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Ten can’t miss games for upcoming NBA season

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The NBA regular season schedule came out Wednesday, all 1,230 games. Even with live streaming and an empty DVR ready to be filled up, I’m not going to watch all of them. Nobody will watch all of them.

That said, there are some great games coming up. Homecomings and rivalries, plus just matchups of great basketball teams.

You can’t watch them all but there are some you can’t miss. Here are my 10 can’t miss games of the NBA season.

Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers, Oct. 28
There are sub-plots to watch here, Jeremy Lin playing against his old team and Dwight Howard getting booed again by Lakers fans… but that’s not why any of us will be watching. Kobe Bryant will be back on the court for the Los Angeles Lakers and any time he steps on the court we watch. Right now we will be watching because we’re not sure what Kobe we will see, how much he has left in the tank, but we will watch. He is one of the all-time greats.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls, Oct. 31
You could argue that the first games for these teams are bigger — LeBron James’ first game at home in Cleveland, Derrick Rose’s return to the NBA comes in Madison Square Garden — but this is the first of four meetings between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference (on paper) and that is worth seeing. Cleveland has more talent but the Bulls have an identity and players that fit it. To be fair, this game will not mean much if/when these two teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’s our first glimpse into what could be one of the best rivalries of the next five years in the NBA.

Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs, Nov. 19
LeBron’s last team got smoked by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and the gang in San Antonio, so LeBron went out and got some new teammates like Kyrie Irving and soon Kevin Love. This should be interesting, although the Spurs will play their same system and know exactly how to execute it while it’s going to take the Cavaliers some time to figure it out.

Milwaukee Bucks at Minnesota Timberwolves, Nov. 26
Once the Kevin Love trade goes down (and it will), this game becomes the first between No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker. Both rookies are in situations where they should get a lot of minutes and plenty of touches. Both are going to get the chance to grow in the spotlight

Cavaliers at Thunder at Oklahoma City, Dec. 11
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. The two best players on the planet go head-to-head and the best part about these match ups is they often guard each other. It is a true head-to-head matchup.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat, Dec. 25
LeBron returns to Miami for the first time in a Cavs uniform (this time around, anyway). You can expect he will get a warmer reception than the vitriol thrown at him four years ago when LeBron in a Heat uniform came to play the Cavaliers. Now all of that is forgotten. Miami is going to be a pretty good team and one that wants to keep playing the space and pace offense. We’ll see how LeBron does against it.

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers, December 25
This is the game to watch on your new 60-inch smart TV you just got for Christmas. This if the final of five games on the Christmas Day slate and it should be a very entertaining one. There will be lobs, dunks and rainbow threes. Stephen Curry vs Chris Paul. David Lee vs. Blake Griffin. Klay Thompson vs. J.J. Redick. This is the game Santa is bringing die hard NBA fans.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Minnesota Timberwolves, Jan. 31
Kevin Love returns home to Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how he is received — it won’t be exactly with open arms and a dozen roses, but I doubt the booing will last all game, either. Also in this game, Andrew Wiggins gets a shot at LeBron.

Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs, March 25

Well done by the schedule makers putting these two teams against each other a couple times late in the season (they also face off April 7). These might be your two favorites to win the NBA title (not what the bookmakers say, the actual favorites), they were the two best teams in basketball at the end of last season. The interesting question is who Gregg Popovich sits for both of these games.

Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors, March 27
I just hope Steve Nash can play one last game in Canada. Nash is one of the great point guards of all time and the best Canadian player ever, I hope his body lets him play one last game in his home country.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 6, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.

Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with strained knee

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It was concerning when it happened — Jimmy Butler injured his knee and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

But then the reports came back saying the X-rays were negative, this was just a strain. Butler was going to miss some time, but the question was how much?

Turns out, 3-4 weeks — including the All-Star Game, the team announced Tuesday. From the official team press release:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler was re-examined by Bulls Head Team Physician Brian Cole.  Butler is expected to miss the next three to four weeks with a strained left knee. Butler has begun rehabbing his injury and he will be allowed to engage in all activities as tolerated with the primary goal of maintaining his conditioning over the ensuing weeks.

Butler is the Bulls best player, averaging 22.4 points a game and handling a lot of the shot creation for the team (along with Derrick Rose, who was out Monday injured). The Bulls offense is 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Butler plays, plus he usually draws the other team’s best wing player as his defensive assignment.

Following an ugly loss to the Hornets Monday night, the Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games. Since Joakim Noah went out for the season with an injured shoulder in particular, their defense has struggled. They still have no offensive identity.  Chicago has fallen to the seven seed in the West, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. This injury is simply going to add to that slide.

The Bulls thought they were the team that could challenge Cleveland for supremacy in the East at the start of the season. Now they may need a late push just to make the playoffs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will pick his All-Star Game replacement. In the past, he has picked the player highest in the fan voting not selected as a reserve, in this case that would be Kyrie Irving. But Silver can go any direction he chooses.

Report: George Karl to remain Kings coach following face-to-face meeting with GM

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George Karl isn’t going anywhere as coach of the Sacramento Kings after all.

At least for now.

Marc Stein of ESPN, who had the report that the Kings decided to fire Karl during the All-Star Break — now says the two sides have sat down and hashed things out. For now.

Those first reports went too far down the line, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

First things first, the Kings are a leaky organization right now. Which is never a good sign.

This has become a power struggle in the organization — DeMarcus Cousins has said the Kings’ problems go beyond the players, and he is known not to be a fan of Karl (Rajon Rondo is the coach’s biggest supporter because Karl gives him a green light). Owner Vivek Ranadive remains too impatient, stability is needed.

But there are still big picture questions to be answered.

Ranadive, with Vlade Divac, needs to sit down and set the long-term course for this team, including style of play they want to have, then decide if Karl can be part of that future. Also, if Cousins can be part of that future. If those two can be part of the future together (I’m not sure they can).

There needs to be more meetings with the Kings, and then this summer some significant decisions must be made. But doing it now at the All-Star break isn’t going to change anything. So Karl stays.

Adam Silver remains optimistic there will be no 2017 lockout

Adam Silver
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By this coming December 15, both the NBA owners and the NBA players can opt-out of the current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. At least one side (likely the players) is expected to do so, setting up a potential lockout in the summer of 2017. The last one in 2011 lasted 161 days and forced the NBA to start its season on Christmas Day.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is optimistic it will not come to that.

The two sides are already talking about an extension of the deal, and Adam Silver talked about that on the USA Today A to Z Podcast with Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt, something they detailed in a story.

Encouraging signs exist – even if there is a lockout – that regular-season games won’t be lost, as was the case in 2011. The two sides are meeting regularly, building relationships and trust. The league is dealing with new leadership on the union’s side: Michele Roberts, the NBPA executive director, has been on the job about 17 months and NBPA general counsel Gary Kohlman was hired at the start of the 2014-15 season.

“My cause for optimism is based on to me the spirit of the discussions and the directness in which we’ve been dealing with each other,” Silver said.

The two sides have done a good job keeping the negotiations private and not negotiating through the media. So far. And the number of optimists that a CBA extension can be worked out is growing around the league daily. The new faces at the negotiating table help with that, some of the old animosities are gone.

But the main reason for optimism: There is too much money on the table now for both sides to screw it up. The new television deal brings $2.6 billion to the table annually in addition to gate and other revenues. It’s putting money in the pockets of owners plus dramatically driving up their franchise values. For players, it means larger paydays — in the new system the average NBA player salary will be around $8 million annually, and the average starter will make $12 million a season (ballpark numbers, of course). Players are not going to want to miss paychecks for esoteric, or even good, reasons.

Never underestimate the corrupting power of human greed. These talks can go sideways. But there is reason to be hopeful that no lockout is coming. And that starts with the fact both sides are already talking to each other (and not the media).