The Game of the Night is Oklahoma City vs. Miami, but as always, I want to give the NBA undercard some love.
While injuries take it’s toll on these teams, New Orleans-Minnesota has some intrigue to it. Anthony Davis is constantly moving up the ranks of the best basketball players in the world, while Kevin Love remains at the top of the “Best PF” perch for me. The Houston-Dallas matchup offers you the stars (Harden, Howard, and Dirk; who should make the all-star game this season.), while Detroit-Atlanta offers you Josh Smith returning to Atlanta for the second time this season. Orlando and Toronto gives you Oladipo (16.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists in his last 10 games) and Kyle Lowry (a potential 2014 all-star). So yes, while Thunder-Heat will collect most of your attention, keep an eye and ear out on some of the other games.
Not much to say about the Thunder that I haven’t already said. Kevin Durant is scorching at the moment, averaging 36.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.1 assists on 54% shooting for the month of January. So, you know, not bad for the 2014 MVP frontrunner. The more interesting thing is how Oklahoma City’s supporting cast is helping Durant as he sets the league ablaze. Kendrick Perkins (#PerkNowitzki) is putting up a modest 5.0 points and 6.5 rebounds, which is an uptick from his 3.5/4.8 averages. Serge Ibaka is now the defender he was perceived to be, constantly swaying defenders from the rim, and quietly defending the rim with ease (opponents are shooting 43.2 percent at the rim while Ibaka is defending it, according to NBA.com’s SportsVU Data Tracking). The key is Reggie Jackson (15.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in the month of January. Truth be told, he isn’t shooting real well, just 43% from the field), whose ability to attack the rim (46% on drives, and the team averages 8.0 points per game on his drives, per NBA.com’s SportsVU) and replace Westbrook in the interim has kept Oklahoma City in the race for the number one seed in the West.
The Miami Heat are also great. LeBron James is averaging a ho-hum 26-7-6 on 57% shooting, the Heat have found success in a Chris Bosh-Chris Andersen lineup (The duo of Bosh and Andersen are have a 23.7 net rating), but ultimately, the Heat thrive when they play LeBron at power forward (the lineup of Chalmers, Allen, Battier, James, and Bosh has a net rating of 17.0, per NBA.com’s Media stats). The defense is great, the offensive is stellar, and Dwyane Wade is unreliable at the moment. That being said, the East is very weak, and Miami does look better in other areas. Getting any production of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden counts as a plus, but Norris Cole is a respectable backup point guard, Andersen is giving them productive minutes, and all of their shooters are still contributing. As long as they have that, and LeBron, no reason to be worried about them kicking it to another gear come playoff time.
The Call: Miami 109, Oklahoma City 104. I don’t know what Miami we’re getting, and that will make the game a bit more unpredictable. Kevin Durant will get his production, even with LeBron guarding him, and vice-versa. Wade played on Sunday against San Antonio, and I’m sure he’ll be up to play Oklahoma City. I’m much more interested to see Reggie Jackson’s efforts in getting into the lane against the duo of Chalmers and Cole, how Serge Ibaka deals with Chris Bosh, the impact Kendrick Perkins will make, and what Scott Brooks do to manage his minutes.
National TV: ESPN
Local TV: FSOK (Oklahoma City)| Sun (Miami)
Time: 7:00PM EST