The 10 Most Highly-Anticipated NBA Games Next Season

By: 07.27.12
Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard (photo. Mannion)

The start of the 2012-12 NBA season may feel like a long way off, but it’ll get here sooner than you think. Now that the NBA schedule has been released, we can start analyzing it like opening night is only two weeks away.

There are still moves to make, and a few key free agents don’t yet have homes. But for the most part, we know who will be good (Miami, OKC, San Antonio, etc.), we know who will be bad (Charlotte, above all else) and we know who/what will be entertainingly hilarious to watch (Metta World Peace, the first time Kobe yells at Steve Nash, Minnesota’s attempt to play nothing but white players instead of nothing but point guards all year). Besides those things, here are the top 10 games you should be looking forward to the most.

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10. OKC AT SAN ANTONIO, NOV. 1
I’m still not sure exactly what happened in last season’s Western Conference Finals. Win 20 in a row, and then lose four straight? That was fishier than LeBron‘s final flameouts in Cleveland. The Spurs will be ready to go, and because it’s the regular season, they’ll probably play like the best team of the last 20 years (which is what they did in the second half last year). After time with Team USA, I’ll be interested in seeing how Kevin Durant, and more importantly, Russell Westbrook have grown even stronger.

9. MILWAUKEE AT GOLDEN STATE, MAR. 9
Both of these teams think they’ll be better than what they are. I doubt either one makes the playoffs. But they should be fun to watch: a couple of free-wheeling offenses with great guards raining Hell from the perimeter. This will also mark the second return of Monta Ellis to the Bay, and that’ll be one of the most overlooked game stories of the year. While most of the “return” games on this list are on here because I want to hear people scream and boo, Ellis was beloved by many Warrior fans. It’ll be interesting to get a look at what their reaction will be this time. Last year, Ellis received two standing ovations from them in ironically, his first game ever in Milwaukee.

8. DERRICK ROSE’S FIRST GAME IN UNIFORM
We put Rose on the cover of Dime #69, even after he had torn up his knee in the playoffs. Why? We have faith in him, and feel this injury will only make him better. He’ll come back as a better shooter and a hopefully more efficient and smarter player. But at first, he’ll struggle, and that first game back will definitely create some jitters. Hopefully Rose makes it through without any more hiccups.

7. HOUSTON AT NEW YORK, DEC. 17
One of the most interesting player returns will happen early in the season. When Jeremy Lin comes back to Manhattan, will they boo him for accepting the dough? Will they boo the Rockets? Will they boo James Dolan for being a vengeful ass? This will be one of the most well-played “return” games of the season. Normally, when a player comes home for the first time since being banished, everything fails to live up to the hype. But Lin has a lot to prove to New Yorkers, especially Carmelo Anthony, and in return, Anthony has to show the world the team made the right move when it listened to him about limiting Lin’s impact with the Knicks. Two players with a lot to prove going head-to-head in MSG? Count me in.

6. MIAMI AT L.A. LAKERS, JAN. 17
Is Kobe versus LeBron old news? Yeah, probably. But, and this is obviously especially true if Dwight Howard becomes the next in line at the center spot in L.A., this game will be more about the teams for once. The Heat are the defending champs; the Lakers have Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and a much better chance of getting back to the Finals than they did last year.

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Ray Allen

Ray Allen

5. NEW YORK AT DENVER, MAR. 13
Finally, Carmelo Anthony returns to Denver. It’s been a long minute since ‘Melo forced his way out of Mile High before proceeding to make no impact whatsoever on New York’s position in the standings. The Nuggets look like a completely different team, and you can make the case they’re better off because of their financial position and flexibility. But the fans won’t care. They’ll boo Anthony until they shear the smile off his face.

4. NEW YORK AT BROOKLYN, NOV. 1
Does the phrase above even make sense? Not really. But get used to it. This matchup will be the Nets home opener, and it’ll occur against the team that’s their most immediate rivals. The Knicks’ brass might not take them seriously, but it’s an honest question now: Which team is better? If Brooklyn wins this one in their awesome new arena, the question will get louder.

3. BOSTON VS. MIAMI, OCT. 30 IN SOUTH BEACH…JAN. 27 IN NEW ENGLAND
Perhaps the best rivalry in the game resumes on opening night, but probably won’t entirely pick up steam until the Celtics and Heat face off a few months later in Boston. The Celtics should be 100 percent by then; Avery Bradley will miss opening night. If they are, they have a legitimate chance to challenge the East champs.

Then there’s Judas Allen, as they have taken to calling him in the Northeast. Has there ever been a nicer guy to get booed religiously than Ray Allen? It’ll probably happen.

2. OKC AT MIAMI, DEC. 25
The two best teams in the league on Christmas day? It doesn’t get better than that. The Thunder will return to the place they saw their season go up in flames, and even though this one will be tightly-contested, I doubt it brings Kevin Durant to tears. I’m already predicting OKC will swoop in and take control of this one. They’ll have more to prove.

1. DWIGHT HOWARD’S FIRST GAME IN ORLANDO
Whether he’s a visitor or still donning the home uniform, not even Bart Scott wants to see this more than me. I truly CAN’T WAIT to see the venom coming down from the stands, and it’s not because I don’t like Howard. I have no problems with the man, and find myself constantly defending him whenever people try to spew obnoxiousness like “Dwight Howard couldn’t make it in the ’90s!” or “Andrew Bynum is better!” But hate just makes for great entertainment, and a bunch of angry fans will cover Howard in the Dark Side no matter what uniform he’s wearing.

“They are going to boo the [expletive] out of him,” one Magic player told Yahoo! Sports.

Yes, they will, and with a truly nice guy like Howard, I’m looking forward to seeing how he responds.

Which games are you most excited to see?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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