Monday, December 3 – Cleveland Cavaliers (4 – 13) vs. Detroit Pistons (5 – 13)
The Pistons are seeking revenge for the “48 special” that LeBron James did to them in the playoffs. What? That was five years ago? Then why is this game relevant? How about rebounding. The league’s top rebounder, Anderson Varejao (15.9/game), faces Greg Monroe (9.6/game, behind Varejao and Joakim Noah in the East) and Andre Drummond (17.3 offensive rebound %, second to Varejao in the NBA).
Keys to Victory: Since starting the season 0-8, Lawrence Frank has his Pistons playing some good basketball, winning five of their last nine. Detroit’s been able to do it with defense and will need another solid defensive effort to get a victory. For Cleveland, they’ll need to rack up some fast break points and prevent Detroit from settling into their half-court defense. The Pistons rank in the bottom five in turning the ball over on steals, while the Cavs rank 4th in steals per game.
Prediction: Detroit wins 104 – 87
Tuesday, December 4 – Oklahoma City Thunder (14 – 4) vs. Brooklyn Nets (11 – 5)
The Thunder are the highest scoring team in the league (105.4), while the Nets rank 2nd in points allowed (90.4). Something’s got to give. While Brooklyn is not on the same talent level as Oklahoma City, they have definitely shown signs of brilliance, having defeated the Clippers, Knicks, and Celtics over the last week. The Thunder will be heading into this matchup having won their last five in a row.
Keys to Victory: Gerald Wallace has the unenviable task of trying to shut down Kevin Durant. If he can limit Durant to a sub .500 shooting day, while Deron Williams harasses Russell Westbrook into one of his shot-happy nights, the Nets may be able to pull out the home victory. For Oklahoma City, I’d keep an eye on how well Kevin Martin does. The Nets have a weak bench that Martin is very capable of exploiting. Expect a big night from him and a Thunder win.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 98 – 83
Wednesday, December 5 – Milwaukee Bucks (8 – 7) vs. San Antonio Spurs (14 – 4)
Tim Duncan continues to prove doubters wrong with his excellent play this season. His Spurs face a tough home test with the long arms of Samuel Dalembert, Joel Przybilla, Ekpe Udoh, and Larry Sanders clogging the middle. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can score with the best of them, especially going against Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Keys to Victory: The Bucks need to control the tempo of the game and keep it slow. They rank last in pace, which essentially means they keep the game going at a snail’s pace. The Spurs, on the other hand, use their fluid ball movement to keep their pace at 93.1 (7th in the NBA). For San Antonio to prevail, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner need to pull their defender (most likely one of the Bucks’ many gifted shot-blockers) out of the paint to help open up the floor for Parker and Ginobili to operate.
Prediction: San Antonio wins 95-93
Thursday, December 6 – New York Knicks (12 – 4) vs. Miami Heat (12 – 3)
Last season, there were six different teams that defeated the Heat who Miami ended up defeating later on in the season. The only team they were unable to exact revenge on were the Washington Wizards, who defeated the Heat a second consecutive time – but only because Miami was resting for the playoffs. In other words, the Miami Heat are more than likely to avenge their first loss of the season to a Knicks team they face three more times (including this game).
Keys to Victory: For the Heat, protect the ball. In their first matchup, Miami turned the ball over 21 times, including 12 from their big 3. For the Knicks, they can’t expect to hit 19 3-pointers like they did on November 2nd. As long as they’re moving the ball like it’s a hot potato, they’ll continue to create good looks and increase the likelihood of a second consecutive upset over Miami.
Prediction: Miami wins 109 – 103
Friday, December 7 – Los Angeles Lakers (8 – 8) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (14 – 4)
In last year’s playoffs, these two battled to a five-game Oklahoma series win that felt like it went seven games. Since then, the Lakers have added the league’s best Center and re-united Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni. Could this matchup get any juicier? Will we see the Lakers that struggled from the field (31.6%) en route to an embarrassing loss to the Pacers, or will we see the offensive juggernaut that dropped 122 on the Nuggets in their next game?
Keys to Victory: This is a marquee matchup that will attract all kinds of media and celebrities. It’s this kind of environment that helps fuel the Lakers. To win, they’ll need to hit their shots at a 50% clip, at least, in order to keep up with the Thunder. Oklahoma City can win this game by using their youth and athleticism to force L.A. into some bad shots, thus, keeping their FG% down.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 112 – 99
Saturday, December 8 – Philadelphia 76ers (10 – 7) vs. Boston Celtics (9 – 8)
Last season, these teams split ten games, with seven of those games occurring in the playoffs, where the Celtics managed to overcome the pesky Sixers and set up a Conference Finals date with the Heat. Another interesting story to watch will be the matchup of potential Eastern Conference all-stars, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo.
Keys to Victory: The Sixers can win this game by limiting the Celtics to a large number of “one-and-dones”. The Celtics rank last in the league in offensive rebounds, so the Sixers need to be ready to clean the glass when a shot goes up. For the Celtics, they’ll need to learn from whatever mistakes they made in the first game of this home-and-home series with the Sixers. Whether the Celtics win this matchup on Friday or not, you can expect Boston’s experience will help guide them to an easy win.
Prediction: Boston wins 86 – 78
Sunday, December 9 – Denver Nuggets (8 – 9) vs. New York Knicks (12 – 4)
The Nuggets and Knicks will continue to be linked for a long time, as long as the key components of their blockbuster trade in 2011 are contributors to their team’s successes. For the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony has shown signs of being the saviour that can bring New York their first Larry O’Brien trophy since the Willis Reed game. For the Nuggets, Danilo Gallinari has helped immensely in ensuring the last two seasons have been anything but the rebuilding mode the Cavaliers and Raptors are currently stuck in.
Keys to Victory: There are a lot of familiar faces in this game, some of which have nothing to do with that fateful trade on February 22, 2011. Andre Iguodala knows the Knicks well from his days in Philadelphia. That knowledge will come in handy as he tries to lead his troops and defend the NBA’s #1 offense. New York ranks 5th in steals, which will come in handy as Ty Lawson and Iguodala are among the league’s worst in turning the ball over.
Prediction: Denver wins 113 – 111
Last Week: 4 – 3
Season Record: 15 – 11
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