The NBA season is an 82-game grind, so one game usually doesn’t hold much more weight than the other. However, the energy for a few games will be higher than your ordinary Tuesday-night-in-February matchups due to rivalries or the novelty of seeing a player for perhaps the final time (Kobe Bryant).
That said, here are the top five must-see games on the Bulls’ just-released schedule for the 2015-16 season:
1. Oct. 27: Opening night vs. Cavaliers at the United Center. It won’t be revenge considering the Cavaliers took the second-round matchup in six games, but the Bulls could send an opening-night message to the Eastern Conference champs in Fred Hoiberg’s debut as coach in front of what should be a mad crowd on Madison. LeBron James and the Cavaliers won the last three games of their series after falling behind 2-1 in May, including two games at the United Center. It won’t necessarily signal if the Bulls are serious about contending in the East, not so early, but it will be an emotionally charged evening in the NBA’s season-opener.
2. Dec. 25: Christmas Day vs. Thunder in OKC. Both teams changed coaches in the hope of winning a championship, and Kevin Durant could be on a season-long revenge tour after missing most of last year due to a foot injury. If he’s fully healed and both squads are relatively healthy, it’ll be a star-studded Christmas Day game in Oklahoma City, where many eyes start to shift away from football and to hoops.
3. Nov. 20: Bulls visit defending champs vs. Warriors in Oakland. Being one of the few teams to beat the 2014-15 champs on their home floor last season, the Bulls will travel early on to the Bay Area to see if the Warriors are on track for a repeat or if they’ll suffer from a championship hangover. Derrick Rose had one of his season highlights in their Jan. 27 matchup, an overtime win for the Bulls. Who knows if another classic finish will be in store this time around.
4. Feb. 21: Kobe Bryant’s last Chicago visit vs. Lakers. Assuming Bryant isn’t on the injured list, as has become custom for the league’s living legend in recent years, this trip could hold special meaning for both sides. Bryant followed in Michael Jordan’s footsteps and even flirted with coming to Chicago while demanding a trade from the Lakers in 2007. The Kobe Bryant retirement tour could be on full blast by that time, right after the All-Star break. A knowledgeable Chicago fan base should show its appreciation for perhaps the second-best shooting guard of all-time.
5. April 3: Playoff rematch vs. Bucks. The Bucks gave the Bulls way more than they could handle in their first-round matchup, where the Bucks clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to give the Bulls a serious scare. The Bulls wised up in Game 6 in Milwaukee, but it took a little steam out before Round 2 — while giving the young Bucks a belief headed into the offseason that they can compete with the experienced bunch. They’ve added Greg Monroe from Detroit, and Chicago native Jabari Parker should be healthy for Year 2. Could this be the next burgeoning rivalry?