“The regular season?” says Charles Barkley. “Most of it’s monotonous. There are really only six teams that have a shot at winning the NBA championship: Boston, Miami, and Orlando in the East, and the Lakers, Utah, and Oklahoma City in the West. There’s nobody else with a chance of surpassing them in either conference. The marquee games between those teams (five of them are listed below) are the ones to watch, where everybody’s trying to send a message in advance of the playoffs. And all those other teams? Well, they’re just playing for fun.”
HEAT AT CELTICS
October 26, 7:30 p.m., TNT
This is the first time you’ll see the big three: LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Anyone who thinks the Celtics are going to hand over their crown to Miami doesn’t know much about basketball. We’re going to start to see how things play out here.
HEAT AT LAKERS
December 25, 5 p.m., ABC
Kobe’s the man, and, man, it ain’t easy. If winning championships were easy, everybody would do it. The Lakers are the best team in the NBA, but Miami’s gonna want to send them a message that they’re the new kids on the block.
NUGGETS AT THUNDER
December 25, 8 p.m., ESPN
Everyone thinks this game is about Carmelo Anthony versus Kevin Durant, but really it’s for the entire country to see Oklahoma City. They’re the next big thing. They’re all, like, 21 and will be tough to beat for the next 10 years. Get to know them now.
MAGIC AT CELTICS
January 17, 8 p.m., TNT
This one’s all about getting the upper hand on your competition in preparation for the playoffs. Both teams should have stellar records, but each team will be trying to figure out how good they are and if they need to make a trade to win the East.
THUNDER AT LAKERS
January 17, 10:30 p.m., TNT
A great playoff matchup from last year. Go back and look at the series—the Thunder were the Lakers’ toughest matchup before the Celtics. The Lakers won 4–2, but each game they won went down to the last couple minutes. Should be a real battle.
...And one to avoid:
HEAT AT CAVS
December 2, 8 p.m.
People will be intrigued by LeBron’s return to Cleveland, but I’m not looking forward to it. It’s going to be bitter and emotional, and could be dangerous for the players. I don’t do that trash. I respect the game too much.