NBA releases 2013-14 schedule, here are your opening night and Christmas Day matchups

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After several notable leaks over the past couple of weeks, we finally have the official version of the 2013-14 NBA schedule. Let’s get right to it by taking a look at the slate for some of the key dates in the season.

OPENING NIGHT: Tuesday, October 29

MAGIC at PACERS: The first game of the season tips off at 7 p.m. ET, and will be available on League Pass only. But true junkies can see a loaded Pacers squad face a feisty, rebuilding Magic team that features rookie Victor Oladipo. It’ll kill an hour before the main event, if nothing else.

BULLS at HEAT: It’s ring night in Miami for the second straight season, but with apologies to Heat fans, seeing Derrick Rose and his likely return to the court to play a game that counts for the first time in over 18 months is going to be the leading storyline.

CLIPPERS at LAKERS: We don’t know yet if Kobe Bryant will be recovered from his torn Achilles injury in time to open the season, but we do know that the Clippers are loaded with talent, and with new head coach Doc Rivers the expectations are at an all-time high for L.A.’s historically junior squad.

CHRISTMAS DAY: Wednesday, December 25

The NBA stacks its Christmas Day lineup, and with good reason. Most casual fans don’t start paying attention to the league until then, and with the NFL season coming to an end it’s the perfect time to remind those not fully committed of exactly what they’ve been missing.

BULLS at NETS: Chicago with a healthy Derrick Rose should be one of the East’s elite, as should a Nets team that added Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the offseason. We’ll get an early indication of who has the upper hand in what should be an excellent matchup.

THUNDER at KNICKS: New York won a thriller in Oklahoma City late last season, and the league is hoping for a repeat performance — at least in terms of entertainment value — at Madison Square Garden next year.

HEAT at LAKERS: This is the day’s main event, and should feature LeBron James facing off against Kobe Bryant. Doesn’t matter if this is expected to be a down year for the Lakers — when Kobe and LeBron get together, it’s always a must-see event.

ROCKETS at SPURS: San Antonio was seconds from winning a title in Game 6 of the Finals, and the Rockets added Dwight Howard in the offseason. It’s sort of an old versus new matchup in terms of Texas-based powers, so it’ll be interesting to see how much Houston has come together against a veteran and tested Spurs team at this relatively early point in the season.

CLIPPERS at WARRIORS: The night cap to what appears to be a promising slate of games can be described in one simple word: Fun. This game should be tons of fun to watch.

We’ll have more on some of the must-see games of the season, but here are a few that should immediately pique your interest:

– Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will return to Boston with the Nets for the first time on January 26.

– Former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers returns to Boston with the Clippers on December 11.

– The Lakers will face Dwight Howard and the Rockets in Houston on November 7, while Howard will make his first appearance at Staples Center to play the Lakers on February 19.

– Andrew Bynum will return to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on January 14 as a member of the Cavaliers.

– Greg Oden will return to Portland with the Heat for the first time on December 28.

NBA fines Chicago’s Rajon Rondo $25,000 for attempting to trip Jae Crowder (VIDEO)

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Rajon Rondo‘s end-of-season performance may have helped him earn a little extra coin this offseason. He’s certainly going to need it given that the NBA has fined the Chicago Bulls PG $25,000 after he attempted to trip Boston Celtics wing Jae Crowder.

The league released the decision in a statement on Sunday morning.

The incident occured with 31 seconds left in the first quarter of Game 3, a game the Celtics won, 104-87. Rondo was on the bench, and as possession changed Crowder took a wide sweeping angle along the sideline, right in front of Rondo.

Rondo casually stuck his leg out as Crowder passed by, but didn’t seem to make any contact.

Chicago leads the series, 2-1.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.