Can’t-miss NBA events of 2010-2011 winter season

NBA

Miami Heat @

Cleveland Cavaliers

Thursday, Dec. 2

8 p.m. on TNT

Every time Vince Carter returns to Toronto to play against his former team, he is booed and ridiculed by fans whenever he touches the ball. I think you know where I am going with this.

Lebron James is the most hated man in Cleveland and when he returns to his former city — and hometown — it is going to be brutal. The matchup is a terrible one if you’re looking at pure talent of each team, but the “Lebron returning home” factor makes this game highlighted on everyone’s calendar. If Lebron is as hated in Cleveland as we have all been led to believe, this is going to be a wild event.

 

Christmas Day Basketball

Saturday, Dec. 25

12 p.m.

There is not a better day for the league than Christmas. There are five games, all of which have a substantial amount of hype. The day kicks off with the Knicks hosting the Bulls at Madison Square Garden, where so many classics were played in the ‘90s between the two teams. And the day finishes with games between Denver and Oklahoma City, and Portland and Golden State. If Carmelo is still around the Denver vs. OKC game could be a great one, and both Portland and Golden State are young up-and-coming teams that are fun to watch.

But the two heavyweight bouts of the day are the matchups between Boston and Orlando, and Miami and Los Angeles. Boston and Orlando are two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference and it is a must see whenever they play. The main event of the day will be the Lakers vs. the Heat in Los Angeles. We will finally get to see Lebron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh matched up against Kobe Bryant and the size, depth and experience of the Lakers.

The NBA is gaining in popularity at an extremely accelerated rate. With that increasing popularity the hype for Christmas Day basketball is — dare I say it — beginning to rival the NFL on Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving the Pats are playing the Lions, the Saints are playing the Cowboys, and the Bengals are playing the Jets. Hardly the marquee matchups the NBA rolls out every year. If the NFL continues to stick to tradition and not put the best teams possible on the field for their signature day, the NBA will continue to gain ground.

 

Boston Celtics @

Los Angeles Lakers

Sunday, Jan. 30

3:30 p.m. on ABC

This will be the first rematch since the Lakers beat the Celtics in the NBA finals last season. In my opinion, this is the best matchup in the NBA this season. I know that everyone is in love with the Heat, but the Heat’s lack of size and depth worries me. The Celtics and Lakers have plenty of what the Heat lack and also can match their star power. The Celtics mix of Rondo, Pierce, Allen, Garnett and a stellar bench is way more potent than the Lebron, Wade, Bosh trio, mixed with Joel Anthony, James Jones and Carlos Arroyo. 

The Lakers roster made up of Kobe, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Bynum — when healthy — and Matt Barnes takes the Heat starting five any day. The two best teams in the league — again when healthy — are the Celtics and Lakers. They have the tools to be there in the end, and this game will be a great preview at a possible finals matchup.

 

Sunday, Feb. 13

1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on ABC

Other than Christmas Day, this is the single best day in terms of quality games. It is the same four teams as Christmas — Miami, Boston, Orlando and Los Angeles — but just different matchups.

The early game will showcase Boston hosting Miami — a matchup that Boston has dominated early this year. And the second game will pair the Lakers and the Magic — the finals matchup from two years ago. Both games will be hyped up as some of the best of the season.

 

Chicago Bulls March Road Trip

March 2, 4 and 6

The Bulls currently sit fourth in the conference, and first in their own division. Derrick Rose continues to be one of the best point guards in the league, and contributions from the likely — Joakim Noah’s 16.5 ppg and 13.3 rpg — and the unlikely — Taj Gibson’s 14.3 ppg and 6.4 rpg —have lifted this team to Eastern Conference elite.

All of this has been done without their biggest acquisition of the offseason, Carlos Boozer, playing a single minute due to injury. By March, Boozer will be back to 100 percent and the Bulls will have had a chance to gel as a team. A determining sign of how good the Bulls actually are will be a five-game road trip in late February and early March. The games in February pale in importance to the games that follow in March when looking at the matchups.

The trip starts with winnable games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Wizards. However, on March 2, the Bulls travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks. On March 4, they travel to Orlando to take on the Magic and the road trip concludes with a game in Miami against the Heat.

The Heat, the Hawks and the Magic are three of the best four teams in the conference and, if Chicago can rally for a 4-1 — or even 3-2 — road trip, the rest of the conference will be put on notice.

 

New Orleans Hornets @ Utah Jazz

Thursday, March 24

9 p.m.

Sure, this game technically falls after winter, and it doesn’t hold the weight and name recognition that the rest of the games on this list do, but the intrigue is undeniable. Two of the best point guards in the league, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, will go head to head against each other. The Hornets have been the biggest surprise in the league this season getting off to an 8-0 start. Through the first eight games, New Orleans’ starting five have all averaged more than 10 points per game. If the balanced attack, led by Paul, can continue, it would be tough for the organization and Paul to part ways — a rumor that circulated before this season.

The Jazz have also been one of the best and most resilient teams in the NBA this year. Earlier this year, the Jazz rallied to beat both the Heat and the Magic away from home. They were down by 22 against Miami and by 18 against Orlando. Resiliency — especially in visiting arenas — is just about the most impressive feat a team can have, and Utah certainly has exhibited it thus far.

As of Nov. 15, the Hornets were in first place in the conference and the Jazz were in fourth, only two games behind. If this trend continues — which I believe it will — this game in March will be a major matchup to determine Western Conference supremacy.

Other notable matchups:

Atlanta Hawks @

Boston Celtics

Thursday, Dec. 16

8 p.m. on TNT

Los Angeles Lakers @

New Orleans Hornets

Wednesday, Dec. 29

8 p.m.

Orlando Magic @

Boston Celtics

Monday, Jan. 17

8 p.m. on TNT

Miami Heat @

Oklahoma City Thunder

Sunday, Jan. 30

1 p.m. on ABC

Miami Heat @ Orlando Magic

Thursday, Feb. 3

8 p.m. on TNT

Los Angeles Lakers @ Boston Celtics

Thursday, Feb. 10

8 p.m. on TNT

Los Angeles Lakers @ Oklahoma City Thunder

Sunday, Feb. 27

2:30 p.m. on ABC

Los Angeles Lakers @

Miami Heat

Thursday, March 10

8 p.m. on TNT