Posted by Royce Young
With everything regarding "next season" in the NBA, you've got to add a disclaimer that the lockout could very well wipe out all of these games. So with the 2011-12 schedule being released, I suppose it's realistic that this might just evolve into the 2012-13 schedule if things go bad.
But if you're an optimist in these negotiations, you've got 2011-12's lineup, which means you have to start getting ready. Clearing your schedule on a holiday isn't really a challenge and you're most definitely not going to miss opening night, but what about the can't-miss, super-showdowns littered throughout the schedule? Here are 20 games you absolutely cannot miss.
Nov. 2: Cleveland at Boston
And thus kicks off top pick Kyrie Irving's NBA career. Too bad for him it comes in Boston against one of the best defensive teams in the league. It might not be a pretty start for young Kyrie, but it'll definitely be a learning experience. And a quick welcome-to-the-NBA moment.
Nov. 2: Houston at Sacramento
Jimmer Mania will finally get off to its NBA start and the league was kind enough to let it begin at home. You can be sure Sacto will be buzzing but not just over Jimmer. There could be a little optimism for the Kings are Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and company might have a little something brewing this season.
Nov. 2: Atlanta at Minnesota
Before there was Jimmer Mania, there was Rubio Fever. Kevin Love will finally be able to believe what he sees as the floppy-haired Spaniard takes the floor with the Timberwolves for the first time against the Hawks.
Nov. 2: Memphis at Clippers
The Blake Show returns. Enough reason to be excited about this one.
Nov. 3: Orlando at Miami
The first showdown. It could be Dwight Howard's beginning to his farewell tour and one a few games against the Heat he has left. But there's never any love lost between these two Florida squads and with an early leg-up at stake, you can be sure this game will be intense.
Nov. 16: New York at Denver
Melo returns. It won't be near as monumental or should I say, angry, as LeBron's return to Cleveland, but you can be sure that Nugget fans will be ready for it. Carmelo made it very clear that he didn't want to be in Denver and I'm sure fans there don't appreciate that. Plus a bonus: Unlike the Cavs, the Nuggets shouldn't suck.
Nov. 18: Miami at Cleveland
LeBron returns, again. It's the third time he's played in Cleveland since "The Decision" and some of the sting certainly has worn off, at least in that fans won't be buying tickets ONLY to yell at LeBron. But you can be sure that an unusual amount of Maverick blue will be littered throughout Quicken Loans Arena.
Dec. 1: Miami at Boston
LeBron and Wade return to the scene of one of their greatest crimes. The Heat opened the season in Boston and took an embarrassing, humbling loss at the hands of the Celtics but got revenge in the postseason, besting the Celtics in five with the final game coming on the parquet. It's not exactly a rivalry, but the Heat don't enjoy the Celtics and the Celtics certainly don't enjoy the Heat.
Dec. 8: Lakers at Miami
I'm not totally sure, but I think Kobe is still in American Airlines Center shooting. Kobe loves beating LeBron and you know the feeling is mutual. Two of the league's biggest, most visible teams with the two biggest, most visible stars. If you aren't watching, I have to wonder what the heck you could possibly be doing.
Dec. 23: Oklahoma City at Miami
LeBron and Kevin Durant. Two of basketballs most enjoyable, explosive talents that are always easy on the eye. The Thunder have always been painted as the anti-Heat, but the young kids from OKC don't care about making a statement for the little guy. There may be a good storyline, but it's more about a really good Eastern team versus a really good Western team.
Dec. 27: Clippers "at" Lakers
By no means have the Clippers caught up to the Lakers, but there is a chance that this team could be pretty decent. After a horrific start to last season, the Clippers put together a solid last four months of the season. Some might be looking at this game as a changing-of-the-guard type of affair -- which it's not -- but the Clippers could definitely raise some eyebrows.
Dec. 29: Dallas at Oklahoma City
The first Thunder opportunity for payback and redemption comes almost two months into the season. It’s a long time to wait, but you can be sure the Arena Formerly Known As The Ford Center will be amped about this one. The last time the Mavericks were in Oklahoma City, they broke the Thunder’s heart with that ridiculous 15-point comeback. No way Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder fans have forgotten.
Jan 14: New Jersey at Utah
It'll certainly be more unceremonious as Melo's return to Denver which was more unceremonious as LeBron's return to Cleveland, but Deron Williams coming back to Utah will definitely have the attention of Jazz fans. There's some that still blame Jerry Sloan's retirement on Williams and that whole situation didn't sit well in Salt Lake. Williams will likely feel some anger from Jazz fans, even if it's not entirely deserved.
Jan 19: Chicago at Miami
A rematch of the Eastern Finals. Derrick Rose's last memory of the Heat is LeBron and Wade storming back in Chicago and stealing Game 5 when the Bulls had it all but won. These two teams will likely be the class of the East and with this being the first meeting of the season, somebody's going to make a statement.
Jan. 29: San Antonio at Dallas
The old champs versus the new ones provides a new twist to an old rivalry. These two Texas titans have never gotten along and have had some pretty awesome games over the past decade or so. You can be sure that for once, Dirk and the Mavs will have a bit more swagger in Dallas as the Mavs take the floor against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Funny how a ring can do that.
Feb. 12: Chicago at Boston
It's the Thibodeau Bowl. The Celtics might be aging but you know they aren't going to just hand the East over. The Bulls are rising and you know they want to rub last year's triumph over the Celtics in the regular season in their face.
Feb. 17: New Orleans at New York
Take a good look at Chris Paul and wish, Knicks fans. You know he's a free agent in 2012 and you know he'd look pretty nice alongside Amar'e and Melo. But he's on the other side right now and there's a pretty good chance he's going to drive you crazy, at least on this night.
March 11: Boston at Lakers
It's the league's best rivalry, maybe sports' best rivalry. Every Celtics-Lakers game is an event. I don't think I even need to give you reasons why this game is huge.
April 1: Memphis at San Antonio
It was stunning at the time, but after watching the Grizzlies rip through the Spurs before bowing out to the Thunder in seven-game, it felt like we should've seen this coming. And this was with the Grizzlies missing their best scorer in Rudy Gay.
April 8: Lakers at Oklahoma City
The Lakers visit the Thunder Nov. 23 for the first time, but go almost four months between trips as they return with just a week left in the season. That’s a bummer, but there’s a chance this game could have major Western playoff seeding implications. The Lakers always bring out the best in Thunder fans, but if the stakes are raised, it’ll just be that much better.