By Steve Lichtenstein
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With typical overindulgent fanfare, the NBA announced on Wednesday that each team’s 2014-15 schedule is live.
I didn’t catch the NBA TV special, but then again I didn’t need it to inform me that I can now find out which dates the Nets will be playing and their slate of opponents.
Especially since they probably paid little attention to the Nets on the broadcast anyway.
Though the Nets will enter this season with far less hype than their prior two Brooklyn iterations (as evidenced by their lack of national exposure on major holidays), there are still a good number of games that pique my interest as a fan.
Though you might not guess which one I’m most looking forward to.
It’s not the opener on October 29 in Boston. Sure, there will likely be some heart-felt applause when ex-Celtic icon Kevin Garnett takes the floor (should the soon-to-be 40-year-old Garnett indeed make this his 20th season, only the fourth player in NBA history with such longevity).
However, ever since Paul Pierce decided this offseason to take his talents to Washington, the emotions for this event surely won’t match those that accompanied last year’s tributes.
Nor is it November 3, when the Barclays Center faithful get their first looks in games that count at the surgically-repaired limbs of center Brook Lopez and point guard Deron Williams.
The Nets face a tough test when the Thunder blow into town. For those who cling to the dream that Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant will change his address to a 11217 zip code should he one day enter free agency, they will be eager to show Durant some love that night.
I admire their faith, but I’m not rushing to Vegas to book it. Nor do I think that this early-season matchup will mean anything beyond one win or loss.
Then surely it must be the games against LeBron James, who makes his first appearance in Brooklyn as a born-again Cavalier on December 8.
Nope. Like the home games versus the Knicks (who invade their neighbors on November 7 and February 6), it’s getting old watching the Barclays Center pretty much become a road arena for the Nets.
OK, then it has to be the game against the Bucks, whose new coach — Jason Kidd — returns to the scene of his crimes against Nets’ management on November 19.
Oh I’m sure the coverage will include plenty of biting commentary in advance and following that one. But now that some time has passed since Kidd’s ignominious departure from Brooklyn, I feel less a victim and more like The Simpsons’ bully Nelson Muntz: ” You have to work in MILWAUKEE. Ha-Ha!”
So which game do have I circled on the calendar as THE one I don’t want to miss?
December 17. Nets at Raptors.
This happens to be one of the Nets’ two appearances on ESPN. The network chose it for good reason.
Face it folks, Toronto is the Nets’ rival. Not the Knicks. They’re the defending Atlantic Division champions and anyone looking for a home-court seed in the first round of the 2015 playoffs will likely have to again beat them out.
Of course, the Raptors — as well as the entire nation of Canada — will have revenge on their minds for the Nets’ incredible comeback in last season’s epic first-round series.
The Raptors, who haven’t advanced to the second round since 2001, had the Nets on the ropes, up 3-2. But the Nets somehow survived (despite nearly choking away a seven-point lead with two minutes to go in Game 7 in Toronto).
If I’m Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, I’d have been sleepless all summer over that attempted game-winning runner in the lane that Pierce somehow blocked at the buzzer to save the Nets’ season.
Heck, I still wake up with shakes over youth baseball coaching mistakes I made that cost our team in All Star tournaments. So I can only imagine what Lowry, a ruthless professional competitor, will be feeling when he gets his first opportunity to reverse the nightmares.
Oh, let’s not forget that in addition to that intense playoff series, these two clubs split their four-game battle in the regular season as well. Only one of which was decided by more than four points.
That outlier occurred in a game that featured a Nets lineup that didn’t include Lopez, Williams or Garnett.
Those three need to be healthy, and in Garnett’s case, involved, all season for the Nets to make a run at the Raptors in the standings.
Williams, who cleaned out his ankles in the offseason, has to at least match Lowry’s production and efficiency.
Lopez, of course, is a wild card. The Nets sure could use his interior scoring, but can his feet stand the stress after his 203-14 campaign was terminated early by yet another fracture?
On the bright side, who’s to say this won’t be a manageable year when it comes to the Nets’ injury log? Though I still haven’t come to terms with the whole Pierce abandonment, there’s still plenty of talent here.
That makes other matchups worthy of your attention. Want to see if the Nets can ace Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau’s latest defensive test? Head over to the Barclays Center on November 30.
Or if offense is more your thing and you feel like staying up late, on November 13 the Nets travel to Golden State, where Stephen Curry could easily wear out new Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins’ game plan.
Then there’s the best pure basketball team in the world — the San Antonio Spurs. Fortunately, the Nets only play them twice, starting with December 3 in Brooklyn.
So I guess I’m saying that you should ignore all the pundits’ predictions of a down year in Brooklyn. There’s plenty of good basketball for Nets fans to look forward to.
Even if most of the country won’t see much of it.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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