Basketball / Sports

Heat schedule highlighted by LeBron's Christmas visit

MIAMI -- There will be plenty of LeBron, with the Miami Heat's 2014-15 schedule to feature four games against the player who a month ago walked away from the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

There will, however, be a bit less Carmelo Anthony than some transplanted New Yorkers might have hoped for, with the New York Knicks scheduled for just a single visit to AmericanAirlines Arena this season.

And the national spotlight will not burn as bright, with a combined 16 national broadcasts on ABC, TNT and ESPN, compared with 25 such exposures last season, when the Heat were coming off consecutive NBA championships.

Those are just a few of the twists of the Heat's regular-season schedule that was released Wednesday by the NBA, after drips and drabs already had been reported, including the Heat's 5 p.m. Christmas Day game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first of the teams' four meetings.

Of James' return, Charles Barkley said Wednesday on NBA TV, "If they don't cheer LeBron, there's something wrong with them."

While the context of this season's schedule figures to be different, with the lessened national exposure and slimmer championship hopes, it essentially is the same package as always, home-and-home two-game series against each of the 15 Western Conference teams and four games against all Eastern Conference teams with the exception of four.

Instead of the typical two home games and two road games against other East teams, the Heat's 2014-15 schedule is limited to three-game series against conference rivals New York, Detroit, Chicago and Toronto, with just single visits by the Knicks and Detroit Pistons, and just one road game this season against the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors.

Even with the NBA following up on its plan to give every team a week off during the mid-February All-Star break, with the Heat idle from Feb. 12 to Feb. 19, the Heat still are limited to 16 back-to-back sets, one fewer than last season and nine short of the franchise all-time high. The Heat do not have any back-to-back sets of home games.

As far as conflicts with South Florida's other teams, there also will be more than a few early-seasons decisions for Miami Dolphins fans, with the Heat playing six times on the same day as Dolphins games, although only two of those conflicts will come with both teams at home.

The Heat also have two common dates with the University of Miami football team, although neither comes with both teams at home. There are seven common home dates with the Florida Panthers.

It all starts on Oct. 29 at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Washington Wizards, the 19th time the Heat have opened at home and the third consecutive year.

Tickets for individual Heat regular-season games will be placed on sale at 10 a.m. on August 20 at Heat.com, Ticketmaster.com or at 1-800-4NBA-TIX. Partial plans are now available, as well as access to individual game tickets on the Heat's resale site. The Heat's partial plans begin with a $150 10-game plan.

There should be an opportunity for both a strong start and a strong finish, with nine of the first 15 games at home, as well as four of the last five. In addition, the Heat will play seven consecutive home games from Dec. 17 to Dec. 29, a home-for-the-holidays schedule that is one game shy of the longest homestand in the franchise's 27 seasons (in 1996). The seven-game homestand, however, will be followed by a run of 15 of the next 21 on the road.

A year ago, on the way to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, the Heat were featured six times on ABC, 10 times on ESPN and nine times on TNT. This season, there will be two ABC appearances, nine on ESPN and five on TNT. By contrast to those 16 nationally televised games, the Cavaliers, Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder are scheduled for the league-maximum 25 such games this season.

All 82 Heat games will be televised in South Florida, with Sun Sports carrying 75 regular-season games. The Heat also are scheduled for nine games on NBA TV, with up to four additional NBA TV appearances allowed amid that flexible scheduling.

Forty of the Heat's 82 games will be played on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, five more than last season, with 17 of those weekend dates at home.

The Christmas game against the Cavaliers will be the Heat's 11th game on the holiday and the 10th time in the last 11 years they have been so featured. With the national focus largely elsewhere this season, the Heat currently are scheduled for only one home game that begins before 6 p.m.--the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers.

The Heat also have two other holiday games, both on the road against the Indiana Pacers, on New Year's Eve and April 5 on Easter Sunday. The Heat, however, do not play on Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 19.

December will be particularly busy, with 17 games, which ties the franchise record for games in December. The Heat's nine home games in December also ties a franchise record for December.

The Heat's 20 trips are broken into 10 single-game trips and 10 multi-game trips. The Heat largely will be done with their most grueling travel by midseason, with no games outside of the Central or Eastern time zones after a Jan. 16 game in Sacramento. The Heat play just two road games against Western Conference teams over their final 33 games.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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