1. Oct. 29, at Miami: Without knowing how the season eventually will play out, the most hyped game on the schedule comes Opening Night when the Bulls travel to play the two-time defending champion. Derrick Rose, the last MVP not named LeBron James, is expected to make his return to the starting lineup for the first time since the 2011 Playoffs, and the Bulls will square off against the team that knocked them out of last year’s postseason. The Heat will also raise their championship banner and receive their rings, giving Chicago added motivation to spoil the South Beach party.
2. Dec. 25, at Brooklyn: The Bulls again will play on Christmas Day, beginning the NBA’s five-game slate with a matinee against the new-look Nets. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov broke the bank this offseason to acquire future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Celtics, and he signed Andrei Kirilenko to a cap-friendly deal to strengthen the team’s bench. Last year these two teams played to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, with the shorthanded Bulls advancing.
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3. Mar. 7th-17th home stand: This isn’t an individual game, but the Bulls will face their toughest stretch of play at home when they square off against Memphis, Miami, San Antonio, Houston, Sacramento and Oklahoma City. Four of those five Western Conference teams made the playoffs, and the defending champion Heat will make their second trip to the United Center (Dec. 5). This 11-day, six-game stretch will be brutal but one that could push the Bulls to a solid second-half run.
4. Mar. 21 and 24, Indiana: The Bulls play the reigning Central Division champions two times in their first eight games of the year (Nov. 6, 16) and then will wait more than four months to see them again. When they do, however, it will be the home stretch for both teams, who likely will be competing for the division championship. The first game is on the road and the second at home; look for these games to loom large as both fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
5. Nov. 24, at Los Angeles Clippers: When the Bulls head out West during their annual circus road trip, their toughest test will be in the Staples Center when they take on the Clippers. The acquisition of head coach Doc Rivers from Boston as well as trading for sharpshooters JJ Redick and Jared Dudley have Los Angeles’ “other” team in position to contend for an NBA title. Rose vs. Chris Paul, Carlos Boozer vs. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan vs. Joakim Noah give this matchup plenty of individual side stories, too.
6. Nov. 11, vs. Cleveland: One of the most improved teams in the East this year could be the Cavaliers, who signed Andrew Bynum to a safe, two-year deal and is led by Kyrie Irving, one of the rising young starts in the NBA. More important, it will mark the first game for Rose against a truly elite point guard, so it may be a good gauge of where the former MVP is early in the season.
7. Dec. 18, at Houston: Dwight Howard had quite the offseason, and not in a good way. After being scrutinized for his decision to leave Los Angeles and team up with James Harden in Houston, no one will be happier to get back on the court than he. This is also the first game of a back-to-back for the Bulls, who will play in Oklahoma City the next night. A 1-1 split in those two would be a win.
8. Jan. 29, at San Antonio: Though they open up their season with the champs, the Bulls don’t face the runners-up until late January. The Spurs proved last season their window hasn’t closed just yet, but Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are a year older and will need to rely more on young role players in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to compete. This game marks the start of a six-game road trip, so getting off to a good start in Texas will be important.
9. Feb. 21, vs. Denver: Nate Robinson won over the hearts of many in Chicago despite playing just one season, and the offensive sparkplug will make his United Center return in a Nuggets uniform in late February. Though he has shown on Twitter he has love for the Bulls’ fans, it’s a sure bet he’ll want to put up a solid performance against his former team. The Nuggets aren’t half-bad as a team, either.
10. Jan. 13, vs. Washington: John Wall missed games through December and into January last season with a knee injury, but when he returned to the Wizards lineup he created a new team. A former John Calipari product, Wall vs. Rose will be a fascinating matchup to watch. Washington may also be in position to compete for a playoff spot this season with an improved Bradley Beal, rookie Otto Porter and an improved bench.