Wow, this summer is just flying by, man! It feels like it was just a week ago when the last of the stranded Rocket fans were able to finally fish their cars from the flooded streets around Toyota Center during the Great Memorial Day Deluge, and yet training camp for the Rockets and the rest of the NBA begins in just a matter of weeks.
The annual reminder of just how imminent the NBA season is came last night, when the NBA released the 2015-2016 schedule. It's not met with the same fanfare as the NFL schedule release, mostly because 82 games are a lot to digest and most NBA fans don't plan their travel schedule around NBA road trips like NFL fans do with their teams, but the NBA schedule release still matters, especially here in Houston where the Rockets are one of about six or seven teams who can say with a straight face that they hope to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the 2016 postseason.
You can go through the Rockets' entire 82 game slate on your own, but here are a few of the highlights that you need to know:
1. The Rockets open the season at home against the former employer of their new point guard Ty Lawson, the dilapidated, downtrodden Denver Nuggets. Unfortunately, one person who won't be playing in that game? Probably Ty Lawson, who is likely facing discipline from the league for his most recent DUI he incurred prior to becoming a Rocket. Oh, also, Dwight Howard will be sitting for that game, serving his one game suspension for the pile of flagrant fouls he accrued last postseason. The good news? Chuck Hayes SHOULD be playing in that game!
2. Because every vocation likes to see their working conditions continue to become easier and easier for the proletariat, working class grunts, the NBA has seen to it that the schedule will be less physically taxing on its players
who make an average of over $5 million per year. Thus, there was a concerted effort to have fewer back-to-back nights with games and fewer instances of teams playing four games in five nights. The Rockets, for their part, will play 20 back-to-backs, the same amount as last season. For what it's worth, Rocket opponents will be on the back end of back-to-backs 20 times, as well, so that's something. Also, the league's schedule only has 27 instances of teams playing four games in five nights (down from 70 last season), and the Rockets don't do it one time all year. Yay!
3. Combined between TNT, ESPN, ABC, and the NBA's own network, the Rockets will be on national television a whopping 27 times, nearly a third of their entire schedule. This is what happens when you have one of the five marquee players in the league on your team, a far cry from the Luis Scola Era where the only way to watch the Rockets outside of Houston was on grainy black and white, bootlegged footage leaked onto the internet. (Also, League Pass.)
4. There's no place like home for the holidays! The Rockets will get a Christmas night tilt at Toyota Center with the fortified, slightly retooled San Antonio Spurs, and then the annual New Year's Eve game will be with the defending champ Golden State Warriors. I guess the lesson here is don't expect to make back your Christmas shopping money by betting the Rockets on the moneyline during the week after Christmas.
5. If you're into buying tickets to see the stars come to town, or your trying to cobble together a smaller subset of the season for which to buy tickets, here are key dates for marquee players coming to town:
* LeBron James: Friday, January 15
* Kevin Durant: Monday, November 2; Sunday, April 3
* Anthony Davis: Wednesday, December 2; Wednesday, March 2
* Steph Curry: Friday, October 30; Thursday, December 31
* Kobe Bryant: Saturday, December 12; Sunday, April 10
* Royce White: TBD
A few notes on the national, non-Rockets portion of the NBA schedule:
* For those of you who like to open your presented with the smooth stylings of NBA basketball in the background, we will celebrate Jesus' birthday with this slate of games (ET): noon, NOLA-MIA; 2:30 CHI-OKC; 5:00 CLEV-GSW; 8:00 SAS-HOU; 10:30 LAC-LAL.
* If you want to circle a date where you might see someone get pelted with garbage or, who knows, maybe something even sharper or more dangerous (or you want to see Mark Cuban's head explode), how about November 11? The Clippers travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks, giving Mavs fans a chance to boo DeAndre Jordan for jilting them at the altar of free agency last season, AND the Spurs travel to Portland, with LaMarcus Aldridge making his first return visit to the city he said "See ya!" to back in July.
* The NBA is trying to make Saturday nights a big deal, with a new package of games on ABC. The new Saturday night package begins on January 23 with the Chicago Bulls visiting LeBron James and the Cavs. Other high-profile Saturday night matchups include Cavs-Spurs, Warriors-Clippers and Warriors-Thunder.
* The Cavaliers and Warriors, last season's NBA finalists, play the maximum number of national television games on ESPN, ABC and TNT allowed with 25 each. The Clippers and Thunder are on 24 times apiece. The Rockets play 20 games on those three networks (plus the additional seven games on the NBA Network).
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* The Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets are the only teams without a national television appearance scheduled. Pistons center Andre Drummond does NOT approve:
20 back to back games ..... No national televised games..... Cool— Andre Drummond (@AndreDrummondd) August 12, 2015
* Crappy as they may be, the Lakers remain a big draw and are scheduled for 19 national television slots. Call it the Kobe Effect.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.