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Grading Marquee NBA Games of 2010-11

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Not even a month ago, LeBron James made his "Decision" about the future on live TV. It was rightfully panned for being totally self-serving and unnecessary, so much so, even NBA Commissioner chimed in on its pointlessness. So of course the league then turned around and had their first-ever TV special to announce the marquee games of the year on Tuesday. These games include those on Opening Night, on Christmas, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, plus they quickly flipped through a bunch of other games that included the usual suspects (Heat, Thunder, Lakers, etc.).

In previous seasons, the NBA has announced the entire year's slate all at once, but they decided to do an hour-long special on NBA TV for some of their bigger match-ups this year ("self serving" and "unnecessary" come to mind for some reason). The remainder of the upcoming season's schedule will come out next Tuesday. Here's how attractive each of 2010-11's "marquee games" on the NBA's three biggest days are.

Opening Night (Oct. 26)

Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
The established Big Three that fans like vs the newest Big Three that fans hate. The Celtics eliminated both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James from the playoffs last year, and Boston's Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins have each given the Heat some bulletin board material by saying they're not intimidated by Miami's new trio; Perkins' ACL will keep him out of the early contest. The game features at least five future Hall of Famers (and with the possibility of Shaq in green, maybe as many as eight), two of the league's premier squads, and a great team defense up against an All-Star offense. Skip your kid's recital and start the season off right. Grade: A

Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers
The champs from the huge market should obviously receive their rings on Opening Night. They got the stars, the coach, and the legacy. And the NBA never passes up a chance to kiss China's ass in order to make money off their 1.3 billion citizens (like letting them vote for the All-Star Game, which is how we end up with guys like Iverson and McGrady nearly starting in last year's contest), so we are fed Yao Ming's (possible) return paired up with the purple and gold. I'm not sure too many hoops fans in the 7,000 miles between Houston and China really care about the return of Yao, especially since Houston seemed to get better two seasons ago when they replaced him with a 6-foot-6 center and subsequently took the Lakers the full seven games in round two, but this is all part of David Stern's plan to make money for the league first, and give fans good games second. Because it's the Lakers on Opening Night, you'll watch at least the first half. Grade: C

Christmas (Dec. 25)

Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks
I'm not really sure why fans are supposed to want to watch this contest on Christmas. No one's skipping time with their family to watch it, and no one's family would be willing to sit down together to check it out. Chicago is exactly .500 over the past 5 years (205-205), with 3 of those seasons being 41-41, so casual fans don't have a real take on them outside of "they're the team with Derrick Rose." The Knicks are better but still aren't good, and adding Amar'e Stoudemire doesn't change that. But they run, so at least they're capable of losing big, and that's fun. Carlos Boozer vs. Stoudemire is not a heavyweight match-up of free agents, especially since both are always hurt. I guess the NBA is assuming that by simply pitting two of the three biggest markets together, we'll care. We won't. This is the reason five Christmas games are entirely too many. Grade: F

Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic

The NBA can't go wrong in 2010-11 with any combination of the Heat, Lakers, Celtics, and Magic. These two teams have represented the East in the Finals the past three years, plus they met in last year's Eastern Finals. Both teams will continue to be great, especially since each franchise has a fairly established lineup and a strong team defense. Both clubs carry some swagger, are hell to score against, and their offenses are heady and underrated. And we might just get Shaq vs Howard. Grade: A

Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have the strongest group of bigs in the game and put them up against the most intimidating 2, 3, 4 combo since...well, Boston the past three years, but this one's actually in its prime. There's no shortage of individual stars and NBA rings, plus it pits Pat Riley's awesome GM'ing against Phil Jackson's awesome coaching. If Kobe tries to go at this alone against LeBron or Wade's defense, LA's done. If Bosh is forced to stop a heavy dose of Gasol or Bynum or Odom, Miami's done. This is certainly the best match-up of the entire regular season since we expect it to be a warm-up for the Finals. Grade: A

Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are an up-and-coming team featuring the league's newest superstar in Kevin Durant, and they will make for good TV at any point this year. They jumped from 23 to 50 wins over the past two seasons; can they now take that jump to actually challenge the super-payrolled Lakers in the West? To do so, they'll have to prove they can beat that second group in the conference, a group that includes the Nuggets, who bring a punishing frontline with Nene, Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, and Carmelo Anthony, plus Chauncey Billups plays up to any tough challenge. Both teams are looking to knock off LA's Western supremacy this year; this match-up could decide the conference's #2. Grade: B

Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors

The Blazers have lost some of their luster from the past two seasons when they filled the they-could-change-the-game's-landscape-real-soon role that the Thunder now fill, but Brandon Roy always steps up in big games, and the supporting cast is still potentially great (especially when Greg Oden is healthy), so they can make some real noise in the West. The Warriors are run about as seriously as a Homecoming King campaign at your local high school, but Stephen Curry is fun to watch and they know a thing or two about playing at a fan-friendly pace. David Lee is now a Warrior, you say? Wow... Either you're a fan of one of these two teams or you're not. Grade: D

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17)

Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies

The Bulls have made a lot of nice improvements this off-season, but they're only really fighting for 4th place in the East. The Grizzlies are not the up-and-coming team some pundits will try to convince you they are (when a club signs Rudy Gay to a max deal, they're admitting they don't take their future seriously). As far as big-name talent goes, Derrick Rose is about it in this contest, which is ehh for a “marquee game.” Where are the Utah Jazz in this lineup of games? Grade: F

Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks

Tyreke Evans is exciting – got it. Kings' rookie DeMarcus Cousins may or may not have completely melted down due to adversity by this point, so we'll have to keep an eye on that. The Hawks keep acting like they're about to do something in the East, but we know better by now. The Hawks obviously have some good players, but no one who makes me want to watch this completely random match-up. Grade: F

Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics

This game occurs three-and-a-half weeks after their meeting on Christmas, so you already read why this is an outstanding contest. The only difference this time around is that Kendrick Perkins may be back from his ACL surgery for this one. Grade: A

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers

It's the old money, established guard welcoming dangerous upstart Danny LaRusso to town to show the youngster how it's done. Kobe and Kevin is one of the best superstar pairings you can ask for, and these two clubs were one missed box out at the buzzer away from going to Game Seven in round one last year. The Lakers have gotten better with their off-season pickups, but the Thunder are older, which is about all they need to get better at this point, plus they've added willing-to-bang rookie center Cole Aldrich to help strengthen a weak interior. Can OKC catch them with a crane kick, or does Johnny's leg sweep always win? Grade: A


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