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Ten games to watch during NBA's 2014-15 season

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
Bad luck, bad play leave NBA weak Christmas slate

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In this Dec. 8, 2013, photo, Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant looks back during his team's loss to the Toronto Raptors during an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. Bryant is expected to miss about six weeks with an injured left knee. The Lakers said Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, that an MRI scan showed that Bryant has a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau of his knee. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

10. Lionel Hollins returns to "Stone Age" Memphis (Feb. 10): Hollins was relieved of his duties with the Grizzlies after leading the franchise to the 2013 Western Conference finals. Jason Kidd's surprising departure from Brooklyn opened the door for Hollins' return to coaching. Hollins has since compared Memphis to the "Stone Age," saying people there "move slow, they talk slow, and they drag their words out." His comments could make for an interesting reception from the home fans.

9. Lance Stephenson returns to Indiana (Nov. 19): Stephenson shocked the Pacers by signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. The Pacers offered a more lucrative five-year, $44 million deal, despite Stephenson's immature acts in the postseason. Paul George's broken leg and resulting loss for the season made Stephenson's departure even more difficult for Indiana to stomach.

8. LeBron James returns to San Antonio (March 12): Will the Spurs turn off the air conditioning to welcome back James? The AT&T Center's AC malfunction in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals caused the arena's temperature to rise and led to James cramping and missing the final crucial minutes. James' final game with the Heat was also played in S.A. when the Spurs eliminated Miami in Game 6 of the Finals to claim the championship. Had the Heat beat the Spurs for a third straight title, it might have been a lot tougher for James to return to Cleveland.

7. LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant (Jan. 15, first meeting): James has obviously had the best of this rivalry in recent years, but Kobe still likes the big stage. He also knows he probably won't get too many more opportunities to face James in a matchup of the game's two most captivating stars.

6. The Clippers' first home game under Steve Ballmer (Oct. 30): The Donald Sterling era came to an end when Ballmer closed his purchase of the Clippers for $2 billion. After the Clippers ended their season with so much turmoil from Sterling's racist comments, the franchise will open their new era against the Oklahoma City Thunder – the same team that eliminated them from the playoffs – with a celebration. With a new stable and innovative ownership, a great coach and elite players, the Clippers finally have a completely bright future.

5. Kevin Love returns to Minneapolis (Jan. 31): T'wolves fans have dealt with this before when Kevin Garnett returned for the first time after being traded to Boston. But this situation is different: Unlike Garnett, Love demanded a trade. Love also never played in the postseason in six seasons with Minnesota – something that should change when he plays alongside LeBron James in Cleveland.

4. Derrick Rose's first game in Chicago (Oct. 31): Rose will play in front of his home fans on Saturday in Team USA's exhibition against Brazil, but his first real game back with the Bulls at the United Center will come against LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Oct. 31. His last regular-season NBA game in Chicago was on Nov. 18 against Charlotte. Facing James and the Cavs gives Rose, who missed almost all of last season with another knee injury, a strong early test. With Paul George sidelined for the season, the Bulls and Cavs are expected to be the top two contenders in the East.

3. Jason Kidd returns to Brooklyn (Nov. 19): Kidd returns to Brooklyn for the first time since he left to take the head-coaching job of the struggling Bucks. Brooklyn is known for having one of the testiest and most vocal crowds in the NBA. Expect Kidd, whose jersey is retired with the Nets as a player, to get an earful.

2. Kobe Bryant's first game back (Oct. 28): Bryant last played in a game on Dec. 17 at Memphis when he suffered a left knee fracture after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. He turns 36 next month and returns with a former teammate as his new coach: Byron Scott. He also won't have Pau Gasol playing with him. Bryant is expected to be on the court when the Lakers open their season against the Houston Rockets on Oct. 28.

1. LeBron James goes back to South Beach (Dec. 25): James returns to play in Miami for the first time since he left the Heat to return to Cleveland. The emotions from Heat fans probably won't match James' first game in Cleveland after he left to go to Miami. But it will be interesting to see how Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat fans respond to the former star who brought two titles to South Beach.

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