From the way their schedule for the 2020-21 season shapes up, it’s a clear indication that the powers-that-be have pegged the Dallas Mavericks as one of the must-see teams in the NBA.

Not only do the Mavs open the season on Dec. 23 on the road with a nationally televised (at 9:30 p.m. CT on ESPN) game against the Phoenix Suns, the Mavs’ second game of the season is also on the road — against the defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers — and will be televised nationally at 7 p.m. CT on both ABC and ESPN.

In the grand scheme of things and what it means, that prestigious honor isn’t lost on the Mavs.

“Just being able to play against the defending champs on Christmas Day, that’s an awesome feeling,” guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “This is what you live for, growing up and fulfilling your dream of playing in the NBA. Now you’re getting to play under the bright lights.

“Just being able to play against those guys is an honor. We’re going to go out there and do our best and try to come out with a win, especially on Christmas Day, a prime-time game and everybody in the whole world is watching.”

After those first two games, the Mavs will play the Clippers in Los Angeles on Dec. 27 before returning home in this truncated 72-game season due to the coronavirus pandemic to play their home opener on Dec. 30 against Charlotte. That game will be followed by a Jan. 1 home game against the Miami Heat.

Also, the NBA only released the first half of the schedule, which ends on March 4. The schedule for the second half of the season will be released at a later date.

The All-Star break – there will be no All-Star game – is from March 5-10, and the second half of the regular season will be from March 12-May 16. In addition, the NBA play-in tournament is scheduled for May 18-21, and the playoffs are from May 22-July 22.

In the first half of the season’s schedule which was released Friday, the Mavs will play 19 home games and 18 road games, and will also have 11 of their first 16 games on the road. Additionally, the Mavs have six sets of games on back-to-back days, and will play 16 games on national television, six on ESPN, four on TNT, three on ABC and three on NBA TV.

For now, it’s the blockbuster Christmas Day that’s receiving the lion’s share of the hype. And for obvious reasons.

The Mavs-Lakers’ Christmas Day matchup pits Mavs superstar guard Luka Doncic against Lakers superstar forward LeBron James. Doncic has frequently admitted that James was his childhood idol, while James has expressed his fondness for Doncic.

“Luka is one of my favorite players in the NBA today for the simple fact of the way I play the game is exactly how I love the way he plays the game,” James told Spectrum SportsNet. “Team first. He gets his guys involved.”

The last time the Mavs played on Christmas was the same year they captured their lone NBA title – in 2011. In fact, between ending the 2010-11 season with a series-deciding 105-95 victory at Miami in the NBA Finals, the Mavs’ next game wasn’t until they hosted the Heat on Christmas Day.

That’s because the NBA was embroiled in a lockout, thus delaying the start of the 2011-12 season.

Clearly, it’s a feather in the Mavs’ cap to be seen by so many folks on a national basis during the first two games of the season. In fact, of the nine nationally televised games the NBA will roll out during Christmas Week, the Mavs, Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors are the only teams that will have two games shown on national TV during that period of time.

“Everybody talks about trying to get there and now we’re finally there and you’ve just got to embrace the moment, you’ve got to embrace this time and never take it for granted,” Hardaway said. “Just being able to be in that position, it’s amazing and it’s a blessing.”

Forward/center Kristaps Porzingis is hoping for a miracle and hoping that he’ll be back to play on Christmas. Porzingis underwent surgery to address a lateral meniscus injury of his right knee on Oct. 9, and earlier this week coach Rick Carlisle said the six-year veteran wouldn’t return at the earliest until sometimes in January.

“I want to be out there for Christmas and play those games, but we’ll see,” Porzingis said. “That’s me talking. That’s not the medical staff talking, so we’ll see what’s the timeline for me.”

The Mavs’ longest road trip during the first half of the season is three games, which will occur on four different occasions. Meanwhile, their longest homestand is a seven-game stretch from Feb. 4-17.

During that period, the Mavs will host the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 4 and Feb. 6, before playing the Minnesota Timberwolves (Feb. 8), Atlanta Hawks (Feb. 10) and New Orleans Pelicans (Feb. 12). The remainder of that homestand will include games against the Portland Trail Blazers (Feb. 14) and Detroit Pistons (Feb. 17) before the Mavs fly to Houston to play the Rockets on Feb. 19.

It’s not known yet if fans will be allowed to attend games. But Hardaway said: “playing on prime-time television, especially the first two games of this season, right there it shows that we’re up there with the elite and we have to go out there and perform as an elite team.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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