(by SCIC staff writer Jay Rosales)
Monday, January 14 – Los Angeles Clippers (28 – 9) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (24 – 11)
Forget that these two met in an epic seven-game series in last year’s playoffs. Forget that during that series, the Clippers staged the greatest comeback in playoff history. Focus on this season, this game, and this important stat – eight of the top 17 defenders (in terms of Defensive Rating) are on these two rosters! Expect a physical game with low scoring, technical fouls, and Matt Barnes pissing someone off.
Keys to Victory: The Clippers are one of only three teams to score 100 on Memphis. They were able to do this by shooting over 50%, while limiting the Grizzlies to 38% shooting. Keep an eye on the “Tribe Called Bench”. Lamar Odom had four blocks in 16 minutes, while helping limit Zach Randolph to 33% shooting and -25 rating. Jamal Crawford led all shooters with 29 points. For Memphis, they will need an all-around performance from Rudy Gay, who led all Grizzlies with 25 points in their previous game, and who is also auditioning for his next team!
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 91 – 87.
Tuesday, January 15 – Toronto Raptors (14 – 23) vs. Brooklyn Nets (22 – 15)
After a horrendous 4-19 start to the season, the Raptors have reeled off nine wins in their last 11 games. To make the playoffs, they’ll need some statement road victories. Playing a rejuvenated Nets team that’s 6-1 under former Raps coach PJ Carlesimo, Toronto has the opportunity to show the rest of the East who they really are – a playoff team that can run with the best of ‘em! For the Nets, this game is a reunion of sorts as their rebounding bigs, Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries, face their former team.
Keys to Victory: The Raptors played well in the previous two meetings, eventually losing by seven on the road and six at home. With Andrea Bargnani out, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson have climbed into the top 20 in Offensive Rating. Jose Calderon has replaced Kyle Lowry and led the Raptors from the bottom of the league to 10th in the East. A strong showing from all three and the Raptors will certainly pull out the win. For the Nets, Brook Lopez will need to get 20 & 10, including two blocks to help lead Brooklyn to victory.
Prediction: Brooklyn wins 101 – 95.
Wednesday, January 16 – Miami Heat (24 – 11) vs. Golden State Warriors (23 – 13)
This game is must-see for two reasons: revenge (Heat) and validation (Warriors). The Big Three of Miami are coming off a very long year that included an NBA championship and Olympic gold. Their off-season was only six weeks long, as opposed to a Warriors squad that had five months. Miami need to distance themselves from the Knicks and afford their stars some rest in March/April. Of more immediate concern is to avenge a home loss to Golden State (115-113 on December 14). The Warriors sent a message to the league that they’re for real with that early season victory over Miami. A season sweep would officially upgrade them from first-round fodder to Western Conference threat.
Keys to Victory: For the Heat to prevail, they’ll need to attack the basket with reckless abandon. Golden State ranks 28th in blocks, and is in the bottom third in free throw attempts allowed. Whether it’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh, don’t settle for the jumper and just drive, drive, drive! Similar to their previous matchup, the Warriors need to push the pace, as the Heat have struggled with high-tempo teams.
Prediction: Golden State wins 107 – 103.
Thursday, January 17 – New York Knicks (24 – 13) vs. Detroit Pistons (14 – 24)
The Pistons “host” the Knicks in jolly old London, England. I have yet to figure out if I chose this because of the overseas location, or because the Lakers, who host the Heat, have struggled so much that they can’t even warrant game-of-the-day status (Don’t worry, Laker fans, they’ve got one coming up). New York will wow the British crowd with Carmelo Anthony’s scoring, Jason Kidd’s lobs to Tyson Chandler, and J.R. Smith’s tattoos. While this is happening, Detroit’s #3 ranked rebounding team will scoop up all misses and keep this game close.
Keys to Victory: As mentioned above, rebounding is the key for Detroit. Andre Drummond ranks 2nd in offensive rebounding % and 4th in total rebounding %. He should expect extended minutes off the bench against the 27th ranked rebounding squad. For the Knicks, they’ll need to get easy baskets off the turnovers they create. New York ranks #1 in creating turnovers, while Detroit is 26th.
Prediction: New York wins 102 – 91.
Friday, January 18 – Washington Wizards (6 – 28) vs. Denver Nuggets (23 – 16)
Nene returns to his old stomping grounds and hopes to lead the Wizards to another upset. Washington is shockingly one of only two teams (Grizzlies) to defeat both of last year’s NBA Finalists, Miami and Oklahoma City. It’s a tall task facing the Nuggets, who have only lost twice at home. What will also help the Wizards is the return of John Wall. With the Eastern Conference continuing to be the “least-ern conference” (sorry), Wall can have an immediate impact and help play spoiler to other conference foes.
Keys to Victory: A triple-double from Wall, a monster double-double from Nene, and 20 points from Bradley Beal can go a long way in getting a Washington upset. Andre Iguodala is the big name on the defensive end, but it’s Kenneth Faried that leads the team in defensive win shares. If the Manimal can shut down Nene, then expect the Nuggets to easily win this one.
Prediction: Denver wins 102 – 85.
Saturday, January 19 – Houston Rockets (21 – 17) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (16 – 18)
As we near the halfway point of the season, a quick glance at the standings and upcoming schedules show that these two squads will be battling for the last playoff spot. With Kevin Love and Brandon Roy on the mend, now is the tine for the Rockets to kick their conference foe while they’re down. Houston defeated Minnesota on the road 87 – 84 on December 26. James Harden dropped 30 points, while Love and Nikola Pekovic combined to shoot 4 – 21.
Keys to Victory: While Harden had his way with Minny, the rest of his team combined to shoot 37%. Their offense has struggled in recent losses to the Hornets, Celtics, and Sixers. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin will need to step up and show why the Rockets are among the league leaders in 3-point shooting, assists, and steals. Minnesota can take solace in knowing they had as bad an offensive game as one team could have, yet still only lost by three. Double-doubles from Pekovic and Ricky Rubio, along with the same defensive effort the last time they faced Houston, should be enough for a Minnesota victory.
Prediction: Minnesota wins 93 – 85.
Sunday, January 20 – Los Angeles Lakers (16 – 21) vs. Toronto Raptors (14 – 23)
As a former employee of the Raptors, whose main job duty was to hype up the crowd and create a great fan experience, Laker games were always the toughest! Can you imagine trying to start a “Let’s Go Raptors” chant when 70% of the crowd is wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys? Throw in he fact that the face of Canadian basketball, Steve Nash, will also be playing and the Raptors will be playing a home game that feels/sounds much more like a road game! Hand it to the Raptors, though, because they always bring their ‘A’ game when the Lakers roll in – probably due to trying to win over their own crowd!
Keys to Victory: Jose Calderon and his 8th ranked offensive rating should take full advantage of the well-chronicled defensively-challenged Nash. 15 or more assists for Calderon should be more than enough for the Raptor win. Dwight Howard has owned the Raptors. He has career averages of 21.7 points (more than any other team, outside of the Thunder) and 11.7 rebounds. 25 & 15 from Superman will help the Lakers leave Canada with a victory.
Prediction: Toronto wins 108 – 104.
Last Week: 4-3
Season Record: 39 – 28
Topics: Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA Games Of The Week, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards