The 12 most significant games of the Bulls' 2021-22 season schedule

Wait until Charles Barkley hears about this. He's not going to be happy. The new look Bulls with just one scheduled TNT national TV game this season? Though it is a big one, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Memphis, site of the Civil Rights Museum. That's January 17 of the 2021-22 NBA schedule that returns to it's regular 82-game format this season after two shortened seasons because of the Covid epidemic.

The Bulls get that TNT game and four national ESPN games. But the big decision makers may be questioning themselves on some of those cold winter nights while in the Turner studio in Atlanta Barkley and the Inside the NBA crew are watching those new, high scoring Bulls race up and down the court on their dressing room TVs.

Certainly that's the Bulls' hope with the big offseason additions of four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan and brazen point guard Lonzo Ball. They join fellow All-Stars Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic to headline a celebrated crew of All-Stars, all-pros and Olympic gold medal winners. They're supported by the likes of high scoring guard Coby White and pubescent prodigy Patrick Williams. It could be one of the more entertaining cores in the NBA. At least, that's the plan.

For the Bulls, it begins October 20 in Detroit. Here's a look at a dozen of the most significant games and series of the season:

1. Oct. 20 at Detroit: And No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham, too. The Pistons are beginning what the Bulls did a few years ago without much success, though the Pistons have an advantage with a No. 1 overall pick. He looks like he'll be a good one, though not yet. We'll have heard nothing but optimism from the Bulls in training camp and four preseason games Oct. 5 vs Cleveland, Oct. 7 vs New Orleans, Oct. 10 at Cleveland and Oct. 15 vs the Grizzlies. We tend to overstate opening days in all sports because so many more are watching. This will be the first true look at what the Arturas Karnisovas management team has wrought. Either way, we then say it's a long season. Though as Steve Allen wrote, this could be the start of something big. It's a good chance for a 4-0 start with four non playoff teams to begin the season, Detroit twice, New Orleans and Toronto. Lots of premature judgments the first week and the Bulls' could be a power ratings positive.

2. Oct. 22 vs New Orleans: It's the home opener, basically the first regular season full house in the United Center in 19 months. Lonzo Ball, not counting the preseason matchup, gets a shot at the team that didn't want him anymore, the Pelicans with another new coach and Zion.

3. Nov. 1 at Boston: The first big test. After a relatively benign first 10 days with a chance to gain a lap on the Eastern Conference, the Bulls go to Boston and Philadelphia and then return home to play Philadelphia again and Brooklyn. The 76ers, Nets and Bucks are the Big Three of the Eastern Conference with the Bulls likely trying to make a push for that next tier four through eight. These four games should give the team its first sense of where it might fit in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

4. Nov. 12 at Golden State: Did the circus come back to town? Mid to late-November for the Bulls long was a week to 10-day Western Conference trip to clear the locker rooms for the elephants. And it seems so again as the Bulls open in San Francisco with their first look at the new Warriors arena they didn't get to see last season and the old Splash Brothers. And then it's on to both L.A. teams, though the Clippers are without Kawhi Leonard, and then to Portland and Denver, historically tough places to win on the road. This trip often has been a field leveler for the Bulls in the early season. With the game in Denver, that closes nine of the first 16 on the road and the last 12 straight against expected playoff teams

5. Nov. 27 vs Miami: That's no turkey following a pair of games against the rebuilding teams, Houston and Orlando, bookending Thanksgiving on the road. The Bulls fly home Saturday after a game in Orlando Friday to face their measuring stick, the Miami Heat. It's probably not reasonable to expect the reborn Bulls to compete with the Big Three. But the Bulls should aspire to fourth through eighth with the Celtics, Knicks, Hawks, Pacers and Heat. Miami is built similarly with Butler/LaVine, Lowry/DeRozan, Adebayo/Vucevic and support players. About two weeks later with some rest before that game, the Bulls are in Miami in a series which once again like in the Rose/Noah/Deng years could become a Hollywood-as-hell rivalry given the teams' makeups.

6. Nov. 29 vs Charlotte: They were a dark horse Eastern Conference team last season that was deep in the playoff mix midway through the season until wiped out with injuries. It's a chance to Ball with Lonzo playing for the first time in the NBA against brothers LaMelo and LiAngelo, the latter who is expected to join the Hornets after a Summer League experience with them. With Gordon Hayward healthy and adding Kelly Oubre they again could break into the East's Elite Eight.

7. Dec. 19 vs Lakers: It's Sunday afternoon, so bring out the kids for an early Christmas present. LeBron has a few more years left, but the visits will be winding down. It's his lone United Center appearance for the season—perhaps until the Finals?—and the Lake Show should again be quite the show with a Hall of Fame cast that includes Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony with James, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard. It's somewhat reminiscent of the Lakers big 2003-04 experiment with Karl Malone and Gary Payton. That did lead to the breakup of that Shaq and Kobe Lakers dynasty, but they did get to the Finals.

8. Dec 27 at Atlanta: It's a home and home over three days with a another developing team the Bulls will have to nudge aside after the Hawks' surprise run to the conference finals. It's a curious schedule with four games over six days with home and home series with both the Hawks and Pacers, both along with the Bulls aiming for that last first round home court playoff spot.

9. Jan. 17 at Memphis: The Grizzlies were a surprise team last season and Ja Morant is one of the most exciting young players in the game, perhaps more so than fellow 2019 draftee Zion Williamson. But it's not so much this game, but the day and location. The featured and most solemn game for Martin Luther King Jr. Day is in Memphis, home of the Civil Rights museum at the Lorraine Motel were Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. It's the Bulls lone national TNT game unless games are added late in the season. The Bulls tentatively have four national ESPN games schedules, but this games often change depending on late season standings.

10. Jan. 21 at Milwaukee: It's 47 games into the season before the Bulls get to travel those 90 miles north on I-94 to play the 2021 NBA champions. That means the Bulls play the champions four times in the last 10 weeks of the season with a late United Center matchup April 5. The Bucks also are in the United Center March 4. That Jan. 21 game with the Bucks starts a triangular five-game road trip through Florida and Texas and back to Chicago. It's midway through a stretch of seven road games in eight, though four of the teams are not considered playoff contenders. It closes in San Antonio for DeMar DeRozan's first return after three seasons with the Spurs.

11. Feb. 28 at Miami: This could start the defining stretch of the season and whether the Bulls are a contender or pretender. It's in Miami and then home against the Bucks that begins a brutal 11 of 14 games on the road that includes a Western Conference trip to contenders like the Suns and Jazz with perhaps half the games against teams considered top four in their conference or Finals possibles.

12. March 31 vs Clippers: The final kick with five straight home games in the last six games, though all five teams are playoff contenders and three games in five days against Miami, Milwaukee and Boston. The Bulls then close the regular season April 10 in Minnesota with the hope—and belief—there's a second season to come and the first playoffs in five years.