11-12 Schedule Tips to Watch For

With the 2011-12 NBA schedule released on Tuesday afternoon, the Wine and Gold find themselves facing a familiar foe to tip off the campaign – and they’ll head West not longer after opening the season at The Q.

The Cavaliers will encounter some interesting stretches in the 82-game affair as they look to reshape a young roster and return to postseason form. They’ll have to conquer six months of competition, and Cavs.com breaks down 11-12 of the upcoming season’s potential twists and turns …

1. For the fourth consecutive season, the Cavaliers will open the season against their rivals from Beantown. And for the third straight season, the Wine and Gold will face Boston and Toronto in their first two matchups. Oddly, in the two previous seasons – with the Cavaliers’ roster loaded for a late postseason run – the Celtics dropped Cleveland in the opener. Last year, however, a feisty Cavaliers club stymied the Celts, 95-87, in front of a raucous crowd at The Q. The Eastern Conference’s elder statesmen look to return the favor when they welcome Byron Scott’s squad to the Garden on November 2. Two nights later, the Cavaliers return to the North Coast to tip off their home schedule on November 2 against Dwayne Casey’s Raptors.

2. Although both teams were going in different directions in 2010-11, the Cavaliers and Knicks planted the seeds of a nasty new rivalry heading into this season. Last year, the Wine and Gold were in rebuilding mode, while the Knicks were prepping for a return to their postseason glory days. But that didn’t stop Cleveland from knocking off the Knicks in their first three meetings last year, including a 119-115 thriller at the Garden last March 3. By the time New York snapped their skein against the Cavs on April 4, they’d dropped 11 straight. They won’t forget the Cavaliers’ recent mastery of them when Mike D’Antoni’s squad rolls into Cleveland on December 9. The Cavaliers travel to the World’s Most Famous Arena on January 23 and March 31 before the Knicks close out the campaign in the Cavaliers’ home finale.

3. While Clevelanders bundle up for the winter, the Wine and Gold make their annual sabbatical out West, with a one-game winter stop-over in Toronto. After their visit north of the border on January 4, the Cavaliers head west for five games, beginning with Golden State on Saturday, January 7. Cleveland heads straight to Portland for the second half of the back-to-back on Jan. 8. The Cavs then face Utah on Jan. 10, the Lakers on Friday the 13th before closing out on Jan. 15 in Phoenix. The Cavaliers aren’t out of the Western Conference woods when they return home, however. Mark Jackson’s Warriors visit Cleveland on January 17, with George Karl’s Nuggets arriving three nights later.

4. Like every team, the Cavaliers have some rough spots to their schedule, including a trying first month of the season that includes four sets of back-to-back games. All in all, the Wine and Gold will play 20 sets of back-to-backs – four in November and four in February. (They get a break in December, with none.) On three occasions, including the final week of November, the Cavaliers will play four games in five nights and will thrice play five games in seven nights.

5. For the foreseeable future, the first home matchup Cavalier fans will circle will be the Miami Heat. Last season, the Heat not only electrified Quicken Loans Arena with their two visits, they served as a barometer of Byron Scott’s squad. When the Heat made their eagerly-anticipated arrival on December 2, they left having spanked the Cavs by 28 – precipitating the longest losing streak in NBA history. But when Miami returned in March, they found a different Cavaliers club waiting for them. Byron Scott’s squad was ready for the heavyweight Heat and stunned the eventual Eastern Conference Champs, 102-90, for their biggest win of the year – figuratively and literally. This season, the hated Heat make their first appearance on November 18. Miami returns on February 17, and the Cavs travel to South Beach for the final two meetings – on March 7 and April 6.

6. The young Cavaliers are working their way back to national television prominence, but they’ll still be featured four times – including Miami’s first visit to Cleveland on November 18th, which will appear on ESPN. Wine and Gold will appear on NBA TV three times – on Nov. 7 at Denver, on December 5 in Philly and on March 16 against the Bulls in the Windy City.

7. Last season, the young and often injury-plagued Cavaliers had their share of struggles. But nothing consistently bummed out Byron Scott’s squad more than the dreaded Sunday afternoon affair. In 2010-11, Coach Scott often lamented the “Sunday afternoon funk” – with the Wine and Gold going an inauspicious 0-12 on the year. The Cavaliers should be vastly improved this season, and they’ll have three Sunday afternoon matchups to prove it. They’ll play an early-season matinee in Tinseltown and a pair in March – against Atlanta on the 18th and vs. Phoenix on the 25th. Both games are at The Q.

8. If you have to go back to 2007-08 to find the last time Cleveland didn’t face Boston in the season opener, you’ll have to go back one year earlier to find the last time the Cavaliers didn’t start until November. This season, the Wine and Gold tip off on November 2. And all teams will have a little longer stretch before the mid-season break. Cleveland’s final game before the All-Star break in the past three seasons had been on February 11th, 11th and 16th, respectively. This year, the Cavs final game – at Toronto – doesn’t come until February 22, with the All-Star Game tipping off on the 26th in Orlando.

9. Whether the Cavaliers are competing for a title or putting the pieces back together, they’ve given the Lakers more than their share of problems over the past few seasons. Last year, Cleveland was in the latter situation, and the LakeShow reminded the young Cavaliers that they had a long way to go – hanging a humiliating 55-point defeat on the Wine and Gold at Staples Center last January 11. But, as they did against Miami, the upstart Cavaliers showed their mettle – sending Phil Jackson’s squad to the All-Star break with a 104-99 loss in Cleveland. This season, the Zen Master is gone – replaced by an old friend, Coach Mike Brown, who brings the Western Conference powerhouse to The Q on December 21. The Cavaliers face their former coach in Tinseltown on January 13.

10. For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Cavaliers will make an early trip out West. Cleveland will play exactly one home game before departing for a brief (but difficult) three-game West Coast sojourn. After opening their home schedule against Toronto on November 4, the Wine and Gold travel to Los Angeles for an early-afternoon (12:30 PT) matchup against the Clippers. (The last time they played an early-afternoon game against the Clips at Staples Center, the game was delayed while a knife-wielding maniac stormed the floor during pregame.) After facing off against the Clippers, the Cavaliers travel to Denver the following night before closing out the road trifecta on November 9 in Sacramento.

11. Naturally, the Cavaliers will face each of the league’s heavyweights – the Lakers, Heat, Mavericks, Bulls, Spurs, etc. But one matchup that might be fun to watch (now and in the future) could come against the Timberwolves, who, like the Cavaliers, are building their new-look squad behind a lottery point guard and power forward. This year, the two clubs were No. 1 and No. 3 in the Lottery, but if their plans begin to take shape and those players produce, they might not be back for a while.

12. With a leap year, the Cavaliers get an extra day of February hoops. Despite the All-Star Break, Cleveland will still play 15 games during the shortest month of the year. The good news is that nine of those 15 games – including a mid-month stretch of seven of eight games—will be played at The Q. The Cavaliers will have a pair of four-game homestands this season and will play four of the final six games at home, including the perennial Fan Appreciation Night in the home finale on April 18 against the Knicks.