November is finally here.
For some, it means the beginning of the holiday season. Others, the start of the NFL's run toward the playoffs. More call it the best month of college sports.
But, for NBA junkies? November is euphoria.
Teams have shaken the jitters of the season's first few games, and finally begin to realize their true potential. Games are played at playoff-like intensity, as players still feel the adrenaline rush of being on the court for meaningful games. Contenders take shape, and pretenders emerge.
Quite simply, November means the real beginning of pro basketball's year. With that in mind, following are the month's ten most anticipated matchups.
While the final outcomes of these stellar games won't make or break a team in the long run, many, many lessons will be learned from them about the 2010-2011 NBA season. So, get out your pen and paper. Time to take notes.
Note: Boston has a murderer's row of contests in November. The Celtics appear frequently on this list.
In a battle between two of the league's best and most consistent franchises, the Celtics travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks.
There are a bevy of interesting positional matchups in this one, highlighted by a point guard duel between Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo and a clash between two of the game's most evolutionary forwards, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.
How Dallas competes against an extremely tough and seasoned Boston squad could tell us a lot about whether or not they have a shot to pose a major threat to the Lakers in the West.
The Hawks, one of the NBA's lone remaining undefeated teams, welcome Dwight Howard and Orlando to town for a clash between two perennial Eastern powers on November 8.
Any game featuring the incredible athleticism of both Howard and Josh Smith is sure to please, not to mention that this is a potential postseason preview.
Atlanta has looked fantastic early under new head coach Larry Drew. How they fare against the Magic will go a long way to show just how much their evolution means to their longterm success this season.
In the first of two paired matchups on this list, Oklahoma City and Portland meet twice in November.
The best young squads in the West, both the Thunder and Blazers have aspirations of claiming a spot behind Los Angeles as the conference's second best team. With talent like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge (among others) all on the floor together, the raucous Rose Garden and Ford Center crowds will be absolutely rocking.
Another potential playoff preview, the winner of the first game will need to bounce back with a big performance in the second to prove one team isn't superior to the other.
The Chicago Bulls will head west just before Thanksgiving to take on the Lakers, who have got off to a fantastic start in their quest for a three-peat.
In a high profile matchup, emerging superstar Derrick Rose will look to outshine Kobe Bryant. Additionally, Pau Gasol's offensive prowess will be tested by the game's best young interior defender, Joakim Noah.
There's an outside chance Chicago PF Carlos Boozer could see his first action in this game, and if so this once takes on even greater significance. As it is, this is still a matchup between the reigning champs and one of the best young teams in the league.
In another stern test for Atlanta and the last game of a difficult stretch for Boston, the Hawks host the Celtics on November 22.
These teams have grown into rivals over the years, as the Hawks have been a pesky thorn in Boston's side for many seasons, but unable to ultimately take them down. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and company are a different team in 2010-2011, though, and will pose a greater challenge to the Celtics.
This will be a litmus test for Atlanta new Princeton-style offense, as Boston - obviously - is one of the league's best defensive teams. Another potential postseason preview here.
Kevin Durant. Rajon Rondo. Paul Pierce. Russell Westbrook. Kevin Garnett. Serge Ibaka. Ray Allen. And many, many more.
Few matchups boast the combination of top-end talent and quality depth of each team as this one. Additionally, the duels between Rondo and Westbrook and Durant and Pierce are something to behold.
The Thunder will be hungry to establish themselves as one of the league's best, while Boston will try to prove experience still triumphs over youth.
In a possible Western Conference Finals preview, the Trail Blazers head south to take on the Lakers on November 8.
This game would be greatly enhanced by the addition of perennially injured centers Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden, but unfortunately fans will have to settle for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and many more. Not too shabby.
It will be interesting to see how Portland defends Bryant, as both Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are known for their defensive prowess.
In one of the league's fiercest rivalries, the Celtics host the Bulls on November 5.
There may not be two better positional matchups this season than Derrick Rose vs. Rajon Rondo and Joakim Noah vs. Kevin Garnett. The former took on even more meaning over the off-season, when Chicago's lead man beat out Rondo for a spot on Team USA's roster. Reportedly, these two really despise one another.
For the second battle for the Sunshine State of the young season, this time Miami travels to Orlando to take on the Magic November 24.
In one of the league's best new rivalries, the Heat thrashed the Magic by 26 points in the season's first week. They've been dominant against everyone else, though, and will be determined to prove that the initial meeting between these eastern powers was an aberration.
Each of these squads should be firing on all cylinders going into this one. If Miami wins again, it will spell trouble for Stan Van Gundy and company.
It seems amazing that these squads clash again so soon after Boston's season-opening defeat of the Heat on October 26. Clearly, the basketball gods are smiling down on us.
Miami is a vastly improved team less than ten days since their humbling beginning, and will only be better in round two. That's a scary thought for the Celtics, who nearly relinquished a huge lead at home the first time around.
In what many believe is a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, these teams will be out for blood. This is not only the best game of November, but one of the best of the entire season. Can't wait.