Miami Heat schedule 2013: Fighting off the improved competition

USA TODAY Sports

The challengers to the Miami Heat's third title in a row all got a bit stronger in 2013-14.

For the Miami Heat to win a third straight NBA title, they'll have to fend off one of the strongest fields of competition in recent memory. From the Pacers, Nets and Bulls in the Eastern Conference to the Spurs and Thunder in the West, the targets remain on Miami's backs for the second year in a row.

LeBron James and his crew will get their wins, but how the Heat carry themselves against the NBA's improved elite should be part of the winning formula.

Five games to watch

Oct. 29 vs. Bulls -- Derrick Rose's first regular season game back from ACL surgery won't be an easy one; the Chicago Bulls visit the Heat for the opener. These teams have a bit of history, going back to the 2010-11 playoff series with Rose and last year's postseason matchup without him.

Dec. 18 vs. Pacers -- The two favorites in the Eastern Conference meet first in 2013-14 thinking they're both upgraded from a year ago. Indiana picked up C.J. Watson and Luis Scola this offseason and welcome back former scoring leader Danny Granger, who missed most of 2012-13 with a knee injury. Miami is hoping to counter center Roy Hibbert by experimenting with former first overall pick Greg Oden.

Jan. 26 vs. Spurs -- A rematch of the 2013 NBA Finals will give San Antonio its first chance to shake the haunting blown Game 6 that would have won them the championship.

Jan. 29 vs. Thunder -- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are fighting the perception that James Harden put them over the top to reach the 2012 NBA FInals. Beating the Heat is a good way to show they can win big games without him and gain confidence that they're still among the NBA elite.

March 12 vs. Nets -- Brooklyn gained legitimacy as a top NBA squad simply by picking up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce via trade this summer. The addition of Andrei Kirilenko as a LeBron stopper is also important. The Nets want to make a few statements in the regular season and should be hitting their stride with a new roster by March.

Tough tests

A 14-game stretch running from Feb. 12 through March 16 will be the harshest portion of Miami's schedule. Not considering Orlando, Charlotte and arguably Washington, the remaining 11 games will come against playoff teams. The Heat play the Mavericks, Warriors, Thunder, Knicks, Spurs, Nets and Nuggets, as well as the Bulls and Rockets twice each.

Easiest stretches

On paper, the Heat have what appear to be two games against elite opponents -- the Clippers and Nets -- for a month spanning Oct. 30 through Dec. 1. Miami has two games each against the Bobcats and Magic and additionally play against Phoenix, Sixers, Celtics, Bucks and Cavs. The Heat also have games against the Wizards, Hawks and two against the Raptors.

Important schedule facts

Back-to-backs: 17

Season opener: Oct. 29 at home vs. Bulls

Longest road trip: Six games (Jan. 9-20, Feb. 5-20)

Longest homestand: Five games (Dec. 14-23)

2013-14 schedule

OCTOBER
Chicago Tuesday, October 29 2013 8:00 PM EDT coverage
@ Philadelphia Wednesday, October 30 2013 7:00 PM EDT coverage
NOVEMBER
@ Brooklyn Friday, November 01 2013 8:00 PM EDT coverage
Washington Sunday, November 03 2013 6:00 PM EST coverage
@ Toronto Tuesday, November 05 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
Los Angeles Clippers Thursday, November 07 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
Boston Saturday, November 09 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
Milwaukee Tuesday, November 12 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
Dallas Friday, November 15 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Charlotte Saturday, November 16 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
Atlanta Tuesday, November 19 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Orlando Wednesday, November 20 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
Orlando Saturday, November 23 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
Phoenix Monday, November 25 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Cleveland Wednesday, November 27 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Toronto Friday, November 29 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
DECEMBER
Charlotte Sunday, December 01 2013 6:00 PM EST coverage
Detroit Tuesday, December 03 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Chicago Thursday, December 05 2013 9:30 PM EST coverage
@ Minnesota Saturday, December 07 2013 8:00 PM EST coverage
@ Detroit Sunday, December 08 2013 6:00 PM EST coverage
@ Indiana Tuesday, December 10 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
Cleveland Saturday, December 14 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
Utah Monday, December 16 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
Indiana Wednesday, December 18 2013 7:00 PM EST coverage
Sacramento Friday, December 20 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
Atlanta Monday, December 23 2013 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday, December 25 2013 5:00 PM EST coverage
@ Sacramento Friday, December 27 2013 10:00 PM EST coverage
@ Portland Saturday, December 28 2013 10:00 PM EST coverage
@ Denver Monday, December 30 2013 9:00 PM EST coverage
JANUARY
Golden State Thursday, January 02 2014 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Orlando Saturday, January 04 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage
Toronto Sunday, January 05 2014 6:00 PM EST coverage
New Orleans Tuesday, January 07 2014 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ New York Thursday, January 09 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
@ Brooklyn Friday, January 10 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
@ Washington Wednesday, January 15 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage
@ Philadelphia Friday, January 17 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage
@ Charlotte Saturday, January 18 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage
@ Atlanta Monday, January 20 2014 5:30 PM EST coverage
Boston Tuesday, January 21 2014 7:30 PM EST coverage
Los Angeles Lakers Thursday, January 23 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
San Antonio Sunday, January 26 2014 1:00 PM EST coverage
Oklahoma City Wednesday, January 29 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage
FEBRUARY
@ New York Saturday, February 01 2014 8:30 PM EST coverage
Detroit Monday, February 03 2014 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday, February 05 2014 10:30 PM EST coverage
@ Utah Saturday, February 08 2014 9:00 PM EST coverage
@ Phoenix Tuesday, February 11 2014 9:00 PM EST coverage
@ Golden State Wednesday, February 12 2014 10:30 PM EST coverage
@ Dallas Tuesday, February 18 2014 8:30 PM EST coverage
@ Oklahoma City Thursday, February 20 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
Chicago Sunday, February 23 2014 3:30 PM EST coverage
New York Thursday, February 27 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
MARCH
Orlando Saturday, March 01 2014 7:30 PM EST coverage
Charlotte Monday, March 03 2014 7:30 PM EST coverage
@ Houston Tuesday, March 04 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
@ San Antonio Thursday, March 06 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
@ Chicago Sunday, March 09 2014 1:00 PM EDT coverage
Washington Monday, March 10 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
Brooklyn Wednesday, March 12 2014 7:00 PM EDT coverage
Denver Friday, March 14 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
Houston Sunday, March 16 2014 3:30 PM EDT coverage
@ Cleveland Tuesday, March 18 2014 7:00 PM EDT coverage
@ Boston Wednesday, March 19 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
Memphis Friday, March 21 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
@ New Orleans Saturday, March 22 2014 8:00 PM EDT coverage
Portland Monday, March 24 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
@ Indiana Wednesday, March 26 2014 8:00 PM EDT coverage
@ Detroit Friday, March 28 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
@ Milwaukee Saturday, March 29 2014 8:30 PM EDT coverage
Toronto Monday, March 31 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
APRIL
Milwaukee Wednesday, April 02 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
Minnesota Friday, April 04 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
New York Sunday, April 06 2014 1:00 PM EDT coverage
Brooklyn Tuesday, April 08 2014 8:00 PM EDT coverage
@ Memphis Wednesday, April 09 2014 8:00 PM EDT coverage
Indiana Friday, April 11 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
@ Atlanta Saturday, April 12 2014 7:30 PM EDT coverage
@ Washington Monday, April 14 2014 7:00 PM EDT coverage
Philadelphia Wednesday, April 16 2014 8:00 PM EDT coverage
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