Leading off: The Miami Heat
On Tuesday, the NBA teased its regular-season schedule with the announcement of a select number of nationally televised games.
It's strange not to see the Cleveland Cavaliers anywhere on the list, but the league's tectonic plates have shifted, as reflected in the lineup.
Here's the Kia Motors NBA Tip-Off '10 slate of games to air during the season's opening week:
Opening Night -- October 26
Miami at Boston (7:30 p.m. ET)
In what figures to be the highest-rated opening night game in NBA history, the Heat's unprecedented assembly of talent will finally be put to the test. An enduring sports trope says that a defending champion holds its title until rightfully dethroned. The defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics are getting long in the tooth, but their stalwart defensive performance last spring suggests that if any team has a shot of containing the Heat's troika, Boston might be it.
Houston at Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET)
The championship ring ceremony is certain to kick off the evening at Staples Center. After that, the NBA champs will begin the business of defending their crown. Apart from the Celtics last June, no team has challenged the Lakers more valiantly over the past two seasons than the scrappy Rockets outfit. With Yao Ming returning and Kevin Martin fully integrated into the offense, the Rockets could be poised to return to the upper echelon of the West.
Chicago at Oklahoma City (8:00 p.m. ET)
This matchup pits an intriguing new-look Bulls squad with rookie coach Tom Thibodeau and a collection of newcomers including Carlos Boozer against a team that, for the most part, stood pat in the offseason. Will the Thunder vault to the No. 2 spot in the West behind the maturation of their talented young core or will they plateau without an impact frontcourt presence? Can the Bulls perform a similar stunt behind the strength of their retooled roster?
Portland at Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET)
No pair of fan bases are giddier to see the return of their respective young big men. Both Greg Oden and Blake Griffin were No. 1 draft picks in recent years and both suffered debilitating injuries last season. Expectations are high for the Trail Blazers if they can stay healthy, while the Clippers will try to forge a new identity with Griffin as the centerpiece and new coach Vinny Del Negro on the sidelines.
Washington at Orlando (8:00 p.m. ET)
All eyes will be focused on last June's No. 1 draft pick John Wall, who makes his debut for Washington against last season's most efficient defense. As for the Magic, was there a more confounding team last postseason than Orlando? During the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Magic were easily the league's juggernaut, as they rolled their way to eight straight wins over Charlotte, then Atlanta. Then Orlando encountered Boston's defense and fizzled.
Phoenix at Utah (10:30 p.m. ET)
Both Phoenix and Utah lost their elite power forwards this summer. The Jazz managed to salvage their offseason when they acquired Al Jefferson from Minnesota for a ham sandwich, but both the Suns and the Jazz face an uphill battle in 2010-11 to maintain their spots among the Western Conference's elite.
Orlando at Miami (8:00 p.m. ET)
Geographical proximity and star power give the Magic-Heat matchup all the makings of an epic rivalry. Miami's trio creates matchup nightmares for the entire league, but the Heat's roster features a potential Achilles' heel -- the absence of a brutish big man who can contend with the likes of Dwight Howard. Can the Magic exploit this weakness?
Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix (10:30 p.m. ET)
A rematch of the 2010 Western Conference Finals, the Lakers-Suns tête-à-tête has lost a little bit of luster with the departure of Amare Stoudemire from Phoenix. Although Stoudemire was anything but a defensive force, some observers wonder whether a Suns lineup featuring Hedo Turkoglu at the power forward spot can contend with the kind of size a team like the Lakers presents up front.
Denver at Houston (8:30 p.m. ET)
What can we expect from the Denver Nuggets this season? Was their implosion against Utah in the first round of the playoffs last season the product of George Karl's absence, or is there something fundamentally flawed with the composition of the Nuggets' roster? Denver has added Al Harrington, but the journeyman stretch-4 hardly addresses the Nuggets' biggest issue -- their mediocre defense.
Utah at Oklahoma City (7:00 p.m. ET)
After the show these two teams put on April 6, how could the league resist showcasing a rematch during the season's opening week? The Jazz, who lead the world in assist rate, run one of the NBA's most systematic offenses. They'll face off against one of the most devastating one-on-one players the league has seen in recent memory.
Portland at Chicago (8:00 p.m. ET)
What a series of fun matchups: rebounding machines Joakim Noah vs. Greg Oden, supernova Derrick Rose vs. wily veteran Andre Miller, midrange assassins Carlos Boozer vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. Defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau vs. a team that, when healthy, runs a brutally efficient methodical half court offense with Brandon Roy as its focal point. These two teams might not meet for a championship this season, but an inter-conference battle like this is catnip for NBA junkies.