Aug 10, 2010, 5:49 PM EDT
Even before the NBA released its complete schedule Tuesday, there were plenty of logical assumptions that could have been made about the longshot odds of the revamped Miami Heat matching the 72-10 of the 1995-96 Bulls.
There are, after all, four games apiece against the Celtics and Magic, as well as two against the Lakers, in addition to road tests against several upgraded Eastern Conference opponents.
But the NBA schedule is about more than opponents.
Sometimes the greatest opponent is the schedule itself.
That’s what made Tuesday significant for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and for more than letting them know they will be working on both Christmas and New Year’s, but not Thanksgiving or Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
So where are the traps? Where are the games that you might, along the way, wonder how in the heck Pat Riley’s creation slipped?
Here are a few:
Sun. Oct. 31 at New Jersey: Rare are NBA games played on football Sundays. But rare is the NBA team that stands as the secondary tenant to an NHL team. So not only do the Nets have to battle the NFL on the season’s first Sunday, but the game in their new Newark digs is scheduled for 1 p.m., which is never a good thing for the type of stars likely to be embraced across the river the previous night.
Tue. Dec. 1 home vs. Detroit: No, not because of the T-Mac factor. But because of what follows the next night — LeBron’s first visit back to Cleveland. Figure on much of the discussion that week centering on all things Cavalier and Gilbert. James well could find himself spending more time studying escape routes from Quicken Loans Arena than any game plan for the Pistons.
Thu. Dec. 23 at Phoenix: Oh, the Suns well could challenge the Heat with their unique blend of speed. But, like James’ first visit to Cleveland, this is about the game that follows, the Christmas showdown in Los Angeles against Kobe and the Lakers. This is the rare two-game western trip, and the league didn’t send the Heat coast to coast for a mere three days because it was searching for a TNT game against the Suns hours before Christmas Eve.
Jan. 13 in Denver: This could be one of very few games when the Heat actually is cast as an underdog by the odds-makers. Not only is this game at altitude, but it comes on the second night of a back-to-back, after playing the previous night in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Oh, and it’s also the fourth stop of a five-game road trip.
Sat. Jan. 15 in Chicago: This is the final stop on a five-game trip that challenges any sense of geographic logic, one that starts in Milwaukee, continues in Portland, Los Angeles and Denver before returning within miles of where it started. And it’s not as if Wade made many friends in Chicago during free agency.
Fri. Feb. 4 in Charlotte: Another case of schedule positioning. The Heat is in Orlando the previous night for a nationally televised game against the Magic. Larry Brown will be more than willing to pick on Erik Spoelstra’s tired and weary.
Wed. Feb. 16 in Toronto: Chris Bosh’s first visit back north of the border comes at the end of a four-game trip, when the whole customs things sets up as the very type of nuisance Bosh sought to escape.
Fri. March 4 in San Antonio: Not only is the opposition a sufficient challenge, but this comes a night after yet another nationally televised game against the Magic. There might be not greater statement about greatness than beating Orlando at home and then wining in San Antonio the following night.
Wed. April 13 in Toronto: The season finale comes just three days before a potential playoff opener. Considering the Heat’s penultimate game is that Monday in Atlanta, figure on plenty of Spoelstra’s stars suddenly realizing in Atlanta they left their passports home.
The point being that while the Celtics, Magic and Lakers set up as the Heat’s most difficult opponents, it is the schedule, itself, that might set up as the greatest challenge to a date with the record book.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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