The NBA released the 2013-14 schedule on Tuesday, and it was met with considerable anticipation and excitement. Burning questions like: will the league make Derrick Rose’s long-awaited return an opening-night spectacle? (Duh); and, how long will we have to wait until Dwight Howard faces off against the Lakers? (Not long, November 7 to be exact) were answered.
For the most part, the schedule shapes up about how we expected, with plenty of marquee players and franchises featured on opening night, as well as the major holidays. So what that translates to is: prepare to watch a whole lot of the Nets, Clippers, Heat, Lakers, Warriors, Thunder and Bulls on national television.
But what about the Bucks – perhaps the league’s least-marketable team?
Well, just like the rest of the league, Milwaukee will play a full 82-game schedule. Unfortunately, just one of those 82 will be nationally televised, while four others will air on NBATV.
This certainly comes as no surprise for a middling team lacking a true star, but hey, for Bucks fans in Wisconsin – myself included – it means 40 games of Fox Sports North sideline reporter extraordinaire Telly Hughes.
While Milwaukee may not receive the media attention of larger-market teams, the schedule still features a number of intriguing matchups. Perhaps not intriguing for the same reasons as, say, a Heat-Pacers showdown, but intriguing nonetheless.
Here’s a brief guide to the 2013-14 season’s most anticipated games:
October 30 – at New York (7:30 ET)
What more could you ask for on opening night? Squaring off against the East’s second-best team in 2012-13 will immediately give the Bucks an opportunity to make a statement out of the gate. With a win, that statement becomes “eighth seed, here we come!” A loss? Likely the same statement. Both teams made some major moves this offseason, and it’s possible that Giannis Antetokounmpo could make his NBA debut at the world’s most famous arena.
November 9 – vs. Dallas (8:30 ET)
Any time a polarizing player returns to a former team, sparks are bound to fly – and this game has two of them. Both Monta Ellis and O.J. Mayo will square off against their respective former teams for the first time in what should be a fairly interesting early-season contest. The two will likely matchup with each other defensively, and – while there really isn’t any bad blood – any player wants to put on a show against his former team.
December 4 – vs. Detroit (8:00 ET)
The reason I didn’t include Milwaukee’s first matchup with the Pistons in Auburn Hills on November 25 is that Brandon Knight wasn’t nearly the figure in Detroit that Brandon Jennings was in Milwaukee. That game will be big, sure, but many of the Jennings-era Bucks are gone, and the Detroit fan base isn’t harboring any grudges against Knight. December 4 will be an entirely different story. Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect. Obviously, Jennings will do everything in his power to stick it to a franchise he feels vastly undervalued him, but that could actually bode well for Milwaukee. At the same time, something tells me that if Jennings is ever going to score 55 points again, this could very well be the night. While I’m not sure Bucks fans resent Jennings for leaving – he was traded, after all – it will be an interesting environment at the BMO Harris Bradley Center (man, that really flows off the tongue), as the fan base’s overall opinion of Jennings seemed to have soured as the summer dragged on.
December 13 – vs. Chicago (8:30 ET)
Assuming he stays healthy, Derrick Rose will be back in the fold for a Chicago team with championship aspirations. The matchup has evolved into a bit of a rivalry over the past few years – albeit a one-sided one – and the Bucks always seem to hang tough against Chicago’s suffocating defense. Taj Gibson and O.J. Mayo were teammates at USC, and it will be Mike Dunleavy, Jr.’s first game back in Milwaukee. Plus, the arena will be packed… with Bulls fans.
December 28 – vs. Minnesota (8:30 ET)
Like the Bulls, the Timberwolves have developed into somewhat of a rival (I use that term very loosely). It has less to do with the teams and players themselves and is more about the respective fan bases. Minnesota hasn’t won anything since trading Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007, and Milwaukee has toiled in mediocrity for over a decade. Neither team is destined for greatness next season – though, if healthy, Minnesota could contend for a six or seventh seed – so owning bragging rights in this matchup could be a small consolation for both downtrodden fan bases. Plus, Luke Ridnour will face his former team, and Ricky Rubio will make his lone appearance in Milwaukee for the season (everyone loves Ricky Rubio).
March 10 – vs. Orlando (8:00 ET)
By this time, Orlando will likely be in full-on Wiggins mode. Regardless, March 10 will mark Tobias Harris’ first trip of the season to Milwaukee, the team that drafted him 19th overall in the 2011 draft. He was the centerpiece of the deal that brought J.J. Redick to Milwaukee at the trade deadline, and he finished the season in Orlando on a very strong note. After signing-and-trading Redick to the Clippers in exchange for some magic beans two second-rounders this offseason, the deal appears to be a major blunder on the Bucks’ part. Assuming Harris picks up where he left off last season, this game will be a salty reminder of some very poor asset management. A win could temporarily ease the pain of trading what appears to be a very solid, young player for virtually no return.
March 24 – at. Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 ET)
While this one could very well be decided by halftime, the Clippers will be holding John Hammond Appreciation Night – a thoughtful gesture recognizing Hammond’s efforts in gifting the Clippers their starting shooting guard this offseason. The first 5,000 fans to Staples Center will receive a Hammond bobblehead, and a special video tribute will be shown at halftime (a similar ceremony will take place Jan. 4 when the Bucks visit Phoenix). To top it all off, all fans in attendance will take home a commemorative rally towel detailing the exact protections on both second-round picks (it can get confusing). What? Me, still bitter about the trade? Not a chance.
March 29 – vs. Miami (8:30 ET)
Aside from that four-game thrashing in the first round of the playoffs, the Bucks have fared well against Miami during the Big Three era. The BMO Harris Bradley Center is usually packed (to see the Bucks, of course), and Milwaukee never seems to back down to the challenge of containing the best player on the planet. But this season is different. Lebron James can opt out of the final year of his contract with Miami and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Assuming there won’t be another first-round rematch (if there is, I’ll take Bucks in six), this will be Milwaukee’s final chance to woo James before he makes The Decision: Part II. It’s no secret that Milwaukee has always been the apple of his eye, and the addition of Gary Neal this offseason could be the final factor that sways the momentum in Milwaukee’s favor (I’m sorry).
April 12 – at Washington (7:00 ET) (NBATV)
In all seriousness, this game could actually have real playoff implications. The Wizards figure to be vastly improved if John Wall can stay healthy, and in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, there is no reason to think they can’t compete for the seventh or eighth seed. Brandon Knight gets to face another former Kentucky point guard in Wall, and the Brad Beal-O.J. Mayo matchup should be a fun one to watch.
April 16 – vs. Atlanta (8:00 ET) (ESPN)
Alas, Milwaukee’s lone nationally televised game. The NBA truly opted to save the best for last, as the showdown falls on the final day of the regular season. Like the Wizards matchup four days earlier, this one, too, could hold major playoff implications. The Hawks figure to remain solidified in the five-to-nine-seed range after replacing Josh Smith with Paul Millsap and adding German rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder. At one point this offseason, it seemed the two teams were on the verge of virtually swapping rosters, but the Jennings-for-Jeff Teague talks fizzled and Milwaukee shifted its focus elsewhere.