January is the month during the 2011 NBA schedule in which the two participants in the epic 2010 NBA Finals - the Lakers and the Celtics - will play for the first time. But that's at the end of the month. What other games do you have to see before then? Here are our ten favorites.
10. Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers: January 5, 7:00 p.m.
Another homer pick, I know, but I think it's worth noting that this will be Gilbert Arenas' first trip back to Philadelphia since the infamous "finga gunz" incident. I wonder whether he'll pay tribute to that in any sort of way. On second thought, maybe not.
9. Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers: January 2, 9:00 p.m., NBATV
I realize it's not likely that both Greg Oden and Yao Ming will be healthy for this game, but if they are, it should be a fun battle of well-known centers. If not? These two teams are still intriguing, and the bad blood from a first-round series in 2009 still lingers.
8. Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets: January 13, 10:30 p.m., TNT
Last season, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony put on a show, with Anthony getting the last laugh with this game-winner. This will be the first time they'll be matched up against each other this season.
7. Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets: January 21, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
There is no love lost between these two teams after an intense playoff battle in 2009, and that makes for some great basketball, especially in Denver. The Nuggets always get up for the Lakers, especially at home, and usually, that convinces the Lakers to shift into another gear.
6. Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls: January 15, 8:00 p.m., NBATV
Dwyane Wade returns home to Chicago after a summer in which he sort of pretended to consider signing with the Bulls, but was only really distracting them in the LeBron James chase. I'm guessing most Bulls fans that would attend the game won't understand all of that, but this one should still be fun.
5. New York Knicks at Phoenix Suns: January 7, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Amare Stoudemire makes his return to Phoenix for the first time this season. There will be offense. There will probably not be a lot of defense.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers: January 17, 10:30 p.m., TNT
3. Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder: January 30, 1:00 p.m., ABC
"THE HUMBLE STAR" vs. "THE GUY WHO WANTED ATTENTION." What, I'm just preparing you for the dumb ABC marketing campaign surrounding this game.
2. Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics: January 17, 8:00 p.m., TNT
The Magic's season ended on this floor last year. This will be the first time they will return in 2011.
1. Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers: January 30, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Wait, so ABC's first big game is a rematch of last year's Finals? How original!
In all seriousness, I'm interested to see if the Shaq/Kobe part of this adds to the intrigue. Okay, not really. But still, it's a rematch of one of the best Finals in recent memory. That'll be fun.