Wednesday, August 7, 2013
2013-14 schedule about more than Heat
By J.A. Adande
When Miami opens the season, more eyes will be on Derrick Rose's return than Miami's banner.
Let's take the newly released NBA schedule as a challenge. Can we get through the regular season without making it all about the Miami Heat?
They have carried the season storyline ever since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh assembled in the summer of 2010. First, we wanted to see how the concoction would work, treating every game in 2010-11 as a measure of their effectiveness and Erik Spoelstra's ability to coach them. In 2011-12, with LeBron's fourth-quarter faltering in the 2011 NBA Finals still lingering in our minds, we dissected each of his last-minute failures –- even in the All-Star Game.
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Last season was supposed to be about the newest superteam, the Los Angeles Lakers, infused with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But while the 2012-13 Lakers wallowed in mediocrity, the Heat summoned memories of the 1971-72 Lakers by winning 27 consecutive games. No NBA story mattered from late February to late March other than the Heat's pursuit of that magical 33.
There doesn't seem to be anything left for this season. The Heat have proved they can win a championship, and win it again. There's nothing for them to demonstrate during the regular season. That doesn't mean we won't be seeing them –- with six games on ABC, nine on ESPN and nine on TNT -– but if you think about it, it's more interesting to see what their opponents will do in those marquee matchups than what the Heat are about.
It starts with opening night, when the main story will be Derrick Rose's return. That's just one of the ongoing threads that will be more intriguing than Miami's campaign. So will the southern migration of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Bostonians-turned-Brooklynites who get their first crack at the Heat on Nov. 1.
How will their former coach, Doc Rivers, do with the Clippers? What about Howard and James Harden in Houston? Can Russell Westbrook bounce back from injury, and can he and Kevin Durant overcome the roster erosion from the past two years? Will the Golden State Warriors make good on the promise they showed last season?
Those are all bigger stories than the Heat until the playoffs start and Miami begins its true championship defense. Until then, the Heat are a curiosity, not a major concern. When will they lose back-to-back games, something that hasn't happened since Jan. 8 and Jan. 10? How will Greg Oden fare? Neither of these rises to the level of "pressing issue."
The Heat will be visible. They'll be entertaining. They're definitely relevant. But after three years of monopolizing our attention, it's time for a new role: secondary.
Something else I look for when the schedule is released is the dreaded West Coast/Denver back-to-back. It's doom for visiting teams that play in California or Oregon at night, head to the airport, take a 2½-hour flight, lose an hour due to the switch from the Pacific to Mountain time zone and take a 45-minute drive from the Denver airport to their downtown hotel. It usually means hitting the pillow at 4 a.m. then having to play later that night, with minimal time to adjust to the thinner air at high altitude.
The Nuggets get the benefit of nine of those games this season:
April 9, versus Houston Rockets, the night after the Rockets are in Los Angeles for a TNT game against the Lakers.
Those TNT games typically start later and last longer, so you can add an extra half hour to the departure times.
To a lesser degree, this disadvantage also applies to teams traveling to Utah, although the flight is 90 minutes shorter and the drive from the airport to the hotel lasts only a few minutes.
Utah gets eight of those games this season, although the Jazz might be so bad it will mitigate the advantage.
Another tough schedule break: playing the 1 p.m. Sunday games in Toronto, especially for Western teams whose bodies might be up to three hours behind. Not to mention the players might be tempted to head out the night before on their lone visit of the season to Toronto.
The Trail Blazers have one of those games on Nov. 17. The Nuggets are there Dec. 1. The Lakers pay an afternoon visit Jan. 19. The Suns are there March 16. The Suns, Lakers and Blazers all play in Boston the Friday before their Sunday games in Toronto, so at least they'll have a little longer to adjust to the time change.