The NBA released their 2015-16 schedule on Wednesday evening. The highlight of the early season, historically, has always been the NBA’s Christmas Day games. They are the ratings juggernaut for the league as their best players are in action. On December 25th this year it will be no different. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose and Tim Duncan are giving up part of their holiday to make money for the league (and themselves). If you think the same players are on Christmas each and every year it is true. 18 years of Kobe Bryant, 9 years of LeBron James, 6 years of Kevin Durant are the NBA’s Christmas food. It anchors the league’s advertising revenue. Is it fair that the Wizards or the Grizzlies or the Hawks aren’t on television on Christmas Day? Perhaps. But fair doesn’t particular matter when generating as much income as possible is the rule of the day.
This upcoming season the NBA was very sensitive about player fatigue and there are only 27 times when a team will play 4 games in 5 nights. Back to back games were minimally changed- from 20 to 18- because TNT gave up their exclusive hold on Thursday night games.
The Clippers and Lakers “Grammy Trip” games are shorter this year, only four games. But the Lakers suffer the NBA’s wrath. They play 8 games in 12 days in December.
Other long road trips: the Nets go on a nine game death march. The Warriors play 15 of their first 24 games on the road to start the season, including a seven game road trip. The Heat play 11 of 12 games on the road in January. The Thunder only play one home game in April.
The most games on national television, not surprisingly, are the Cavaliers and the Warriors, followed by the Thunder and Clippers. The Knicks took a huge hit because of their mediocrity. They are on national television just seven times. The Atlanta Hawks are on national television eight times. The 76ers, Pistons and Nuggets aren’t on national television at all.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant go at it on December 17th in Cleveland and February 21st in Oklahoma City.
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant’s last matchup- if Bryant retires this year as he has hinted at- will be March 10th in Los Angeles.
October 27th: The Bulls take on the Cavs on opening night, a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals. Last we saw them the Bulls were being manhandled by Tristan Thompson, out-hustled by Matthew Dellavedova and punked by LeBron James. But that was then.
October 28th: The return of Kevin Durant. The Thunder play the Spurs in Oklahoma City and it is an answer to a trivia question: name the last team Kevin Durant played in the playoffs? It was the Spurs. They eliminated the Thunder in 2014 in the Western Conference Finals. This past season, Durant’s injury denied the Thunder a playoff appearance and redemption. A healthy Durant in 2015-16, coupled with a healthy Russell Westbrook, puts the Thunder near the top of the Western Conference contender tree.
In the nightcap, the Lakers host the Timberwolves as Kobe Bryant returns in what may be his final season but his reentry is overshadowed by the first NBA game of Karl Anthony Towns, the #1 pick, and DeAngelo Russell, the #2 pick.
October 30th: The Heat go to Cleveland. This is not the Heat team LeBron James was familiar with as a Heat player. Justise Winslow will make his Cleveland debut. Dwayne Wade will be healthy again (but for how long?). Luol Deng will be charged with guarding LeBron James. Will Tristan Thompson be a max player or will he have accepted the qualifying offer? And where in the hell will J.R. Smith be?
November 11th: DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers play a road game in Dallas. The crowd will be raucous and angry as they serenade an unrepentant Jordan with boos and hisses every time he is on the floor and even more so when he is at the free throw line. Expect multiple camera angles of Mark Cuban in a t-shirt with a wretched expression on his face every time Jordan dunks. Will the Mavs foul Jordan intentionally just to have the crowd collectively heckle him? Jordan is sensitive by nature, a kid who wants to be liked, so it might not go well for him expect for this: Paul Pierce will take one for the team. An arrogant Pierce will grab the spotlight away from Jordan, loving the villain role, as he taunts the crowd with you can’t stop the Truth, you can’t stop the Truth.
Later that night LaMarcus Aldridge will return to Portland and it will be mostly warm and enthusiastic pre-game. Aldridge built up positive capital with the Blazers. Whatever boos will be lightly sprinkled and drowned out by the applause until the game starts and then Aldridge will be treated like a villain who turned his back on a franchise. As for his part in all of it, Aldridge going back to the city he played in for nine years will be an emotional undertaking that his teammates will try to alleviate by annihilating the Blazers.
December 25th: It is rematch of the NBA Finals. LeBron James goes back to Oracle in front of a raucous Warrior crowd. Last year, in the regular season, LeBron hit a game winner.
Two hours later LaMarcus Aldridge makes his Christmas Day debut, playing in Houston. It will be followed by the Staples Center Hallway Series which adds one more chapter to the Lakers- Clippers non-rivalry.
January 18th: The Cleveland home game of Cavaliers-Warriors. The last time the Cavs played the Warriors in Cleveland it was Game 6 of the NBA Finals, a Cleveland loss that gave LeBron James his 4th NBA title loss.
photo via Wikipedia.org