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Yes, the NBA regular season matters

To those who dismiss the importance of the 82-game NBA regular season, your argument may be the weakest it's been in a while.

For starters, look how crucial home-court advantage was to the champs.

Do the Heat even get past the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals if not for the home floor edge, much less the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals?

And just how important was that two-win edge the Warriors held over the Lakers and Rockets in the regular season?

It allowed Golden State to match up against the Nuggets in the first round rather than the Spurs or a then-healthy Thunder team. That first-round win and admirable second-round battle against San Antonio made Golden State a destination, landing the Warriors an opportunity to flirt with signing Dwight Howard and to actually sign Andre Iguodala. That may not happen if not for their hot start to the regular season.

But in the 2013-14 season, there's even more meaning to the first 82 games, and it starts with the booing and wooing.

Just last month we had big-name players, and one particular big-name coach, switch teams, and they all have some interesting welcomes in store when they return to their old cities.

And possibly more significant, with players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki all potentially entering the free-agent market in the summer of 2014, their stops in certain cities might be equal parts business trip and recruiting trip this upcoming season.

That leaves plenty of highlight games for the upcoming season, with the schedule having been released on Tuesday evening.

It starts, though, with a matchup we'd hoped to see in May, but still has plenty of intrigue.

Derrick Rose should be back for the Bulls (that's really not a shot at Rose's extended absence with the ACL injury -- you just never know if he could injure himself again between now and then) on Oct. 29, when he'll get to watch the Heat get their championship rings and raise another banner.

Of course, the real treat will be getting to watch Rose play again. And given that he hasn't been around in a while, you can expect some serious early-season highlights as teams get readjusted to defending Rose.

That same night, the Clippers under new head coach Doc Rivers debut against the Dwight-Howard-less Lakers. And those are two names that add to the drama a bit down the road.

Howard gets his first crack against the Lakers on Nov. 7 in his new city of Houston. The pregame interview with Mike D'Antoni will be a must-listen, but it's doubtful Kobe Bryant (Achilles) will be back on the floor by then.

Fortunately for everyone, then, Bryant should be plenty healthy by Feb. 19, when Howard and the Rockets make their first visit to Los Angeles (Coincidence that Bryant gets plenty of time to recover before Howard's first visit to L.A.? I think not).

The entire city called Howard a coward when he chose Houston, and Bryant did worse. He unfollowed Howard on Twitter (gasp!).

The L.A. crowd won't be quite as merciless as Cleveland was in LeBron's first trip back, but there will be so much to read into in that game, you may have to watch it multiple times to absorb it all.

On Dec. 11, we'll witness the most awkward homecoming of the year, as Rivers returns to Boston, a proud city torn between adoring Rivers for bringing the franchise another championship in 2008 or scolding him for leaving the team when it's down.

And on Jan. 26, a Celtics team that might already have little left to cheer for will welcome back Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in their Brooklyn uniforms.

This won't be nearly as difficult a decision for Celtics fans. Those two will be welcomed back affectionately. In fact, you'll likely see more extreme close-ups of Pierce that day than you've seen in his entire 15-year career, as cameras look to catch the former Celtics great in an emotional moment.

Speaking of conflicting emotions, what's the reaction going to be like this time around when LeBron returns to Cleveland? We'll get an early taste of it this season, on Nov. 27, when fans in Cleveland have to decide whether to hold on to their hatred for the player who left after seven seasons, or to turn the visit into a total love-fest for the player rumored to be considering a return to his original stomping grounds in 2014.

At the very least, there will be some contradicting signs in the stands for that one.

And when LeBron goes to Laker-land on Christmas Day? That seems like a strange choice for the highlighted Christmas game, given the current state of the Lakers, but it makes a lot more sense when you consider the LeBron-to-L.A.-in-2014 storyline.

You can imagine the A-listers will be lined up in those courtside seats with some very persuasive monologues prepared to convince LeBron to look west in 2014.

Same goes for Carmelo's visit on March 25, 2014.

Just to be safe, Lakers fans better pour out the love when Nowitzki's Mavs visit for the only time on April 4.

For that matter, the Jan. 9 Heat-Knicks game in Madison Square Garden should bring out the very best of a New York crowd with dreams (fantasies?) of a Melo-LeBron pairing happening in their very city.

For those who love their playoff rematches in the regular season, some of the more compelling ones include Golden State at San Antonio on Nov. 8, Memphis at the Clippers on Nov. 18, Indiana at Miami on Dec. 18, Chicago at Brooklyn on Christmas Day and Spurs at Heat on Jan. 26, where we'll learn if the tradition of resting starters in this rivalry will continue (here's a indication: It's not a back-to-back for either team).

And let's not forget about the teams desperate to break through. We saw how entertaining a young Warriors team was last year, and that extended into the postseason.

This season, there are at least four teams with that type of breakthrough potential -- and the regular season means everything to them.

In the Eastern Conference, there are the Cavaliers and Wizards, and both have early measuring-stick games. The Cavs open at home against the new-look Nets, then play at Indiana three days later.

The Wizards are at Miami on Nov. 3, then are at Oklahoma City on Nov. 10, for a matchup of two explosive and dynamic point guards with John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

Out west, New Orleans is going to be examined thoroughly by those who enjoy basketball chemistry experiments, and I'm not talking about their uniforms.

The wing-heavy Pelicans (that doesn't sound like it works well, anatomically speaking) will find out early how their small-ish ball works against bigger teams, kicking off their season on Oct. 30 against Roy Hibbert and the Pacers, and taking a trip to Memphis on Nov. 6.

The Timberwolves might be even more desperate than the Pelicans to make a postseason appearance, and in a deep Western Conference, every game will be critical for them.

Because if the re-tweaked Wolves don't taste the postseason this year, you can expect Kevin Love to start making some strong suggestions to be traded.

Beating either the Thunder in Minneapolis on Nov. 1 or the Knicks in New York on Nov. 3 would be a decent indicator as to whether Minny is finally postseason material again.

All we have is the schedule, and there's already too many NBA storylines to keep track of for the upcoming regular season.

I'd say there's plenty of meaning to it.