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Basketball Bonanza — 30 Teams in 3 Weeks on Miles and Points

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Love the NBA as much as you love a good award redemption? TPG Contributor J. Keith van Straaten understands. Following his Football Frenzy and Baseball Binge earlier this year, here’s his way to see a whole lot of basketball for not that many points and miles. (All arena photos are courtesy of each venue.) 

If you’ve ever wanted an itinerary that would let you see all 30 National Basketball Association teams in three weeks for around 100,000 points and miles, you need look no further. And hopefully, some recent and generous credit card bonuses — such as a total of 100,000 Avios with the British Airways Visa Card and 50,000 ThankYou points with the Citi ThankYou Prestige Card — mean that many of you now have miles and points to burn.

The NBA season is in full swing, and though this itinerary kicks off just after Thanksgiving, you can jump in anytime. The league’s relatively uneven schedule requires a less elegant route than one would hope for, yet I’ve managed to keep you on nonstop flights for the majority of the journey. This puts you a over the targeted 100,000 points and miles, but it’s easy to get under the century mark if you’re willing to take connecting flights to a few more places. As of this writing, all flights listed below have award availability.

As you can see, unlike the NBA, we here at TPG actually encourage traveling!

NBA in the USA! -- Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
NBA in the USA! Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

A Few Things to Know Before You Go

This itinerary uses lots of ThankYou points (which you can earn from cards like Citi’s aforementioned Prestige, as well as the ThankYou Premier and Thank You Preferred) and points from transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards (which you can earn from Chase cards like the Sapphire Preferred, the Freedom and Ink Plus).

When preparing to rent a car, always check the partner pages of your frequent flyer program to see what bonuses and discounts are being offered. That way, you can score a discount, earn bonus miles and still double-dip by booking with a credit card that earns you bonus points on car rentals, such as the Citi ThankYouPremier or Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Tickets for each game can be purchased (at full price) from each team’s ticket site. For the more cost-conscious, search ScoreBig, Craigslist and StubHub for game tickets below face value. All game times are Eastern.

OK, Let’s Go!

Your itinerary begins on/in:

Oracle Arena - Warriors
Oracle Arena in Oakland, California

Saturday, November 28 — Oakland, California

10:30pm @ Oracle Arena: Sacramento Kings at Golden State Warriors

Your journey begins at the home of the reigning NBA Champions — look in the rafters for the brand new championship banner. If you’ve eaten all your Thanksgiving leftovers, check out the fan-favorite pulled pork sandwich at the arena’s Kinders California BBQ.

Teams seen: 2
Points used: 0

Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
Staples Center in Los Angeles, California

Sunday, November 29 — Los Angeles, California

Fly from Oakland (OAK) to Los Angeles (LAX) on Southwest using 6,894 Rapid Rewards points (transferable 1:1 from Ultimate Rewards). For $9.75 you can take the FlyAway bus to Union Station and LA’s underused Metro train right to the venue.

3:30pm @ Staples Center: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers

It’s a Staples Center double feature: two games hosted by two different home teams on the same day. You’ll have to exit the building while the floor is changed, but there’s plenty to do nearby. Cross the street and visit the Grammy Museum, then cross one more street to eat at The Original Pantry — open 24 hours since 1924, and never without a customer.

As for the game, you’ll be one of the first people to see Karl Anthony Towns play professional basketball. The #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, some analysts believe he’s about to embark on a long and dominant career.

9:30pm @ Staples Center: Indiana Pacers at Los Angeles Lakers

Re-enter through the Figueroa gate and pose with the statues of Lakers legends Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and broadcaster Chick Hearn, then enjoy the statue-like defense of the current Lakers inside.

Teams seen: 6
Points used: 6,894

United Center in Chicago, Illinois
United Center in Chicago, Illinois

Monday, November 30 — Chicago, Illinois

Fly Frontier from Los Angeles (LAX) to Chicago (ORD) using 9,699 ThankYou points. (For places to eat and stay, see Destination of the Week: Chicago.)

8pm @ United Center: San Antonio Spurs at Chicago Bulls

This itinerary’s first airline-themed arena, and the largest one in the United States. The Bulls haven’t won a championship since 1998, but if you love that new-banner smell, don’t despair: the Blackhawks share the arena and are the defending champs in hockey.

Teams seen: 8
Points used: 16,593

Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio
Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio

Tuesday, December 1 — Cleveland, Ohio

Fly Southwest from Chicago (MDW) to Cleveland (CLE) using 3,834 Rapid Rewards points.

7pm @ Quicken Loans Arena: Washington Wizards at Cleveland Cavaliers

You get to watch the team that most general managers pick to win the title (and the player most picked to win MVP); also, the Wizards.

Teams seen: 10
Points used: 20,427

The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan

Wednesday, December 2 — Auburn Hills, Michigan

Rent a car and drive about three hours from Cleveland to Auburn Hills (near Detroit). (If you really want to fly, the cheapest nonstop points/miles redemption is 12,500 SkyMiles on Delta. The Points Guy values those at 1.5 cents each, or $150 for the flight. A one-way car rental can be had for about a third of that, so I’m not adding the miles to your total.)

7pm @ The Palace of Auburn Hills: Phoenix Suns at Detroit Pistons

We’re coming up on the anniversary of the Malice at the Palace, an epic brawl at this arena in 2004 — so beware of angry players entering the stands.

Teams seen: 12
Points used: 20,427

Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario

Thursday, December 3 — Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Grab your passport and fly from Detroit (DET) via Chicago (ORD) to Toronto (YYZ) on American using 9,000 Avios, booked from British Airways. (Avios are transferable 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards and 250:200 from American Express Membership Rewards.) There’s a direct flight on Delta, but unfortunately, for almost twice the points redemption. (For suggestions of places to stay, see Destination of the Week: Toronto.)

7:30pm @ Air Canada Centre: Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors

It’s basketball in Canada! Makes you wonder why they don’t call the league the International Basketball Association. (Turns out, that name is taken.)

Teams seen:14
Points used: 29,427

Madison Square Garden in New York, New York

Friday, December 4 — New York, New York

Fly from Toronto (YYZ) to New York (JFK) on American using  4,500 Avios. If you’d like to add to your airline portfolio, you can also do this route for the same cost on TAM. For about $20, take the AirTrain and the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station and you’ll exit right beneath the stadium.

7pm @ Madison Square Garden: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks

It’s hot borough-on-borough action at The World’s Most Famous Arena. Aside from the Clippers and Lakers — who share a venue in Los Angeles — the Nets and Knicks have the shortest distance between any two NBA teams, only five miles (and one subway ride) apart. And congratulations: you’re more than halfway through seeing all 30 teams!

Teams seen: 16
Points used: 33,927

Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Saturday, December 5 — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Take Amtrak from New York’s Penn Station (NYP) to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station (PHL), using 4,000 Guest Rewards points (which you can transfer 1:1 from Ultimate Rewards, if necessary). Travel time is about 90 minutes. For those considering this route in the future, please note that Amtrak will no longer be an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner after December 8.

1pm @ Wells Fargo Center: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers

It’s a Saturday matinee and you’ve got the next day off. If you want to round out your basketball obsession, consider a side trip to Springfield, Massachusetts for a visit to the hoops Hall of Fame.

Teams seen: 17
Points used: 37,927

SmoothieKing Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
SmoothieKing Center in New Orleans, Louisiana

Monday, December 7— New Orleans, Louisiana

Fly from Philadelphia (PHL) via Atlanta (ATL) to New Orleans (MSY) on Southwest using 5,820 Rapid Rewards points. Check out things to do and places to stay in Destination of the Week: New Orleans.

8pm @ SmoothieKing Center: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

It seems fitting that the team with the silliest name plays in a stadium with an equally silly one — though it may explain why you’ve got a craving for an Orange Ka-BAM.

Teams seen: 19
Points used: 43,747

FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennesee.
FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee

Tuesday, December 8 — Memphis, Tennessee

Fly from New Orleans (MSY) via Charlotte (CLT) to Memphis (MEM) on American using 9,000 Avios. If you’re hankering for a direct flight and feeling a bit adventurous, know that a brand new airline, GLO, begins flying MSY-MEM nonstop on November 29 — and you can book the route for about 14,500 ThankYou points.

8pm @ FedEx Forum: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies

This doesn’t have anything to do with basketball, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that FedEx Forum is less than a half-mile from the best dry ribs in Memphis. Hope for a blowout so you can leave early!

Teams seen: 21
Points used: 52,747

Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina

Wednesday, December 9 — Charlotte, North Carolina

Fly from Memphis (MEM) to Charlotte (CLT) on American using 4,500 Avios. (It pays to do your research: The exact same flight costs more than 25,000 ThankYou points.)

7pm @ Time Warner Cable Arena: Miami Heat at Charlotte Hornets

Fun fact: The runners-up for Charlotte’s team name were the Dragons and the Flight. Speaking of names, if this arena works like most things with Time Warner Cable’s name, the game will suddenly go dark at some point and you’ll have to wait at home between 12pm-5pm for someone to come fix it.

Teams seen: 23
Points used: 57,247

Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Thursday, December 10 — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Fly from Charlotte (CLT) to Oklahoma City (OKC) on American using 7,500 Avios.

10:30pm @ Chesapeake Energy Arena: Atlanta Hawks at Oklahoma City Thunder

So much is happening with the Thunder: New coach Billy Donovan, Russell Westbrook in MVP form and the question of the year in the NBA: Will Kevin Durant stay in Oklahoma City next year? This could be your last chance to see all three of them do their thing at home.

Teams seen: 24
Points used: 64,747

Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona
Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona

Friday, December 11 — Phoenix, Arizona

Fly from Oklahoma City (OKC) to Phoenix (PHX) on Southwest using 12,299 Rapid Rewards points. This is one of the higher award redemptions on the itinerary and it comes on one of the shorter flights – that’s the advantage of being the only major carrier with a nonstop route.

9:30pm @ Talking Stick Resort Arena: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns

Never heard of Talking Stick Resort Arena? That’s because it just got the name on October 7. What was this building called before that? Well, lots of things named US Airways left us this fall.

Teams seen: 26
Points used: 77,046

Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Toyota Center in Houston, Texas

Saturday, December 12 — Houston, Texas

Fly from Phoenix (PHX) to Houston (IAH) on American using 9,131 ThankYou points. (As of this writing, the 4,500 Avios option is sold out.)

8pm @ Toyota Center: Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets

Fun fact: You’d probably guess that Houston’s team was named the Rockets because it shares a home city with NASA — but you’d be dead wrong. In fact, the Rockets brought the name with them when they moved to Texas from San Diego in 1971.

You’ve got Sunday off in Houston. Consider a contemplative visit to the Rothko Chapel, a quiet place to sit surrounded by powerful paintings. For a little more noise, the Patriots are in town to play the Texans. For even more suggestions, see Destination of the Week: Houston.

Teams seen: 27
Points used: 86,177

American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas

Monday, December 14 — Dallas, Texas

Fly from Houston (IAH) to Dallas (DFW) on American using 4,500 Avios. You can drive if you’d prefer, but flying into DFW lets you use the American Express Centurion Lounge (just show your qualifying American Express card, ID and boarding pass). You’ll never appreciate a free massage as much as when you get off an airplane.

8:30pm @ American Airlines Center: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks

Yes, it’s your third time seeing the Suns — but here’s your best chance to run into one of the stars of  TV’s “Shark Tank,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Teams seen: 28
Points used: 90,677

Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Staples Center in Los Angeles, California

Tuesday, December 15 — Los Angeles, California

Fly from Dallas (DAL) to Los Angeles (LAX) on Virgin America using 3,907 Elevate points. (If you need to, you can transfer at 1:2 from Membership Rewards.)

10:30pm @ Staples Center: Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers

This place might look familiar — you were here 18 days ago. This time, though, you get to see a match-up that dates back to 1968. Not surprisingly, the Lakers dominate the all-time series 79-49, but did you know the Bucks have won more postseason games versus the Lakers? (No, you did not.)

Teams seen: 28
Points used: 94,584

Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah

Wednesday, December 16 — Salt Lake City, Utah

Fly from Long Beach (LGB) to Salt Lake City (SLC) on JetBlue using 3,700 TrueBlue points. (If you don’t have enough, you can transfer Membership Rewards points).

9pm @ Vivint Smart Home Arena: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz

This arena received its awkward new name the day before the season started, and you won’t have much time to get used to it — after the game, you’re on the redeye out of town. Fly from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Orlando (MCO) on JetBlue using 12,800 TrueBlue points. I’ve saved the costliest points/miles redemption for last, but at least you’ll be able to calm down and get happy with a day off in Orlando.

Teams seen: 29
Points used: 98,284

Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

Friday, December 18 — Orlando, Florida

7pm @ Amway Center: Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic

The Magic are a work in progress, and that progress is made more intriguing by how much playing time will be given to European import Mario Hezonja. You could be witnessing the dawn of a new era… or a new flop. (If you find you need cheering up the next day, keep Destination of the Week: Disneyland handy.)

Teams seen: 30
Points used: 111,084

Congratulations! Using around 100,000 points and miles, you saw all 30 NBA teams in three weeks. And there’s enough of the season left to do it again…

Got any tips we missed? Think you can plan it better? Let us know in the comments below!

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