What lockout? Top games on the 2011-12 NBA schedule

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After months and months of talking about a lockout that seemed to go on forever, the NBA season is now in sight as the NBA announced the 2011-12 schedule last night, December 6.

Last season was one of the most competitive and captivating in recent memory with new rivalries being built and new stars being born. Unfortunately, the lockout did a lot to hurt the growing popularity of the league, and this season, the teams and players will have to do a lot to earn back some fans.

The way to get the fans back into the arenas and buying NBA tickets again is through their play on the court. The NBA has never had as much talent as they do today, so the league will have the opportunity to win back the fans and these games could go a long way in doing that. Here are just some of the best games on the 2011-12 NBA schedule for everyone to look forward to:

Knicks vs. Celtics

December 25, Madison Square Garden in New York, NY

Even though the Knicks-Celtics have not been much of a rivalry of late (the Celtics were 8-0 last season against the Knicks, including the playoffs), New York is entering this season with much higher expectations. The team hopes to add more talent to go with Carmelo Anthony and A'mare Stoudamire, so the Celtics shouldn't take the Knicks lightly in the season opener, especially in NYC.

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Mavericks vs. Heat

December 25, American Airlines Arena in Dallas, TX

Now is not the time to feel bad for LeBron James and the Miami Heat, but because of the lockout delaying the start of the NBA season to Christmas, the Heat get the privilege of watching the Mavs raise their championship banner to the rafters. A championship they earned by beating this same Miami team in last year's NBA Finals. Even I have to admit, that stings a little.

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Lakers vs. Bulls

December 25, Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA

Reigning MVP Derrick Rose will be trying to take the Bulls to the next level this season, and beating the vaunted Lakers will go a long way in doing that. I can't wait to see D-Rose take down Kobe and the Lakers (FYI - I don't like the Lakers).

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Grizzlies vs. Thunder

December 28, FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN

Just 12 months ago no one would have thought of this as a budding rivalry in the NBA, but after last season's hard fought second round playoff series it has the potential of being huge. The Grizz took the Thunder to seven games that series before being eliminated, so this is their first crack at revenge.

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Jazz vs. Nets

January 14, EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, UT

On paper this does not seem like much of a match-up, but what makes this an intriguing game is that it will be the first return of Deron Williams to Utah since being traded last season. It should be interesting to see if the Jazz fans welcome him back with open arms or a cold shoulder.

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Celtics vs. Thunder

January 16, TD Garden in Boston, MA

This game, on the other hand, is a great one on paper, but what makes this game so special will be the return of Kendrick Perkins to Boston. Perkins, who was surprisingly traded at the deadline last season, has continued to talk glowingly about his time in Beantown, and the fans have been equally as gracious when talking about Perk. Expect a long and loud standing ovation when he is introduced.

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Celtics vs. Lakers

February 9, TD Garden in Boston, MA

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry could be argued as the greatest rivalry in sports, and every season when they get together it is a must-watch event. This year will be no different as KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen try to defend their home court against the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers.

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Cavaliers vs. Heat

February 17, Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH

The last three games on our list all involve the Heat going on the road, and with good reason, they are the biggest spectacle in the game today. This will be LeBron James' third visit back to Cleveland and it should be interesting to see if the Cavs fans have forgiven him for leaving them high and dry for the beaches of Miami. My guess is no.

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Lakers vs. Heat

March 4, Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA

Many experts will undoubtedly predict this to be an NBA Finals preview and they could very well be right. The Lakers and Heat have more talent on their rosters than any other team, so this should be a tight game all the way until the end. Buying tickets to this game will probably also mean you will see more than a handful of celebrities.

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Knicks vs. Heat

April 15, Madison Square Garden in New York, NY

For some reason, whenever LeBron James visits MSG he raises his game to another level. It will be the job of Carmelo Anthony to stop James, but this game will get a lot of attention in the Big Apple, with many Knicks fans using this game as a barometer to see how good their team really is.

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For the complete 2011-12 NBA Schedule, visit NBA.com.

What game are you looking forward to the most this season? Let us know in comments!