Viewer's guide to the 2011-12 season

The NBA has released its schedule for the upcoming season. Much like last year, TrueHoop is looking at the games that jump out right now. Of course, all of this assumes we have a full season and that the schedule doesn't get scuttled by the lockout.

Opening Night: Nov. 1

Chicago Bulls at Dallas Mavericks

The 2011 NBA champions will raise their banner against the Bulls to kick off the season. Before last season started, it seemed unlikely that both of these teams would have title aspirations outside of their diehard fans. This season, anything other than a championship will probably be a disappointment for both franchises and fan bases.

Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz

Kevin McHale will make his Rockets head-coaching debut as Enes Kanter makes his professional debut with the Jazz. Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin will take on the backcourt of Devin Harris and Alec Burks when these two retooling franchises meet up.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers

During the 2010 Western Conference playoffs, this was one of the biggest matchups out West, as the defending champion Lakers took on the upstart and surprising Thunder. But when the 2011-12 season starts, L.A. will be trying to prove Mike Brown can lead it back to the promised land the Thunder were so close to reaching last May.

Reigning Champions Tour

Nov. 4: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs

The Mavs, the new top squad in Texas, will take on the aging Spurs. Both teams are full of veterans and young players who are hopeful to continue the winning legacy of each franchise. We'll see if Dallas’ rise to the top was more of a fluke or a starting point for a longer run.

Dec. 3: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns

Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash get to catch up. Nash will discuss his newest exploits with his annual soccer tournament and Vitamin Water commercials. Dirk will casually try to hide his new championship ring to make things not so awkward.

Dec. 15: Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks

The Lakers didn’t exactly go out with class to end their run at a second three-peat. The Mavericks had to weather cheap shots from the L.A. frontcourt in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, but it didn’t stop them from sweeping the Lakers and turning L.A. into a franchise in search of some roster change. Let’s see if the Lakers can resume their dominance in the West.

Dec. 29: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder

This rematch of the Western Conference finals will give the Thunder a chance to see if they’ve improved at all against the West foe that stopped the young team’s title aspirations in the 2011 playoffs. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will get an opportunity to see where they stand as the Thunder try to continue their growth as a franchise and if they can quell the “controversy” created around the team through harsh analysis last May.

March 29: Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Back to the scene of the crime. The Mavericks return to Miami, where they took two of three games in the NBA Finals to help secure the first championship in franchise history. Dallas' team defense embarrassed LeBron James and stifled the rest of the Heat. Now, we get to see how much of a revenge factor there will be from Miami as James and company measure themselves in-season against the reigning champs.

March 30: Dallas Mavericks at Orlando Magic

The Magic seem to be heading in the opposite direction of where they were going a couple years ago. Dirk has a chance to show Dwight Howard that sticking with your franchise and demonstrating unmatched loyalty can really pay off if you have a billionaire owner who is willing to be innovative in the name of winning.

Rookie Debuts/Showdowns

Nov. 2: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving will have a tough introduction to the NBA when he’s asked to solve the Celtics' vaunted team defense. Matching up against Rajon Rondo and trying to work the pick-and-roll against Kevin Garnett's hedging screens will be a baptism by fire for the No. 1 pick.

Nov. 2: Houston Rockets at Sacramento Kings

We’ve all had a little Jimmer Fever at some point. Now it’s the NBA’s turn to catch it. Jimmer Fredette will make his professional debut as he joins forces with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Over/under on the first 30-footer he jacks up is the 3:41 mark of the first quarter. I’m going to take the under and guess that he knocks it down.

Nov. 2: Atlanta Hawks at Minnesota Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams make their NBA debuts for the Wolves as they host the Hawks. The athleticism of the Hawks will be a tough test for these two young players, but expect them to connect for a couple of alley-oops.

Nov. 2: Charlotte Bobcats at Orlando Magic

Bismack Biyombo has said he can lead the league in rebounding and blocks. Dwight Howard would like to have a word with him on his first official night in the NBA.

Nov. 11: Sacramento Kings at Minnesota Timberwolves

What would you rather catch? Jimmer Fever or Rubio Rubella? They’ll begin to prove which one is more overrated or which one is the more underrated. Jimmer’s unlimited range or Rubio’s flashy passing and flowing locks? Only one will emerge victorious on this night.

Jan 10: Detroit Pistons at Charlotte Bobcats

Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight will face each other for the first time on a professional level. Walker had the more storied college career and he beat Knight's Wildcats in both meetings last season, including in the Final Four. But Knight was viewed as a better long-term prospect by most scouts. Both get to prove their doubters wrong in their early head-to-head matchup.

Jan. 31: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavaliers

It’s the battle of the rookie point guards. Rubio will square off with Irving for the first time. Both should be prime rookie of the year candidates and capable of wowing and impressing viewers. But there is a chance another rookie will outshine both of them. Derrick Williams will try to prove he’s also a candidate for the rookie of the year award and capable of changing a franchise’s fortunes.

Holiday Games

Thanksgiving Day: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks (TNT)

New Orleans Hornets at Los Angeles Clippers (TNT)

You may have a turkey-induced food coma to nap through during the Sixers-Hawks battle of athleticism, but you’ll surely wake up for pie and coffee in order to catch Chris Paul and Blake Griffin battling it out.

Christmas Day: Boston Celtics at New York (ESPN)

Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks (ABC)

Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers (ABC)

Only three games this Christmas Day instead of the five we were gifted last season, but they’re all really good matchups. We’ll get to see if the Knicks have gotten any better since being swept by the Celtics, we'll have a rematch of the 2011 NBA Finals and a matchup of Kobe and Rose as you ask the Christmas carolers to pipe down.

New Year’s Eve: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs

Dwane Casey gets to finish off the calendar year coaching against Gregg Popovich. If Andrea Bargnani going against Tim Duncan may seem like a mismatch on paper … well, that’s because it is.

New Year’s Day: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards

If you need a break from the college football bowl games, be sure to turn on the showdown between Dwight Howard and John Wall. Howard's ability to protect the rim could destroy Wall’s mission of attacking the basket as quickly as possible. No matter who wins , there should be plenty of highlights to help you quickly forget your New Year’s resolutions.

Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 16: Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies (ESPN)

Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks (NBATV)

Oklahoma City Thunder at Boston Celtics (TNT)

Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers (TNT)

If the ultimate matchup of athleticism (Rose) against a ground attack (Zach Randolph) doesn’t get your blood pumping then surely Durant versus Pierce and Dirk versus Kobe will. And if you have NBA League Pass, you’ll be able to see Jimmer’s debut at Madison Square Garden or Ty Lawson and John Wall trying to break the sound barrier on the hardwood.

Valentine’s Day: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder

Nothing says romance like a matchup of Rubio’s flowing locks and James Harden’s beard.

St. Patrick’s Day: Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls

Brian Scalabrine (if re-signed) has to get playing time while the Bulls are wearing green jerseys, right?

April Fool’s Day: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics

Can’t wait to see the prank that Kevin Garnett pulls on Chris Bosh.

MVP Debate Tour

Nov. 3: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat

Howard and James were the gems of the statistical community’s MVP debate last season. Now they’ll both get a chance to prove which one is more likely to walk away with the award this season. Dwight will try to show he’s more of an offensive force than people realize as LeBron shows the voters that he’s not such a bad guy after all.

Jan. 6: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic

Last season, the debate of “watch the games” versus the “statistical nerds” argued whether or not Rose or Howard should be named the MVP. Rose won and people who hate statistics as a measuring stick were vindicated. This year, we could be in for the same thing as both should be in prime position to make this a debate for the second straight season.

March 14: Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls

LeBron James was the best player in the NBA last season but Derrick Rose was the most valuable. As James tries to bury the skeletons from his Finals closet and return to the form that helped knock the Bulls out of the playoffs, Rose will show how much he’s improved in his fourth season as he moves toward making the debate of best player in the NBA a lot more crowded.

April 8: Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Kobe wants to prove he’s still the best player in the West. Durant will be showing off his impressive scoring ability that many thought would carry him to the MVP before last season. Both players should be well within MVP contention this year. OKC's team defense will attempt to slow Kobe down and make him more inefficient, while Ron Artest will try to continue to use his physicality to make Durant miss a lot more often than he should.

Other Notable Games

Nov. 2: Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors

The ESPN crew will visit former broadcast partner and new Warriors head coach Mark Jackson for the first time in his coaching career. We’ll get to listen to Mike Breen’s dulcet tones as Jeff Van Gundy undoubtedly heckles Jackson on the sidelines. The between-quarter interview should be really entertaining.

Nov. 2: New Jersey Nets at Washington Wizards

Deron Williams will hopefully be in our nation’s capitol instead of halfway around the world on this night. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Nov. 16: New York Knick at Denver Nuggets

For the next couple of years, Carmelo’s return to Denver will probably be a bigger deal than it needs to be. Denver proved to have more team success after the trade last season while the Knicks had more glitz and glamour.

Nov. 18: Chicago Bulls at Phoenix Suns

Some people aren't certain that Steve Nash deserved back-to-back MVP awards. Derrick Rose has the chance to suffer the same scrutiny while enjoying the same accolade in back-to-back seasons.

Nov. 18: Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs will be decked out in Dallas Mavericks championship gear as they celebrate LeBron’s latest return to Cleveland.

Nov. 25: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves

This is the one time this season the Wolves are scheduled to be on ESPN. Rubio will try to establish his place in the league against Kyle Lowry, one of the best defensive point guards around right now.

Dec. 13: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies

After exceeding expectations last season, both teams fell victim to the Thunder during the playoffs. The Nuggets and Grizzlies could be on the cusp of turning into very formidable opponents for years to come in the West ... or they could end up falling back after unexpected success.

Dec. 23: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat

Any time we get to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant square off, we could be in for an ocular treat. But the more compelling matchup between these two teams could very well be Dwyane Wade against Russell Westbrook. Both are often far too quick and powerful for their opponents and capable of taking over the game.

Jan. 20: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers

This used to be a minor pothole on the Lakers' road to glory each season. But with the emergence of Blake Griffin and the Clippers, the Lakers can no longer play in these games without bringing their best effort.

Feb. 12: Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics

Is this a changing of the guard in the East for elite defensive teams that suffocate the rest of the conference or can the Celtics continue to dodge Father Time and remain the best at what they do?

Feb. 17: New Orleans Hornets at New York Knicks

You can’t always get what you want. The Hornets will get to tease the Knicks with the coveted prize of Chris Paul when they visit Madison Square Garden. The Knicks would love to add him to their combination of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but with very little cap space/flexibility to do so, it might just be another New York media pipe dream.

March 21: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers

The Knicks may have more media coverage, but the 76ers, now under new ownership, could very well be the better team next season. Doug Collins did a fantastic job coaching up such a young squad last season and with their defensive intensity driven by Andre Iguodala (assuming he’s still with the team) we may see Philly show they’re still the better overall team.

April 11: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trailblazers

Two of the most rabid and intense fan bases in the NBA will get a chance to see their respective teams square off against each other on national television. Monta Ellis going against Brandon Roy used to be the big draw of this matchup, but now the backcourt of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry will have to battle against the frontcourt of LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace.

April 13: Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons

The Bucks' lone appearance on ESPN this season comes at the end of what could either be a very encouraging season. The Bucks crumbled under big expectations last year thanks to injuries and an anemic offense. At this point in next season, they could very well be closing in on a playoff spot.

April 18: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards

This is ACTUALLY a nationally televised game. The basketball nerd in me is very excited for this matchup on ESPN.