The NBA released the first portion of its shortened schedule on Friday with the 2011-2012 lockout-hit season now set to open with five games on Christmas Day.
And for the first time since the shortened 1998-1999 season, the NBA champions from last year will face the runner-up team on opening day.
The NBA made it official that Miami would visit reigning champions the Dallas Mavericks, who are expected to raise their championship banner before the game, on Christmas Day.
“I think everybody did it on purpose, but, you know, whatever for the ratings, right?” Miami’s Chris Bosh said.
“I use it as motivation. I know they’re going to be pumped up. It’s the worst time to be at home for me, but everything happens for a reason, so we’re going to have to watch it, take it all in and just use that as fuel for the rest of the season,” added Bosh, who is a Dallas native.
Dallas beat the Heat in six games in last season’s finals, winning the championship in Miami.
The Christmas Day opening date is contingent on the tentatively reached new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) being ratified next week.
The league is hoping to release its full 66-game schedule on Tuesday night.
The Dec. 25 contests begin with the Boston Celtics visiting the New York Knicks, followed by the NBA finals rematch between the Heat and the Mavericks. The Bulls and Lakers will square off later in Los Angeles.
There were three games originally scheduled for Christmas Day, but with the compressed 66-game schedule the league decided to add two more games, comprising the Oklahoma City Thunder hosting the Orlando Magic and the Golden State Warriors playing the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.
Meanwhile, players arrived in small numbers to their teams’ training facilities on Friday, including NBA players’ union president Derek Fisher.
Fisher traded in his suit and tie for gym shorts as he worked on a couple of solo shooting drills at the Lakers training center in the Los Angeles suburb of El Segundo.
“I’m grateful for the experience, but hopefully next week we’ll be back to basketball,” he said. “It was an exhausting ordeal, but I’m still in a good space and looking forward to working with [new] coach [Mike] Brown.”
Some members of the San Antonio Spurs also got back to work on Friday, including two-time MVP Tim Duncan. Duncan practiced in a mostly empty gym and guard Tony Parker dropped by to get a physical done.
Additional reporting by staff writer