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Game of the Night: Oklahoma City Thunder Vs. Dallas Mavericks

With just 11 games left, the Dallas Mavericks are fighting for one of the last two spots in the Western Conference. Every game is even more crucial than the one before it from here on out.

Their battle to make the postseason continues Tuesday night and it won’t be an easy game to win, as they are hosting the team with the second best record in their conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavs (42-29) will start the night off in ninth place despite having the same record as the eighth place Phoenix Suns, who have the tiebreaker against them due to a better conference record, and .5 games behind the seventh place Memphis Grizzlies.

The Thunder (52-18) are also in a battle of their own as they are looking to claim the top spot in the conference and obtain home-court advantage in the playoffs. Right now, they sit two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for first place, but they will be hard to catch as they are sporting a 13-game win streak. To sum it up, both teams are looking to make moves in the standings as they prepare for a (potential for the Mavs) playoff run.

Nov 6, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) handles the ball against Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis (11) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This will be the third and final meeting between these two squads in the regular season. The first two were in Oklahoma City and both teams have each had a double-digit win. Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 16.5 points on 45.8 percent shooting and five rebounds in this matchup. Shawn Marion has also played well, averaging 18 points on 60 percent shooting from the field. He has also made four of his six three-point attempts. Kevin Durant is averaging 26.5 points and seven assists so far this season against the Mavericks.

The Mavericks won the most recent matchup between the two teams on March 16. They shot 53 percent from the field and 54 percent from beyond the arc. The Thunder shot 36 and 31 percent, respectively, resulting in a 23-point loss. There are a couple of keys to this game for each team. First for the Thunder is the game-changer Russell Westbrook. Westbrook scored 22 points on 10-20 shooting in the first matchup, but he didn’t play in the latest meeting (coach’s decision). Although he didn’t play Monday night, Westbrook has sat out the the first game of doubleheaders for precautionary reasons (three knee surgeries does that to you) so he will most likely play Tuesday. Just like every game, his performance will impact the outcome for the Thunder.

For the Mavericks, Vince Carter will be a key player in Tuesday night’s matchup. Carter had zero points on four shots in 14 minutes the first time these two teams met, the game the Mavericks lost. In the last game, Carter had 18 points in 21 minutes and he made four of his eight three-point attempts. Coincidentally, they won that game. As for all NBA teams, bench play is key and for the Mavericks to get an advantage in bench production, they will need “Vincesanity” to give them a boost.

The Pick: This will be a very good offensive game and I think it will be closer than the first two games were. The Thunder score 106 points per game, the Mavs score 104 and they both shoot an efficient 47 percent from the field. It should be a fun game to watch and expect the Mavericks’ crowd to be loud and into the game as their team needs a big win. Like I said before, bench play will be very key. In their two games against each other this season, the winner had more bench points. I also think that three-point shooting will be significant as well. The Mavericks shoot 38 percent on the season, two percent higher than the Thunder, so they have the slight advantage there. They will, on the other hand, have the tough task of finding a way to slow down Kevin Durant, who has scored 25+ points in a career-high 35 straight games. This won’t be easy, but if they hold him to 25 that will be a small victory. The Mavericks need this one and I think they get it, 103-100. Durant will keep the streak alive, though.

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Game of the Night: Miami Heat Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

It is always a big night when LeBron James returns home to Cleveland to face his former team and Tuesday is one of those nights. The Miami Heat, fresh off a Sunday afternoon victory over the Houston Rockets, begin a two-game road trip at Quicken Loans Arena against the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers.

Nov 27, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) drives against Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during a game at Quicken Loans Arena. Miami won 95-84. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat are 12-1 against the Cavs since James joined their squad in 2010, including a 5-1 mark in Cleveland. With Irving unavailable, there is a good chance that the Heat will win their tenth straight game in this matchup. Irving has a strained tendon in his left bicep and will be out for the next two weeks and then will be re-evaluated to see if he will be available for the remainder of the season. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the 26-41 Cavs, who are holding on to slim playoff hopes.

These two teams have played twice this season, the Heat winning both by an average margin of nine points. James is averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds against his former team this season and Dwyane Wade has added 46 points on 19-29 shooting in both games combined. The Heat as a team have shot 52 percent from the field. Without Irving, Dion Waiters will have to step up at the guard spot for the Cavs, but he has played well against the Heat so far this season, averaging 20 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from three. The Cavs have shot just 40.7 percent from the field as a team against the Heat this season.

I think that if the Cavaliers want to have a chance to win this game they will need to play well down low. The Heat like to play with the small lineup, so guys like Tristan Thompson and Spencer Hawes need to do a good job of attacking the offensive glass against one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. Hawes has played very well against the Heat in two games against the defending champs this season while with Philadelphia, averaging 17 points on 9.5 rebounds on 53.6 percent shooting. Thompson, on the other hand, has struggled against the Heat, averaging 10 points on 35 percent shooting. He has grabbed 18 boards in the two games, so he will need to continue that if he wants to help his team put their struggles against the Heat to an end.

The Pick: The Heat have played very well as a unit so far this season against the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers have not played well against the Heat. Being without their floor general won’t help the Cavs either. The Heat just snapped their five game losing-skid after Sunday’s win and they are looking to get back on track, as they are still competing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They have made it look easy against the Cavs over the past couple of years and I don’t see that changing Tuesday night, the Heat win 105-89.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

Television: FSOH/Sun Sports

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Game of the Night: Houston Rockets Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The NBA is in the fourth and final quarter of it’s regular season and the Western Conference playoff push is starting to heat up. Tuesday night features a key game between two of the conference’s top teams as the Houston Rockets travel to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder.

Apr 24, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) talks with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant in the second half during game two of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder (46-17), who have led the Western Conference for most of the year, have lost two straight games and find themselves in second place in the conference, .5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets (44-19), on the other hand, are the hottest team in the NBA. They have won five consecutive games and also hold a 23-8 record since January 1, the best in the league. While one team is looking to get back on track, the other is trying to move up in the conference standings.

The past two losses for the Thunder, to the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, were both road games where they lost by six and four points, respectively and allowed for one opposing player to score over 40 points in each game (Gerald Green had 41 for the Suns and Jodie Meeks had 42 for the Lakers). In those two games, Thunder opponents have averaged 121 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent from three-point range. The offense hasn’t been the problem, as the Thunder have scored 116 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are also playing well during the two game losing streak. Durant is averaging 30.5 points and Westbrook is averaging 29 points. Despite this, the Thunder are 3-5 since Westbrook returned to the lineup after knee surgery.

The hot Rockets squeaked out a close victory against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday in overtime, 118-113. James Harden has been on fire of late, as he scored 41 points Sunday night and is averaging 28.2 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 7.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 steals in March (five games). As a team in March, the Rockets are 5-0 and scoring 111 points per game on 48.9 percent shooting. Dwight Howard has also been playing efficient basketball this month, scoring 18 points on 60.4 percent shooting.

These two teams have met twice this year and the Thunder have come out on top both times by an average margin of victory of 21.5 points. This will be the first time Westbrook plays in this matchup this season, but the Thunder didn’t miss a beat without him. They have averaged 110.5 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field against the Rockets, while holding the boys from Houston to just 38 percent shooting from the field. Durant has scored 34.5 points per game in these match ups while James Harden has been held in check by his former team, averaging just 12 points per game on just 32 percent shooting.

The Pick: The Thunder seem to have the upper hand on the Rockets this season, but this is a different Houston team that is playing their best basketball of the season. Three of their five March wins have come against some of the league’s top teams (Miami, Indiana and Portland) while the Thunder just lost to the lowly Lakers. Even though it is a road game, the Rockets are on a mission and I think they finally grab a win from the Thunder in a close one, 103-100.

When: 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Television: NBATV

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Game of the Night: Toronto Raptors Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

On Tuesday night, the Toronto Raptors will travel to Cleveland to take on the shorthanded Cavaliers in an Eastern Conference matchup.

Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers have a couple of players currently battling injuries. Coach Mike Brown says he hopes to have C.J. Miles (ankle) and Anderson Verajao (back) back in the lineup soon, but there is no date that he expects either to return. Guard Dion Waiters still hasn’t ran since injuring his knee on a dunk against the Philadelphia 76ers, but says he shouldn’t be out too long. The Cavs are trying to make a run for the postseason, but these injuries won’t help. They were on a six-game winning streak, but the Raptors snapped that streak four nights ago in Toronto, starting a two-game losing skid, so they are seeking revenge and will be looking to get back on track on Tuesday night.

The Raptors are in a completely different position than their opponent, sitting comfortably in the third spot in the Eastern Conference standings. At 31-25, the Raptors are far from the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers at the top of the conference, but are just one of four teams in the conference with a winning record. They have won five of their last six games. Kyle Lowry has been excellent over that stretch, scoring 19.5 points per game, 9.5 assists and has hit 33 of 36 free-throw attempts. DeMar DeRozan has also been playing well for the Raptors, as he is averaging 25 points in ten February games.

When these teams met last Friday night, the Cavaliers took a five-point lead into halftime. In the third quarter, the Raptors outscored the Cavs 37-21 and they ended up winning the game 98-91. Lowry scored just 14 points, but added nine assists and just two turnovers. Kyrie Irving struggled for the Cavs, adding 17 points on just 3-16 shooting and nine assists. The Raptors shot 43 percent compared to the Cavaliers 39 and played some great defense, forcing 14 turnovers and they stole the ball eight times. Luol Deng led the Cavs with 21 points.

In four games since his All-Star MVP performance, Irving is averaging just 17 points on 37 percent shooting and has hit just two of his last 11 three-point attempts. The Cavs are going to need him to step up if they want to climb back into the playoff race, as they currently sit in tenth place in the East and five games out of the eighth and final spot. On the bright side for the boys from Cleveland, first-overall pick Anthony Bennett has been playing well of late, averaging 8.6 points on 47 percent shooting and 5.6 rebounds over the past ten games, including two double-doubles. He had nine points in the first meeting between these two teams.

The Pick: The Raptors did a great job of defending the Cavs the last time these two teams met. The Cavaliers’ 42.4 field goal percentage on the season is the worst in the NBA. The Raptors have the eighth best field goal percentage defense in the league (44.5 percent) and held the Cavs to 39 percent Friday. Irving and the offense will need to get going and be more efficient if they want to have a chance to beat the Raptors, who seem to be improving every week. The game is in Cleveland, but the shorthanded Cavs are starting to struggle again. Kyle Lowry will lead the Raptors in to Cleveland and get a 97-89 win.

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

When: 7 p.m. ET

Television: FSOH

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Game of the Night: San Antonio Spurs Vs. Los Angeles Clippers

After a weekend full of fun, the second half of the NBA regular season starts Tuesday night with nine games, the most anticipated of them all coming from the Staples Center when the Los Angeles Clippers host the San Antonio Spurs.

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

At 38-15, the Spurs enter the second half in second place in the Western Conference and the Clippers are in fourth place just two games behind them with a record of 37-18. This is a big game for both teams to see where they stand against top teams in their conference.

For the Spurs, health will be an issue that not only affects this game but the rest of their season. Kawhi Leonard has missed the past 11 games with a broken hand and Tiago Splitter has only played in four of the last 19 games due to a right shoulder sprain and a calf problem. Point guard Tony Parker will also be out due to a “variety of maladies.”

The defending Western Conference champions have also had their struggles against the NBA’s elite this year, as they are just 1-11 against the top seven teams in the NBA based on their records heading into Tuesday, despite being one of the top seven.

The Clippers are looking to prove that they are a better team than they were last year. Their defense has improved mightily, as they are seventh in the NBA in field goal percentage defense (44.3 percent) and first in three-point field goal percentage defense (32.5 percent). Blake Griffin has shown improvements as well as he has been knocking down jumpers and has more post moves to his repertoire this season. While Chris Paul was out, Griffin averaged 27.5 points and 4.4 assists per game, both above his season averages. With Paul back, it will be interesting to see how the league’s second best scoring offense meshes together now that Griffin is playing at the top of his game.

These two teams have played twice already this season and both times the home team won by over 20 points. In the first game at the Staples Center, Paul scored 23 points and had eight assists and seven rebounds. Parker had just eight points for the Spurs in the loss, and as a team they shot 12-21 from the free throw line, 6-18 from three and committed 22 turnovers.

The second game was a completely different story. Paul didn’t play with his separated shoulder and Parker had 17 points on 8-9 shooting to go along with nine assists. The Spurs only turned the ball over twelve times that game and held the Clippers to just 3-15 three-point shooting, as opposed to the 11-23 they surrendered to their opponent in Los Angeles.

Two players have been consistent in both of the games so far the Spurs. Manu Ginobili has averaged 15.5 points on 63 percent shooting and Tim Duncan has averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Griffin has shined in both games against the Spurs, averaging 23 points and eight rebounds.

The Pick: Both teams have had interesting seasons so far and two lopsided games have been split between them, so it is hard to pick. The Spurs are 8-8 in their last 16 games and the Clippers are 8-3 in their last 11. The Clippers have the hot hand right now and are playing just their third game with Chris Paul back, so I think I will have to give them the edge, especially with them being at home where they are 23-4. Clippers win, 110-95.

When: 10:30 p.m. ET

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

Television: NBATV

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The Downfall with Andrew Bynum and Cleveland

For weeks we have wondered what went wrong with Andrew Bynum and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and today we finally got the answer.

Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski published an article late Tuesday night about how Cleveland had lost its chances at getting LeBron James to return after some bad decisions and a terrible start to the 2013-2014 season. In the article, he mentioned what exactly led to Bynum’s suspension and trade to the Bulls, who eventually waived him.

“Only Bynum never made it to the early January guarantee date for his full $12.5 million salary in 2013-14, and self-destructed. He stopped trying on the floor, and became a disruptive presence in practices. Before Bynum was thrown out of his final practice and suspended, he was shooting the ball every time he touched it in a practice scrimmage, sources said – from whatever remote part of the court he had caught the ball,” via Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports.

Who knows what actually happened during these practices, but this just adds to the list of troubles for the former All-Star. The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a two-year contract this offseason worth a total of $25 million, but the first $12.5 million was not guaranteed until January. Bynum didn’t make it in Cleveland until then. Since being waved, the Indiana Pacers signed Bynum on February 1st for the rest of the season. Bynum still hasn’t played a game for the Pacers yet, and hasn’t played since December 26th.

Dec 23, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum reacts in the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports