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Game of the Night: Minnesota Timberwolves Vs. Dallas Mavericks

Nov 30, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center DeJuan Blair (45) and Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) fighter for the ball during the second half at the American Airlines Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Mavericks 112-106. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oh dear. Tonight’s basketball schedule is pretty rough. Even the ESPN games are pretty disappointing. Tonight’s undercard features Orlando at Phoenix, Toronto at New Orleans, and Indiana at New York. Orlando and Phoenix offers the average basketball fan Victor Oladipo, Eric Bledsoe, and Goran Dragic. Go crazy. Toronto at New Orleans is a weird one. Personally, I’m intrigued at a Jonas Valanciunas vs. Anthony Davis, but Valanciunas is hurt. No matter, Amir Johnson should provide a tough matchup for Davis, who received a ton of buzz for his 40-20 performance this past week. The Pacers should win their matchup against the Knicks, but hey, Phil Jackson is back to cure-all woes, so who knows?

The Game of the Night goes to the Minnesota Timberwolves against the Dallas Mavericks. This game pits two teams in the West; fighting for the final seeds in the Western Conference. The Mavericks sit at 41-27, good for seventh in the West, but just one game ahead of the eighth seed, and two games better than the ninth seed. The Timberwolves on the other hand, sit on the outside looking in, and their season looks to be on the brink. Minnesota sits four games behind Phoenix for the ninth spot in the West, and five games behind Memphis with less than twenty games remaining in the season.

The Dallas Mavericks are third in offensive efficiency, per NBA.com. The combination of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon equal stellar offensive production and pristine offensive performance, as the Mavericks are 27th in team turnover percentage. Dirk Nowtizki deserves some praise as well. The 35-year-old forward is teetering on a 50-40-90 season, and in 32.1 minutes per game, Nowtizki has thrived with Calderon at the point guard position, setting up teammates, and Monta Ellis working as a second offensive threat. From there, the Mavericks break down into a melting pot of talent. Brandan Wright fills a role as an efficient, offensive big man, while Samuel Dalembert and Bernard James work as defensive pairing for their offensive counterpart. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion provide the veteran leadership at the wing, and Rick Carlisle is an elite coach.

The problem, however, is their defense. The Mavericks rank 24th in defensive efficiency, which is less than ideal. Jose Calderon is a poor defensive point guard in a golden age of point guards. Monta Ellis is a poor, but active defensive player, and Dirk Nowtizki is a below-average defender in his own right. In attempt to maintain an offensive-defensive balance, the Mavericks use their best defensive players (Marion, Carter, Dalembert, and Bernard) to combat their opponents, but even that does work. In the current Western Conference playoff standings, the Mavericks represent the line between contender and pretender, and their defense is the main reason why.

The Timberwolves are a very similar team to Dallas, and the Wolves have a better point differential than Phoenix, Memphis, and Dallas. I feel like I constantly gush about Minnesota, because I love this team. On paper, it should make sense. Rubio works as a two-way player, furiously orchestrating the offense while suffocating ball-handlers on defense. Corey Brewer should serve as a defensive tandem with Rubio, as well as Kevin Love’s outlet partner. Kevin Martin is an annoying gnat, thanks to his ability to draw a large amount of fouls, and Nikola Pekovic is the offensive bear. Kevin Love, the team’s best player, should be able to lead them into a playoff berth.

Unfortunately, the Wolves have been a smudge less than that. The Wolves have the sixth-best point differential in the West, but thanks to their win-loss record in four-point games, the Wolves find themselves on the outside looking in. Even the defense, ranked 13th in terms of defensive efficiency, has been a surprise. On occasion, the Wolves have shown the ability to crank up the defense against certain opponents. Kevin Love is on pace to average 26 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists, the first such season since Moses Malone. Then, throw in the 40 percent three-point shooting, and you have a great player missing the playoffs. It’s a shame from a basketball viewing perspective.

The Call: Dallas 114, Minnesota 109. The Mavericks have the speed and offense to give Minnesota fits, but Minnesota should make it interesting. Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki should offer us an offensive show, but I’m more curious to see the Pekovic-Dalembert matchup. I’m giving Dallas the win because of the better bench, as well as a momentum win, keeping Dallas in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

  • National TV: None
  • Local TV:  FSN (Minnesota) | FSSW (Dallas) | League Pass
  • Time: 8:30pm EST. 
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Game of the Night: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat

Jan 27, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts after defeating the Atlanta Hawks at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder won by a score of 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

 

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