Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
The Orlando Magic kick off the 2011-2012 season on Christmas Day against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road. For the casual NBA fans, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook will do more than enough to pique their interest in the game. But a player to really look out for is James Harden without question. Harden really began to emerge as a playmaker in the 2011 NBA Playoffs and as a result, the Thunder may have a third star on their hands. Westbrook made a big leap from his second to third year in the league and Oklahoma City can only hope that Harden will do the same.
National TV games
It’s not surprising that the Magic are scheduled to appear in 24 nationally-televised games (including NBA TV). Ever since Orlando became an elite team and championship contender a few years ago, they’ve played in front of a national audience with regularity. That being said, the Magic have moved down the totem poll in the Eastern Conference and even though Howard is on the roster for the moment, questions continue to swirl around his future. What if Howard is traded during the season? Then what? The NBA would likely have to switch out a few of the games featuring Orlando to showcase other teams.
City of Angels
One of the first things that jumps out, when examining the schedule, is that the Magic don’t make a trip to Los Angeles to play either the Lakers or the Clippers on the road. Ain’t that something. However, it would be a cruel twist of fate if Howard played in either game as a visitor.
The Eastern elite
Amongst the East heavyweights, Orlando plays the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls three times and the Miami Heat four times. Like in any season, how good the Magic are will be dependent partly on how good they perform against the Celtics, Bulls, and Heat. This isn’t meant to be a slight on the New York Knicks but their roster as currently constructed isn’t good enough to be listed among the contenders in the Eastern Conference. And neither is Orlando for that matter.
Backs on backs on backs
The Magic have one back-to-back-to-back to deal with and it’ll come early in the season (January 16-18). The opponents are the Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats, and San Antonio Spurs. The first game is on the road and the latter two are at home.
Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus has more on the rare back-to-back-to-back:
Considering everything, back-to-back-to-backs apparently were actually somewhat easier for teams than back-to-backs during 1998-99. What we haven’t considered here is the cumulative effect of fatigue, and teams that knew they were playing three games in a row may have adjusted their rotations in the first two, meaning back-to-back-to-backs had an impact that can’t be felt from the last game alone. Still, when this year’s schedule is released Tuesday night, it’s probably not worth obsessing over how many back-to-back-to-backs your favorite team has. (Each team will have at least one such stretch and a maximum of three.) It’s unlikely to have much of an impact on how their season goes.