LeBron and Dirk will go head-to-head again on Christmas day, a rematch of the 2011 NBA Finals.
Mark these down, folks. In pencil.
The NBA released the 2011-12 schedule for all 30 teams and, as expected, the league is leveraging the Miami Heat into their biggest time slots. Although we don't know who's signing where -- honestly, are you going to tune in to watch David West? -- we can get a pretty good idea what the big storylines will be for each game. For the full Heat schedule, use this link, but here's your Heat cheat sheet.
(Oh, and there's a chance that none of these games are played. Worth keeping in mind as we go along.)
Nov. 2 at New York Knicks: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The season-opener. Maybe. The Knicks will host the Heat and show off the newly renovated Madison Square Garden. Carmelo vs. LeBron. Stoudemire vs. Bosh. Fields (?) vs. Wade. The Heat split the season series against the Knicks last season, but lost their only matchup against the new-look Knicks with Anthony in tow. Last season, the Heat dropped their season-opener against the Boston Celtics with a gimpy and rusty Dwyane Wade.
Nov. 3 vs. Orlando Magic: 8 p.m. ET
Heat will make their AmericanAirlines Arena 2011-12 debut against their Florida rivals, the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard and the Magic won't be playing on Christmas day so this matchup figures to be their biggest draw during the regular season. Also worth noting: The Heat's first two games will be a back-to-back.
Nov. 16 vs. Boston Celtics: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Celtics will look to get revenge against the Heat after Miami disposed of the C's in five games during the Eastern Conference semifinals. With Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen hitting free agency after 2011-12, each game between the Big Threes may be the last. Hopefully, Rajon Rondo's elbow will be fine by then so there won't be an asterisk attached to this game.
Nov. 18 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Not every Cleveland fan got a chance to boo LeBron James last season, so expect a fresh new batch of jeers this time around. The Heat were embarrassed 102-90 in their last matchup.
Dec. 8 vs. Los Angeles Lakers: : 8 p.m. ET, TNT
LeBron plays against his old coach, Mike Brown, for the first time. The Heat went undefeated against the Lakers last season, taking both of their games against the defending champs in 2010-11. Will Dwight Howard be in purple and gold?
Dec. 25 at Dallas Mavericks: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Finals rematch. Will free-agents-to-be Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea be a part of it?
Jan. 19 vs. Chicago Bulls: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Chicago Bulls will have to wait until 2012 to avenge their Eastern Conference finals loss. The Heat will host Derrick Rose and the Bulls in the first of four meetings between these two powers next season. Will Rose finally have a star shooting guard by then?
Feb. 5 vs. Toronto Raptors: Noon ET
If there's an encore of the 1998-99 lockout, then this will be the Heat's season-opener. Feel the excitement!
Mar. 1 at Portland Trail Blazers: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Remember the epic overtime throwdown between these two teams on Jan. 9? Remember when Chris Bosh said he needed the ball more after a tough Heat loss last season? The Heat's games against Portland were enthralling last season. I wonder if LeBron will welcome the boos again at the Rose Garden.
Mar. 4 at Lakers: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
This could be a preview of the 2011-12 NBA Finals. Lakers-Heat will only happen twice during the regular season, so make sure this one is circled.
Mar. 29 vs. Mavericks: 8 p.m. ET, TNT
The last time Heat fans saw the Mavericks in AmericanAirlines Arena? Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks raised the Larry O'Brien trophy center court. Should be a fun one.
Apr. 18 vs. Philadelphia 76ers: 8 p.m. ET
Last game of the season. The Sixers and the Heat will play four times in the upcoming season. The Sixers will end the 2011-12 regular season on the same floor that they opened the 2010-11 playoffs.
Some random notes:
Oddly enough, the Heat will open their season on the road despite winning the Eastern Conference finals. Not that there's a league code on this, but it's rare to see a conference champ open its season in someone else's arena. Last time it happened? The 2003-04 New Jersey Nets after winning the East in 2002-03. Sure, there will be some conspiracy theorists out there, but the league knows that they can get a huge ratings boost by sticking the Heat in someone else's home debut. Worth keeping in mind that Madison Square Garden is getting some renovations this summer and the extra eyeballs will sweeten the event for the league.
The Heat are scheduled to have 17 back-to-backs next season, including a tough one to kick off the season against the Knicks and Magic. After taking a closer look, the Heat will probably need to pack an extra case of Red Bulls (or Sheets energy strips for that matter) on their April road trip. Here it goes: Apr. 12 at Chicago, Apr. 13 at Indiana, Apr. 14 off, Apr. 15 at New York, Apr. 16 at New Jersey. After that, the Heat get some rest on the 17th before finishing off the season at home against the 76ers. Although, at that point, why not just end it in Philadelphia while they're up there?
Heat fans: clear out your Sundays. Miami is scheduled to play on Sunday 16 times in 2011-12. File this one under Ratings 101. In a related note: The Heat only have 16 home games on the weekend this season, after getting 19 the past two seasons.
The Eastern Conference foes the Heat play only three times next season: Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee and Toronto. The only chance to see Boston next season at AmericanAirlines Arena will be Nov. 16. The rest are up in Beantown.
Miami will play on Easter again this season, this time hosting the Detroit Pistons.
A Ricky Rubio-related note from the Heat's media relations department: The last team the Heat will face for the first time this season is Minnesota (Mar. 13). Miami will have completed 12 series (three vs. Eastern Conference opponents: Orlando, Toronto and Washington; and nine vs. Western Conference opponents: Golden State, Houston, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Memphis, New Orleans, San Antonio, Sacramento and Utah) before playing its first game this season against the Timberwolves.