The NBA released its 2012-13 schedule on Thursday, and it's packed with plenty of attractive storylines. No game, however, figures to draw more attention than when LeBron James and the defending champion Miami Heat play Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers' new point guard on Jan. 17 in L.A.
Bryant says he hasn't played with a real point guard since he teamed with Nick Van Exel from 1996-98. He'll now play with one of the best in Steve Nash. Nash's playmaking skills also should benefit the Lakers' 7-footers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
James is still the world’s best player, and in addition to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he now has Ray Allen on his side. And if the Lakers acquire Dwight Howard in a trade before this game? That's one more big star to command attention.
Time will tell if this is an NBA Finals preview or merely the most-hyped game of the season.
Here's nine other games worth watching in the 2012-13 season:
2. Brooklyn Nets home opener vs. New York Knicks, Nov. 1: The Knicks and their fans never took their rivalry with the New Jersey Nets seriously. But with major pro sports back in Brooklyn for the first time since the Dodgers left in 1957, the Nets do pose a real threat to the Knicks. Unlike L.A.'s Lakers-Clippers rivalry, one team doesn't have a long list of championships to hang over the other, so there's some room for the Nets to steal fans. With Jay-Z, a billionaire Russian owner and a roster that includes Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, the Nets plan to make an impact in their first season in New York.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Dwight Howard's stance makes trade from Orlando difficult]
Both teams can contend in the Eastern Conference this season. This new cross-town rivalry could heat up quickly.
3. Ray Allen returns to Boston, Jan. 27: Allen deserved to explore his free-agent options, especially after the Celtics nearly traded him last season. But why are Celtics fans so angry that Allen left?
Because he joined LeBron James and the Heat. Now, some Celtics fans might even despise the Heat more than their long-time rival Lakers. The Heat eliminated the Celtics in the playoffs the past two seasons. The Celtics could give Allen a video tribute upon his return, but their fans will shower him with boos.
4. Carmelo Anthony finally returns to Denver, March 13: Anthony hasn't played in Denver since he demanded and received his trade to the Knicks two seasons ago. The lockout-shortened 2011-12 season cancelled an opportunity for the Knicks to play in Denver last season. 'Melo might be the most talented player to ever wear a Nuggets uniform, but the resentment for him is still thick in Denver.
Bryant gets booed strongly in Denver, but just wait until Anthony returns.
5. The Heat receive their championship rings, Oct. 30: James was in much more of a celebratory mood than he was emotional after winning his first title. That could change if he addresses the crowd in Miami's season opener against the Celtics.
Mocked by many after losing the 2011 championship to the Dallas Mavericks, James won back some fans with the way he conducted himself during Miami's run to last season's title. Most of the attention will be on him when the Heat raise their new banner.
6. Derrick Rose's first game back, TBD: There's no definitive date for Rose's return, but the hope is he'll be back in March after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in last season's playoffs. Whenever he returns, the Bulls will be happy to see him.
7. LeBron returns to Cleveland as a champion, March 20: After James left for South Beach, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert guaranteed Cleveland would win a title before James. He was wrong. James now comes back to Cleveland as a champion for the first time. Will Cavs fans resent him even more?
8. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Heat, Dec. 25: Eliminated by the Heat in the NBA Finals, OKC makes its return to Miami on Christmas Day. Regular-season games don't count for much, but will this be a preview of a Finals sequel?
9. Nash makes his debut with the Lakers, Oct. 30: Nash turned down a chance to return to Dallas when he decided to sign with the Lakers. His first official game alongside Bryant comes in L.A.'s season opener when the Mavericks visit. Everyone wants to know: Can Bryant cede control of the offense long enough for Nash to make a big impact?
10. Dwight Howard returns to Orlando, TBD: Howard hasn't been traded yet, but he'll likely be moved by the middle of the season when the league's trade deadline arrives. This much is certain: Howard shouldn't expect a warm reception from the local fans for his next game in Orlando – regardless of whether he's wearing the uniform of the Magic or some other team.
"They are going to boo the [expletive] out of him," one Magic player said.
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