Top 10 Games to Look Forward to in 2016-17

Sam Smith shares his thoughts on the games he is most excited about for the upcoming season

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Get ready for the NBA’s 2016-17 season because it’s going to start fast for the Bulls.

Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah will be back in the United Center as members of the New York Knicks for the first time a week into the new season with an ABC-TV national game Friday Nov. 4 returning the longtime local stars to play against the new Bulls with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.

Wade then makes his first return to Miami after 13 years leading them to three titles a week later in a national TNT game Nov. 10.

It’s a hectic and breathtaking opening of the new NBA season for the Bulls, which will start Oct. 27 in the United Center against the Eastern Conference contending Boston Celtics.  The Bulls also will play Christmas Day in San Antonio and host the Golden State Warriors with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in the United Center March 2. The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers first play in the United Center Dec. 2. 

Overall, the Bulls have 17 sets of back to back games and one set of four games in five days. The league has sought to limit the number of such combinations and said the average of back to backs this season for teams is just under 18 with no one having more than one series of four in five nights. The Bulls do have a daunting set of seven games in 11 days in March with three back to backs. They have just one back to back in February. The four in five nights for the Bulls is December 2 through 6. The regular season ends early on April 12.

The regular NBA season opens Oct. 25 with the Knicks playing in Cleveland with the Cavs receiving their championship rings and the Spurs in Golden State. The Bulls are among the last teams in the league to open on Oct. 27.

Here’s a look at the top 10 Bulls games for 2016-17:

1. Nov. 4, United Center. Bulls vs New York Knicks.

So how will Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah be greeted in their first game back in Chicago? Probably very well. And even with the Knicks, no longer quite the rival like the Cavaliers. It wasn’t a pleasant decline the last few years with Rose’s and Noah’s injuries, the departure of coach Tom Thibodeau and the breakup of a team that many believed could have won an NBA title. But that all changed with Rose’s 2012 ACL injury to the debate of who’s team is it or should be. Now it’s Butler, Wade and Rondo with hope to develop and a solid starting five in New York with Rose and Noah. It should be one of best matchups of the season. Assuming everyone is healthy, of course.

2. March 2, United Center. Bulls vs Golden State Warriors. 

Even though they are not defending champions, the Warriors are the favorites not only coming off that amazing 73-win season, but in adding star Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Stephen Curry is two-time reigning MVP and could be overshadowed on his own team. Amazing stuff. They will be the must-see team of the season. The Bulls are in Oakland to play the Warriors three weeks earlier on Feb. 8.

3. Nov. 10, in Miami. Bulls vs Miami Heat. 

It will be the anticipated return of Dwyane Wade to Miami. Wade won’t be booed. Pat Riley could be, or maybe owner Micky Arison. But not the popular Wade, who shocked the NBA with his move to the Bulls. It still seems unreal after he was the face of the Miami franchise through their only titles. Miami doesn’t appear to be a playoff team this season with the loss of Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson.

4. Dec. 2, United Center. Bulls vs Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s the first game between the Bulls and the defending NBA champions. And, yes, no more victory starved Cleveland stories, finally. It’s the first big so called measuring stick game for the Bulls with their new Big Three and the Cavs of LeBron James, Kryie Irving, Kevin Love and Mike Dunleavy. The Big Four?

5. Dec. 13, United Center. Bulls vs Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s the coming of one of the best young teams in the NBA with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But it’s mostly the first Chicago coaching appearance of former coach Tom Thibodeau, who remains popular in Chicago and as a USA Basketball assistant with Olympian Jimmy Butler. Thibodeau also is team president of the promising Timberwolves, who have been out of the playoffs for a decade.

6. Dec. 8, United Center. Bulls vs San Antonio Spurs.

The Bulls and Pau Gasol for the first time. There can be a heck of a lot of these with all the changes the Bulls made. Get ready for Jan. 14 for E’Twaun Moore’s first game back with the Pelicans? This is the Spurs for the first time in two decades without Tim Duncan. Can Pau replace Duncan? How will they be different and will they be as good? The Bulls again get Christmas Day duty, in San Antonio later in the month.

7. Oct. 27, United Center. Bulls vs Boston Celtics.

The NBA did the Bulls a bit of a favor sending in the Celtics on the second of a back to back for the Bulls opener. Rondo has seen the Celtics enough as he’s now on his third team since leaving them, but he remains popular and the Bulls will be in Boston Nov. 2. The young, aggressive Celtics were tough on the Bulls last season and added free agent Al Horford. Plus, the Celtics are considered among the top Eastern Conference contenders.

8. Feb. 1. In Oklahoma City. Bulls vs Oklahoma City Thunder.

Many are projecting Russell Westbrook as a top Most Valuable Player candidate with the departure of Kevin Durant  and the Thunder still a talented team that led Golden State 3-1 in the playoffs. Plus, they made a big trade of Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo to play with Westbrook. More so for the Bulls, this begins their toughest road stretch of the season in Oklahoma City and then Houston with new coach Mike D’Antoni, in Sacramento against DeMarcus Cousins, in Golden State and Phoenix and to close the 13-day trip before the All-Star break in Minnesota.  The November circus trip will be 12 days with a possible stop back in Chicago for Thanksgiving.  

9. Oct. 29, United Center, Bulls vs Indiana Pacers.

One of those early tests in the second game of the season with the Central Division looking like one of the tougher divisions with, of course, the Cavs and the Detroit Pistons, who played the Bulls tough last season and seem improved again. The Pacers made bold moves in the off season to add Jeff Teague and Al Horford to their star, Paul George, and getting through the Central Division will be crucial this season to making the playoffs. Plus, Milwaukee will be quietly lurking with Jabari Parker a year healthier.

10. Nov. 9. In Atlanta. Bulls vs Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks made changes with the departures of Horford and Teague. At one time, the acquisition of Dwight Howard would have been a major story. It’s smaller now, but should be intriguing.

In other interesting games, the Bulls see the 76ers and No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons Nov. 25 in Philadelphia about a week after being in Los Angeles for No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram. That’s the second of a back to back after the Clippers in seemingly a transition time with Blake Griffin. The Bulls host Toronto for the first time Jan. 7 and after the Bulls swept the conference finalists last season it’s certain the Raptors will remember. The Bulls also see Detroit for the first time Dec. 6 in Auburn Hills, a team that outplayed the Bulls often last season and considers itself a rising Eastern Conference power.