Road map through long NBA trek

From opening night in Portland to April 18 in Dallas,'s Marc Stein steers you through the NBA season.

Updated: November 3, 2000, 4:24 PM ET
By Marc Stein | Special to

Now it's official. Halloween is here and so is NBA nirvana, morning to night.

It starts every day, at 10 a.m. ET, with "The White Shadow" on ESPN Classic. Set the VCR if you're at work and missing that theme song -- with Kenny Reeves taking it to the cup for the Chicago Bulls -- as much as we did.

The following handy guide will lead you through the rest of the journey, the next 170 days on the road to the playoffs. Who needs candy when you've got ...

  • Oct. 31, Lakers at Trail Blazers: Normally, you don't want to start the season with the league's two best teams in the same game. Then again, the NBA hasn't seen normal since, oh, MJ shoved Bryon Russell out of the way in the 1998 Finals. After the Dream Team debacle, the Paul Pierce stabbing, Allen Iverson's 40 bars, Alonzo Mourning's kidney failure and Joe Smithgate, we welcome some on-court drama. Line up all those Portland timbers opposite the Lakers' Big Everything and throw it up.

  • Nov. 7, Lakers at Rockets: The game is not the story. All that matters is the arena vote earlier in the day that will determine whether the Lone Star State continues to be a three-team hoop haven. If Houston voters shoot down the proposals for a new building, Rockets owner Les Alexander will undoubtedly renew his search for a new home. New Orleans, Nashville, Vegas -- all the usual bridesmaids.

  • Nov. 8, Lakers at Spurs: OK, OK. We promise that this will be the last Laker mention until at least December. But how can we ignore the first opportunity for The Anchor and The Admiral -- that would be Tim Duncan and David Robinson -- to tell Phil Jackson where to shove his asterisk? Zen Master Jackson, remember, repeatedly questioned the validity of San Antonio's 1999 championship after a 50-game lockout season. The Spurs and their fans have been waiting for their say.

  • Nov. 8, Warriors at Kings: Jason Williams returns from suspension. Unsubstantiated rumor: Sacramento is preparing clear-glass face shields for courtside spectators, just in case a rusty JWill is a little out of the strike zone with his bullet passes.

  • Nov. 29, Heat at Knicks: No Zo, no Ewing, no fun? No chance. The teams still despise each other enough to make this a must-see scrap. Besides, the evening will cap Charles Barkley's first month as a Turner Sports studio analyst. That is, if The Chuckster hasn't already walked out in a huff about the cameras misquoting him.

  • Dec. 1, Jazz at Heat: Karl Malone -- who opens the season 379 points shy of Wilt Chamberlain's 31,420 (points, not women) -- passes the late, great Stilt to move into second place on the all-time scoring list. Only about 3,500 more pick-and-rolls to go before The Mailman overtakes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 points.

  • Dec. 25, Magic at Pacers: On a pre-game guest appearance with his old NBA Showtime buddies, Indiana's Isiah Thomas announces that he still can't find a buyer for the CBA, forcing Zeke to just give the league away as a Christmas present. Having scoured the state for the most downtrodden Hoosier he could find, Thomas introduces Bobby Knight as the new CBA commish.

  • Dec. 25, Blazers at Lakers: We had to skip LA's Dec. 13 trip to the Rose Garden to do it, but, as promised, we got through more than a month without bringing up the reigning champs again. Besides, in this nightcap of a Christmas Day doubleheader, the focus will be fully on the Blazers. It's their return to the scene of the fold, Portland's first official visit to the Staples Center since blowing that 15-point lead in Game 7 of the conference finals. Perhaps proving they've still got it, the Blazers drop-kicked a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Clippers last week in a Staples exhibition game.

  • Dec. 31, Pistons at Wizards: As opposed to last season, when the league instituted a mini-break around New Year's Day in fear of the Y2K bug, Detroit and Washington are flaunting their fearlessness with a 9 p.m. ET tipoff. With any luck, both lottery-bound outfits will brick their way into a double-overtime game that stretches past midnight.

  • Jan. 3, Pistons at Mavericks: The ultimate maverick, Mark Cuban, celebrates the one-year anniversary of his agreement to buy the franchise by venting relentlessly at all three referees from his baseline seat. Cuban is ejected from a game for the first time -- and it won't be the last, either.

  • Jan. 9, Spurs at Magic: Just a hunch here, Mr. Duncan, but we wouldn't expect a Mickey Mouse-and-limos reception from the denizens of DisneyWorld. They probably won't be too thrilled to see you in black and silver.

  • Jan. 13, Clippers at Hawks: At halftime, Atlanta retires the unmistakable No. 21 jersey that belonged to Dominique Wilkins -- and shows SportsCenter highlight reels throughout the late '80s. Clipper tyke Darius Miles turns to Quentin Richardson, who turns to Keyon Dooling with the same question: "Who's Dominique Wilkins?"



  • Jan. 19, Wizards at Raptors: His Airness celebrates the one-year anniversary of his Washington presidency by watching the latest Next Jordan (Vince Carter) abuse the elderly (Mitch Richmond) -- and by wondering why the hell he ever agreed to take this job.

  • Jan. 20, Magic at Spurs: Just another hunch here, Mr. Derek Anderson, but Grant Hill is going to be jealous of you tonight when he sees how much fun you're having alongside the Twin Towers.

  • Jan. 23, Raptors at Magic: Word on the street is that Air Canada, when asked what he has in store for disowned cousin Tracy McGrady in their first-ever meeting, wants everyone to pick a number between 40 and 50. Yes, he means points. How did this game get left off the national TV schedule?

  • By Feb. 1: At this point, with everyone in the league closing in on 50 games, we will have seen Isaiah Rider suspended by the Lakers ... Derrick Coleman still stuck with a suspended license ... Joe Smith in a Target Center game against the Timberwolves ... Shawn Kemp in dire need of a week at Hakeem Olajuwon's school of fasting ... Rasheed Wallace more than halfway to 40 technicals, ahead of last season's record 38 pace ... Tim Hardaway, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and lots of New Jersey Nets on the injured list ... Dan Issel and Rick Pitino either on or already deleted from the endangered coaches list ... Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway in at least a few games together ... George Karl and Sam Cassell both bucking for grouchiest Buck honors ... Chris Webber linked with free-agent rumors in every city ... Shaq clanking free throws in every city ... Kobe Bryant looking older, wiser and somehow taller, too ... and Allen Iverson early for practice. One practice.

  • Feb. 11, All-Star Game at the MCI Center: Basketball, unlike baseball, doesn't have a rule stipulating that every team must be represented in the mid-season classic by at least one player. The hometown Wizards thus have to hope MJ invokes the Magic Johnson Rule so he can unretire for this All-Star affair and save the no-chance East. Or do you think Juwan Howard can make the squad this year? Right. Better start that Jordan write-in campaign. Don't get greedy, though. His Airness is way too smart to consent to a slam-dunk cameo against Air Canada.

  • Feb. 15, Trading deadline: Also known as The Dikembe Mutombo Sweepstakes. Immunizations optional.

  • Feb. 27, Sonics at Knicks: The first Patrick Ewing/Jeff Van Gundy showdown is actually Nov. 14 at KeyArena, but this is obviously the one that matters. Public Enemy No. 33 finally returns to Madison Square Garden to hear how Good Riddance sounds when it's coming from the frothing mouths of fans and not a family newspaper. Actually, we'd like to think that Ewing will get a heartfelt homecoming from the Knicks' faithful. Gullible, aren't we?

  • March 4, Magic at Pistons: Just one last hunch here, Mr. Hill, that there isn't even one iota of a chance that Detroit lets you get off without getting booed. The guy you see laughing is Jerry Stackhouse.

  • March 13, Grizzlies at Hawks: Or ...

  • Maybe March 22, Grizzlies at Cavaliers: Or ...

  • Maybe, just maybe, March 25, Grizzlies at Raptors: Either against Atlanta or Cleveland or, dare we dream it, their Canadian cousins from Toronto, the Grizz will score a road victory in March for the first time. Ever. No joke: In its first five tastes of March Madness as an NBA franchise (barely), Vancouver has looked like a college team, going 0-44 on the road.

  • April 1: Dennis Rodman declares for the WNBA draft, insisting that he's serious about this comeback. League insiders nonetheless rank Rodman as the No. 2 overall pick at best, behind Aussie sensation Lauren Jackson.

  • April 1, Magic at Raptors: McGrady's turn to return north of the border and, no, we're not making that one up.

  • April 8, Bulls at Raptors: Chicago? On a regional NBC broadcast? And again April 15 against Indiana? Are they trying to make sure we finish our taxes?

  • April 18, Timberwolves at Mavericks: If Sacramento can withstand a season of Webber and Williams distractions, this one might be for the final playoff spot in the West. And there isn't even a clear-cut sentimental favorite: Kevin Garnett after all Minnesota's recent tragedy and turmoil, or the Mavericks and their league-worst playoff drought of 10 seasons and counting. Flip a coin.

    Just don't miss all of the above.

    Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular contributor to

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer,
    • Senior NBA writer for
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

    From opening night to Portland to April 18 in Dallas,'s Marc Stein steers you through the NBA season.