The Bulls are playing outstanding basketball and are only four games out of top spot in the East. More importantly, their MVP point guard, Derrick Rose, is practicing and scheduled to return next week! San Antonio will be playing the second of a back-to-back (Brooklyn), while Chicago will have Saturday and Sunday to prepare for the team with the league’s best record. While the Spurs only have 11 losses to date, four of those came on the back-end of games on consecutive nights. These teams have yet to face each other this season, but looking at how they fared against similar opponents provides a good preview of what to expect. The Spurs have gone 4-1 against Indiana and Memphis, who rank 1st and 2nd in defensive efficiency – the Bulls rank 3rd. San Antonio is actually ranked 4th in defensive efficiency. How did Chicago do against Indiana and Memphis? 0 – 4.
Keys to Victory: When the Bulls defeated the Spurs last season, they bottled up Tony Parker and forced him into a bad shooting night (5-16 for 11 points). With Rose not back (yet), Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson will have to step it up on the defensive end. If they can keep Parker under 20 points, the domino effect may lead to a Bulls victory. For San Antonio, they need to get their hands on every single defensive rebound. That’s a tall task, especially considering Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah are rebounding giants. However, the Bulls rank 22nd in FG%, while the Spurs rank 1st in defensive rebounding. Limiting second-chance points may help lead them to victory and boost their confidence as they continue their annual rodeo road trip.
Prediction: San Antonio wins 90 – 87.
When these two faced off last Tuesday in Houston, the Rockets tied an NBA record with 23 three-pointers. Mark Jackson was not going to let Houston set a record on his watch, so he ordered his troops to intentionally foul in the last minute, which included this Draymond Green clothesline. The Rockets offense has been on fire of late, currently in the midst of a season-high seven-game streak of scoring 100 points or more. As a team, they’ve shot 44.1% from behind the arc over that stretch. To put that in perspective, the Warriors rank 1st with a 39.4 three point FG% for the season. Last week’s game also highlighted Golden State’s recent decline in defense. In December, the Warriors were 18th in opponents points per game (98.8), but are now 24th (100.7). Their defensive rating also dropped from 13th (103.8) to 18th (106.0). As this is their last game before the All-Star break, the Warriors will be seeking revenge while also regrouping for a playoff run (and their second trip to the postseason since 1994).
Keys to Victory: Do you think the Warriors will start jumping above screens to prevent 3-point attempts? Lost in the shuffle of Houston’s offensive barrage was Golden States effort on the offensive end. They had solid contributions from the entire team and amassed 109 points, despite 3-12 shooting from Steph Curry, who was returning from injury. Houston actually fires more threes (on average) in their losses this season. If Golden State can limit the number of threes made to eight or lower, they’ll win. For Houston, keep driving, kicking, and swinging the ball. Their 35 assists last week were a season-high – which says a lot for the 4th ranked team (assists) in the league.
Prediction: Golden State wins 109 – 107 (if you’re paying attention, this is the same score I predicted last Tuesday).
For most teams, today is their final game before a well-deserved All-Star break. During the break, analysts, columnists, blogs, websites, and all other media outlets will discuss the season to date, as well as who are the frontrunners for all the major awards. Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis are the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors (with apologies to rebounding monster Andre Drummond), so this game has some importance when voters look at how they fared against each other. This is probably more of an apples vs. oranges comparison between Lillard and Davis, similar to 2003, when comparing an offensive-minded Kobe Bryant to a defensive beast in Ben Wallace for the MVP (Tim Duncan actually won the award, but you get the point). What will likely happen, fairly or unfairly, is a comparison of how their respective teams finish the season. Lillard’s Blazers are in the thick of the playoff race, while the Hornets have played .500 basketball (10-10) with a healthy Davis and Eric Gordon in the lineup.
Keys to Victory: Lillard won round one on December 16 with a buzzer-beating three in a 95-94 victory. Davis, however, was only playing his third game since returning from an ankle injury. Portland managed to pull out the victory by excelling in two areas of weakness, turnovers (ranked 19th) and FG% (21st). They only had 10 turnovers and shot 46.1% (they average 15 turnovers and normally shoot 44%). For the Hornets, Ryan Anderson exploded for seven 3-pointers (on only 10 attempts). The Blazers will have to honor his shooting ability, which will pull their leading rebounder, J.J. Hickson, away from the rim.
Prediction: New Orleans wins 94 – 87.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie! I hope you’re okay with TV dinners while we watch an NBA Finals preview!” It’s All-Star weekend, which, in Canada, also happens to be a long weekend. Is David Stern purposely trying to end marriages across North America? There’s a great deal of familiarity between these teams, including three from each roster having played in the Summer Olympics, as well as the Christmas Day matchup in Miami that the Heat won 103 – 97. Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook are two of the best guards in the league at getting in the lane. Ray Allen and Kevin Martin are Sixth Man award frontrunners. Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka are one of the best shooting big men in the league. The story to watch, of course, is LeBron James and Kevin Durant. They are engaged in one of the most exciting and debatable MVP races since Michael Jordan vs. Karl Malone. While James is ahead in PER, rebounding, and assists, Durant is ahead in scoring, offensive & defensive ratings, and win shares. I hope the NBA gods continue to bless these two with immaculate health for the rest of their careers. Fingers crossed.
Keys to Victory: The final two games of last year’s championship series was a showcase of James at his offensive best. He played the Point Forward position to perfection and led the charge to the tune of 24 three-pointers. When the Heat acquired Allen and Rashard Lewis, you could almost hear the rest of the league sigh in disbelief. Going back to the Christmas Day game, the Thunder limited Miami to 8-28 shooting from behind the arc, including 1-9 from Allen and Shane Battier. At least 11 made from behind the arc, plus 50% shooting will propel Miami to victory. For the Thunder, they need a more controlled game from Westbrook. He was 5-19 from the field and turned the ball over five times.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 105 – 104.
Friday, February 15 – No Games Scheduled: All-Star Weekend
Saturday, February 16- No Games Scheduled: All-Star Weekend
Sunday, February 17 – No Games Scheduled: All-Star Weekend
Last Week: 4 – 3
Season Record: 53 – 41
Topics: Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Miami Heat, NBA Games Of The Week, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland TrailBlazers, San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker