- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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When the Boston Celtics got their title rings on opening night in the fall of 2008, LeBron James, months after his Cleveland Cavaliers had been knocked out of the playoffs by Boston in a brutal seven-game series, was in the visitor’s locker room at TD Garden, listening to the cheers and Paul Pierce’s emotional speech.
The roles will reverse on Oct. 30, when James and the rest of the Miami Heat get 2012 championship rings on opening night at home against the Celtics, one of the signature games on the first week of the NBA schedule that was released on Thursday.
The first Celtics-Heat matchup of the 2012-13 season already promises to be spicy. The climax of the budding rivalry was the seven-game Eastern Conference finals that ended in June with Miami moving on to a second straight NBA Finals and neither Kevin Garnett nor Rajon Rondo shaking the hands of Heat players hands after the bitterly-contested series ended.
Ray Allen’s departure from Boston and signing with Miami, amid some hard feelings with Celtics management, should only add fuel to the fire. Allen’s first game in a Heat uniform will be on the same court where he played his last game in a Celtics uniform, the Heat’s Game 7 victory.
It is the start of what should be a challenging month to start the season for the champs. The Heat benefited from favorable schedules to start the past two seasons. Last season, it helped them get off to an 8-1 start and they won 16 of their first 21 overall. That will not be the case when they start their title defense this October.
The Heat have eight games against the tougher Western Conference in November alone, most of them on a challenging six-game road trip. In a rematch of their first-round series, the Heat will play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in their first road game of 2012-13. Miami closes November by hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 29.
The schedule turns in December when the Heat have eight home games, including a Finals rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 5:30 p.m. ET on Christmas Day. Miami will also host the new-look Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks in early December.
Normally, the first Heat-Chicago Bulls game would be one to circle on the calendar, but it appears doubtful that Derrick Rose will be back from a knee injury when the teams play for the first time on Jan. 4 in Miami. Perhaps more interesting will be four days later, when the Indiana Pacers come to town in a rematch of last season’s intense playoff series.
The last time the teams played in Miami, in Game 5, there were several hard fouls including Udonis Haslem nailing Tyler Hansbrough in the head, resulting in a suspension. Dexter Pittman was also suspended for leveling Lance Stephenson.
During the Heat’s championship celebration, a team broadcaster referred to the play as the “greatest flagrant foul in team history,” which further upset the Pacers. Indiana has joined the Celtics and the Bulls as significant Heat rivals.
Miami also has a five-game Western trip in January that culminates in a Jan. 17 game at the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwyane Wade has already Tweeted how excited he is for that game, which is on his 31st birthday. Wade has never had the chance to play an NBA game on his birthday.
The week before the All-Star break in February appears to be the most challenging of the season for the Heat. In a six-day span, they host both the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers and go into the break with a game in Oklahoma City. After getting back, the Heat have a road trip against Chicago and Philadelphia.
As it does every year, the schedule gets more conference-intensive in March and April. The Heat play three games against Philadelphia in the last six weeks of the season, two with Boston, two with New York and two matches with the Bulls when Rose is expected to be back from injury.
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
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