The NBA schedule is out — all 1,230 games this season are locked in place.
There’s a lot to like in the schedule. For example, no team has more than one four games-in-five-nights stretch, something the league has worked hard to cut down on (teams struggle in that final game). The league also continued its decrease of back-to-backs, with the league average now 16.3 such games per team (it was 17.8 last season and 19.3 the season before that). Spreading out the games leads to a better product.
With so many games to watch, we thought we’d highlight 10 where you should either carve out the evening to watch, or at least set the DVR and avoid your phone so you can watch and savor them. Here are the 10 must watch games of the season.
Opening night, Oct. 25: New York at Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and crew get to watch LeBron James hoist the first championship banner to go up in Cleveland in 52 years. This also could turn out to be an entertaining game — it’s too early in the season for the Knicks’ players bodies to have broken down, and teams often stink up the joint on the night of the banner/ring ceremony. Maybe the Knicks can pull the opening night upset.
Nov. 4: New York at Chicago. This is more than just the two rosters best built to win the 2011 NBA title, this is the return of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to Chicago. They should get a warm reception (especially the beloved Noah). The interesting question: Which one of these teams is better this season?
Nov. 10: Chicago at Miami. Dwayne Wade returns to South Beach wearing a Bulls uniform. Expect Heat fans to boo him, after they show up in the second quarter. This is another early season matchup of teams with relatively lofty playoff expectations that they may struggle to live up to, but wins like this help.
Dec. 9: Toronto at Boston. These two look like the second and third best teams in the East (although Indiana might have something to say about that) and this is the first meeting of the season. When they get together, the games should tell us a lot. Hopefully.
Dec. 13: Minnesota at Chicago. Tom Thibodeau returns to Chicago, coaching a younger, more athletic team — the kind of team Bulls fans (and about 25 other franchise fan bases around the league) wish they had to cheer for. Everyone is expecting a leap out of the Timberwolves this season.
Dec. 25: Christmas Day: Golden State at Cleveland. Do we need to explain this one? Don’t eat so much Christmas ham that you fall asleep during the fourth quarter.
Dec. 25: Christmas Day: Minnesota at Oklahoma City. While the Finals rematch noted above is the marquee matchup with all the big stars on Christmas Day, this may be the most interesting game. With Karl-Anthony Towns as their star, the Timberwolves are a team on the rise, but how big a leap are they going to make under Thibodeau? Conversely, how big a step back are the Thunder going to take without Kevin Durant? By Christmas we may have an answer to those questions, but this is a fascinating matchup.
Jan. 13: Boston at Atlanta. It’s almost halfway through the season before Al Horford makes his return to Atlanta wearing Celtics’ green. Will Hawks fans boo him? And is Paul Millsap going to go off for a monster night to remind Horford of what he left?
Jan. 16: Cleveland at Golden State. Will the visitor’s locker room still smell like champagne? This is the Cavaliers’ one trip to Oracle Arena this season, and both times these teams meet we should watch the Finals rematch and likely preview.
Feb 11: Golden State at Oklahoma City. Thunder fans are going to be there to boo Kevin Durant early and often. He’s the villain now, and not just in OKC. Durant is going to find that’s a mental adjustment, just like LeBron did in Miami. Expect Westbrook to score at least 50 in this game.
March 11: Golden State at San Antonio. Even with all the changes — no Tim Duncan, instead Pau Gasol; and Durant forming a Bay Area superteam — these still are likely the two top teams in the West and they face off relatively late in the season. If any team is going to threaten Golden State in the West, the Gasol/LaMarcus Aldridge/Kawhi Leonard Spurs are the best bet.