The Thunder will open the season, the Mike Brown era in Los Angeles and the Shaq era on TNT with a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
It will play at home on New Year's Eve against Phoenix and in prime time on Martin Luther King Day at Boston.
It will be on national television 27 times including big-time, late-season, Sunday-afternoon home games on ABC against Chicago and Los Angeles.
The NBA schedule came out Tuesday, and while it brought all the normal excitement of anticipated matchups and hyped storylines, it also came with a sense of dread. The nearly three-week-old lockout shows no sign of ending any time soon. The combatants are hardly talking, much less meeting. The season is in jeopardy.
The only thing that's certain right now is uncertainty.
And lest you believe that the schedule being released is somehow a good sign, perish the thought. This is just necessity. This is simply protocol. The NBA has to set the games to secure the arena space. That's what the league did Tuesday. No more. No less.
I wish that weren't the case. I wish this was a tip of the cap to how close the lockout is to being over. I wish this was a sign that our worst fears of a lost season and a Thunder absence were unfounded.
Alas, it isn't.
Instead, it feels like a tease. We get to look at the goodies, ogle over the games and drool over the grandeur, but will we ever get to touch it, feel it, enjoy it?
The release of the schedule is so much different from a year ago. Because of all the big names involved in free agency, the NBA decided to delay the release until much of the dust had settled. It waited until LeBron had taken his talents to South Beach, Chris Bosh had followed suit, Dwyane, Dirk and Paul Pierce had stayed put and Amar'e Stoudemire had moved to New York. We didn't have a schedule until early August.
It was worth the wait.
First came the marquee games. We found out that the Thunder would open against the Bulls, host the Nuggets on Christmas Day and play again on MLK Day.
A week later, the entire schedule was released.
We pored over the minutiae. The Thunder was scheduled to play 15 games across major networks ABC, ESPN and TNT and nine games on NBA TV, an astronomical jump for a team that had been scheduled for only three games when the schedules were released the previous two seasons combined. It was playing the Heat and the Lakers in Sunday home games. It was playing early in the day and late in the evening.
Dissecting the whole thing was grand fun.
But now? It feels like torture.
I mean, I'd love to get excited about the opening weeks of the Thunder's season. It's a gauntlet of games against the likes of the Lakers, the Mavs, the Knicks and the Bulls, and only one of the team's first six games is at home. It should be a fun run of games.
But will it be?
I'd love to be jazzed about seeing Dallas twice in Oklahoma City, first on Dec. 29, second on March 5. Or Denver (Nov. 18 and Feb. 19) and Memphis (Nov. 25 and March 7) coming to town to renew those playoff rivalries. Or Miami (March 25) or Boston (Feb. 22) making their yearly appearances in the 405. Or the lads from LaLa Land, Kobe (Nov. 23 and April 8) and Big Blake (March 21 and April 11), coming to OKC.
But it's difficult to muster excitement for those games when it seems so unlikely that the NBA will have a full slate of them this season.
Pore over the schedule if you must. Analyze the matchups. Imagine the possibilities.
Just remember that this schedule has an asterisk.
Subject to change.
LOOKING BACK TO '98
A look at how the league handled the schedule during the 1998-99 lockout.
July 23, 1998: The NBA released its schedule for the 1998-99 season.
Sept. 24, 1998: The league announced the cancellation of 24 exhibition games and the indefinite postponement of the start of training camps.
Oct. 13, 1998: The league cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season. It was the first time in the league’s then-51-year history that games were missed. That games-played stretch spanned 35,001 games.
Oct. 28, 1998: NBA commissioner David Stern cancelled the remaining two weeks of the November portion of the regular season.
Nov. 24, 1998: The NBA forfeited its Christmas Day doubleheader on NBC, leaving the network no choice but to replace it with the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The players union also rejected the league’s preconditions for a collective bargaining agreement, which left the two sides in a stalemate and resulted in the loss of the entire slate of games during the month of December.
Dec. 8, 1998: The league cancelled its All-Star game, which was scheduled for Feb. 14, 1999 in Philadelphia. It was the first time the NBA did not have an All-Star Game since the league began the annual exhibition in 1951. Philadelphia would later host the 2002 All-Star Weekend.
Dec. 23, 1998: Stern announced a deadline of Jan. 7, 1999 to have a deal in place or lose the whole season.
Jan. 6, 1999: NBA owners and the NBPA reached a deal on a new labor agreement.
Jan. 21, 1999: The league released a revised 50-game schedule, marking the first shortened season since the NBA expanded its regular season to 82 games in 1967-68.
By Darnell Mayberry