If ever there was a night made for the four-way League Pass Broadband split screen, this is it.Â All but four teams are in action tonight, and depending on how the Charlotte-Philly and Toronto-Denver games time out, there could be 11 (ELEVEN!) games on at the same time at around 9:00 EST.
Charlotte Bobcats at Philadelphia 76ers (7:00 PM EST)
These two teams are reallyÂ at opposite ends of the spectrum right now. The Bobcats are languishing near the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category, and they come into the game ranked 29th in offensive efficiency and 27th in defensive efficiency.Â Meanwhile, Philadelphia has proven to be one of the most improved teams in the league so far this season, and the Sixers come into the game ranked 1st and 3rd, respectively, in defensive and offensive efficiency. However, they have lost 3 of their last 5 games after winning 9 of their previous 10. Still, Philly should get back on track in this one after dropping a bad one at home to the Nets earlier this week.
Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics (7:30 PM EST)
Storylines! After beating out the Celtics for David West’s services this summer, the Pacers have been ascendant and sit at 12-5, good for third in the Eastern Conference. Boston, meanwhile, has mostly struggled, and if it weren’t for two seemingly inexplicable wins against the Orlando Magic this week, they might be dead in the water. Tonight will be a tough test for the Celtics coming off last night’s emotional comeback victory, but if they can beat the Pacers, they might be able to put together a nice, long run of victories. The schedule sets up pretty nicely for the Celtics, as they play Cleveland, Charlotte, Toronto and Detroit in 7 of their next 12 games. Also mixed in are the Knicks and Lakers, who aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire right now. Boston could be in for a run that makes us all forget about their early-season struggles.
New Jersey Nets at Cleveland Cavaliers (7:30 PM EST)
If you had taken a poll on July 8, 2010 and asked basketball people which of these teams would be in better shape on January 27, 2012, I don’t think the Cavaliers would have gotten a single vote. Alas, that seems to be the where we’re at right now. The Cavaliers recovered (not really, but you know what I mean) from being spurned by LeBron James by trading Mo Williams to the Clippers for Baron Davis and what turned out to be the number one pick in the draft. Now, they’re set up nicely for the future with a core that starts with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson (the 4th pick), who are each off to fine starts in their rookie season. The Nets struck out in the 2010 free agency bonanza and subsequently mortgaged their future to trade for Deron Williams, who doesn’t even know if he wants to be a Net long term. They then put all their eggs in the basket that included selling Orlando on a “Robin Lopez + pickzzzzzz” offer for Dwight Howard that never really had a chance, but that went to hell anyway after Lopez fractured his foot. If the Nets can’t acquire Howard and Williams leaves in free agency, there may not be a team in the league with a bleaker future. That wouldn’t exactly be a good thing for owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s plan to turn KnicksÂ fans into Nets fans.
Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM EST) This match-up really tugs at my heartstrings. I, like the rest of the internet, have developed some sort of emotional attachment to the great Ivan Johnson, who fears no man. On the other side of the court, Greg Monroe is quickly rising to challenge John Wall for the title of Good Player On A Bad Team Who I Feel Most Badly For Because His Teammates Are Horrible.
Orlando Magic at New Orleans Hornets (8:00 PM EST)
Orlando needs to get back on track after blowing a 27-point lead to the Celtics last night, and what better way to get over a bad loss than to play one of the worst teams in the league the next night? Orlando shouldn’t be too hard on the Hornets, though, because they could be looking directly into their future. The Hornets, like the Magic, were smothered with trade and free agency speculation surrounding their star player in the pre-season, only they decided to trade Chris Paul and move on with their lives. The Magic have gone the other route, and they could still wind up losing Howard this summer. If that happens, they may be in exactly the position New Orleans is today. For now, though, the Magic still look like one of the better teams in the East (last night notwithstanding), and should be able to get a win tonight.
Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls (8:00 pm EST)
The Bucks caught a tough break yesterday with the news that Andrew Bogut will be out 6-8 weeks, and it was likely a fatal blow to any chance they had at making the playoffs this season. Chicago, meanwhile, is humming along with the East’s best record yet again. They’re dealing with injuries of their own, as Luol Deng has a torn ligament in his wrist, Derrick Rose is dealing with lingering toe issues and Taj Gibson is just now coming back from an absence due to an ankle injury. Gibson is back tonight, Deng will sit and Rose is likely to be out as well. With both teams without their top players, this one could get interesting.
Washington Wizards at Houston Rockets (8:00 PM EST)
Both of these teams have super-awesome-cool-young point guards. One of them has Kyle Lowry. The other has John Wall. Both of these teams have underperforming talent at the shooting guard and power forward positions. One of them has Kevin Martin and Luid Scola. The other has Nick Young and Andray Blatche. Both of these teams have tall, long, defensive minded centers. One of them has Samuel Dalembert. The other has JaVale McGee.Â One of these teams is 7-2 at home. The other is 0-7 on the road. Both of these teams are playing a basketball game tonight. Of of them will win (Rockets). One of them will lose (Wizards).
San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timbervoles (8:00 PM EST)
The Timberwolves are only a South American shooting guard away from building a dynasty the exact same way the Spurs did! The already have European point guard and possibly the best power forward in the league! Two-thirds of the way there! On a serious note, Minnesota does look much improved this season, and that is largely due to a high level of play from their two building blocks Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Love got the maximum extension he deserved this week, only the Wolves may have ruffled his feathers by not making him their designated player and giving him the five-year offer. They built a three year opt-out into the deal that coincides with both the Lakers and Knicks coming into maximum salary cap space, so speculation is sure to start in about a year and a half if the Wolves don’t find themselves in title contention. This from a team that has routinely overpaid for less than premium talent. They finally have one of the best players in the league again, and they nickel and dime him instead of locking him up and holding onto him with all their might. GM David Kahn maintains that he might be saving the designated player contract for some other player, but aside from Rubio nobody on the current roster fits the bill; and it’s crazy to put that much stock in Rubio no matter how good he’s looked in the first 20 or so games. The Wolves will be hard pressed to sign a free agent better than Love, a top 10-12 player in the league, given that Minnesota isn’t exactly the greatest draw. It’s all puzzling to say the least. For now though, this is an exciting young team that is getting better. And they have a chance to beat the Spurs tonight. Should be a fun game.
New York Knicks at Miami Heat (8:00 PM EST)
Wooooooooooo, boy. This one could get pretty ugly. The Knicks are really limping into this one, having lost 7 of their last 8 games and will be missing Carmelo Anthony. The Heat have won 5 of their last 6 games without Dwyane Wade, who may or may not be suiting up tonight (UPDATE: Wade is out as well). LeBron James and Chris Bosh are just destroying every team in sight. If I know the Knicks – and I do – this game goes one of two ways: the Knicks come out just as flat and uninspired as they did against the Cleveland Cavaliers two nights ago and get run out of the gym by LeBron and Co., or they somehow pull off a miraculous with followed by the local New York media going absolutely insane with anti-Carmelo Anthony stories. While a win could theoretically save the season, a loss is far more likely. Either way, you can expect maximum mental anguish for me.
Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks (8:30 PM EST)
Lots of injuries in this one. Dirk Nowitzki is out for the Mavs, while Al Jefferson and Raja Bell are game-time decisions for Utah. Paul Millsap will be out there though, probably Lion Face-ing all over the place.
Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets (9:00 PM EST)
Two years ago this game would have featured an anticipated Carmelo Anthony vs. Chris Bosh matchup. These two teams took opposite approaches in dealing with the impending departure of their then-superstars, and their fortunes have gone in opposite directions since. The Raptors held onto Chris Bosh and lost him to Miami for nothing, and have since become one of the worst outfits in the league. Denver traded Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks for multiple pieces and has become one of the most cohesive units in the NBA. Denver locked up Italian forward Danilo Gallinari on a long-term extension this week, while the Raps will be without their Italian forward Andrea Bargnani, who is out indefinitely.
Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers (10:00 PM EST)
Both of these teams feature excellent pick-and-roll attacks, and it will be interesting to see how they defend each other. Raymond Felton and LaMarcus Aldridge usually go with the pick-and-pop, and that will test the ability of Channing Fyre, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat to defend the entire floor. Aldridge has range on his jumper out to about 20 feet. Steve Nash and Gortat are a more traditional pick-and-dive combination, and Gortat is an excellent finisher at the hoop. That threat creates space for their perimeter shooters like Frye, Nash and Jared Dudley. Portland started the season hot but has since lost 6 of 10. However, they are 8-1 at home, and they’ll get another win tonight.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST)
In a match-up of three-name’d teams, always take the one not named the Warriors. It’s a rule. It also helps when the other team has Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who should all have field days against the not-so-great (26th in the league) Warriors defense.