The formulation of the NBA schedule is a delicate process, the league's 2014-15 calendar still a work in progress until it formally will be unveiled Wednesday.
But when it erupts, it will arrive with four blasts of LeBron-vs.-Miami Heat drama that could overshadow the rest of what the league has to offer to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and what remains of James' former team.
According to a league source familiar with the preliminary schedules forwarded recently to teams, the Heat's first meeting with James' Cavaliers is scheduled for Christmas at AmericanAirlines Arena, in what the preliminary schedule lists only as a "night" game.
The Cavaliers also are listed on the preliminary version of the schedule to play March 16 at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat's two trips to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland are scheduled for Feb. 11 and April 2, the first time in five years the Heat will arrive there to face James in visiting colors. James, in fact, hosted the Heat for Thanksgiving at his Akron-area estate a year ago when the Heat faced the Cavaliers.
A league source cautioned that the current schedule remains fluid, although there generally are only subtle changes once teams are forwarded their preliminary schedules.
The preliminary schedule has the Heat opening at home on Oct. 30 against the Washington Wizards. The Heat's first road game is listed against the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 1.
Although not quite as dramatic with the loss of James, the Heat's 2014 NBA Finals rematches against the San Antonio Spurs are listed on the preliminary schedule for Feb. 6 at the AT&T Center and March 31 at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Spurs won the NBA Finals 4-1, ending the Heat's two-year championship run. Four weeks later, James left as a free agent to sign with the Cavaliers.
As for other key Eastern Conference rivals, with the Heat four-time defending East champions, the Heat's first home game against the Indiana Pacers is listed as Nov. 12 on the preliminary schedule and the Heat's first home game against the Chicago Bulls is listed as Dec. 14.
While 2014-15 is the first year the NBA has established a goal of giving teams a week of for the All-Star break, the Heat's preliminary schedule takes that to an extreme, with the Feb. 11 visit to Cleveland not followed by another game until Feb. 20 against the New York Knicks, an eight-day break.
The irony for the Heat about facing the Cavaliers at home on Christmas as former champions is that when they were two-time defending champions a year ago they nonetheless were sent to play on Christmas at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Heat previously announced their exhibition schedule, which includes a preseason game against James and the Cavaliers in Rio de Janeiro, as well as three home exhibitions at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Teams currently are in the "appeal" process with the league, which typically involves requests for different home dates or dates that lessen travel burdens or extended trips.
The NBA schedule generally comes out earlier in the offseason, but had to be reworked with the league's television partners after James' shift from the Heat to the Cavaliers, a decision that came later in free agency than initially expected.
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