- Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN Staff Writer
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The fun in the NBA schedule lies in the details. On the surface, there's not a whole lot of mystery to its construction. Every season, the Heat play each of their intradivisional rivals -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and Washington -- four times apiece. They host home-and-homes with the 15 teams in the Western Conference. Miami sees six of 10 the remaining Eastern Conference teams four times each, and the other four teams three times each.
The schedule's intrigue comes in the contour of the course. Where are the sand traps? Where's a stretch during which the Heat might have a shot at launching another streak? Whom or where are the Heat playing when the lights are the brightest?
To account for the imbalance in the schedule, the Heat will play Boston and Milwaukee only once each away from Miami, and host Philadelphia and Cleveland for one game this season at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Fattening up early
The Heat open with a home-heavy stretch during which they can fatten up if so motivated. Nine of their first 14 games of the season are in Miami, with the only five road dates coming at Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Toronto, Charlotte and Orlando. The Heat opened with nine of the first 14 at home in 2010-11, LeBron James' first season in Miami. The traveling circus sputtered out of the blocks, going 8-6 over its first 14 games. This season, the tougher matchups in Miami early come against Chicago in the opener and the Clippers in the front end of a Thursday TNT doubleheader. Apart from that, the asphalt is smooth well into December, with a 12-2 or 15-3 record not an unreasonable expectation.
The Heat will endure three dreaded four-games-in-five-nights blocks, and the circumstances could be much worse. The first comes Jan. 17-21 when they travel to Philadelphia and Charlotte -- arguably the easiest back-to-back in the league this season -- followed by a road date at Atlanta before heading home to play Boston. The Heat don't arrive at their second four-in-five until March 18, long after they all but assured themselves the No. 1 seed this past season. The final four-in-five stretch is Games 77, 78, 79 and 80 (Brooklyn, at Memphis, Indiana, at Atlanta).
The season-ticket draft
Let's say you're going to attend 10 Heat games this season. Which 10?
The opener, Oct. 29 versus Chicago. A buzzy season premiere -- Derrick Rose's first game back.
If the Heat experience any regular-season drama, it's likely as not to come against Indiana, which has established a legitimate, hardy rivalry with the LeBron-era Heat. The Pacers host the Heat on Dec. 10 in Indianapolis, before the teams turn around and face off in Miami eight nights later.
The NBA's Christmas is still one of the marquee calendar days in sports. For the fourth consecutive season, the Heat will play in the centerpiece game on the schedule, this year against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
The appeal of a Finals rematch can vary. Sometimes, teams have been reconstructed or the matchup wasn't all that compelling to begin with. But Heat versus Spurs had fans calling for Game 8 which, after a long hiatus, is now scheduled for a national broadcast on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 26, in Miami. The teams meet in San Antonio on Thursday, March 6, as the first game of the TNT doubleheader.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are on the floor at the same time for roughly 75-80 minutes of basketball each season. This season, mark your calendars for Wednesday, Jan. 29, and Thursday, Feb. 20.
LeBron James in Madison Square Garden is a bona fide event, and there are two seatings this upcoming season: Thursday, Jan. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 1, the latter of which will tip at the rare 8:40 p.m. start time in New York. The later curtain lends the game a little more theatrical appeal. A coming trend in some markets?
The Heat are spared one this season, to their benefit. Their longest road trip in miles, games and hotel nights starts on Tuesday, Feb. 4, when they depart Miami for Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Feb. 5. From there, the Heat fly to Utah, Phoenix, Golden State, Dallas and Oklahoma City, coming home after playing the Thunder on TNT to close the trip on Feb. 20.