Follow the bouncing ball
NBA must-sees of 2010-11 are heavy on Heat, Celtics and Lakers
From a dizzying, seven-game NBA Finals to some of the biggest offseason changes in NBA history (read: "The Decision" by LeBron James), the 2010-11 season is one of the most anticipated in recent memory.
In the blink of an eye, the Cleveland Cavaliers went from being close to an NBA championship-caliber team to an afterthought as King James took his immense talent and circus act to South Beach and the Miami Heat.
That move, along with Chris Bosh's arrival from Toronto and mixed with the existing superstar qualities of Dwyane Wade, gives Miami the most intriguing trifecta since Olive Oyl, Bluto and Popeye.
But Kobe Bryant is still playing in Los Angeles, and the Lakers don't figure to release their grip on the championship trophy too easily. Those teams highlight a feast of 10 must-see NBA games for the sports tourist this season.
It starts in Boston, where the big leprechaun himself, Shaquille O'Neal, has joined a team many thought was too dusty to play for a title but nearly won it all last season.
Without further ado is a trek of Travel Ten games that feature the NBA's established powers and rising stars (all times ET):
1. Nov. 12: Portland at Oklahoma City, 9:30 p.m. | Buy tickets
These are two teams on the cusp of becoming new powers in the Western Conference.
Oklahoma City gave the Lakers all they could handle in the playoffs last season.
Portland should have a healthy Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. The Thunder have perhaps the best offensive player in the West in Kevin Durant, who again should challenge for the NBA scoring title and MVP honors.
Top this weekend off by seeing Oklahoma host Texas Tech on Nov. 13 in a Big 12 South college football showdown in Norman. (Buy Sooners tickets.)
2. Nov. 27: Miami at Dallas, 8:30 p.m. | Buy tickets
The Dallas Mavericks (remember them?) get their first taste of the new-look Heat. Dallas might be out of hurrahs but still has Dirk Nowitzki. Expect owner Mark Cuban to shoot off his mouth. He already has accused Miami general manager Pat Riley of tampering to acquire James.
This is surely one game the Heat, and especially Riley, will look forward to more than the opposing team.
Start the long holiday weekend by watching the Dallas Cowboys host the defending champion New Orleans Saints in Arlington on Nov. 25 at 4:15 p.m. (Buy Cowboys tickets.)
3. Dec. 2: Miami at Cleveland, 8 p.m. | Buy tickets
Shouldn't you be heading to South Beach in December? Well, no, because LeBron returns to Cleveland. That alone makes this one of the most anticipated matchups of the season.
Expect DEFCON 1 status at Quicken Loans Arena, where spurned Cavaliers fans will be in a lather to unleash their personal unhappiness upon the dethroned King. Cleveland rocks, indeed!
The speculation is a few Cavaliers fans (LeBron haters?) are buying season tickets just to make sure they get this one game. Cavaliers fans will have little more than a month to figure out exactly who is left on their roster, but they probably won't care as long as they can boo their once-feted son.
4. Dec. 25: Miami at Lakers, 5 p.m. | Buy tickets
LeBron versus Kobe. When asked in May who would win a game of one-on-one between the two superstars, Bryant didn't hesitate, saying, "I'd win. That's like my thing."
Both players will have help, but this one is perfectly dialed in for huge ratings, checking out the "beautiful people" courtside and one-upsmanship.
After all, Miami, not the defending champion Lakers, has been tabbed by oddsmakers as the favorite to win the title this season.
If you want to get a sense of cooler weather for the holiday, head back to Staples Center on Dec. 26, when the Anaheim Ducks play the Los Angeles Kings in an NHL game at 9 p.m. (Buy Kings tickets.)
5. Jan. 17: Orlando at Boston, 8 p.m. | Buy tickets
Orlando saw its 2009-10 season end in Boston, and now the Magic get a chance to again test the Celtics on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By the time this game comes around, the Celtics should know how the offseason acquisitions of the O'Neals are working out. Of course, the Celtics lulled through the second half of last season and wound up going to the NBA Finals, so maybe this isn't the best gauge for how they might finish.
Still, Howard will need to show he can handle Garnett if Orlando is to get more than tacit respect.
You also have the opportunity to make this an all-day Garden affair, as the Bruins host the Carolina Hurricanes at 1 p.m. (Buy Bruins tickets.)
The Bruins also host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 15. (Buy Bruins tickets.)
You might even be able to see Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a home playoff game this same weekend.
6. Jan. 30: Boston at Lakers, 3:30 p.m. | Buy tickets
This is a rematch of last season's NBA Finals and perhaps a last chance for Shaq to play a regular-season game against former teammate Kobe Bryant in L.A. ... in Celtic green no less.
The two future Hall of Famers have nine NBA titles between them -- three as Lakers teammates. It's not all nostalgia, as these teams generally don't like each other, and Lakers fans are not likely to give Shaq overwhelming approval.
Those are some of the reasons this remains the best rivalry in the NBA. Another reason: The Celtics have won an NBA-best 17 titles, one more than the Lakers.
7. Feb. 27: Lakers at Oklahoma City, 2:30 p.m. | Buy tickets
Another rematch of a doozy of a playoff series from last season and a measuring-stick game for rising superstar Kevin Durant and the Thunder against Bryant and the defending champion Lake Show.
College basketball fans can gear up for this game Feb. 26, when Kansas plays at Oklahoma. (Buy Oklahoma tickets.)
8. March 4-5: Toronto vs. New Jersey, O2 Arena, London, 3 p.m. | Buy tickets
Not as easy a trip as, say, from Manhattan to Newark, but these back-to-back games in London make for an interesting vacation or long weekend. This will be the NBA's first regular-season foray in Europe (although the venue has been used for preseason games), as commissioner David Stern makes good on his promise to bring the game to London before the Olympic Games.
The O2 has hosted everything from massive rock concerts to Chris Rock, and will be the site of gymnastics and several basketball games for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Editor's note: Miami at Boston on Oct. 26 and Washington at Orlando on Oct. 28 also made the list, to round out the 10 picks.
Tony Guadagnoli is a freelance writer in western Washington.