Commentary

Highlights of 2010-11 national schedule

New-look Heat put to test on Opening Day in Boston, at Lakers on Christmas Day

Updated: August 4, 2010, 3:26 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesHow's this for a perfect Christmas gift: D-Wade and the Heat taking on Kobe and the champs.

An NBA schedule disseminated in two takes instead of one doesn't really change the drill around here.

The league's insistence Tuesday night on revealing only the details for the games that will be broadcast nationally during the opening week of the season and on Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day still generates sufficient fodder for the sort of rundown you've come to expect this time of year.

Breaking down what we know by date, as always, until the full team-by-team schedule is released next Tuesday:

Tuesday, Oct. 26: Opening Night (Heat-Celtics, Rockets-Lakers)

I get the feeling some of you are deeply disappointed that we're not getting Miami at Cleveland in regular-season game No. 1 of 1,230. I'm just not quite sure why.

The first night of the season is just too soon for a scene that wild and emotional. Miami at Boston strikes me as a far more appropriate season starter: LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh against the reigning East champs, who also happen to be the NBA's perennial champions of cockiness and -- according to Rajon Rondo -- not all that impressed by the glittering roster Pat Riley has assembled.

Trust me. You'll end up liking it better this way … unless you're a Clevelander incapable of digesting this matchup in any form. Word is LeBron won't make his first trip back to Ohio with the Heaters until Dec. 2 -- on the second night of a back-to-back for Miami -- which means the drama will build for a good month-plus.

Seeing LeBron at The Q in someone else's uniform before we even get to Halloween? Way too soon to me. You generally want to work up to the most anticipated game on the regular-season schedule, not lead off with it.

There's also no rush when Miami-Boston on TNT should be sufficiently tasty on its own. The Heat's SuperFriends era will officially commence in an atmosphere that will be plenty cauldronlike, knowing how much Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (as well as all those Bostonians spewing venom at TD Garden) will want to muck up the occasion.

Just imagine, furthermore, if the Celtics actually sign Shaquille O'Neal between now and then. Just to spice things up.

P.S.: The Lakers and Rockets are hooking up in a TNT nightcap that's destined to be one of the more unjustly overshadowed NBA games in recent memory. This matchup is teeming with subplots, too.

Subplot No. 1: L.A. will be collecting its championship rings before the opening tip.

Subplot No. 2: Houston's Trevor Ariza, who obviously never wanted to leave his hometown team after winning a ring with the Lakers, faces the discouraging prospect of watching Ron Artest collect his Lakers ring.

Subplot No. 3: I've been assured by Someone Who Knows that Yao Ming, barring any setbacks in training camp, will indeed be ready to play in his first game that counts since Game 3 in the second round of the 2009 playoffs.

Wed., Oct. 27: ESPN doubleheader (Bulls-Thunder, Blazers-Clippers)

Two young teams that (just a hunch) will routinely threaten to the crack the top five of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings are lined up to tip off ESPN's regular-season schedule: Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, new coach Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Chicago Bulls will visit Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder.

The intrigue in the nightcap, meanwhile, is obvious: Will we see No. 1 overall pick in 2007 Greg Oden, 2009 No. 1 Blake Griffin or both -- or neither -- when the Portland Trail Blazers go to Los Angeles to face the Clippers and new coach Vinny Del Negro?

Thursday, Oct. 28: TNT doubleheader (Wizards-Magic, Suns-Jazz)

The season's first TNT Thursday will be recorded as certifiably historic in Orlando, where the Magic will play their first-ever game at the Amway Center against John Wall's Washington Wizards.

You can't help but wonder, though, whether the league's mythical scheduling computer spit out Washington as the first visitor to Orlando's new building just in case the Wiz and Magic decide to resuscitate those trade talks headlined by Gilbert Arenas and Vince Carter over the next six weeks or so. Wall's debut against Arenas? Tantalizing thought.

TNT's second doubleheader of the week will then be capped by Suns at Jazz in a matchup of Western Conference contenders that have taken on drastically different looks since we last saw them, with Hedo Turkoglu replacing Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix and Al Jefferson replacing Boozer in Utah.

(Quick aside: Steve Kerr has to be working that game for TNT. Has to. Right?)

(Quick follow-up to the quick aside: Kerr has to do the in-game interview with Suns owner Robert Sarver. Has to. Right? I would say so unless TNT wants Chris Webber -- after his unforgettable courtside repartee with Minnesota's David Kahn during summer league -- doing all these interviews from now on.)

Friday, Oct. 29: ESPN doubleheader (Magic-Heat, Lakers-Suns)

Week 1 of LeBron's new life might prove to be uncomfortable even without the trip back to Cleveland, thanks to the news that Orlando will be coming to Miami for the Heat's home opener just 72 hours after the new-look Heat's first up-close look at Boston.

We don't have to wait long, in other words, for our first look at how Miami deals with Orlando's size advantage, knowing that Bosh wants no part of playing center.

The Lakers and Suns then follow up in Phoenix with a Western Conference finals rematch, despite the fact that -- with Hedo at the 4, Josh Childress on the bench and Grant Hill's longtime agent, Lon Babby, now running the front office -- these aren't quite the same Suns.

Dec. 25: Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas! (Five games)

Let's be real: You've known that the Heat would be playing the Lakers on Christmas Day for weeks.

LeBron versus Kobe on ABC's first broadcast date of the season?

An automatic from the moment LeBron, more than 20 minutes into "The Decision," finally confirmed that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

Just don't forget that the whole holiday is a festival of hoops nowadays, with the NBA thankfully sticking to the "five live games" blueprint for Christmas that was introduced a couple of seasons back. The result in 2010 is more than 12 straight hours of Christmas coverage, starting with Chicago at New York on ESPN at noon ET.

The two ABC games are next: Boston at Orlando as a heated prelude to Heat at Lakers. Then we'll dribble back to ESPN for two more games, with the first starting at 8 p.m.: Carmelo Anthony and Durant squaring off in a Denver-Oklahoma City scoring duel … after which the Golden State Warriors (coach: TBD) make a rare prime-time appearance by hosting the Blazers.

Jan. 17: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Three games)

The usual full docket of games on this Monday holiday begins with Chicago at Memphis on ESPN at 1 p.m., which features the Bulls' Rose returning to his collegiate backyard.

A tasty TNT doubleheader looms in the evening, too: Magic at Celtics, followed by Thunder at Lakers.


Marc Stein | email

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