SportsTalk 790 (via Sports Illustrated):
It looked extremely likely (that Bosh would be with Houston). Chris Bosh's camp was very professional throughout. Chris was definitely coming if Miami, at the last minute, didn't put all five years and that huge offer that we obviously couldn't match because of the rules.
The Rockets had already dealt Jeremy Lin to make room for Bosh and ended up not retaining Chandler Parsons. Objectively, these developments caused Houston to be one of the bigger losers in free agency.
That being said, Dwight Howard and James Harden alone form one of the top duos in the league. As long as these players remain healthy, the Rockets will have a chance to challenge for an NBA Finals berth in the Western Conference.
The Rockets' emotions will likely be running high in this showdown against Bosh and the team that stole him back.
Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (Nov. 5)
The Los Angeles Lakers used to be the main attraction in Hollywood, but even a healthy Kobe Bryant cannot make up for a poor supporting cast. Instead, it is the Los Angeles Clippers that will fill the Staples Center all year long.
One of the toughest battles for the Clippers will be against the Golden State Warriors, a squad that proved to be difficult in the first round of the playoffs last season. These two teams battled to seven games before Los Angeles was able to escape with a five-point win in Game 7.
The Warriors did all of this without their best interior defender in Andrew Bogut, who missed the postseason with a broken rib.
While Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have the ability to challenge for a title this year, Stephen Curry and the rest of Golden State will not be far behind. Holding on to Klay Thompson could end up paying major dividends during the stretch run.
Considering the way these squads can score, this will remain one of the more entertaining matchups in the NBA.
Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers (Jan. 24)
Although a lot can change in the coming years, this is a series you can almost pencil in as a potential NBA Finals matchup within a few seasons.
The Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards are two of the best young teams in the league, and they are only going to get better this upcoming season.
On the other hand, John Wall was the superstar everyone hoped he would become for the Wizards, leading Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and others to the conference semifinals after defeating the Chicago Bulls in the first round.
As these rosters mature, they will continue to challenge the top teams in their respective conferences. In the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy watching the young stars battle each other during the regular season.
San Antonio Spurs at Cleveland Cavaliers (Nov. 19)
In most cases, the rematch of the previous NBA Finals series would be the top game to watch the following season. However, the real story this year is whether LeBron James can find his own redemption against the reigning champions.
The Spurs did not do much better than anyone else in slowing down James in last year's Finals. The superstar averaged 28.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in the five-game series, but he did not receive much help from the rest of his squad.
This season, the question will be if James' new teammates on the Cavaliers can do enough to help him overcome San Antonio. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love certainly appear to be an upgrade over anything he has had in the past.
If they struggle to pull their weight, however, all the optimism and momentum surrounding the elite player returning home will mean nothing.
At the same time, the Spurs had a quiet offseason but made the important moves to remain favorites to win the title. ESPN's Dave Pasch argues that the organization pulled off the single best move of the summer by signing Gregg Popovich to an extension.
With Popovich returning, along with most of the same players from last year's championship squad, the Spurs will be the team to beat until the Cavaliers or anyone else proves otherwise.