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Top 10 Games of the 2010-2011 NBA D-League Schedule

Aug 11, 2010 – 3:30 AM
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Scott Schroeder

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The NBA Development League announced its schedule for the upcoming 2010-2011 season Monday afternoon, beginning with eight teams tipping off on Friday, November 19.

While it's difficult to get too excited about the schedule being released, knowing that the teams won't have any players until the D-League's Draft is conducted in late October, the rosters in the Development League are fluid year-round so there's no time like the present to present the 10 games I anticipate most -- in chronological order -- of this year's D-League regular season.

Friday, November 19
Iowa Energy @ Dakota Wizards -- Iowa and Dakota will play eight of their 50 games against each other starting with this opening-night matchup. The Energy bested the Wizards in last season's series by winning five of the seven games on their way to the Eastern Conference's best record, but Dakota will surely be looking to change that outcome in the first game of the season.

Saturday, November 20
New Mexico Thunderbirds @ Idaho Stampede -- This matchup probably wouldn't have been attractive last season as both teams missed the playoffs after starting strong, but the coaching matchup alone is enough to make me intrigued to watch this year. With Randy Livingston being named the head coach of the Stampede and Darvin Ham being named the head coach of the Thunderbirds, this will be the first matchup in league history to pit former D-League players against each other on the sidelines. Both players retired from the D-League following the 2007-2008 D-League season.

Sunday, November 21
Texas Legends @ Rio Grande Valley Vipers -- The D-League sure loaded up their first weekend, didn't they? The expansion Texas Legends, coached by Basketball Hall of Fame member Nancy Lieberman and owned by Dallas Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson, will travel to Hidalgo, Texas to take on the defending champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers will also raise their championship banner as well as have their ring ceremony prior to this game.

Sunday, December 5
Rio Grande Valley Vipers @ Tulsa 66ers -- Two of the top coaches in the D-League last season will roam the sidelines in this game as reigning Coach of the Year Chris Finch leads the Vipers and Nate Tibbetts mans the bench for the 66ers. If the coaching matchup isn't enough to intrigue you, though, these teams are also single-affiliated with NBA teams: Rio Grande Valley is engaged in the unique hybrid partnership with the Houston Rockets while the Oklahoma City Thunder own the Tulsa 66ers. And, if that's not enough to keep everyone interested, this is also the first matchup of the season that pits last year's D-League championship finalists against each other.

Saturday, December 25
Dakota Wizards @ Sioux Falls Skyforce -- This matchup is always entertaining -- probably because it's the longest running rivalry in the D-League -- but the fact that it marks Dakota's first (of just two) trips to Sioux Falls and comes on Christmas Day definitely adds to the allure. The Skyforce always draw well for this annual game and if they're going to win the six-game series this year, the crowd will probably have to play a factor to give them the home court advantage -- especially since four of the six games will be played in Bismarck.

Tuesday, January 4
Springfield Armor @ New Mexico Thunderbirds -- This game would have been pretty ugly last season as the two teams finished just 25-75 combined, but the reason I decided to highlight this game is because the players will have something to prove. Ten-day contracts begin the following day, meaning a big game on Tuesday could do wonders for the player's chances at an NBA call-up.

Monday, January 10
Sioux Falls Skyforce vs Tulsa 66ers -- A game tipping off at 12 p.m. on a Monday afternoon isn't typically worthy of a "Top 10 Games of the Season" post, but this game also tips off the 2011 D-League Showcase that will take place on South Padre Island, Texas. Don't worry, though, intriguing story lines are still involved. Tulsa coaches Nate Tibbetts and Dale Osbourne both plied their crafts as assistant coaches under current Skyforce assistant Duane Ticknor. Tony Fritz, the head coach of the Skyforce, served an assistant under Tibbetts in Sioux Falls before Tibbetts took the top job in Tulsa. Basically, it's a really mangled reunion of Ticknor's coaching tree.

Thursday, January 13

Austin Toros @ Bakersfield Jam -- This matchup is probably the hardest to venture a guess at for next season, but the reason I'm highlighting this game is because it signals the end of the D-League Showcase. With the Showcase being the most widely-scouted D-League event, there will have more than likely been at least one NBA call-up between this game and Monday's Skyforce-66ers affair. As far as the actual matchup on the court, Austin will be without the services of head coach Quin Snyder, who took a position as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, and instead be led by an as-of-yet unnamed head coach. As for Bakersfield, it will be interesting to see if their record at this point resembles last year's miserable start or if the Jam are able to return their top players and begin this season how last season ended.

Wednesday, February 2
Rio Grande Valley Vipers @ Iowa Energy -- This will be the fourth matchup between last year's conference leaders, but I picked this one because it is the last of their games against each other and they all come within six days of each other. There's a well-known thought process around the D-League that says NBA scouts are able to learn more about a player on a cold weeknight of a back-to-back in February than at the Showcase because players might not be on their best behavior. This game idealizes that thought-process almost exactly, meaning even if it's bad basketball due to travel and the same teams playing each other so often and so close together, there will be a lot to learn.

Saturday, April 2
Texas Legends @ Austin Toros -- This could turn out to be a completely meaningless game considering it takes place on the last day of the season, but an intrastate game between the long-successful Toros and the expansion Legends should cap off the start of a new D-League rivalry if nothing else. That said, with both teams being ran by their NBA counterparts -- Austin by San Antonio, Texas by the Mavericks -- I expect that this game could involve playoff seeding as well.
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