Plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry on big stages as NBA releases 2015-16 schedule

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For NBA junkies, this is like opening presents on Christmas morning — the NBA schedule is out.

There are 1,230 games out there to be played starting on Oct. 27 and running through April — and that’s before the two months of NBA playoffs start. It’s a marathon.

But there are highlights — and the NBA still is the master of getting its biggest stars on its biggest stages, meaning you’re going to get a lot of LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Here are some schedule highlights.

• Opening night, Oct. 27, we get a double-header on TNT:

Cleveland at Chicago: Arguably the two top teams in the East. Well, no argument about Cleveland in the top slot, but are the Bulls and new coach Fred Hoiberg going to grab that second slot? Also, LeBron James vs. Derrick Rose in a rematch of a fun playoff series from last year

New Orleans at Golden State: Stephen Curry and the Warriors swept Anthony Davis and the Pelicans out in the first round of the playoffs last season, but it wasn’t that simple. Now a healthy and improved New Orleans — with coach Alvin Gentry, just hired away from the Warriors — comes to the Bay Area looking to spoil the night the banner goes up at Oracle (title teams often struggle in this game, they tend not to be focused).

Also that night, but not nationally televised, Detroit at Atlanta.

• The next night, Oct. 28, San Antonio at Oklahoma City: Is Kevin Durant all the way back? How is LaMarcus Aldridge fitting in with the Spurs? We will get some early (but far from definitive) answers to those questions.

Also Oct. 28, New York is at Milwaukee — the first time the Bucks have opened at home since 1984. Milwaukee made the playoffs and looks like a team on the rise, and they have been rewarded with a dozen nationally televised games.

Finally that same night, Minnesota is at the Los Angeles Lakers — No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves vs. No. 2 D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers.

• On Oct. 29, Dallas at Los Angeles Clippers. DeAndre Jordan’s first matchup against the Mavericks — the team he reversed course on and spurned this summer — is in the friendly confines of Staples Center (where they are happy to have him back).

• Wednesday, Nov. 11, will be the night of returns:

San Antonio at Portland: The one big free agent changing teams this summer was LaMarcus Aldridge heading to San Antonio. How will he be received by Blazers’ faithful, and can the Spurs beat a fired up Damian Lillard and Portland?

Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas: Now it gets fun. Jordan faces the team he agreed to play for then backed out on in the American Airlines Arena — it is going to rain boos in Dallas like a Spring thunderstorm.

• Dec. 5, Cleveland at Miami: Everybody has pretty much moved on from LeBron heading home (except maybe Pat Riley) but this is still a matchup of two of the top teams in the East.

• Dec. 23, Dallas at Brooklyn: Deron Williams returns to Brooklyn — where his star never burned as brightly as Nets fans hoped — with his new team the Dallas Mavericks.

• Christmas Day, Dec. 25, the unofficial start of the NBA season for casual fans, will feature five games again:

Chicago at Oklahoma City: Two teams near the top of their conferences and with star power will pay in the first of two ABC national games. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Cleveland at Golden State: This NBA Finals matchup features the two biggest stars in the game — Curry and LeBron James — and drew the biggest NBA television ratings since the Jordan era. You think the NBA would miss a chance to put that in their prime Christmas slot?

Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers: Is this our last Christmas with Kobe Bryant? This is all you need to know about the strength of the Lakers’ brand — as bad as they were last season, for all the questions about the one coming up, you can’t get them off the Christmas Day card. Or, look at it this way: The Lakers have 19 nationally televised games, the same number as the Western Conference Finalist Houston Rockets.

The other two Christmas Day games: Anthony Davis and New Orleans at Miami, then San Antonio at Houston.

• Jan. 14, Orlando vs. Toronto: It’s the rare mid-week NBA day game — because it’s being played in London at the O2 arena.

• On Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 18), the TNT double-header is the other NBA Finals rematch with Golden State at Cleveland, then at night a great playoff rematch with Houston at the Los Angeles Clippers.

• Feb. 6, Oklahoma City at Golden State: The last two MVPs — Durant and Curry — face off in a national ESPN game, part of their new Saturday night package (which starts in 2016 after the college football season).

• Feb. 8 Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana: A couple years ago Roy Hibbert was seen as a cornerstone of a young, impressive Pacers team. Now they have pushed him out the door. This is the night he returns to the Fieldhouse in Lakers gold to take on the Pacers.

• Feb. 18, coming out of the All-Star break, TNT has a killer double-header: Chicago at Cleveland, followed by the Spurs at the Clippers.

• Last season there were 70 instances where teams had four games in five nights (almost always on the road), it’s one of the big complaints of teams and where they often rest guys. This season there are just 27 instances, the league has worked to cut those back.

• Teams will have an averaged of 17.8 games in back-to-back situations, that is down from 19.3 last season. Improved, but the league has a long way to go here.

• Entering year three of their tank-a-thon, the Philadelphia 76ers have no national television games scheduled. The Pistons, a team that could be in the playoff mix in the East, also are not on the national schedule.

• Once again, there is a

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.