- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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People don't really circle dates on calendars anymore.
Better, then, to consider these dates to punch into your handheld.
We're still working on ESPN.com software that takes them straight from this page to your electronic event-listing device of choice, but that doesn't prevent us from unfurling our annual list of standout games on the just-released 2005-06 NBA schedule.
Nov. 1, Opening Night
The San Antonio Spurs get championship rings for the third time in seven years before hosting the Denver Nuggets, who will be without suspended coach George Karl for the season's first three games. Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks visit old pal Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in the nightcap of TNT's season-starting doubleheader, and the only other game to launch the season sends Milwaukee and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut to Philadelphia for Bogut's NBA debut, which also serves as Maurice Cheeks' debut as Allen Iverson's new coach.
Nov. 2, Opening Night for everyone else
The Miami Heat have an interesting little opener in Memphis after the megadeal that sent Eddie Jones to the Grizzlies while bringing Jason Williams and James Posey to South Beach. ESPN's first doubleheader serves up Philadelphia at Detroit in Flip Saunders' first game as Larry Brown's successor, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers at Denver to officially end Phil Jackson's one-year hiatus. Brown, meanwhile, takes the Knicks to Boston to tip off his dream job.
Nov. 3, Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat
The Pacers, just by getting Ron Artest back and by signing Euro king Sarunas Jasikevicius, are having the best offseason in the East on this scorecard. Here's an early chance, at home, for the retooled Heat to try to change our minds. Phil's first home game follows when the Lakers try to keep up with the Suns and reigning MVP Steve Nash.
Nov. 4, Washington Wizards at New York Knicks
The reality of Larry's dream job -- and the love shower he'll get from desperate Knicks fans who see him as their savior -- should start to sink in deeply when he coaches his first real home game at Madison Square Garden.
Nov. 24, Happy Thanksgiving
A double-helping of NBA for your holiday: Cleveland at Indiana, followed by Seattle traveling to Los Angeles to face the Lakers.
Dec. 2, New York Knicks at Detroit Pistons
How will Pistons fans greet the exiled Coach Brown? How will Larry react if he crosses paths with the owner (Bill Davidson) who questioned his character? How much will Darko Milicic play against the old boss who rarely played him? All questions we can start to answer in the first of two Knicks games at Detroit, with another on April 16.
Dec. 4, Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns
This might be Joe Johnson's first game in Phoenix since he urged the Suns to let him go. Or it might be his first game against the Hawks in the wake of an imploded sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta that forces him to rejoin the Suns. There's no way to know yet how the Johnson saga will play out, but it's safe to say both Phoenix-Atlanta games this season will mean a lot more than usual.
Dec. 7, Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
Any duel pitting Shaq against Tim Duncan is an event, and their two battles -- both on ESPN -- play out this season in a six-week span. This is No. 1, followed by a Jan. 20 rematch in South Florida.
Dec. 20, Utah Jazz at Cleveland Cavaliers
OK. There's no question this is a big deal: Carlos Boozer finally makes his long-awaited return to Cleveland -- at what is now known as Quicken Loans Arena -- after bolting from the Cavs to the Jazz in an unforgettable defection in the summer of 2004. You'll recall Boozer missed last season's, uh, homecoming with a foot injury.
Dec. 25, Merry Christmas
It'll be a merry day indeed, starting with San Antonio at Detroit in an NBA Finals rematch on ABC and followed by the least surprising hookup on the schedule: Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O'Neal for the second straight Christmas. This reunion, though, is in Miami instead of L.A., and it's actually Kobe and Phil double-teaming Shaq this time ... unless former Lakers coach Pat Riley has replaced Stan Van Gundy by this point.
Dec. 26, Los Angeles Lakers at Washington Wizards
It might not reach Boozeresque levels of contempt, but we suspect Kwame Brown won't be getting a touching holiday greeting from Wiz fans when the Lakers make their only D.C. appearance of the season.
Dec. 29, Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons
It's the first of three showdowns between the East power that overhauled its roster and the old reliables from Michigan who have a new coach. The other two (Feb. 12 and April 6) are in Miami.
Jan. 10, Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies
Bonzi Wells comes to face-to-face with old pal Mike Fratello for the first time since his trade banishment to the Kings, with fellow Grizz newcomer Bobby Jackson's return to Sacramento on deck for Feb. 7.
Jan. 12, Detroit Pistons at San Antonio Spurs
This is the second and final regular-season meeting for the teams who staged the first seven-game NBA Finals since 1994.
Jan. 16, Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers
On Martin Luther King Day, surely, there has to be at least a hint of warmth between Shaq and Kobe. Right?
Jan. 24, Detroit Pistons at Minnesota Timberwolves
Flip coaches against KG for the first time ... if you discount the two Detroit-Minnesota games on the October exhibition schedule.
Jan. 30, Portland Trail Blazers at Seattle SuperSonics
These neighbors have never liked each other and there's a new spark for the Pacific Northwest rivalry beyond regional pride. Nate McMillan has left behind a lifetime with the Sonics for the Blazers' bench, and this is his maiden trip to KeyArena as a Blazer.
Feb. 10, Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards
Larry Hughes returns to the nation's capital to see first-hand whether the Wizards have recovered from his departure -- with Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels -- as well as they think they have.
Feb. 17-19, All-Star Weekend in Houston
No less significant than the actual weekend, of course, is the one-year countdown toward All-Star Weekend in VEGAS (yes, it demands all caps) that starts as soon as Tracy McGrady sends everyone home.
Feb. 23, Indiana Pacers at Detroit Pistons
Perhaps the only visitor to The Palace at Auburn Hills who is more anticipated than Brown is Artest. This is the first of two scheduled Artest appearances, and obviously the first since the melee last Nov. 19 that landed Indy's inimitable swingman a suspension spanning 86 games counting the playoffs. All four Pacers-Pistons games will take place between February and April, in what appears to be a move by the league office to seek as much distance as possible from the brawl.
March 1, Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
Bostonians have to wait until the second half of the season for their first up-close glimpse of Antoine Walker as a Shaq sidekick.
March 17, St. Patrick's Day
If Boston at Orlando doesn't tempt you to skip the Irish pub and search for a sports bar, maybe this will: Phoenix at San Antonio in the season's fourth and final encounter for the teams that met in the Western Conference finals.
April 5, New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers
It's not quite Larry going back to Detroit, but you wonder nevertheless how Brown will be received by the good folks of Lake Erie after his dalliance with the Cavs. Another game of note on this night is Golden State at New Orleans, which represents Baron Davis' first appearance in New Orleans against the Hornets since they dealt him to the Warriors last February.
9dEthan Sherwood Strauss