The Kings enter the game riding a four-game home winning streak, including victories over New York and Golden State. A large part of that is the emerging play of DeMarcus Cousins, who’s averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds, and almost 10 trips to the line during the streak, including his first career triple-double against Boston. The Grizzlies have looked shaky of late, losing four of their last six — Houston, Philly, Indy, and Portland — not much of a murderers row!
Keys to Victory: Sacramento’s big men will need to outplay Memphis’ all-star front court. Cousins and Jason Thompson have to out-rebound Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, as well as compile five blocks. Memphis must be more aggressive and get to the line. Sacramento may be one of the worst teams in points allowed per game (101.4), but Memphis hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard of late (86 over their last five games). They’ll need to get easy points against the NBA’s second-worst team in free throw attempts allowed.
Prediction: Memphis wins 95 – 89.
This is the first time these two have met since there outstanding playoff series last season where the Heat rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate the Pacers in six. Both teams seemed to have worked out some early season kinks to their respective games and are each hitting their stride. Miami is atop the Eastern Conference standings ranking 4th in points scored and getting another MVP-type season from Lebron James. Indiana is on top of the Central Division ranking 1st in Defensive Rating, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Roy Hibbert.
Keys to Victory: The Pacers need to keep the Heat under 100. Indiana ranks second in the league in points allowed (92.3) and have a 1-4 record when allowing more than 100 points. For Miami, it may seem like a cop-out to say that they need a solid performance from James to succeed. However, keep in mind that he’ll likely be guarded by Paul George, whose an excellent defender and has more Defensive Win Shares (2.6) than Hibbert.
Prediction: Indiana wins 94 – 87.
Last season these two met in Oklahoma City and played one of the best games of the season. Kevin Love scored 51 points, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 85 points, and the Thunder pulled out a 149 – 140 triple overtime victory. While it’s unlikely we’ll be treated to a performance like that again, especially with Kevin Love re-injuring his hand, Rick Adelman has done well this season in maximizing his team’s effort during injuries to Love, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, and Brandon Roy. For Oklahoma City, they’ll be looking to avenge an earlier loss to the Timberwolves (99 – 93 on Dec. 20).
Keys to Victory: Minnesota’s two best players, in terms of Win Shares and Offensive Rating, are Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic. If they can collectively make up for Love’s absence (19 points and 14 rebounds), they may be able to get their second victory over the Thunder. For Oklahoma City, they only shot 40% in the previous matchup. If the NBA’s #1 offense can shoot closer to their season average (48%), their amazing home crowd should help propel them to victory.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 105 – 90.
After playing Heat on Tuesday, the Pacers play another important home game against a title contender. The Knicks have weathered the storm of injuries with Carmelo Anthony looking like his MVP-self again and Amare Stoudemire officially beginning his gig as he league’s most expensive sixth man. The Pacers have weathered their own storm by overcoming a very slow start to the season. Indiana was supposed to be the East’s main threat to the Heat, but that honour has been held by the Knicks all season.
Keys to Victory: The Pacers need to crash the boards. New York is not a good rebounding team (rank 25th), while Indiana ranks 5th. Dominating the glass will limit second-chance points for a Knicks squad that’s an average shooting team (13th in FG%). New York need to create turnovers. The Pacers are not the best at protecting the ball (rank 22nd in turnovers), while the Knicks ranks 1st in turnovers and 3rd in steals.
Prediction: New York wins 98 – 83.
Now this is how you want to spend your Friday night. The Lakers continue to be the team to watch this season, despite a sub -.500 record and a horrible defense that’s ranked 25th in points allowed. Kobe Bryant is having one his best statistical seasons, which is amazing considering this is his 16th year in the league. Oklahoma City squeaked out a 114 – 108 win at home on December 7, but that was against a Lakers squad missing Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Today’s game will be a good measuring stick to see if a playoff series between these two will end up any differently than the 4-1 series victory by Oklahoma City in last year’s playoffs.
Keys to Victory: For the Thunder, you know what you’ll get from their offense, especially against the Laker defense. It’s their defense that will need a better effort this time around. Kendrick Perkins, who’s been known to be the Kryptonite to Dwight Howard‘s Superman, to limit his fouls and stay on the court longer and help Serge Ibaka defend the Laker front court. The Lakers will need a better defensive effort from Metta World Peace, who allowed Kevin Durant to drop 36 points in their last meeting. If he can keep Durant under 25 points and below 50% shooting, the Lakers may be able to pull this out.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 107 – 105.
The Magic are a surprising 4-1 against the Pacific division, including a win over the Lakers and two wins over the Warriors. They’ve been doing it with Arron Afflalo‘s scoring (17.5), J.J. Redick‘s play off the bench (56.5 TS% and leads the team in Offensive Win Shares), and most importantly, Nikola Vucevic‘s rebounding (10.7 per game ranks 7th in NBA). Vucevic also recently grabbed 29 boards against Miami and should keep DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin very busy under the basket. The Clippers need to take advantage of these winnable home games because after this one, they play their next 15 of 19 games on the road leading into the All-Star break.
Keys to Victory: The Magic will need all hands on deck to show up for a chance at the upset. Afflalo needs to score at least 30, Redick needs to lead all bench players in scoring, and Vucevic needs to grab 15 – 20 boards – a tall task to ask of a team that’s currently on an eight game losing streak. The Clippers will need a strong defensive effort in the first half, as the Magic rank 25th in scoring. If they can get out to a large lead early, they can begin to rest players before the aforementioned road schedule.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 109 – 82.
As far back as I can remember, these two teams have never disappointed me in terms of putting on a good show! Both rank in the top 10 in points per game, offensive rating, and pace, so expect a high-scoring affair in the Mile High City. Denver won the first two matchups this season, including a double-overtime win on the road. They almost made it three out of three, but Andre Iguodala‘s buzzer-beating three was waived off after replays showed he was a fraction of a second late on his release. The West is shaping up to be extremely tight, as usual, so the Warriors need the road victory to even up the season series.
Keys to Victory: Two of the three matchups came down to the last second of regulation (the aforementioned “buzzer-beater” plus the double-overtime game). In the only “definitive” victory, the Nuggets pulled out an 11 point victory when Ty Lawson shut down Steph Curry (6 points!). If Lawson can keep Curry under 20 again, Denver can win the season series. For Golden State, they’ve been getting some great production out of David Lee. In their only victory over the Nuggets, Lee filled the stat sheet to the tune of 31 points (on 13 of 15 shooting!), 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. Another all-star level performance from Lee (25 & 15) can help the Warriors get the important victory.
Prediction: Denver wins 113 – 110.
Last Week: 3 – 4
Season Record: 35 – 25
Topics: Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA Games Of The Week, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings