Shaq's Cleveland debut opens season

The schedule for the 2009-10 NBA season is out, as is Marc Stein for the week.

In place of my vacationing colleague, I'm going to take you through the schedule's highlights. But first, a couple of interesting factoids:

Sure, they might have pushed the eventual-champion Lakers to seven games in the conference semifinals, but with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady on the mend and Ron Artest's having flown the coop, the Rockets now apparently have no national appeal at all. None. Their total number of national television appearances on ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports: zero.

Also getting the Rockets treatment (no nationally televised games, unless you include NBA TV) are a few teams you probably wouldn't want to watch anyway: New Jersey, Sacramento, Milwaukee and Charlotte.

Two sleeper teams, one from each conference, are scheduled for only one national appearance apiece. The ESPN TV crew will be in Oklahoma City on Dec. 16 for the Thunder's tilt against the Dallas Mavericks. And America gets its peek at Hedo Turkoglu and the Raptors on Jan. 18 on ESPN, versus the New York Knicks.

Here are the most interesting games to put on your calendar, whether on paper or your electronic planner of choice:

Oct. 27: Opening Night (TNT)
This is a replay of sorts of last year's opening night, when the then-defending champion Boston Celtics received their championship rings before hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers. This time, the venue is The Q and there will be no rings, but there will be some "Diesel" power, with Shaquille O'Neal making his Cavs debut. The Lakers gets their rings prior to TNT's nightcap against the Clippers. Those who purchase the NBA package also can check in on Washington-Dallas and Houston-Portland.

Oct. 28: Opening Night continued (ESPN)
What is this -- the Worldwide Leader showing an overt Left Coast bias? The mothership beams two games from the far side of the Mississippi into your homes: New Orleans-San Antonio followed by Utah-Denver. The burning question here: Which will end first, Jazz-Nuggets or Game 1 of the World Series?

For this Opening Night, Part 2, there are 10 games in all on tap, including the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, with Vince Carter now aboard, hosting Philadelphia; the Cavs playing the second night of a back-to-back, in Toronto; the Celtics also getting the early back-to-back treatment as they host Charlotte; and the Pistons deciding whether it'll be Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton or Ben Gordon coming off the bench as they open at Memphis.

Oct 29: San Antonio at Chicago (TNT)
Richard Jefferson is expected to attend, wearing black. If he changes his mind, expect to be notified by e-mail.

Oct. 30: Chicago at Boston (ESPN); Orlando at New Jersey; Golden State at Phoenix
Based on what happened between the Bulls and C's in April, we should expect this one to go two or three overtimes, at a minimum. Also, Vince Carter returns to The Swamp, and several hundred witnesses are expected (when Jason Kidd played his alumni game at the Meadowlands, the place was maybe half-full, prompting Kidd to say it reminded him of his first home game with the Nets). For the Warriors and Suns, it'll be a night for both teams to wonder what might have been had the Amare Stoudemire trade talks on draft night moved forward. Over/under on Stephen Curry's playing time (Don Nelson has this thing about rookies; just ask Anthony Randolph): two minutes.

Oct. 31: Philadelphia at New York
On Halloween night, the Knicks come disguised as an NBA team with high hopes for the immediate future. The "We Want LeBron" chants should start about midway through the second quarter.

Nov. 1: Orlando at Toronto
Hedo Turkoglu's old teammates will get an up-close look at why he spurned Portland to sign in a more international city. The 1 p.m. local time tipoff means the game will be on in prime time in Turkey, where the folks can listen to their expatriate brethren in Canada go nuts for the Raptors' new small forward. (Interestingly, the teams play another Sunday matinee at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 22 and finish their season series Jan. 6.)

Nov. 3: Washington at Cleveland
We'll see what Gilbert Arenas and/or DeShawn Stevenson can come up with between now and this particular Tuesday to restoke what was recently one of the East's better rivalries.

Nov. 4: Boston at Minnesota
Another homecoming of sorts for Kevin Garnett, who hopefully will have said something for public consumption by then. For the record, KG has not spoken publicly since March 25, violating the league's media access guidelines.

Nov. 6: Cleveland at New York (ESPN)
This is LBJ's first appearance at what Knicks fans hope will be his future home since he had a triple-double in February that was later rescinded when the league ruled Ben Wallace should have been credited with what was initially called James' 10th rebound.

Nov. 11: Cleveland at Orlando (ESPN)
The last time these teams faced each other, Dwight Howard went for 40 and LeBron James stormed out of the arena without saying a word. This time, it'll be Shaq, not Zydrunas Ilgauskas, getting the defensive assignment against the youngster he feels stole his nickname.

Nov. 12: Cleveland at Miami (TNT)
It'll be Jamario Moon's homecoming, but the real action should come beforehand in the visiting locker room, when The Big Cuyahoga likely will have something new to say about Stan Van Gundy and/or Dwight Howard and their meeting the previous night.

Nov. 13: L.A. Lakers at Denver (ESPN)
It'll be Friday the 13th, and if we know Denver coach George Karl, he'll be wondering what sort of bad luck will befall him. If he chooses to defend Kobe Bryant with Arron Afflalo, Karl will find out quickly.

Nov. 14: Oklahoma City at San Antonio
Both teams are off the previous night, which means Spurs general manager R.C. Buford probably will take his former assistant Sam Presti out to dinner and Presti will get carded. (The guy looks about 19 years old.)

Nov. 19: Chicago at L.A. Lakers (TNT)
This will be one of the defending champs' nine appearances on TNT. They're also scheduled to appear six times on ABC, 10 times on ESPN and zero times on NBA TV (although it's a safe bet they'll turn up on quite a few Tuesdays, when fans get to vote for the game they want to see). Other teams getting the max treatment of 10 ESPN appearances are the Cavs, Celtics, Spurs, Suns and Trail Blazers.

Nov. 22: Oklahoma City at L.A. Lakers
TiVo alert. If we are correct in our above reference to the Thunder being a sleeper team, this will be one to watch: Kevin Durant versus Kobe (unless Scott Brooks makes the unwise decision to let bearded rookie James Harden check No. 24).

Nov. 26: Orlando at Atlanta (TNT); Chicago at Utah (TNT)
For your Thanksgiving feast, we offer Dwight Howard back in his hometown and the Bulls on the next-to-last stop of their annual early season road trip, in which they will not play any home games between Nov. 14 and Dec. 2.

Nov. 29: Memphis at L.A. Clippers; New Jersey at L.A. Lakers
Busy day for the work crew at Staples Center, as they will spend the late afternoon changing the floor. Probably a busy day on StubHub, too, as local season-ticket holders look at the caliber of competition and try to find something better to do with their Sunday.

Dec. 2: Detroit at Chicago
Ben Gordon's alumni game, but you'll need to purchase the NBA package if you want to watch it. NBA TV is broadcasting nationally that night and has chosen to televise Sixers-Thunder and Rockets-Clippers (NBA TV also passed on Suns-Cavs, Shaq's first game against his most recent former team).

Dec. 3: Boston at San Antonio (TNT)
We've been hearing all summer how the league has morphed into the haves and the have-nots. Well, then, it should be a delight to have two haves going against each other in the national spotlight.

Dec. 15: L.A. Lakers at Chicago
You can expect some speculation about whether this will be the final time Phil Jackson coaches a game in the Windy City -- unless he makes that speculation moot before then by announcing his plans for 2010-11.

Dec. 16: Toronto at Orlando
It'll be the third meeting of the season between the teams but Turkoglu's first in his old building.

Dec. 21: Cleveland at Phoenix (NBA TV)
Shaq plays another alumni game, and we can all wonder along with Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace just why Suns owner Robert Sarver sold so low on one of his prime assets.

Dec. 25: Merry Christmas to the fifth degree
For the second straight year, the NBA serves up a quintupleheader: Heat-Knicks at noon (ESPN), followed by Celtics-Magic and LeBron-Kobe on ABC, and Clippers-Suns and Nuggets-Trail Blazers as the nightcap doubleheader on ESPN.

Dec. 26: Washington at Minnesota (NBA TV)
The chances of Ricky Rubio playing in this game seem to be dwindling with each passing day, but at least we can be certain Mike Miller and Randy Foye will get a first-hand reminder of how cold it can get in Minneapolis around the holidays. (Richard Jefferson will have similar thoughts as he plays his alumni game in frigid Milwaukee.)

Dec. 27: Dallas at Denver
Nuggets fans could get a close encounter with Mark Cuban, provided the Mavericks' owner is willing to visit Denver after his postseason rant toward Kenyon Martin. It could get ugly.

Jan. 5: Houston at L.A. Lakers
Trevor Ariza will be given his championship ring, then see if he can avoid being held scoreless by Ron Artest. On the other hand, if Bill Simmons' opinion turns out to be on the money, all of El Lay will rue this virtual swap of small forwards by then.

Jan. 8: L.A. Lakers at Portland
If history holds, it'll be raining in the Pacific Northwest and the Lakers will lose -- they've dropped their past eight at the Rose Garden. For those fans with the means to go on a long NBA-related weekend sojourn, it should be noted that LeBron James will be in town two nights later.

Jan. 18: Orlando at L.A. Lakers (TNT)
It's a daylong smorgasbord of Martin Luther King Jr. Day games, and TNT's tripleheader concludes with a pair of good ones: Dallas-Boston followed by a rematch of the NBA Finals.

Jan. 22: Portland at Philadelphia
Andre Miller returns to where his complaints about Tony DiLeo helped cost the former front office executive his head coaching job. Up the road in New York (and on ESPN), Kobe Bryant tries to one-up his 61-point Madison Square Garden outburst from last season.

Jan. 29: L.A. Lakers at Philadelphia
Once per season, it is "Boo Kobe Bryant" Night in his hometown, and the Friday night crowd in Philly should be especially fired up.

Jan. 31: L.A. Lakers at Boston (ABC)
It's a rematch of the 2008 Finals in the building where the Lakers suffered their most humiliating defeat in many years, in Game 6 of that series.

Feb. 4: San Antonio at Portland (TNT)
Looking into the crystal ball, we foresee a late night of television watching while the snow piles up outside and a snow day from school awaits the kids the following morning.

Feb. 7: Orlando at Boston (ABC)
If you are not spending the final hours before the Super Bowl overdosing on the football pregame show, this should provide for two and a half hours of solid counter-programming.

Feb. 9: Oklahoma City at Portland
Another fan choice night on NBA TV, and it could be a close race between this Kevin Durant-Greg Oden faceoff and the second Mark Cuban visit to Denver.

Feb. 11: Orlando at Cleveland; San Antonio at Denver (TNT)
The last two games before the All-Star break, coming exactly one week ahead of the NBA trading deadline.

Feb. 14: All-Star Game, Dallas (TNT)
This one will be held in the Cowboys' new stadium and is expected to attract a record crowd. David Stern's doomsday-is-approaching news conference will be the night before, followed by LeBron James' promised dunk contest debut.

Feb. 17: Miami at New Jersey; Chicago at New York
On opposite sides of the Hudson River, Bobby Simmons, Trenton Hassell, Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries could be showcased one last time before the trade deadline.

Feb. 18: Boston at L.A. Lakers (TNT)
This is the late game of Turner Sports' doubleheader, and those who tune in will get to hear Charles Barkley's take on who did well at the trade deadline.

Feb. 21: Cleveland-Orlando (ABC) and Boston-Denver (ABC)
The NBA makes one last push to capture the casual fans' attention before their thoughts turn to pitchers and catchers. Atlanta-Golden State and Utah-Portland (both on ESPN) will be among the choices for late-night viewers.

March 3: Cleveland at New Jersey
LeBron James visits the Meadowlands again and, if he's talking, might let us know he's not likely to be playing for Jay-Z & Co. If so, across the river, the Knicks might rejoice, even if they are losing to the Pistons by 27.

March 7: L.A. Lakers at Orlando (ABC)
The dog days are interrupted by another meeting of last season's NBA finalists, and we get to see Kobe and Artest on Vince Carter instead of Trevor Ariza versus Hedo Turkoglu.

March 14: Boston at Cleveland (ABC)
Best record in the East at stake? Probably so.

March 17: San Antonio at Orlando (ESPN)
The number of intriguing West versus East matchups usually dwindles to a precious few by this point in the season, but the Spurs also will face the Cavs and Celtics over the final two weeks of March before Orlando visits San Antonio on April 2.

March 24: L.A. Lakers at San Antonio (ESPN)
Best record in the West at stake? We wonder whether the Spurs can stay on the Lakers' heels this long, but it is certainly possible.

April 1: Dallas at Orlando (TNT)
It's April Fools' Day, and Marcin Gortat (who claims to have the fastest car of any NBA player, a BMW with a performance engine) laughs all the way to the bank.

April 4: Cleveland at Boston (ABC); San Antonio at L.A. Lakers (ABC)
It's pretty much a given at this point that these teams are incapable of playing anything other than riveting games when they face each other -- and as a sidebar, Rasheed Wallace and/or Kendrick Perkins should be nearing the technical foul limit by this point.

April 11: Orlando at Cleveland (ABC); Portland at L.A. Lakers (ABC)
It'll be the final weekend of the season, and it seems likely there will be playoff positioning implications for all four teams.

April 14: San Antonio at Dallas
This one appears to highlight the final night of the regular season, with 28 of the league's 30 teams in action. The only idle franchises will be Denver and Sacramento.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.