Monday, November 26 – New York Knicks (9-3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (8-4)
This is the makeup date for the home opener that was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. As if the New York-themed rivalry isn’t enough, these two squads have gotten off to hot starts and currently sit atop the Atlantic division. With Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson all on the same court, you’d expect to see some offensive fireworks. However, the Knicks rank 3rd in blocks and 1st in steals, while the Nets rank 3rd in points allowed per game. Don’t be surprised if this ends up being a low-scoring game.
Keys to Victory: Keep those shooting percentages up. Looking strictly at games they lost, both teams rank in the bottom third in the league in opponents FG%. Joe Johnson needs to step out of this early season funk and step up his game. He’s currently shooting a career-low .387% from the field, and averaging 15.3 points a night, his lowest total since becoming a starter in the NBA. For the Knicks, they need to re-establish their defensive presence. In last week’s losses to Dallas and Houston, they gave up 114 and 131 points respectively. If they can keep the Nets to their season average of 95.4, the Knicks will likely get the W.
Prediction: Knicks win 103-94
Paul George vs. Kobe Bryant. David West vs. Pau Gasol. Dwight Howard vs. Roy Hibbert. With individual stars like these plus high expectations of top-2 seeds entering the season, it’s shocking to see the Pacers and Lakers both sitting under .500 and out of the current playoff picture. The Pacers are struggling without Danny Granger (left knee – out for 3 months) offensively and are 27th in points per game. The Lakers have a brighter future with their coaching situation solved and Steve Nash returning soon.
Keys to Victory: The Pacers rank 3rd in opponents points per game (92.2) and will need an entire team effort to slow down D’Antoni’s offensive juggernaut game plan. Hibbert will need three blocks or more to disrupt L.A.’s strong front court, while George will have to pester Kobe into a sub .500 shooting night. The Lakers don’t need 120 points to win this game, but they’ll need to challenge every shot and keep Indiana’s field goal percentage low. In their eight losses, the Pacers have averaged a league-worst 38.8% from the field.
Prediction: Lakers win 102-88.
Exactly one month after a shocking trade that changed the landscape of the Western Conference, Cole Aldrich returns to Oklahoma City! All jokes aside, I’m dropping everything I’ve got planned and watching this game. James Harden will play his first game as a visitor of the Chesapeake Energy Arena. While the attention of the basketball world will surely be on how Harden fares against his former teammates, the other major piece of the trade, Kevin Martin, should not be overlooked. Martin has blended in perfectly with the Thunder, ranking 3rd in True Shooting % (.665), and ranking (15th) ahead of Harden (20th) in Win Shares per 48 minutes.
Keys to Victory: Last season, Harden did more damage at home than on the road. Whether it was a higher field goal percentage (54.6% vs. 49/8% on the road), more points (18.8 vs. 15.1 on the road), or greater three-point percentage (42.8% vs. 35.8% on the road), Harden played better on his home court. If he can shut out all the media hoopla and rekindle past successes in the city that drafted him, than the Rockets will have a chance. For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Martin need to simply execute against the league’s 25th ranked defense (allowing 100.2 points per game) to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 110-92.
This is yet another NBA Finals preview that is simply can’t-miss television. Last season, these two only met once, with the Heat using a huge third quarter to help propel themselves to a 120-98 spanking of the Spurs. San Antonio actually led that game by 14 at halftime, but were humiliated 71-35 in the second half. “We should be embarrassed,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. You think they want a little revenge?
Keys to Victory: The Spurs should use their fluid ball movement to create open looks along the perimeter for shooters like Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobili. This is the same formula the Knicks used in defeating the Heat earlier this season. For the Heat, LeBron James has the opportunity to put up some strong numbers, especially with Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard expected to miss this heavyweight tilt.
Prediction: Miami wins 111-104.
The Sixers have yet to see Andrew Bynum play a single minute, while also dealing with the off-season departures of Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand. Yet here they stand two games above .500 and currently in a playoff position. You know who else is currently in that position? The Charlotte Bobcats! Yes, the same Bobcats who finished with the worst record in NBA history (7-59), may surpass that total before we hit December.
Keys to Victory: The Bobcats have two things that are going really well for them this season: their pace (6th in the NBA) and their ability to close games (6-0 in games decided by 4 points or less). If they can keep the game tight, guards Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, and Ben Gordon are all capable of making the big shot down the stretch to help secure the teams eight victory. For the Sixers, combine their ability to keep the opponents from scoring (92.8 per game – 5th in the league) with the Bobcats’ low offensive rating (101.4 – 24th in the NBA), and Philadelphia will have a recipe for success against Charlotte on this night.
Prediction: Philadelphia wins 92-91.
Saturday, December 1 – Oklahoma City Thunder (10-4) vs. New Orleans Hornets (3-8)
It’s the former Seattle Supersonics vs. the former Charlotte Hornets. While a matchup of Shawn Kemp and Larry ‘Grandmama’ Johnson brings back amazing childhood memories, watching the future in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis on the same court isn’t a bad proposition.
Keys to Victory: The Thunder beat the Hornets earlier this month 110-95. In that game, they jumped out to an early 36-18 first quarter and never looked back. Another quick start will set the table nicely for Kevin Martin, Eric Maynor, and Hasheem Thabeet to take the road win. The Hornets will need Anthony Davis to improve on his 4-14 shooting from the previous time these teams met. New Orleans will also need a miracle triple-double performance from Greivis Vazquez plus four TDs from Drew Brees to pull off the upset. (to put it lightly)
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 108-92.
Sunday, December 2 – Orlando Magic (5-7) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7-7)
On December 6, 1996, Orlando visited Los Angeles for their first game against their former Superman (Shaquille O’Neal). The Diesel finished the game with 25 points, 18 boards, and seven blocks. Almost 16 years later, Orlando fans probably can’t help but feel a bit of déjà vu as their Magic face Dwight Howard for the first time.
Keys to Victory: If Jacque Vaughn achieves nothing else in his first season as head coach of the Magic than beating the Lakers, then Orlando fans will consider it a success so to speak. Orlando has done a solid job on defense so far this season, ranking 1st in opponent’s 3pt% (.301), 8th in FG% (.436), and 8th in points allowed per game (93.5). They’ll need to be clicking on all defensive cylinders, doubling Howard on the block, helping defenders with quick rotations, and limiting the number of offensive rebounds to L.A.s bigs. For the Lakers, they just need to continue feeding the ball to Howard, as Orlando is very small in the paint. I have no doubt he’ll carry them to victory and use his former to team to help prove why Superman has returned!
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 115-98.
Last Week: 2-4
Season Record: 11-8
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