(Reuters) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) does not yet have a ratified labor agreement but the league moved full speed ahead Tuesday by announcing a provisional schedule.
The NBA's 66th season will be comprised of 66 games, 16 less than the norm due to the five-month lockout over a labor dispute that ended November 26 with a handshake agreement.
The season begins on December 25 with a Christmas Day slate of five games and ends April 26. Playoffs are to begin April 28 with the last possible NBA Finals date June 26.
The opening day features a championship re-match between holders Dallas and Miami, pitting the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki against the Heat's power trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Dallas will raise their NBA title banner prior to tip-off.
"I think it's exciting for us just to be back playing basketball," Bosh told NBA TV. "To open up the season with that, I think it's great. We're going to have to watch them hang their banner, but it will be motivation for us."
Also on tap will be the renewal of an old rivalry as the Boston Celtics' Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce visit the New York Knicks and their dynamic tandem of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Later, NBA MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, who won a league-best 62 games last season, visit the Los Angeles Lakers and perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant.
Two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder go against the Orlando Magic and three-time defensive player-of-the-year Dwight Howard. The Los Angeles Clippers and last season's rookie-of-the-year Blake Griffin visit the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers will be tested right from the start with back-to-back-to-back games in the first three days, taking on the Sacramento Kings and the Utah Jazz after opening against Chicago.
Veteran-laden Dallas must cope with 20 back-to-back games besides their triple against the Phoenix Suns, Kings and Warriors.
Last year the Heat, trying to blend their new "Big Three," struggled early with a 9-8 mark out of the gate. This year's start should be smoother, with only five of their first 12 games against last year's playoff teams.
The Bulls will hit the road early with seven of their first nine games away from home. Their killer stretch is a nine-game road swing from late January through mid-February, with stops in Miami, Philadelphia to play the 76ers, New York and ending in Boston.
The Celtics, with their veteran nucleus, face a difficult late-season examination when they play nine of 10 on the road in March with the postseason coming into view.
Oklahoma City, with the dynamic duo of Durant and Russell Westbrook, have their most daunting stretch in February when they host the Celtics and Lakers, then go on the road to play Philadelphia, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks. They face the Mavericks on their return home.
Looking to jump-start the delayed season, the NBA will feature a seven-game schedule on New Year's Eve, including the Denver Nuggets against the Lakers, Phoenix against Oklahoma City and the Knicks against the Kings.
The nine games on New Year's Day will see the Toronto Raptors at Orlando and Charlotte Bobcats at Miami.
With the games laid out, teams can focus on the training camps set to open Friday, the same day as free agents can be signed.
This is all pending the expected ratification this week of the collective bargaining agreement by both the league's owners and players.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Ian Ransom)