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Tag:Chicago Bulls
Posted on: December 21, 2011 12:01 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 5:53 pm
 

2011-12 NBA Season: Central Division Preview

Posted by Royce Young



We're less than a week away from the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season. After an interminable lockout and a rushed free agency period, here's a first look division-by-division preview at how the league is shaping up. We continue with the Central Division.

2011 Standings:
Chicago Bulls, 62-20, lost Eastern Conference Finals to Miami Heat
Indiana Pacers, 37-45, lost in first round of Eastern Conference Playoffs to Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks, 35-47, NBA Draft lottery
Detroit Pistons, 30-52, NBA Draft lottery
Cleveland Cavaliers, 20-62, NBA Draft lottery

Best team: Chicago Bulls

The Central really is left to the Bulls. It's their division for the next number of years and it's really hard to see anyone challenging that strongly. The Pacers are better than the 37-win team they were a season ago, but David West isn't going to make that much of a difference.

It's really more of a question of how much better the Bulls are than everyone else. Meaning, can they have this division locked up by the end of March? February even? And after that happens, it's about playoff seeding and home court advantage. This Bulls team has big goals in mind. They fell short in the Eastern Finals, but they're a year older and Derrick Rose has now tasted the sting of failure. This team will be driven and hungry to avenge last season's shortcomings, but it's just a matter of if they can beat the Heat.

Worst team: Cleveland Cavaliers


The Cavs will be the Central's worst squad again, but not The Worst, like they were last season. They aren't going to set any record losing streaks. They aren't going to flirt with the worst record in basketball history. They probably won't even flirt with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. But this is a group in a total rebuild. The rubble is still smoldering from "The Decision" and the franchise hasn't completely recovered. There are questions: Is Kyrie Irving a franchise player; is Tristan Thompson worth his draft slot; is Anderson Varejao's hair self-aware -- these are the things the Cavs will have to start answering before they begin the climb out of the hole and back into the postseason.

Biggest surprise: Detroit Pistons

I want to just say that the Pistons aren't a playoff team and move on. But here's the thing: This is the Eastern Conference. The conference where teams five games under .500 make the playoffs. The conference where if you win 30 games in this shortened season, it might be enough. The Pacers used this formula to get a postseason series with the Bulls and it feels like the Pistons could be next in line to make a small push. It's not a terrible core in Detroit: Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince. Is that a good team? No, not really. But if 30 wins could be enough for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons might have just enough to claw their way in.

Three Best Players: Derrick Rose, Danny Granger, Joakim Noah

Do I need to explain why Derrick Rose is in this list? No, no I don't. But after him, there's really a lack of talent in the Central. Danny Granger is a good player and a former All-Star, but it feels a bit funny to have him listed as one of the three best players in a division.

It feels really funny to have Noah listed as one. But honestly, who else would you put there? Andrew Bogut, a guy still playing with one arm? Carlos Boozer? Brandon Jennings? Kyrie Irving? There's just not a lot of household names in the Central. Rose is a star among stars, but after him, pickings get slim. Noah is a supreme defender, excellent rebounder and makes a major difference on both sides of the floor because of his energy. When a guy impacts games as much as him, he has to be recognized for being a great player. It's not pretty like a Rose up-and-under or a Granger pull-up jumper, but Noah gets the job done and is an anchor for the league's best defense.

Biggest Question: Will Richard Hamilton really make that much of a difference for Chicago?

The Bulls were hunting a shooting guard. They wanted Jamal Crawford, didn't get him. They wanted J.R. Smith, can't get him. They wanted Arron Afflalo, couldn't afford him. They settled on Richard Hamilton, who was bought out by the Pistons and you know what, they might have gotten a steal in free agency.

Hamilton fills their need of providing a player that can score on his own, take pressure off Rose and add an extra much-needed dimension to the Chicago offense. Luol Deng is a nice third scorer, but he can't carry the weight of being the No. 2 option. Same goes for Carlos Boozer. Last season's playoff success for Chicago depended on two things: 1) Can Rose take over the game and 2) if he can't, can Kyle Korver or someone else make every 3-pointer they shoot? After that it was just about the Bulls trying to survive by dominating the glass or holding a team to 45 points or something. Hamilton will help alleviate some of that pressure. But it's just a question of if it's enough.

2012 Projected Standings:
1. Chicago Bulls
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Milwaukee Bucks
4. Detroit Pistons
5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Posted on: December 20, 2011 10:11 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Bulls announce Derrick Rose contract extension

Posted by Ben Golliverderrick-rose-chicago

2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose will lead the Chicago Bulls for the next five years.

The Associated Press reports that the Bulls and Rose made the 5-year $94 million contract extension official in a ceremony on Wednesday in Chicago. The deal does not include a player option on the final year of the deal, per Rose's request.
 "I think I can finally say this now. Mom, I finally made it," he said.

"He embodies all the characteristics that you look for," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's a lot more than the talent. The talent is the obvious part. Then, when you look at his will to win, basketball IQ, unselfishness, his humility - I think those are the things that you can build a championship-caliber team around."

"I don't think you can put a ceiling on what Derrick can become," general manager Gar Forman said. "It's scary to think that I think he'll continue to get better and better throughout his career."

The extension could bring some more pressure. Rose shrugged it off. He said money is "the last thing I think about."

"Coming from where I'm coming from, I can't explain it," he said. "I really can't explain it. I never would have thought in a million years that I would have signed a contract like this, especially coming from an area where I'm from. No one from Englewood has ever been in my position so sometimes I think, `Why me?"'
The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that the Bulls would formally announce the signing of Rose to a 5-year contract extension worth more than $90 million on Wednesday.
Derrick Rose has agreed to a five-year, roughly $94 million contract extension, and the Bulls plan to make the formality official at a Wednesday news conference at the Berto Center, sources told the Tribune.

The extension is for about $10 million to $11 million more than Rose would have been eligible for under the previous collective bargaining agreement. A new rule that has been nicknamed the "Derrick Rose rule" rewards players who outperform their rookie scale contracts. Rose qualifies for one of the three stipulations as he became the youngest most valuable player in NBA history last season.

The extension will begin in the 2012-13 season and can start at about $16 million in the first year.
Inking Rose, 23, to a maximum contract extension is as easy a decision as you will ever find in basketball operations. By any measure, his value is off the charts.

The year before he arrived, Chicago won 33 games; last year, the Bulls went 62-20. In his three NBA seasons, Rose has missed just six games in winning the 2009 Rookie of the Year award, being named to the 2010 and 2011 All-Star teams and capping it all off with an MVP campaign in just his third season while leading Chicago to the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged career-highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks last year while upping his 3-point and foul shooting percentages. Give me a break.  

Word that Rose and the Bulls were closing in on a contract extension first surfaced last week
Posted on: December 14, 2011 4:38 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2011 10:26 pm
 

Hamilton clears waivers, signs with the Bulls

Posted by Royce Young

The Bulls have been hunting a shooting guard all offseason and it looks like they finally have one. It's not Jamal Crawford or one of the other bigger name guys, but it is a former champion.

Richard Hamilton has cleared waivers after being bought out by the Pistons last week and will likely join the Bulls Thursday after a two-year, $10 million deal is finalized. The AP reports Hamilton's deal is for three-years, $15 million. I imagine that last season is either a team option or only partially guaranteed.

Hamilton will likely step right into the starting role for Chicago, especially since it appears that Keith Bogans will be cut. (The Bulls have an option on him and he hasn't been in training camp yet this season.)

The Bulls have been searching for added scoring and while Hamilton is 33 (to be 34 in February) and has seen his numbers decline a bit in recent seasons, but he's still one of the best players moving without the ball and knocking down a jumper curling off a screen. And with Joakim Noah setting them and Derrick Rose drawing attention, Hamilton should have a good number of opportunities.

Hamilton shot only 38.2 percent last season and averaged a meager 14.1 points per game, but that honestly could be just about all the Bulls need. They need something next to Rose. They need something to serve as a logical middle man scorer between Rose and Luol Deng. Carlos Boozer is that guy some nights, but the Bulls won last season because of defense.

When it got to the playoffs, that wasn't enough. They needed an extra punch and really, 14 points a game could be just enough. And I don't think Hamilton's done with his production. Last season in Detroit was a different world with the team rebelling against John Kuester and Hamilton finding himself inactive for a lot of games. He wasn't happy. But now in a contending situation with the Bulls, he might find a little new life.

It honestly wouldn't shock me if Hamilton averaged something like 16-18 points a game on solid percentages. He can still play and is a great addition to the Bulls. Is he Jamal Crawford or a big target shooting guard? No, not anymore. But he probably doesn't have to be. 
Posted on: December 13, 2011 1:53 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 2:59 pm
 

Why doesn't Dwight Howard want to be a Bull?



By Matt Moore


Back on Dec. 10th, the Chicago Tribune reported that Dwight Howard was not considering the Bulls. Chicago has not been on the list of teams Ken Berger has reported since February under consideration by Howard and his management. And Tuesday, ESPN reported that Howard's list has been narrowed to four teams, the New Jersey Nets, the Dallas Mavericks, the L.A. Lakers, and the Orlando Magic

So the question now is "Why won't Howard consider the Bulls?"

For starters, it would make a huge amount of sense for both parties in terms of basketball. For the Magic, they'd be able to get back a decent return on Howard, something that not many other teams will offer. Joakim Noah as a centerpiece, with Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, potentially Luol Deng, and a salary dump of Hedo Turkoglu along with picks could probably be had. That's a fine haul for the Magic. But maybe Howard simply doesn't care about what his team gets back and in fact wants to make sure they don't give up too much so that he can have a good group behind him wherever he lands. 

The bigger upside is for Howard. He would no longer have to be the sole source of offense and would have the pressure to be "the man" split between he and Rose. Howard wants help? How about the MVP point guard who can create offense for himself as well as anyone in the league? He'd be set with a young player just starting his rise to greatness and already established. Rose isn't an alpha dog and wouldn't have problems with Howard, Rose has good enough vision even as a score-first guard to create oop after oop for Howard on the pick and roll. Throw in Carlos Boozer as now a much-better-fitting third option (unless they unloaded Boozer which they may have to for salary purposes), and some combination of the Chicago shooters and you have all the help Howard's been asking for. 

Furthermore, how about the best defensive player in the league playing under the best defensive coach in the league? Tom Thibodeau could get the absolute most out of Howard's considerable abilities (not that Stan Van Gundy hasn't already done a stellar job and in fact in large part helped make Howard into the defensive presence he is), and would let him dictate what he wants on offense instead of forcing perimeter shots like SVG. 

The only conclusion is that it's some combination of weather and style that Howard balks at in regards to Chicago. Howard is rumored to prefer warm-weather destinations, coming from the south and having played there for his career. Chicago isn't exactly balmy. Then again, not like Brooklyn is all palm trees and sun tan lotion. The bigger question may be from a marketing perspective. New York or L.A. provide him with media opportunities galore, and for a guy who loves the camera as much as Howard does, that might be the kicker. 

One entity sad about this development? Adidas, who have both Howard and Rose under their label. The two teaming up under the colors of Nike's icon Michael Jordan's former team? Priceless. The money would be there for Howard in Chicago, but maybe not the level of fame he wants.
Posted on: December 12, 2011 11:14 am
Edited on: December 20, 2011 9:56 pm
 

Bulls set to extend Rose five years for $94M

<img style="float: right; margin: 10px;" src="http://sports.cbsimg.net/images/visual/whatshot/derrick-rose-2.jpg" height="353" width="250" />By Matt Moore</a> <br /><br />This will come as no surprise, but the Bulls plan to keep Derrick Rose. Shocker! From the <em>Chicago Tribune</em>: <br />

<blockquote>Rose will win on the bottom line soon. General manager Gar Forman said the formality of Rose's five-year, $94 million extension is being finalized with Rose's agents, Arn Tellem and B.J. Armstrong.<br /><br /> "Derrick is the centerpiece of what we're putting together here," Forman said. "We want Derrick to be a Dull for a long, long time. It's very important that we put the right pieces around Derrick."</blockquote>

via Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose won't beg stars to join Bulls, but he loves everything about team - chicagotribune.com</a>.<br /><br />You could have said, "a five-year, $11ty Billion extension" and it would still be a steal. Rose's extension will have one huge consequence though. For months, people have lauded the Bulls as the way to win without spending in the luxury cap. But the extension for rose to pay him upwards of $16 milion per year is going to change all that. Along with Carlos Boozer's blood-sucking fiend of a deal and probably re-signings of Luol Deng as well as Joakim Noah's extension, and any other upgrades the Bulls try for, the Bulls will have to pay to win. That's how the league works. The CBA didn't change that, it just made it more expensive. <br /><br />Bulls ownersip has always been thrifty for reasons beyond belief considering their success, but it'll be time to break out the poket book to keep a title-contending core around Rose and pay him market value. Rose will end up being the first recipient of the "Rose Rule" negotiated in the lockout</a> to allow teams to provide players coming off rookie deals with exceptional value higher raises than their counerparts on the earthly plane.  <br /><br />(Via <a href="http://www.iamagm.com/news/2011/12/12/mvp.derrick.rose.set.sign.five.year.94.million.extension?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">IAmAGM.com</a>)<br />

Posted on: December 7, 2011 11:18 am
Edited on: December 7, 2011 10:48 pm
 

Free Agency Buzz 12.7.11: Lakers-Dwight stalled?

 

Posted by EOB Staff

On a shortened schedule with the conclusion of the NBA lockout, free agency is going to be fast and furious. To keep track of all the wheelings, dealings, rumors, and reports, check Eye on Basketball daily for the Free Agency Buzz. 

Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011


10:47 p.m. ET

TSN.CA reports that the Toronto Raptors have "agreed to terms" with free agent center Jamaal Magloire, 33, who played sparingly for the Miami Heat last season. 

10:24 p.m. ET

9:23 p.m. ET
  • CSN New England reports that the Celtics have interest in Mike Dunleavy Jr.. Dunleavy is the most Celtics-type player on the market. Veteran guy who is a pure role player. He shoots. That's about it. But he's capable and can still give the Celtics a lift off the bench. If the Celtics swing out in trades or other pick-ups, this might be their guy. 
8:59 p.m. ET
7:39 p.m. ET
  • SI.com reports that New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul realizes that the New York Knicks do not have sufficient assets to acquire him and now considers the Los Angeles Lakers his "new favorite destination."
6:37 p.m. ET
  • Yahoo Sports reports that the Los Angeles Lakers will sign free agent forward Jason Kapono to a 1-year contract at the veteran's minimum when free agency opens on Friday.
  • CSNBayArea.com reports that Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry says that rumors concerning a trade with the New Orleans Hornets that would involve him and Chris Paul are "predictable" and that the team's GM and coach told him he is "safe and secure" in the Bay.
  • Bobcats head coach Paul Silas told the Charlotte Observer that unrestricted free agent center Kwame Brown expressed a desire to return to Charlotte in a recent meeting. Brown's agent, though, told the paper that his client is looking to get paid, with a decision coming in "the next few days."
4:38 p.m. ET
  • Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: "Hornets willing to let West go in sign/trade if it will get him to contender and bring back an asset or two, sources say ... In addition to Pacers, who've spoken with David West's reps, several non-room teams have inquired about FA forward: Dallas, San Antonio, Miami and Atlanta."
3:37 p.m. ET
  • Tracy McGrady appears to be headed to Atlanta, according to multiple reports. Unless the Bulls were to jump in with a better offer, the veteran scorer would likely sign for the minimum with the Hawks.
  • The Spurs will reportedly amnesty Richard Jefferson, which means he's eligible to go somewhere else. Where? The Clippers, Bulls and Heat are all supposedly in the mix, with the Nets also likely interested.
3:00 p.m. ET
  • The New York Post reports that the Heat will not amnesty Mike Miller, which is a bit of a shock. Miller had even mentioned Tuesday being amnestied, but apparently the Heat will keep him on board. If so, that dramatically alters their positioning in free agency, though it does not remove their ability to offer the Mid-Level Exception, which is their biggest tool anyway. As for why Miller wasn't amnestied, a blogger recently made an excellent case for that decision, citing chemistry as the biggest hindrance to the Heat last season. Starting over with someone else given the Heat's injuries last season does seem a bit odd. 
  • ESPN reports Caron Butler's options are San Antonio or Chicago for the MLE at $5 million, or New Jersey or the Clippers for $7 million annually. You would assume that the Clippers would want Butler only if they pull off a trade for Paul that includes Eric Gordon, but you never know. Once again, the Nets are linked to a report of them overpaying for a free agent. 
11:00 a.m. ET
  • The L.A. Times reports that the Lakers held "cursory" conversations with the Magic on Tuesday regarding a trade for Dwight Howard, but that no offers were exchanged and that a deal is "not close." That phrase gave me flashbacks to the lockout. ESPN reports that the Magic have yet to come up with a "wish list" for Howard. It would appear that as opposed to New Orleans, which is taking the Utah "make the deal before it becomes too much of a headache" approach, the Magic are opting for the "Ujiri Technique" which models what Denver did last year. Denver suffered through the discomfort of the Melo situation but ultimately got a better deal by waiting for the Knicks to become desperate. With a playoff roster in place and a few moves left in this bag, Otis Smith can afford to be patient before pulling the trigger on a move to restart the franchise which could ultimately cost him his job.
  • CSN Chicago and HoopsWorld report a possible sign-and-trade could land Jamal Crawford in Chicago. The deal would send Ronnie Brewer to Atlanta in exchange for Crawford under the Bird rights that Atlanta enjoys as his previous team. Brewer does nothing to replace Crawford's offense for Atlanta, but he is a step-up defensively, even if Crawford played pretty decent defense in the 2011 playoffs. Crawford is a natual fit for the Bulls, giving them a perimeter weapon for Derrick Rose on the drive-and-kick. He could single-handedly push the Bulls into a higher tier offensively.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 10:39 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 10:52 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA schedule: strength analysis

Posted by Ben Golliver

bulls-spurs
Aside from cutting the 2011-2012 NBA regular season length down from 82 games to 66 games, the lockout had one major impact on this year's schedule: every Western Conference team is no longer able to play a home-and-home series with every Eastern Conference team, and vice versa. Instead, each team gets just 18 non-conference games instead of 30, playing just three non-conference opponents twice.

Is this a big deal? Imagine you're the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, coming off one of the worst seasons any NBA team has every played. Would you rather play the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks twice each or would you prefer the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets? Obviously, your preference would be to stack up as many games as possible against poor teams.

There was no perfect solution for the NBA to balance this aspect of the schedule. Thanks to player movement, back-to-backs, back-to-back-to-backs, and the like, just about every team in the league feels like it's getting a raw deal this year. The distribution of non-conference opponents is sure to be a sore spot for some fanbases and a point of happiness for others.

So who are the first glance winners and losers? Let's take a look using a simple method.

Elite Winners: San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls

There are two clear winners when it comes to this aspect of the schedule and it just so happens that the winners were the league's top-2 teams during the regular season last year. Let's pencil it out using a straightforward win differential based on last season's performance.

The Spurs won 61 games last year and their three repeated non-conference opponents are Cleveland, Orlando and Philadelphia. Those three teams averaged a combined 37 wins last season. 61-37 gives you a differential of +24, the highest of any team in the league.

Chicago, who won 62 games last year, got similarly good luck, facing New Orleans, Memphis and Sacramento, who averaged 39 wins last year, yielding a +23 differential. If the Hornets wind up trading Chris Paul prior to their games with the Bulls, Chicago's advantage here becomes even more pronounced.

Elite Losers: Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder

Boston, with 57 wins, and Oklahoma City, with 56 wins, both were among the NBA's elite last year. However, both drew exceedingly difficult home-and-home opponents, likely by virtue of their television-friendly teams. 

Boston plays the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Thunder twice each. The Thunder is set to play the Celtics, the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic twice each. If Tyson Chandler and/or Dwight Howard change teams prior to the start of the season that would probably be appreciated in Massachusetts and Oklahoma. 

Both Boston and Oklahoma City, despite being well above .500 last year, have differentials of zero thanks to the tough scheduling.

Marginal Winners: Houston Rockets

The Rockets won just 43 games last year, missing out on the Western Conference playoffs. While they will struggle to climb up the Western Conference playoff table, they'll do it with the help of playing three of the East's weakest sisters: Charlotte, Toronto and Washington. It doesn't get much more cake than that. Houston winds up with a differential of +17 in these home-and-home match-ups, good for third best in the league.

Marginal Losers: New York Knicks

The Knicks are a premier team in the hearts and minds of just about everyone but they still won just 42 games last year. Given their acquisition of new star power and their big-city locale, the NBA has made sure they play plenty of marquee match-ups. Indeed, the Knicks are set to face home-and-homes with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, getting a bit of a reprieve with the Sacramento Kings. Still the presence of two 57-win teams from last year gives New York a differential of -4, tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst mark of any 2011 playoff team. 

Terrible Winners: Detroit Pistons

During the offseason, I graded Detroit's roster as the worst in the league and thankfully the schedulers had some mercy, scheduling the Pistons against Memphis, Minnesota and Sacramento, giving Detroit extra games against the two worst teams in the West. Despite winning just 30 games and heading to the lottery once again, the Pistons manage to have a +1 differential in this category, a pretty astounding feat.

Terrible Losers: Cleveland Cavaliers

It's no secret: the Cavaliers were garbage last year, setting an NBA record for consecutive losses and winning just 19 games overall. They didn't get lucky here, drawing home-and-homes with the league-best San Antonio Spurs and two middle-of-the-pack teams in the West: Phoenix and Utah. That's good enough for a league-worst -28 differential. By comparison, the 17-win Timberwolves drew Charlotte, Detroit and Indiana and had a -17 differential.

Remember, this is just one minor elements in the league's overall 2011-2012 adjusted schedule. Still, it's interesting to see the range involved. Here's a chart to help visualize what's happening. Click here for the full-size version.

chart-small-500

Here's a complete list of the differentials in 2010-211 win totals between each NBA team and the average of its three repeat non-conference opponents on the 2011-2012 schedule. All numbers rounded.

San Antonio Spurs 24
Chicago Bulls 23
Houston Rockets 17
Portland Trail Blazers 14
Denver Nuggets 14
Utah Jazz 11
Memphis Grizzlies 8
Phoenix Suns 7
Dallas Mavericks 5
Los Angeles Lakers 5
Indiana Pacers 4
Atlanta Hawks 4
Golden State Warriors 2
Los Angeles Clippers 2
New Orleans Hornets 2
Miami Heat 2
Detroit Pistons 1
Boston Celtics 0
Oklahoma City Thunder 0
Charlotte Bobcats -1
Orlando Magic -3
New York Knicks -4
Philadelphia 76ers -4
Milwaukee Bucks -11
New Jersey Nets -12
Minnesota Timberwolves -17
Washington Wizards -18
Sacramento Kings -21
Toronto Raptors -24
Cleveland Cavaliers -28
Posted on: December 6, 2011 8:21 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:47 pm
 

2011-12 schedule breakdown: 21 can't-miss games

Posted by Royce Young



When you have a season, you have to have a schedule. That's how it works, right?

Though it's abbreviated and not every city will see every team, the NBA put out its 66-game schedule Tuesday night.

And as it typically goes, within each schedules there your usual dregs and ho-hum matchups and there are big, storyline-filled mega showdowns. So let's get to it. What are the can't-miss games for this NBA season? Here are 21 you need to clear the calendar for, excluding the obvious can't-miss slate of Christmas games:

Dec. 26: 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.

Dec. 26: Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings
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 with the hated Lakers coming to town and Jimmer's debut, but there could be more to the hype than that. There could be a little optimism for the Kings are Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and company might have a little something brewing this season.

Dec. 26: Oklahoma City at Minnesota
Before there was Jimmer Mania, there was Rubio Fever. We've just had to wait a while for it. Anctipation! 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 Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder.

Dec. 27: Boston at Miami
The first meeting between the Heat and Celtics since last season's playoff series. It's no secret that LeBron and Wade don't really get along well with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The more teams don't like each other, the better.

Dec. 29: New York at Los Angeles Lakers
Maybe the two most visible franchises in the league with two rosters full of stars. Amar'e Stoudemire head-to-head against Pau Gasol is an awesome matchup, but if we're lucky, it'll be iso battles between Melo and Kobe for the last couple minutes of the game.

Dec. 29: Dallas at Oklahoma City
The first Thunder opportunity for payback and redemption would've come almost two months into the old season, but now it gets to happen right away. 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. 1: Cleveland at New Jersey
Top pick Kyrie Irving will have a handful of games under his belt by the time he heads to New Jersey, but this will be his first game against an elite point guard. How will he hold up against Deron Williams? This could be a quick welcome-to-the-NBA moment for the Cavs new franchise kid.

Jan. 5: Dallas at San Antonio
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.

Jan. 13: 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.

Jan. 14: Lakers "at" Clippers
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.

Jan. 14: New Jersey at Utah
It'll certainly be 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: Los Angeles 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.

Jan. 20: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando
The first time the Lakers visit the Magic. The question is, will Dwight Howard be playing home, or away?

Jan. 29: 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.

Feb. 9: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston
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.

Feb. 17: 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.

Feb. 17: New Orleans at New York
Take a good look at Chris Paul and wish, Knicks fans, assuming CP3 still is in NOLA. 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.

Feb. 23: Lakers at Oklahoma City
The Lakers always bring out the best in Thunder fans, and that's saying something. Kobe, Durant, Westbrook, Bynum, Gasol, Harden, Perkins -- the names are there and the games are always good.

March 25: Miami at Oklahoma City
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.

April 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 again, the Heat don't enjoy the Celtics and the Celtics certainly don't enjoy the Heat.

April 15: Miami at New York
The two supposed "super" teams meeting in Madison Square Garden with potential Eastern seeding implications? Yes, please. LeBron against Melo is good stuff no matter what, but you can be sure the Knicks will be trying to push the Heat with a stronger roster by this point.
 
 
 
 
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