Right on Schedule

The Cavaliers and their fans can enjoy a holly-jolly Christmas Day. Once Santa splits, it’s back to business.

But with an abbreviated 66-game schedule, it won’t be business as usual for the Wine and Gold. For starters, they won’t open with Boston and Toronto for the third straight season. But they do open with Toronto on Dec. 26. After that, it gets interesting.

Cleveland will face off against their Eastern Conference opponents with almost the same frequency as in previous seasons. But they’ll play most Western Conference team only once – splitting home and away meetings. The Mavericks come to town, for example, while the Cavs will travel to So-Cal to face the Lakers.

Byron Scott’s squad will make a seven-game sojourn in early January and host a six-game home stand in late February. The Cavaliers will play 20 traditional back-to-backs, 15 weekend tilts at The Q and appear on national television one time with all other games on FOX Sports Ohio HD.

This year’s schedule features some other usual (and unusual) elements, including the following five …

1. The Cavaliers weren’t one of the Eastern Conference’s heavyweights last season, but on separate occasions at The Q, they gave the big boys a little more than they could handle.

  • After spanking the Cavs by 28 last December, the Heat returned to find a different Cavaliers club in March – one that stunned the eventual Eastern Conference Champs, 102-90, for their biggest win of the year – figuratively and literally. This season, the self-proclaimed Dream Team comes to The Q just once – but at least it’s on a Friday night, February 17.

  • Boston got a taste of the upset-minded Cavaliers in the home opener last year, with Cleveland overcoming an 11-point second half deficit to win, 95-87. This year, the Celts come to Cleveland twice – their first visit (January 31) being the second half of a home-and-home with Boston. The Big Three return to Cleveland on February 28.

  • Although the Cavs and Knicks were going in different directions last year, the two clubs planted the seeds of a nasty new rivalry heading into this season. Cleveland knocked off the Knicks in their first three meetings of 2010-11 and by the time New York snapped their skein against the Cavs on April 4, they’d dropped 11 straight to Cleveland. The Cavs welcome Amar’e, Carmelo and Co. to town on January 25 and April 20.

    2. Kyrie Irving played just 11 games in his lone season at Duke and hoops fans are dying to see what the precocious young point guard can do.

    The league’s top pick will make his debut on the day after Christmas. But he’ll be part of some interesting matchups, including …

  • Dec. 28 – at Detroit – Irving faces off against the Pistons top pick, point guard Brandon Knight. Draftniks rated the two as 1 and 1a in June. And being division rivals, these two could create a classic PG battle for years to come.

  • Jan. 6 – at Minnesota – No. 1 vs. No. 2 is always interesting and that’ll be the case when the Irving and the Cavs meet Derrick Williams (not to mention Ricky Rubio). A win might also wash away some of the stink from last year’s ugly loss to the T-Wolves.

  • March 3 – at Washington – The Cavs and Wizards rivalry has cooled over the years, but the former playoff adversaries could reignite the series when last year’s No. 1, John Wall, takes on the point guard taken first this year.

    3. The Cavaliers won’t be playing on Christmas Day this year, but they’ll still earn double-time working a pair of holidays.

    This season, the Cavaliers will play on both New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday, April 8 – taking on the New Jersey Nets in each meeting.

    Overall the Wine and Gold will play six Sunday games and will look to reverse a negative trend. In 2010-11, Byron Scott often lamented the “Sunday afternoon funk” – with the Wine and Gold going an inauspicious 0-12 on the year.

    4. With the schedule condensed down to 66 games, all teams will face some difficult scheduling.

    The Wine and Gold take their lumps in the form of two back-to-back-to-backs. The first trifecta takes place on Jan. 20 (Chicago), 21 (at Atlanta) and 22 (at New Jersey, with Miami looming on South Beach on the 24th). Cleveland doesn’t have another three-in-three until April 13 (at Indy), 14 (at Washington) and 15 (Orlando).

    This year, the Cavaliers will play four games in five nights on six occasions and will play five games in seven nights half-a-dozen times as well. Among their 18 back-to-backs, Cleveland will play three home-home sets, eight home-road sets, six road-home sets and one road-road set.

    5. One of the biggest drawbacks of the abbreviated schedule is the fact that some Western Conference teams won’t be making their way to Cleveland this season.

    The Cavs will only face three Western Conference foes home and away – Phoenix, San Antonio and Utah. The World Champion Mavericks come to The Q on February 4 and the Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Hornets and Kings will also make the trip to Cleveland. The Cavaliers travel to face the Lakers, Nuggets, Grizzlies, T-Wolves, Thunder and Trailblazers.

    Cleveland plays a whopping 18 games in the month of January – with 11 of those on the road. The Cavaliers play 15 games in the home-friendly month of February, with all but five of those contests at The Q.