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Celtics to open vs. Cavaliers

They’ll face top pick Irving - if

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / July 20, 2011

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With the NBA several weeks into a lockout and more players chirping about playing overseas, it’s hard not to look at yesterday’s announcement of the 2011-12 schedule as wishful thinking.

Still, a full slate of games was trumpeted, with heavyweights such as the Mavericks, Lakers, Heat, Bulls, and Thunder to go at each other early and often.

The Celtics, on the other hand, get to start with something of a sparring match, opening at the Garden Nov. 2 against the retooled Cavaliers. No. 1 draft pick Kyrie Irving will get his introduction to the NBA courtesy of a matchup with Rajon Rondo.

The opener doesn’t have the wattage of last year’s against the Heat. The Celtics beat the Heat, 88-80, temporarily pulling the plug on the LeBron James and Co. hype machine. But the next night Boston traveled to Cleveland and lost, 95-87.

The Celtics will get their first crack at the Eastern Conference champion Heat Nov. 16 at America Airlines Arena. It will be their only trip to South Beach this season. Miami comes to Boston Dec. 1 and April 1.

The world champion Mavericks come to Boston Jan. 11. In February, the Celtics will get a double dose of Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, facing the Bulls Feb. 12 in Boston and Feb. 16 in Chicago.

Kendrick Perkins will return to the Garden for the first time since the trade that sent him to Oklahoma City when the Celtics host the Thunder Jan. 16. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers come to town Feb. 9.

For the third straight season, the Celtics will play on Christmas Day. They’ll tip off against the Knicks in New York, renewing their rivalry, which got hot again last season after being dormant in recent years.

The NBA cut back on the number of Christmas Day games, a moral victory for Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who last season took a few jabs at the league for overloading the holiday with basketball. Last season there were five games; this season three are scheduled.

The Celtics’ schedule has its rough patches, including 12 of 19 games on the road to start the season.

They play 10 of 16 games on the road in March, balancing out a cushy stretch in which they play 11 of 16 games at home in January, including a six-game homestand.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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