If you were coaching the Pacers, would you assign Paul George to guard Chris Paul? I know I would at least try it out for a quarter. Why stick George Hill on CP3 when you’ve got the NBA’s leader in defensive win shares at your disposal? This matchup of conference 3-seeds also pits Lob City Councillors (Paul would have to be Mayor), Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan against the NBA’s top defensive front court, Roy Hibbert and David West (3rd & 5th in defensive win shares, respectively). “Psycho T”, Tyler Hansbrough, filled in admirably while West was out with an injury. The Pacers hope his production level will remain at a high level, despite coming off the bench. When the Clippers visited Indiana earlier this season, Hansbrough only played 17 minutes, contributed zero points, and was -9 in the home loss.
Keys to Victory: Paul and Jamal Crawford combined for 52 points in leading L.A. to a 99-91 victory in Indianapolis on February 28. If Frank Vogel doesn’t take my advice, then expect CP3 and the former 6th man award winner to run rampant again. For the Pacers, they’re playing a team that ranks 19th in 3-point shooting and 27th in Free Throw shooting. As the #1 team in rebounding, they need to absolutely own the boards to put themselves in position to win.
Prediction: L.A. wins 104 – 99.
LeBron James has had one rival that has bothered him his entire career. No, it’s not the Celtics, who’ve only been a thorn in his side for the last six seasons. The answer is Carmelo Anthony. On top of having a 7 – 11 record against ‘Melo in the NBA, he also couldn’t beat Anthony in high school. This year, ‘Melo and his Knicks have a 2 – 1 edge. While Miami is still the worst rebounding team in the league, they may have caught New York at the right time, as the Knicks’ front court has been ravaged with injuries. Amare Stoudemire, Kurt Thomas, and Rasheed Wallace are all out, while Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby may also sit (or play at less than 100%).
Keys to Victory: You know what you’re going to get out of James and Anthony whenever they face each other. What may decide who wins this game is which hot-shooting two-guard has a better game. Dwyane Wade is having an amazing season, shooting a career-best 52%. A 25-point, 50% shooting performance should be enough to help carry Miami to victory. For New York, J.R. Smith will look to continue his hot shooting of late and rebound from a putrid 5-18 night when these two last played each other.
Prediction: Miami wins 108 – 100.
Denver’s on the cusp of hosting a first round series, while Utah are on the cusp of squeezing into the playoffs. The Jazz will look to even out the season series, where each team have successfully defended their home court. What really interests me about this game will be the various battles under the basket. In what could easily be its own Battle Royal, Denver’s Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, and JaVale McGee will be battling for rebounds with Utah’s Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, and Paul Millsap. Here’s an odd little stat for all you Utah fans: The Jazz have more wins on Wednesdays (12) than any other day of the week!
Keys to Victory: For Denver, look for a huge game from Wilson Chandler. He’s had two games in March where he scored 35 points off the bench. Chandler also wasn’t playing for any of the three previous matchups against the Jazz, so Utah will be in for a rude awakening. As for Utah, they’ll need to limit their turnovers. The Nuggets rank 2nd in steals and can run any team out of their own building.
Prediction: Denver wins 106 – 102.
Until proven otherwise, it’s very likely we’ll see these two meet in six weeks in the Conference Finals. The Spurs have one of the best road records (23 – 13), while the Thunder have one of the best home records (32 – 5). Outside of Chris Paul, can you name two point guards that have played better this season than Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook? How about each team’s MVP candidates, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant? In his 16th season, Duncan currently has career highs in blocks per game, free throw %, and defensive rebounds per game. Let me repeat that…..it’s his 16th season!! As for Durant, he’s by far the best human basketball player on the planet (we have yet to find proof that LeBron James is an alien, but I’m sure we’re close). KD leads the NBA in points per game and free throw %, and is also closing in on some NBA history. Durant is about to become the first member of the 50-40-90 (50% FG, 40% 3pt, 90% FT) who also leads the league in points per game.
Keys to Victory: The home team has won each of the three meeting this season. For San Antonio to reverse this trend, they’ll need to limit Oklahoma City’s effectiveness to just Durant and Westbrook. Easier said than done for most teams, but the Spurs did exactly that in both their victories over the Thunder this season. For Oklahoma City, their lone victory was due in large part to a breakout from Serge Ibaka. The fourth-year center has averaged 16.5 rebounds over the last two games against the Spurs and is fully capable of replicating those numbers, thus creating a “big three” that’s truly unstoppable.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 108 – 95.
On February 1, 2008, the Grizzlies and Lakers engaged in a trade that changed the landscape of the NBA. The main pieces involved brothers, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, trading places. At the time, it was seen as a lop-sided trade, as Pau went on to lead the Lakers to three NBA Finals and two championships. Only five years later, that trade isn’t looking too bad. The Lakers are struggling to make the playoffs, while the Grizzlies are among the top 5 teams in the NBA. They’ve been led by the younger Gasol, who’s also a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. With the Lakers’ core getting older and much more susceptible to injury, I can’t help but see this game/season as a passing of the torch from Pau to Marc.
Keys to Victory: The winner of this game will be decided on who controls the tempo. Memphis runs the third-slowest pace in the league, while Los Angeles runs the second-fastest. Look for the Grizzlies to use their army of bigs, Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur, and Marc Gasol at the Lakers to slow down Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Expect 18 fouls from them collectively, in an effort to keep the tempo slow. For Los Angeles, they’ll need Steve Nash to come out with a scorer’s mentality. He’s scored at least 15 points in six of his last seven games and needs to keep the defense honest.
Prediction: Memphis wins 94 – 88.
The NBA’s top three-point shooting team (Houston) faces the top two-point shooting team (Denver). Denver has owned this matchup so far, winning all three games this season. The addition of Andre Iguodala, combined with Ty Lawson making “the leap” (career highs in points, assists, and steals per game), and George Karl’s frenetic style of play have all contributed to Denver’s rise to the top of the NBA food chain. As for Houston, this was supposed to be a year of transition, especially after Daryl Morey’s failed attempts in the offseason to acquire Dwight Howard. It’s crazy how one man and his beard can change things. With superstar, James Harden, leading the way, the Rockets have used a formula of three-point and free-throw shooting to create an offensive juggernaut. If I had one piece of advice while you watch this track meet…..don’t blink!
Keys to Victory: Not only has Denver won all three games this season, but they also sport the best home record in the NBA (33 – 3). For Houston to pull off the upset and create some breathing room in the race for a playoff spot, they’ll need to get back to playing Rockets basketball. In the last matchup, they got to the line 35 times, but their 3-point shooting was awful (8 – 27). In the matchup before that, they drained 11 threes, but only got the line 13 times. Denver ranks 2nd in steals, while Houston is dead last in turnovers. Do you see where I’m going with this? Beware of many fast breaks!
Prediction: Denver wins 110 – 108.
This game is more than just a battle for Hollywood supremacy, but a matchup for playoff positioning. Kobe Bryant has put forth a valiant effort to get his Lakers in a position to make the playoffs, despite a horrendous start to the season plus dealing with a plethora of injuries. While the standings show a tight battle brewing with Dallas and Utah, they only have one road game left against Portland (You don’t really consider this a road game, do you?). Chris Paul hasn’t done too bad for himself either. He’s forced himself into the MVP conversation, taken over the Best Point Guard title, and is the most feared closer in the league (at the very least, he’s on par with LeBron and KD). They’re close to 100% healthy – just in time for the playoffs. The Clippers also sport a bench that could easily make its own separate run to the playoffs! Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford in the back court, joined by Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, and Lamar Odom/Ryan Hollins. Why is that note-worthy? Playoff teams normally shorten their rotations to eight or nine. Have fun with that one, Vinny!
Keys to Victory: The Clippers have won all three matchups with the Lakers and will be going for the season sweep. The Lakers need a lot of things to go right for them, but one thing they can count on is that the Clippers still have no one who can stop Kobe. He scored 38 and 40 in the first two matchups this season and will need to score at least 35 to give his Lakers a chance. For the Clippers, double-doubles from their All-Stars, Paul and Blake Griffin, should be enough to claim L.A. supremacy.
Prediction: Clippers win 112 – 109.
Last Week: 2 – 5
Season: 70 – 56