And now, back to your regularly scheduled NBA schedule. Not the lockout-adjusted 66-game schedule, but a full-fledged, 82-game, everyone-goes-everywhere schedule.
The mutant lockout schedule did have its moments. I liked how Dec. 25 served as both opening night and the Christmas showcase games last year. This year they're split -- and honestly, the appetizers spread across the season's first four nights are more appealing than the full plate Christmas Day.
Oct. 30 is when we'll first see Ray Allen go against his former Boston Celtics teammates, right after his new Miami Heat teammates get their championship rings and hoist the franchise's second banner. That's a lot of emotion right away.
Across the country, Steve Nash will make his official debut as a Los Angeles Laker, facing his old buddy Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, who at this point have about as many players left from their 2011 championship team as they do from when Nash played his last game with them in 2004.
The next day, Oct. 31, No. 1 pick Anthony Davis will play his first game with the New Orleans Hornets (against the San Antonio Spurs), plus there's Take 2 of Jeremy Lin, Houston Rocket, on the road against the Detroit Pistons.
Nov. 1 brings the beginning of the battle between the boroughs. Get used to all the B's now that Brooklyn is in the house. The New York Knicks cross the East River to play the Nets in their new home, and folks are already getting worked up about the first major pro sports game in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957.
Meanwhile, out west, it's a conference finals rematch between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Even though the Thunder won that series, the Spurs get the honor of playing at home.
Nov. 2 features the Clippers and Lakers, and the point guard showdown between Nash and Chris Paul.
Fast-forwarding to Dec. 25, the highlight game on Christmas is the NBA Finals rematch of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami. But now that we've seen them play in June, the thought of seeing them in December isn't as intriguing. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics face the Brooklyn Nets, and there's a doubleheader at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Knicks play the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets play the Clippers in the nightcap.
Also, the Houston Rockets are at the Chicago Bulls in the biggest mystery matchup of the day. If Derrick Rose isn't back from his knee surgery, it will be up to Lin (and the return of Omer Asik!) to generate interest in that game.
The greatest wild card in the NBA season is the location of Dwight Howard. The network schedulers are acting as if he won't be on the Orlando Magic come January. The Magic have one game on ESPN in November, one ESPN game in December and nothing at all on the slate for ABC or TNT. As much as his name and face have been on TV all summer, maybe it's better that he stays in Orlando and off our screens. But if the thought of him getting traded to the Lakers sickened you before, you won't want to hear that he'd be joining the team making a league-high 22 combined appearances on ABC and ESPN, plus nine games on TNT.
And make room on your TV schedule for the Clippers, who have been bumped up to four ABC games, 14 ESPN games and nine TNT games. Yes, the Clippers are getting virtually the same TV treatment as the Heat and Thunder, the league's two best teams last season. For that matter, so are the Knicks, with the widest national-TV-games-to-2012-playoffs-victories disparity of them all (29-to-1).
At the moment, we don't know when or if Howard will play his first game against the Magic or come back to Orlando in a new jersey. We do know Nash will play against the Suns for the first time Nov. 16 and return to Phoenix on Jan. 30. Allen will be back in Boston on Jan. 27. Joe Johnson will be back in Atlanta on March 9. Lin returns to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17.
And because the lockout didn't bring every team to every city last season, March 13 will be Carmelo Anthony's first game in Denver in more than two years.
The nationally televised games on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 21 are Indiana at Memphis, San Antonio at Philadelphia and L.A. Lakers at Chicago.
Some playoff rematches of note: The Pacers are home against Miami on Jan. 8, the Mavericks play the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Dec. 27 and the Lakers first play the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Dec. 7 . The Nuggets play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Nov. 30. The Philadelphia 76ers play in Boston on Nov. 9 and in Chicago on Dec. 1.
Among the famous annual excursions that derive their nicknames from the temporary arena occupants, the Bulls' circus trip lasts from Nov. 14 to Nov. 28, and takes them to Phoenix, the L.A. Clippers, Portland, Houston and Milwaukee.
The Lakers' Grammy road trip goes from Jan. 30 to Feb. 10, seven games in Phoenix, Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami. The Clippers always seem to get the worst of the Grammys; their trip starts at the same time and ends one day later with an additional game, with stops in Minnesota, Toronto, Boston, Washington, Orlando, Miami, New York and Philadelphia.
The Clippers won't get any sympathy from the Spurs, who play only two home games in February, when the rodeo road trip takes them to Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland, Sacramento, the L.A. Clippers, Golden State and Phoenix in the span of 19 days (including the four-day break for the All-Star Game, played in Houston on Feb. 17).
The best part of the schedule is what isn't there this season: the dreaded back-to-back-to-back games. In other words, back to normal.