10 2014 NBA Preseason Games to Circle on the Calendar
The games may not count toward the final NBA standings, but the preseason remains our first glimpse into the storylines that will define 2014-15.
From the returns of Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant to the debut of a suddenly star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers roster, there's no shortage of early intrigue to quench the thirst of fans around the league.
With NBA Summer League action in the rearview mirror and the FIBA World Cup just around the corner, you might have missed the release of teams' preseason schedules.
Here are the 10 games that aren't to be missed.
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Oct. 5, 2014
It may be the second game of the 2014 preseason, but it will include plenty of firsts.
Maccabi Tel Aviv's visit to Cleveland will mark LeBron James' first game as a member of the Cavaliers since he left the team in 2010. Two championships later, LBJ has returned his talents to the organization that drafted him.
He'll be joined by star forward Kevin Love, whom the Cavaliers acquired in August from the Minnesota Timberwolves by trade.
This will also mark the first game for new head coach David Blatt—not just his first game coaching the Cavaliers, but also his first game coaching in the NBA (though he did take the helm for Cleveland's summer league team).
Blatt has actually spent the past four seasons coaching the same Maccabi Tel Aviv that Cleveland will face. Needless to say, he hasn't had the opportunity to work with someone of LBJ's caliber.
"I believe anyone in my profession would gladly trade places with me to have the opportunity to coach LeBron," Blatt said during a fan Q&A, per Basketball Insiders special correspondent David Pick. "Having LeBron on our side is a huge advantage over other teams, but you have to know how to help him and utilize his talents the best way possible so that we maximize the potential of our team."
A team that has all of the potential it needs.
Washington Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls: Oct. 6, 2014
While Derrick Rose has gotten his feet wet with Team USA, this will be his first time playing for the Chicago Bulls after missing 72 games last season (and sitting out all of the 2012-13 campaign).
"I love being on the floor with him," USA teammate Anthony Davis told reporters after an exhibition contest, per the Chicago Tribune. "He creates open shots for other players with his driving ability. Here, he's looking to pass. He's not really looking to score, so that's big for him."
The 25-year-old point guard has endured more than his fair share of injury struggles since being named MVP in the 2010-11 season.
As he looks to regain his form during the preseason, he'll kick things off against an emergent star in his own right: point guard John Wall.
Wall was cut from Team USA before making it to FIBA World Cup competition in Spain, but he's coming off of a career season in which his Washington Wizards advanced to the conference semifinals after an opening-round series against the Bulls.
In this early preseason rematch, Wall and Co. will look to pick up where they left off in the postseason.
Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Oct. 6, 2014
After playing just six games last season, Kobe Bryant is undoubtedly eager for his return to action.
Just imagine how Los Angeles Lakers fans feel.
The 36-year-old icon is looking to restore some semblance of hope for a club that plummeted in the standings with a 27-55 record last season. Though Bryant will shoulder much of the responsibility for a turnaround, he'll be joined by rookie Julius Randle, free-agent signee Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, who was acquired via trade from the Houston Rockets.
Ideally, he'll also be working alongside a healthy Steve Nash. The 40-year-old point guard played in just 15 games a season ago.
Though all eyes will be on the Lakers, the Nuggets are hoping for a healthier season of their own. Forward Danilo Gallinari missed the entirety of last season, and center JaVale McGee played in only five games.
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Indiana Pacers: Oct. 7, 2014
This isn't how either the Minnesota Timberwolves or Indiana Pacers wanted to begin their season.
Minnesota embarks upon its first game of the post-Kevin Love era. After trading the three-time All-Star to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the organization looks to rebuild around a cluster of young talent including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine and returning point guard Ricky Rubio.
While there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the future, the franchise's hopes of returning to the playoffs anytime soon left with Love.
Meanwhile, Indiana will play its first game of a season in which it will likely be without superstar Paul George. The 24-year-old broke his leg during an intra-squad scrimmage with Team USA, potentially putting a premature end to his season.
The question for both clubs turns to who will step up. This early preseason matchup may provide some hints.
Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks: Oct. 7, 2014
Any matchup between Texas rivals is cause to pay attention, but this particular contest carries more intrigue than usual.
The Dallas Mavericks poached restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from the Houston Rockets' clutches, dealing a serious blow to general manager Daryl Morey's ambitious summer plans. In turn, the Mavs elevated themselves in a crowded Western Conference after pushing the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs to a seventh game in last season's opening round.
With Parsons in hand, Dallas is to be taken seriously—especially after trading for center Tyson Chandler, who played an integral role in Dallas' 2011 title run.
The Rockets licked their wounds and quickly signed swingman Trevor Ariza to replace Parsons, ensuring a somewhat improved perimeter defense. But Houston also traded away point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik for pennies on the dollar, potentially jeopardizing the club's ability to contend after falling in the first round to the Portland Trail Blazers a season ago.
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers: Oct. 7, 2014
The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers treated NBA fans to an exceptional seven-game series in the opening round of last season's playoffs.
They meet again during the preseason in a contest that represents new starts for both franchises.
The Warriors are now led by head coach Steve Kerr after the organization elected to part ways with the widely popular Mark Jackson. Known for his affability and superb analysis during telecasts, this is Kerr's first coaching job. He's a five-time champion from his playing days and has also served as the Phoenix Suns' general manager.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are under new ownership.
Despite the Sterling drama sidetracking the Clippers during their first-round series with Golden State, Los Angeles emerged victorious only to fall to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Oct. 10, 2014
Technically, this will be the second preseason contest for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
But it deserves your attention on account of two early Rookie of the Year candidates warming up head-to-head.
Minnesota acquired one of those candidates in a trade that sent disaffected star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, 2013 first overall pick Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young.
Wiggins' celebrated upside has been well documented, but he'll have a chance to make an impact right away with the Timberwolves. Without Love in the picture, the organization will switch its attention to rebuilding for the future—something the 76ers know a thing or two about.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia is counting on Nerlens Noel to open eyes this season after missing the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign recovering from a torn ACL. While the team has a long way to go before vying for a playoff spot, the hope is that Noel and 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams are the start of something special.
This game might not be pretty, but it serves as an early introduction to two of the game's brightest young talents.
As CBS Sports' Zach Harper notes (according to Bovada's numbers), "With Andrew Wiggins no longer the apprentice to LeBron James in Cleveland, the Minnesota Timberwolves' rookie went from 6/1 odds for winning the 2015 Rookie of the Year award to 4/1 odds...Nerlens Noel of the Philadelphia 76ers has 6/1 odds."
The odds both of these guys treat viewers to plenty of highlights this season are even higher.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat: Oct. 11, 2014
The Miami Heat's Plan B wasn't all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley quickly went into action upon hearing the news about James, re-signing stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and adding forward Luol Deng to his still-formidable rotation. Miami has lost much of the hype that accompanied James' stint with the team, but it's still in better position than most teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the season as the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals, if not the favorites to in fact win those NBA Finals. With James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters combining to form a young and potent core, it shouldn't take LeBron and Co. long to make up for lost time.
It's only appropriate that they warm up against the team that's enjoyed the fruits of LeBron's labor over the course of these past four years.
Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs: Oct. 18, 2014
Even without LeBron James around, this still counts as a rematch.
It didn't take the San Antonio Spurs long to dispatch the Miami Heat in last season's NBA Finals. Indeed, it was one of the more lopsided Finals series in league history.
Losing LBJ added insult to Miami's injury in a big way, but head coach Erik Spoelstra just might look to take a page out of San Antonio's playbook.
After all, this is a team that's succeeded for an awfully long time even as its principal stars lost something to age. With the Heat's own star power taking a four-time MVP-sized step backwards, this team will similarly have to rely on super depth and chemistry to remain in the title conversation.
While Miami's offseason was characterized by earth-shattering change, the Spurs' summer was predictably pretty quiet.
The organization agreed to extensions with head coach Gregg Popovich and All-Star point guard Tony Parker, and it re-signed free agents Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner. The team is undoubtedly hoping that another dose of continuity keeps it within striking distance of winning back-to-back championships for the first time in franchise history.
That cause certainly got some help when Tim Duncan decided to put off retirement for at least another season.
Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Oct. 20, 2014
A third Cleveland Cavaliers game?
Given all that's transpired this summer, it should be hard to keep your eyes off this team. With what could be one of the most potent offenses in recent memory, the Cavaliers have positioned themselves to potentially bulldoze their way through an otherwise wide-open Eastern Conference.
Their chief obstacle could be the Chicago Bulls.
In addition to rediscovering a healthy Derrick Rose, those Bulls signed free agent Paul Gasol to a three-year contract and thereby ensured their front line should be one of the league's very best. With reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and the emergent Jimmy Butler doing their parts, head coach Tom Thibodeau's team could very well be a threat to Cleveland's ostensible supremacy.
And while Cleveland will make its mark on the offensive end, Chicago will remain one of the NBA's model defensive units.
In other words, this isn't just a clash of Eastern Conference titans—it's also a classic clash of styles and potentially a preview of the league's next great rivalry.