The NBA season is here. Well, tomorrow it will be, anyway — and we’re here to guide you through the year’s most exciting appetizer contests.
Houston Rockets @ Los Angeles Lakers - Tuesday, October 28, 10:30 PM ET, TNT
There’ll be no shortage of grudges at play when the Rockets stroll into Tinseltown tomorrow night. Kobe Bryant — the subject of much recent scrutiny — and Dwight Howard never got along as fellow Lakers, and many fans of the purple-and-gold took it as a sign of their franchise turning the page and starting over when Howard took his talents to Texas. Bryant has always been one to make statement performances, and he never got the chance to do so against Howard last season, when he missed all but six games with injury.
Now, Kobe’s back, and he’s got Rockets castoff Jeremy Lin as his backcourt partner. The two should be looking for redemptive blood on opening night.
Chicago Bulls @ New York Knicks - Wednesday, October 29, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN
The basketball world, outside of New York, all wanted to see Carmelo Anthony leave the Knicks to fight for titles with the Bulls in Chicago this summer. He didn’t.
But with the resurgence of point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls look like a fiery team on a mission nonetheless. They’ll roll into Madison Square Garden with their trademark intensity Wednesday, eager to show Anthony and the new-look Knicks (now managed by Phil Jackson and coached by Derek Fisher) just what he walked away from.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Los Angeles Clippers - Thursday, October 30, 10:30 PM ET, TNT
Perhaps the most exciting series of the 2014 postseason took place between these two teams. With both the Clippers and Thunder (maybe the two most stylistically thrilling teams in basketball) facing the fork in the road between championship contention and mere playoff relevance, the stakes never felt higher.
Behind the overwhelming combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder won that series four games to two. But after Durant was sidelined for up to two months with a Jones fracture this month, the Clippers may have an edge in the standings on OKC through the winter. Not if the ferocious Westbrook has his way, though — Thursday marks the beginning of the mercurial guard’s compelling quest to prove his winning skills without the world’s best scorer next to him.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Chicago Bulls - Friday, October 31, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN
And we arrive at the main event. LeBron James’ home city team versus Rose’s. The two titans of the East square off in Chicago for what many see as a preview of the 2015 Conference Finals.
The Bulls have consistently held the league’s most impenetrable defense since coach Tom Thibodeau came to town in 2010. But Cleveland’s offense — featuring James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and a slew of deadly shooters — just might be the best the NBA has seen this millenium. Tune in Friday to see who gives first in this epic, season-long tug of war.
— John Wilmes