Tuesday, December 25 – Oklahoma City Thunder (21 – 5) vs. Miami Heat (18 – 6)
This game needs little to no introduction. David Stern ensured we’d all spend our entire Christmas day hovering around TV to watch some premium games, but the NBA Finals rematch is still head and shoulders above the rest as the Game of the Day. The obvious matchup to key in on is Kevin Durant and LeBron James, the leading candidates for MVP. Another one to keep track of is Ray Allen and Kevin Martin. They couple as the off-season’s best acquisitions as well as two of the best 6th men in the NBA.
Keys to Victory: One of the main reasons for the Thunder’s demise last season was the disappearance of James Harden. This is the ultimate audition for Martin to prove that he’ll provide what Harden couldn’t against the Heat – scoring and spark off the bench. If Miami learned anything from last year’s Finals, it’s how to effectively use James as a Point Forward. Playing as a 4, James could either use his improved post game to score at will, or break his man down to open up the floor for his 3-point shooters.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 105 – 101.
Wednesday, December 26 – Golden State Warriors (18 – 10) vs. Utah Jazz (15 – 14)
Before the season started, you’d be hard-pressed to find prognosticators who chose either of these teams to make the playoffs. I’ve already made my case for the Warriors here. As for the Jazz, how could you get excited for an eighth-seeded team whose off-season acquisitions were a pair of Williamses (Mo & Marvin) and reviving the corpse of Jamaal Tinsley? Yet, here they both currently stand as playoff contenders with solid contributions up and down their respective lineups.
Keys to Victory: As well as David Lee and Carl Landry have been rebounding (11.4 & 6.8 respectively), Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have been better (10.4 & 8.2). The winner of this game may be decided on Golden State’s defensive end. They rank 4th in defensive rebounding, but the Jazz rank 3rd in offensive rebounding.
Prediction: Utah wins 110 – 102.
Thursday, December 27 – Boston Celtics (13 – 13) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (21 – 6)
It’s Rajon Rondo. It’s Chris Paul. It’s the battle for the mythical title of Best Point Guard in the NBA. Imagine this – Rondo goes off for a triple-double while Paul wins the tight game with six points in the final minute. Sound plausible, doesn’t it? Paul Pierce is coming off a 40-point outing vs. Cleveland, so Caron Butler and Matt Barnes should have their hands full. If you think Kevin Garnett will stand idle while DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin try posterizing, think again!
Keys to Victory: Boston will need their backcourt veterans off the bench to step up. Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa need to match the output of Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe if the Celtics have any shot at winning this game. For the Clippers, they need to be aggressive on the ball-handler and jump the passing lanes. Boston’s Big Three averages eight turnovers a game, while L.A. is the league leader in steals per game.
Prediction: Clippers win 108 – 92.
Friday, December 28 – Philadelphia 76ers (13 – 14) vs. Golden State Warriors (18 – 10)
The Warriors recently completed a 7-game Eastern Conference road trip where they went 6 – 1, including victories over Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Miami. Yet, they still lost ground on the streaking Clippers! The Warriors need to take care of business against inferior competition if they want stay in playoff hunt. Their last three losses have been to teams with sub-.500 records. The Sixers have been playing well despite not getting a single minute from Andrew Bynum. Jrue Holiday has been playing like a bona fide All-Star, averaging 18.9 points, 8.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. This will be their third game of an eight-game road trip that will truly test their mettle as a playoff-worthy team.
Keys to Victory: The Sixers don’t stand out in any particular statistical category, other than limiting their turnovers (2nd in the NBA). Earlier this season, they defeated a Utah Jazz club that has many similarities to this Golden State team (both are top 5 in points, steals, and assists). Philadelphia won that game by getting their usual All-Star contribution from Holiday (26 points, 7 assists, 6 boards), as well as scoring from multiple sources (Jason Richardson, 20 points, Thaddeus Young, 14 points, and Nick Young, 12 points off the bench). For the Warriors, they need to take advantage of the road-weary Sixers and get off to a fast start. Golden State ranks 6th in pace, while Philly ranks 25th.
Prediction: Golden State wins 105 – 90.
Saturday, December 29 – Oklahoma City Thunder (21 – 5) vs. Houston Rockets (14 – 12)
If the playoffs were to start today, these two would meet in the first round. That’s possibly seven games of playoff basketball bliss! The Thunder are #1 in offensive efficiency while the Rockets are #1 in points per game and pace. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the top scoring duo in the NBA while James Harden and Jeremy Lin are the top duo in steals per game. This game also marks Kevin Martin’s return to Houston. Expect a nice reception when the leading candidate for 6th man of the year enters the game.
Keys to Victory: In their first meeting this year, Durant grabbed the headlines by scoring 37 points, but it was the play of their bench that pushed it into a one-sided affair. The Rockets will need some better production if they hope to pull the upset. Marcus Morris is coming off his two best games of the season (based on game score), and Greg Smith provides solid rebounding and efficient shooting off the bench. For the Thunder, Westbrook will need to assert himself against Lin. Last time around, Westbrook only score 14 points, missed all his 3-point attempts, shot 40% from the line, and turned the ball over five times.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 110 – 108.
Sunday, December 30 – Boston Celtics (13 – 13) vs. Sacramento Kings (9 – 18)
Call me crazy, but I have a weird feeling that a fight will break out in this game. DeMarcus Cousins (if he is to play) led the NBA in personal fouls in his first two seasons and has always been known as a loose cannon, dating back to his days in Kentucky. Throw him in the post against the most intense Power Forward of the past 15 years, Kevin Garnett, and you have the makings of an extremely physical battle down low. This also gets my Game of the Day, stamp-of-approval because you really should witness Sacramento’s collective reaction when Jimmer Fredette steps on the floor. He’s a crowd favourite that has put up some great numbers off the bench, leading the team in PER, TS%, ORtg, and WS/48 minutes.
Keys to Victory: The Kings need Marcus Thornton, Aaron Brooks, and Isaiah Thomas to hit their threes. This will keep Boston’s perimeter defenders honest and keep the post free of double-teaming on Cousins and Jason Thompson. For the Celtics, they need to crash the boards on the defensive end. Sacramento ranks 25th in FG%, but Cousins and Thompson both average more rebounds per game than any Celtic.
Prediction: Boston wins 108 – 94.
Last Week: 4 – 3
Season Record: 29 – 18