SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA's irregular season has arrived.
The Utah Jazz will miss out on 16 games, but the compressed 66-game schedule should make for a wacky and wild ride through April 26.
Here are 10 Jazz games that could provide the most thrills:
10. New Year's Eve bash
Saturday, Dec. 31: Jazz at Spurs
Who'd you rather spend your night watching, Dick Clark or Tim Duncan? They're both entertaining old men. No? Fine then, which younger suave star would you rather see perform, Ryan Seacrest or Tony Parker? If that doesn't sell you, then at least this game — the first of four Spurs-Jazz duels — will give you something to do until the countdown begins and the chips run out.
9. Cheer on the champs
Jan. 19: Dallas at Utah
This might cause an awkward moment for some Jazz fans. Like most Americans, they rooted heavily for the Mavericks to beat the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. Do fans applaud them for winning or boo because they can't keep cheering for Mark Cuban's team out of principle, and especially that guy still has the German referred by some as "Dirty Dirk," right? No doubt the awkwardness and/or hospitality will have worn off by April 16 when Dallas visits again.
8. Turn up the Heat
March 2: Miami at Utah
It's always fun when the Heat's Big Three come to town. Who can resist watching Mickell Gladness, Terrel Harris and Norris Cole? It is a shame Sundiata Gaines won't be there to welcome LeBron James back to EnergySolutions Arena.
7. Thunder rolls to town
Feb. 10: OKC at Utah
The Jazz, who dodged a bullet by only having to face Oklahoma City three times, might put extra emphasis on this one. A Valentine's Day rematch awaits them four days later in OKC, and that's on the third night of an all-road back-to-back-to-back set.
(P.S. Utah won't pay a visit to Florida this season. But traveling media don't have to go to Milwaukee or Detroit this winter, so a certain Jazz beat writer will absolve the NBA schedule-maker for this otherwise egregious error.)
6. Windy City rivalry
March 10: Utah at Chicago
Sorry, Utah chapter fans. There's only one game against the Chicago Jazz this season, and it's on the road. That means ESA spectators won't get to boo Carlos Boozer or cheer, ooh and ahh over Kyle Korver or warmly applaud Ronnie Brewer until the 2012 NBA Finals.
Salt Lake City will also miss out on seeing Derrick Rose in person, making this a must-see-MVP-TV game.
5. The AK-47 Game
Teams and time TBD
Andrei Kirilenko was a fixture in Utah for 10 years. Granted, sometimes he was the broken fixture that required you to shower down the hall instead of in your own bathroom, but fans love(d) the incredibly versatile Russian-American. Well, except the ones who didn't love his injuries or inconsistencies that made him an international man of mystery. Oh yeah, and that contract. THAT contract. Remember how he made $17.8 million last season for ... oh ... yeah. Nyet! You won't want to miss AK-47's return if he even returns from Russia.
4. The Lake Show
Tuesday, Dec. 27: Jazz at Lakers
It is an away game, so Jazz fans have to wait until Jan. 11 to thank ex-Utah fan-fav-turned-villain-for-some Derek Fisher for his labor-strife role. Utah can also thank the NBA because its Game No. 1 will be the last night of a back-to-back-to-back for L.A. You won't hear a smarmy word from Phil Jackson. He's retired. This will be the Jazz's first match-up with the Mike Brown-coached Lakers. Fun reminder: Gordon Hayward scored 22 and the Jazz beat the Lakers when they visited in April.
3. Jerry Sloan
TBD: at Utah
The franchise hasn't announced it will honor Jerry Sloan. But a night to pay tribute to the backbone of the franchise for the past 23 years has gotta be coming, doesn't it? It should and will. Sloan has only returned to EnergySolutions Arena once since his stunning resignation last February, and that was for his Utah Sports Hall of Fame induction. Here's hoping Bear chauffeurs Sloan around the court on a John Deere tractor for well-deserved victory laps on his next visit.
2. Get Jazzed,
East Coast style
Jan. 14: Nets at Jazz
It's still mind-boggling how two guys once considered to be the next Stockton-to-Malone were booed by Jazz fans in consecutive games — IN UTAH. Sure enough, two nights after Boozer heard expected boobirds when his Bulls visited in February, Deron Williams, sporting No. 8 for Utah, received Bronx cheers by many in Jazz Nation. Fans were flabbergasted over his perceived role in Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan's midseason resignation. Two weeks later, D-Will was traded.
This will be Williams' first game back as an opponent since that mind-blowing chain of events unraveled. Jazz fans continue to debate whether that controversial deal was the right call. Williams will bring back a familiar face with him in recently traded Mehmet Okur. The East Coast Jazz also have ex-Utah players Sundiata Gaines, Kris Humphries and DeShawn Stevenson. Don't forget the potato salad for this family reunion.
1. January gets Jimmered
Jan. 28 (and March 30): Kings at Jazz
Jimmer Fredette received a huge ovation, fans lined up for his autograph and he was treated like a big-time star the last time he visited EnergySolutions Arena — and he was just a college kid watching a pro game at the time.. Forty-plus media members surrounded him for quotes the one time No. 32 wore a Jazz logo at a pre-draft camp.
Can you imagine what Jimmermania will be like when BYU's living legend comes back to Utah for a real basketball game? It'll be hoops hysteria. A Sports Illustrated writer even included this one (and D-Will's return) in his top-10 must-see games for the entire NBA. Jazz fans only hope they don't get Jimmered. Then again, some might not mind for one night.
Also worth watching:
Jan. 3 — Bucks at Jazz: Utah's favorite Australian (Andrew Bogut, not Mel Gibson) makes a rare visit.
Jan. 17 — Clippers at Jazz: Blake Griffin might dunk over a Miller-sold Kia.
Jan. 30 — Blazers at Jazz: Wesley Matthews brings his three-goggles to Utah.
Feb. 7 — Jazz at Pacers: Who goes more berserk: Indiana fans for beloved Butler star Gordon Hayward or ex-Ute coach Jim Boylen on the bench?
March 23 — Denver at Utah: Kosta Koufos brings his dance moves back to EnergySolutions Arena.
April 21 — Dwight Howard brings his Magic act to town — assuming he's not traded by then.
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