Heat, Mavericks to be tested early

Thanks to the NBA lockout, the Miami Heat had some extra time to think about the championship rings that got away when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.

They won't have much more time to dwell on it once the season starts. The Heat have three appearances on ABC and four more on ESPN in the first two months of the NBA season, according to the league schedule, released Tuesday.

The 2011-12 NBA schedule, shortened to 66 games by a lockout that threatened to cancel the entire season, starts Christmas Day with five games and runs through April 26.

The Los Angeles Lakers will play games on the first three nights of the NBA season, the first of 42 back-to-back-to-back sets teams will face.

The compacted schedule will require every team to play on three consecutive nights at least once. And it will force every team to navigate demanding stretches that are never seen during a full season, such as the nine games in 12 nights the Atlanta Hawks face starting with their Dec. 27 opener.

Teams will play 48 conference games and 18 against the opposing conference, meaning they play only three nonconference opponents home and away.

Miami will play a combined 16 games on ESPN and ABC, the most appearances of the NBA's 30 teams on the two networks, giving those who love or dislike the Big Three plenty of opportunities to cheer for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or for their opponents.

The Heat's schedule the first two months of the season starts with their Christmas Day opener in Dallas, followed by a home game against the Celtics on Dec. 29 on TNT.

They'll also face games against the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic on ABC and the improved New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers on ESPN.

While the Heat get to open their season by watching the Mavericks hoist their first championship banner, they'll get another shot at Dallas in Miami on March 29, on TNT.

The defending champion Mavericks will have to forget last season quickly as well. After hosting the Heat on Christmas Day, the Mavs face another rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team they beat in the Western Conference finals, in Oklahoma City on Dec. 29 on TNT. That's the first end of a doubleheader, followed by the Knicks visiting the Lakers.

The Mavericks will make another 11 appearances combined on ABC and ESPN, starting with a Jan. 11 game at the Boston Celtics.

Dallas will host the Spurs and the Thunder, respectively, on Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 on ESPN, then visit the New York Knicks on Feb. 19 on ABC.

The schedule also continues the tradition of day games on the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this year on Jan. 16. The Memphis Grizzlies, who stunned the No. 1-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of Western Conference playoffs, will host the Bulls at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN, in one of eight day games set for the day. The Thunder will visit the Celtics and the Mavericks will play the Lakers to cap the holiday slate on TNT.

The Knicks, Clippers, Bulls, Celtics and Lakers are also among teams that will be featured on ESPN and ABC, which will air a combined 90 games -- 15 on ABC and 75 on ESPN -- during the lockout-shortened season.

Blake Griffin and the Clippers -- yes, the Clippers -- will have 10 games televised on ESPN during the season. Their first appearance is Jan. 11 against the Heat in Los Angeles (10:30 ET), in the second half of a doubleheader following the Mavericks at the Celtics.

The Lakers will make four ABC appearances in March and April, hosting the Heat on March 4, the Celtics on March 11, the Mavericks on April 15 and the Thunder on April 22.

Boston gets to host the Lakers on Feb. 9 on TNT -- one of the interconference rivalries the league preserved despite the shortened season.

Oklahoma City starts its national TV schedule on Christmas Day on ESPN, where they will host the Orlando Magic. That's the first of nine games for Kevin Durant and his teammates on ABC and ESPN this season. They'll host Chicago on ABC on April 1, host the Heat on March 25 and visit Miami on April 4.

The Heat, the defending Eastern Conference champions, will have two of their games against the Celtics on ESPN and ABC. The Celtics host the Heat on April 1 on ABC and travel to Miami on April 10 on ESPN.

The Bulls, led by reigning MVP Derrick Rose, are another team that will get plenty of national exposure early, and largely away from the Windy City. They'll be featured on ABC on Jan. 29 at Miami and again on Feb. 12 at Boston. On ESPN, in the season's first two months they'll visit Orlando (Jan. 6), Boston (Jan. 13), Memphis (Jan. 16), host Atlanta (Feb. 20) and travel to San Antonio (Feb. 29).

ABC, the home of the NBA Finals, will feature four Sunday doubleheaders during the season.

On Feb. 19, it's the Mavericks at the Knicks, followed by the Heat hosting the Magic. March 4 starts with the Knicks visiting the Celtics, followed by the Heat at the Lakers. On April 1, Chicago visits the Thunder, followed by the Heat at the Celtics. And April 15, the Heat take on the Knicks in New York, followed by the Mavericks visiting the Lakers.

Tuesday's schedule release was just part of a jam-packed league to-do list as both commissioner David Stern and NBA Players Association chief Billy Hunter continue to put the finishing touches on the league's new collective bargaining agreement.

One league source told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher that negotiations on the new deal should be completed either late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. That would keep the league on schedule to present the deal in full to both sides in time to have it ratified by Thursday and open training camp and free agency on Friday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.