A couple of thoughts on the schedule…
1) TV. There are three scheduled nationally televised games (October 26th vs. LA Lakers, November 26th vs. Charlotte, and January 7th vs. Orlando). There are also eight games scheduled to air on NBA TV. Coming off a year where seeing the ESPN banner at the Toyota Center was few and far between, having Yao back in the lineup undoubtedly makes the Rockets a hotter commodity to the national media. However it’s not hot enough. Enjoy it Bill Simmons…The L.A. Clippers surprisingly have double the games featured on national television than the Rockets do. Is a healthy Blake Griffin that much of a TV Draw? The Sacramento Kings even have as many nationally televised games. I am shocked none of the Dallas/Houston match-ups were picked up, as the series is usually a competitive one. Having two known international players, in Dirk and Yao, going head-to-head would have definitely appealed to the NBA’s goal of extending its influence outside of the U.S.
2) December 29th, 2010. The ticket everyone in Houston will be dying to get, when the circus that is the Miami Heat comes into town. I hope to be in attendance to witness the team Jeff Van Gundy (a.k.a. “Coach Gollum”) claims will beat the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72-10. If Yao is healthy by this point, there is no way Chris Bosh or especially Dexter Pittman will be able to stop him inside. You also have to think the fact Bosh went to Miami over Houston will ignite some fire under the team.
3) Balance. The schedule seems unequally balanced in my opinion. I counted 19 back-to-back games including six games in nine days (three back-to-backs) right after the All-Star break. An optimistic thought though: the April schedule looks fairly easy which will be important as the Western Conference playoff picture is bound to come down to the wire as it usually does. The Rockets face talented teams right off the bat, including a back-to-back stint with the Lakers and Nuggets to start off the year. This will give Yao an early indication of how much his feet will allow him to do against top tier competition.
You can find the rest of the schedule here.