Follow the Bouncing Ball: Must-See NBA Games
The NBA season ended with a dominant Duncan (Tim) winning his fourth title in nine years, then was rocked by a referee scandal by Donaghy (Tim) that threatened to devastate the league.
Now it's time for Durant (Kevin) to bring some much-needed excitement back to the court. Here, then, are 10 games NBA fans should circle on the calendar:
1. Nov. 8: Dallas at Golden State
Whoa, Nellie! In the first of four meetings between these teams, Dallas seeks revenge after a stunning upset to the Warriors in last season's playoffs. The Warriors became the first No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 in a best-of-seven series. Don Nelson's teams have owned the Mavericks of late, sweeping them in the regular season last year, as well.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban finally got the look of indignation off his face, lasted a few rounds on "Dancing With The Stars," sent in an application to buy the Chicago Cubs and dabbled in new pro football and mixed martial arts teams. His scowl is gone, right? Other meetings are Jan. 2, March 30 and April 2.
If you can't get enough of Dallas teams in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Stars play the Sharks in San Jose on Nov. 7. And if you can stay an extra couple of days, see Cal host USC on Nov. 10.
2. Nov. 9: Utah at Seattle
Kevin Durant will have had a week to make a splash in the NBA. A few good seats can still be had, something that won't be a problem for most of this probable lame-duck Sonics season. Although with Durant's brilliant KeyArena debut against Phoenix (27 points), fans might start to show even if their team likely is leaving.
The Jazz will be coming off a home game against LeBron James and Cleveland. Meanwhile, big, bruising Carlos Boozer has become an imposing leader of the Jazz.
When you're done walking around the Emerald City's Pike Place Market, hit Pioneer Square or Belltown for a little nightlife. The evening before (Nov. 8), catch the piano man himself, Billy Joel, in concert at KeyArena. And if you can extend your stay, the Seahawks host the 49ers Nov. 12 on are you ready? "Monday Night Football."
3. Nov. 23: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston
Thanksgiving in Beantown with Kobe (will you still be a Laker, Mr. Bryant?) facing the new-look Celtics with recent arrivals Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Makes you dream about Magic and Bird and their great 1980s rivalry.
You can start your Friday sports outing early at TD Banknorth Garden, as the Bruins host the Islanders at noon. Then make it a Boston double-header by seeing the Celtics-Lakers tilt that evening at 7:30.
The good times continue Nov. 24, when the high-flying Eagles of Boston College host Miami almost 23 years to the day after Doug Flutie's "Hail Mary" pass beat the Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. If that's not enough, Tom Brady, Randy Moss and the mighty Patriots face the Philadephia Eagles in Foxborough on Nov. 25. Or, if you can't scrounge up tickets, hunker down at The Four's (166 Canal St., Web site) or Sports Grille Boston (132 Canal St.), right across from the Garden, to watch the broadcasts.
Holiday weekend warriors of the most extreme take note: If you can do without the turkey and all the trimmings at home, get to the City of Kind Hearts by Nov. 21 to catch the Celts play the Warriors, then celebrate Thanksgiving Boston-style.
4. Dec. 17: Phoenix at San Antonio
If this game is half as exciting as last season's Western Conference semifinals series between these two squads what many consider the NBA Finals that should have been this will be a thriller.
Spurs forward Robert Horry is running out of fingers for his NBA championship rings (seven), but as far as Suns fans are concerned he can ride off into the sunset. The playoff series was tied 2-2 before Horry elbowed Steve Nash and was suspended for two games. After much debate, Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were each suspended one game for leaving the bench area. San Antonio won in six and went on to take its fourth NBA title in nine years. First of four meetings between best in the West, with the other matchups slated Jan. 31, March 9 and April 9.
5. Dec. 23: Houston at Detroit
Two teams that are expected to be just a notch below the NBA's elite meet at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and company should be major contenders in the East and get a chance to prove it against Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and newcomer Luis Scola.
Earlier in the day, the surprising Lions host the Chiefs at Ford Field. Detroit might be going for the NFC North title or a wild-card berth. The day before (Dec. 22), Michigan will host UCLA expected to contend for the national title in men's basketball at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.
6. Jan. 17: Cleveland at San Antonio
After practically willing the Cavaliers into the Finals, King James ran into the Spurs and the Cavs were swept. This NBA Finals rematch will again have James out to show his team was worthy of better results. (Cleveland did sweep San Antonio during the regular season, by the way.)
While getting ready for this rematch, visit the Alamo, stroll (or take a boat ride) along the River Walk and perhaps play at La Cantera Golf Club (16641 La Cantera Parkway, Web site; its Palmer and Resort courses are rated the top two in the city by Golf Digest). Also, plan your next basketball trip by trying to score Final Four tickets. The Alamodome will host the event April 5 and 7.
7. Feb. 8: Boston at Minnesota
Oh, what a cool way to heat up a Minnesota winter night. Garnett's first trip back to Target Center should provide enough warm and fuzzy feelings to thaw out half of the state's 10,000 lakes.
Garnett was the face of the Timberwolves for 12 years, so expect him to get several big ovations even if the T-Wolves are wallowing near the bottom of the Northwest Division, as expected.
The game is sandwiched around home games for the Wild on Feb. 7 (vs. Dallas) and Feb. 9 (Islanders). Stay an extra day and catch Minnesota and new men's basketball coach, Tubby Smith, host Iowa on Feb. 9 at Williams Arena.
In between, take in the Mall of America in Bloomington (60 East Broadway, Web site); if you're not into shopping just reminisce about old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Twins and Vikings used to play on the site of the mall. For something more exotic, check out the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2400 Third Ave. S., Web site) or the Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, Web site).
8. Feb. 20: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix
Kobe's last game in a Lakers' uniform? If it hasn't happened by the time of this matchup, Bryant might be playing his final game for the L.A. against Nash, Stoudemire and friends. The trade deadline is Feb. 21, and this game comes right after the All-Star break. Either way, you will be in Phoenix in February, for goodness sake, so catch some sun, play a round or two of golf and know that pitchers and catchers soon will report (actually some already will be in the area).
9. March 19: Denver at Philadelphia
Allen Iverson returns to Philadelphia for the first time since being traded to the Nuggets on Dec. 19, 2006. Expect the Answer to get few questions, but mainly applause from the hometown crowd. How the 76ers' management reacts might be a different story, considering their parting was well, Rocky.
Catch the Flyers host the Thrashers on March 18 and/or stay till March 21, when the Rangers come to Philly. In between bites of your cheesesteak, walk where Ben Franklin used to tread in Independence National Historic Park and see Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and other historic documents (no, not A.I.'s last Sixers contract) were signed.
10. April 13: Dallas at Seattle
The final game at KeyArena? Unless Durant can get the Sonics to the playoffs, this could be the franchise's last tilt in Seattle. Should be interesting to see the fan reaction, what with 40-plus years of memories of Lenny Wilkens, The Reign Man, The Glove, "Downtown" Freddie Brown, Nate McMillan, Slick Watts, Jack Sikma and others swirling in their heads.
Oh, you're going to need a double-tall vente, for sure. In addition to possibly seeing the Sonics off to Oklahoma City, you can catch the Mariners host a three-day series with the Angels (April 11-13) and two games against Royals (April 14-15).
Tony Guadagnoli is a free-lance writer from western Washington.
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