The NBA released its official 2008-09 regular season schedule on Wednesday afternoon. Here are a few thoughts on what I like and don’t like about the schedule from a Hornets perspective (also check out 20 games to watch):
Looking for evidence that the Hornets have moved several notches closer to being considered a “marquee” NBA team? New Orleans is playing on national television on BOTH Thanksgiving and Christmas, with road games at Denver and Orlando, respectively. The Hornets have never played a game on either holiday in the previous 20 seasons of the franchise.
Thirteen national TV appearances
This is a little more than I expected. My guess was 10 to 12 national games; most other people I’ve talked to this summer projected eight to 10. There will be nine Hornets games on ESPN, three on TNT and one on ABC. Compare that to last season, when the initial national TV schedule included only two New Orleans games.
With Cox Sports TV expected to telecast 65 games in 2008-09, there is the potential for very few Hornets games to not be available to viewers during the upcoming season.
Cox will release its local schedule sometime in the next few weeks. Cox cannot televise games that air on TNT or ABC due to their exclusive rights, so a minimum of 69 of the 82 games will be broadcast either nationally or locally.
LeBron in the opener
New Orleans’ first home game is a Saturday night game that features one of the biggest superstars in the NBA, Cleveland forward LeBron James. Expect Opening Night in the Hive to sell out quickly.
Ending the season on the road
It seems like New Orleans always plays a ton of road games in April. This upcoming season is no different. In 2006 and 2007, that season-ending slate made it much less realistic for the Hornets to close the gap on the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race. They fell short both years, after being mathematically alive until about a week or so remained in the regular season.
This time, seven of the Hornets’ final nine games are on the road. Making the closing stretch even more daunting is the fact that three of the final four games are visits to the Texas teams: Dallas (April 10), Houston (April 13) and San Antonio (April 15, game No. 82).
Only one ABC game
While you have to be pleased with the high number of national TV appearances by the Hornets, you could make a minor gripe that New Orleans should be on ABC more than once, especially when you see the number of appearances by some of the other comparable teams. ABC games are special because even households that don’t have cable can watch.
By comparison to New Orleans’ one ABC appearance, San Antonio has six. Dallas is on ABC five times.
Mardi Gras trip Feb. 20-23Hornets players never get to experience the culmination of Mardi Gras festivities, because the NBA always schedules the team to play on the road during the celebration. Trying to play a home game in downtown New Orleans during Mardi Gras, when hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the city, would not be a wise idea.
For a second straight season, the team’s Mardi Gras trek will consist of three games and includes stops in Utah (Feb. 21) and Sacramento (Feb. 23). The other game is at the Lakers (Feb. 20).
Thanksgiving out West
For the first time since 2004, the Hornets do not have a home game scheduled for the day before or the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, New Orleans will be on the road for the entire week, from Nov. 24-28. By the way, the 11-day stretch of Nov. 22-Dec. 3 is the longest of the regular season between home games.
Home games tip at 7 p.m., with eight exceptions
Thirty-three of New Orleans’ 41 home games will begin at the traditional 7 p.m. Central start time, but there are eight exceptions based on the TV schedule or the date of specific games. The following home games at the New Orleans Arena have different tip-off times:
• Wednesday, Dec. 17 vs. San Antonio, 8:30 (reason: ESPN broadcast)
• Monday, Jan. 19 vs. Indiana, 2:30 (Martin Luther King Day)
• Friday, Jan. 30 vs. Golden State, 8:30 (ESPN broadcast)
• Sunday, Feb. 8 vs. Minnesota, 6 (Sunday)
• Friday, Feb. 27 vs. Milwaukee, 6 (ESPN broadcast)
• Sunday, March 22 vs. Golden State, 6 (Sunday)
• Sunday, April 5 vs. Utah, 6 (Sunday)
• Sunday, April 12 vs. Dallas, noon (ABC broadcast)