As last season’s NBA Eastern Conference playoff race showed, some games matter more than others, with the Miami Heat closing two games ahead of the rest of the field and the next three teams tying for second, requiring head-to-head tiebreakers to sort seedings.
Against that backdrop, and with the release of the Heat’s 2022-23 schedule, a look at 10 spots on the calendar of particular significance for Erik Spoelstra’s team:
— Oct. 19 vs. Chicago Bulls: Opening night for the Heat comes at FTX Arena for the third time in the last four seasons. It is the third time in the franchise’s 35 seasons the Heat open a season at home against the Bulls, going 1-1 in those games so far, including the 108-66 humiliation in 2006 after winning the NBA championship four months earlier. Among those on this season’s Bulls roster are former Heat players Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr.
— Oct. 21 vs. Boston Celtics: The first of four games against the Celtics brings the teams back to the venue where Boston eliminated the Heat in Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference finals on May 29. While the Celtics added Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari in the offseason, the casts largely remain similar. The teams won’t meet again in Miami until Jan 24.
— Nov. 30, Dec. 2 at Celtics: There will only be one trip to Boston during the regular season, with the two road games against the Celtics coming on Wednesday and Friday of the same week. With the Heat idle before the first of the two games, there could be some playoff-like preparation for the set.
— Dec. 17 vs. San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City: This could be a particularly grueling test, not only because it will come at altitude, but also because it comes at the end of a four-game, seven-day trip. No matter, the NBA will have plenty of promotional appearances scheduled for the international showcase. Fortunately, the Heat then play only once in the next five days, not on the road again until Dec. 30.
— Jan. 8 vs. Brooklyn Nets: This is the first of three games against the Nets, who either could be in contending mode or a rebuilding stage by this point of the schedule. The other two games against the Nets come after the February NBA trading deadline, which could further alter the lineups that Brooklyn puts into play.
— Jan. 12, Jan. 14 vs. Milwaukee Bucks: This set of consecutive home games opens the four-game series against the Bucks, with two games in Milwaukee to follow. The Heat went 2-2 against the Bucks last season, which also was the first time in three years the teams did not meet in the playoffs.
— Feb. 27 at Philadelphia 76ers: This opens the three-game season series, an unusually long wait for the season’s first game against a conference opponent. It will be the first meeting since the Heat eliminated the 76ers in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals and the first meeting since power forward P.J. Tucker left the Heat for Philadelphia in free agency. The teams also meet two nights later in Miami.
— March 4, March 6 vs. Atlanta Hawks: These consecutive games will be the first and only of the regular season at FTX Arena against the team the Heat eliminated in the first round of last season’s playoffs. The Heat play in Atlanta twice earlier in the season, including a matinee on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Jan. 16.
— March 8, March 10 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Another set of consecutive home games against the same opponent, coming late enough in the season to allow the Cavaliers’ talented young base to coalesce. These well could be games against an opponent pushing to avoid the play-in round.
— April 9 vs. Orlando Magic: The game on Easter Sunday concludes the Heat’s regular-season schedule and well could factor into playoff tiebreakers. It comes after a stretch of five of six on the road.©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.