Circle these dates on your NBA calendar
Mark your calendars for the following matchups on the NBA's 2003-04 regular-season schedule.
Tuesday, Oct. 28
Dallas at L.A. Lakers: Starting 14-0 won't be so easy this time for the Mavericks, who open the season on the road at Springfield West, also known as the Staples Center and the new home of future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
Cleveland at Sacramento: The matchup makes for a catchy promo ("The reign of King James begins against the Kings!"), but couldn't the league have given LeBron James an easier initiation than playing arguably the best team in 2002-03 at the NBA's rowdiest arena? Welcome to the league, Rookie.
Saturday, Nov. 1
New Jersey at Washington: There's only one Jordan angle to follow with the Wizards now ... when former Nets assistant Eddie Jordan goes head-to-head with Byron Scott, who considered himself a CEO more than a head coach. Jordan, considered the brains of Jersey's coaching staff, will try to get the best of Gordon Gekko.
Wednesday, Nov. 5
Denver at Cleveland: The first official LeBron vs. Carmelo Anthony meeting makes James' first home game at Gund Arena extra special. Let the race for Rookie of the Year begin.
Thursday, Nov. 6
L.A. Lakers at San Antonio: What will be more weird for the Lakers? Hearing the SBC Center's PA announcer screech "YOUR world champion Spursssssss," or seeing Robert Horry playing for the home team?
Wednesday, Nov. 12
San Antonio at New Jersey: The Nets lost the NBA Finals in six games to the Spurs, but at least they beat out San Antonio in the Jason Kidd sweepstakes. The defending conference champs face each other in Texas on Jan. 21, too.
Wednesday, Nov. 26
Detroit at Philadelphia; Cleveland at New Orleans Larry Brown won't have to worry about Allen Iverson's 30 shots a game at the newly named Wachovia Center, while Paul Silas faces his Hornets replacement, Tim Floyd, George Shinn's choice for a "championship" coach.
Friday, Nov. 28
Cleveland at Detroit: It's the first LeBron vs. Darko Milicic encounter in a matchup of the draft's top two picks.
Tuesday, Dec. 23
Minnesota at New York: Even if Keith Van Horn hits the game-winning shot, the night's loudest cheers will happen during the pregame introduction of Garden favorite son Latrell Sprewell, who'll play his first game in New York since being shipped to Minnesota in a four-team deal.
Friday, Jan. 2
L.A. Lakers at Seattle: Almost 11 months after being traded from Seattle, Payton will finally suit up as a visitor at Key Arena, where he called home for 12 seasons. Much to the dismay of Sonics fans, The Glove will do so wearing purple and gold.
Wednesday, Jan. 7
L.A. Lakers at Denver: The Pepsi Center court will hardly serve as a sanctuary for Kobe Bryant, who's facing a sexual assault charge in Colorado. Bryant's Lakers return to Denver on Feb. 25.
Thursday, Jan. 8
Houston at New York: Jeff Van Gundy will coach his first game at the Garden since bolting the Knicks after 19 games in the 2000-01 season.
Friday, Jan. 16
L.A. Lakers at Sacramento: The NBA's most intense rivalry is renewed with fresh faces, including the Kings' new Shaq agitator, center Brad Miller, who once prompted (and luckily dodged) a vicious right cross by an agitated Diesel.
Friday, Jan. 23
New Jersey at Miami: Alonzo Mourning will face his old team for the first time in the teams' first meeting of the season.
Saturday, Jan. 24
L.A. Lakers at Utah: After 18 years with the Jazz, The Mailman returns to Salt Lake City -- much to the dismay of Utah fans -- wearing purple and gold.
Friday, March 26
Washington at Golden State: Gilbert Arenas will see exactly what he missed by not staying in the Bay Area. Chances are, he'll see a half-empty arena with the Warriors facing their 10th straight trip to the lottery.