Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Bulls are hoping to avenge an early season home loss to the Pacers (80-76). They’re catching Indiana at a very strange part in their schedule, as this will be the first of a rare back-to-back-to-back set of games (how did they end up with this strike-shortened-season type of schedule?). In there earlier matchup, Paul George had arguably his best game ever. He scored the second highest point total of his career (34), to go along with nine rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. That game catapulted him into a breakout seven-game stretch that eventually garnered him his first Player of the Week award. His improved game and mounting confidence will be a tough challenge for Luol Deng, who’s a solid defender (2nd Team All-Defense last year) and a fellow first-time All-Star.
Keys to Victory: Chicago will need to limit their turnovers. When these two previously met, Joakim Noah, Deng, and Nate Robinson combined for 13 turnovers, which was more than the total number of Indiana’s turnovers (12). Indiana will have to excel at what they do best – crashing the boards. The Pacers rank second in total rebounding, which will come in handy since the Bulls are in the bottom third in FG%. This will also be helpful on the offensive end, since the Pacers shot an atrocious 36% when they last met.
Prediction: Indiana wins 87 – 76.Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
This may be Steph Curry’s only visit to Houston in February! Although he was arguably the biggest snub from the NBA All-Star team, he may still end up in the skills competition or 3-point shootout (as if that’s any consolation). At the very least, there will be two All-Stars on the court in David Lee and James Harden. This matchup also pits two of the faster teams in the league (Houston ranks 1st in pace, while Golden State is 7th). It’s a very important game for the Warriors, as it’s the first of a four-game road swing that includes visits to Memphis and Oklahoma City.
Keys to Victory: Since a high-scoring affair is probably in the cards, the question running through my mind is, which team will win this 3-point competition? The Rockets rank 1st in 3-pointers attempted AND made, while the Warriors rank 1st in 3-point FG%. The man to watch on Golden State is Klay Thompson. He’s made at least three 3-pointers in eight of his last nine games, and has averaged 29.5 points over his last two. For Houston, they need to pass the ball like a game of hot potato. They rank 4th in assists, while the Warriors rank 26th in assists allowed.
Prediction: Golden State wins 109 – 107.
The annual Rodeo Road Trip kicks off and sends the Spurs all over the U.S., where they’ll complete in nine road games over three weeks. They start off in Minnesota where Rick Adelman’s squad has been decimated by injuries (Brandon Roy, Kevin Love, and Chase Budinger). The Timberwolves rank as one of the worst offensive teams in the league (25th in Offensive Rating), and have lost 10 of their last 11. San Antonio, on the other hand, enter the game with the league’s best record (37-11), as well as a nine-game win streak that started with a 106-88 home victory over these very Timberwolves.
Keys to Victory: Minnesota didn’t play that bad, and managed to cut the lead to five in the fourth quarter. Where they failed in was their shooting, where they shot 37% as a team, including a horrible 0-13 from Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved. The T-Wolves’ two young guards need to show why they’re the future of this Minnesota organization and not put up duds like that. For San Antonio, another solid defensive effort from the ageless Tim Duncan should suffice. When they played earlier, Duncan had seven blocks, including five in the first quarter.
Prediction: San Antonio wins 95 – 92.Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
When the NBA schedule was released, this was probably one of the first games you circled. The Lakers have had a disastrous season thus far, whether it’s been with injuries, bad coaching decisions, or one of the league’s worst defenses (26th in opponents points per game). Los Angeles is in the midst of a crisis where winning is now the only option. Not far behind them in desperation, the Celtics enter this game with their floor leader, Rajon Rondo, out for the season. While Boston has managed to win their first two games without him, they’re clinging to the 8th spot with no point guard saviour on the way.
Keys to Victory: The Celtics have improved their defense dramatically after a slow start to the season and currently sit 7th in Defensive Rating. If they can keep the Lakers under 100 points, they’ll win (L.A. is 1-13 when held under 100). With no Rondo to hound them, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are capable of combining for 20 assists. Celtics opponents average 19.0 assists in games that Boston wins, and average 23.6 assists in games Boston loses.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 102 – 98.Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
In their early-season matchup, the Clippers beat the Heat 107-100 in L.A. This time around, Chris Paul is either not playing, or playing at less than 100%. Paul led all players with a plus/minus rating of +13, while Blake Griffin had an outstanding game (20 points, 14 boards, and six dimes). The Heat thrive on exacting revenge. After suffering losses to Washington, Golden State, and Detroit, the Heat returned the favour to each of them in the form of absolute domination (99-71 over Washington, 92-75 over Golden State, and 110-88 over Detroit). While that likely won’t happen against the Clippers (even if CP3 doesn’t play), you can surely expect Erik Spoelstra to have his squad ready to lay the smackdown.
Keys to Victory: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were a combined 5-23 in the earlier game vs. the Clippers. Whether it’s Bosh with a double-double, or Wade with 25+ points, one of these All-Stars needs to step up against a very good Clipper defense. For L.A., a Tribe Called Bench needs to improve on the previous game vs. the Heat, especially considering how much better they are compared to Miami’s reserves. Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe combined for 10 turnovers, Lamar Odom was non-existent and Matt Barnes was 1-5 for six points.
Prediction: Miami wins 98 – 83.Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
After putting together a solid four-game winning streak, including victories of Memphis and Houston, the Mavericks have been quite predictable as of late. Over their last seven games, they’ve been lost to all teams with +.500 records (four in total), and won all games against teams with -.500 records. One of those losses was to these very Warriors, 100 to 97 in Golden State, where Dallas’ chances hinged on questionable refereeing in the dying seconds. Brandan Wright appeared to be fouled with six seconds remaining and the Mavericks down by one. The referees did not blow the whistle and the Warriors iced the game with free throws. Dallas will be looking for redemption.
Keys to Victory: In last week’s game, both starting Power Forwards were outstanding. Shawn Marion turned back the clock with 18 points and 17 rebounds. Not to be outdone, newly minted All-Star David Lee was one assist shy of a triple-double (15-20-9). The question is, where were the Point Guards? Darren Collison logged 30+ minutes and only amassed six points. Jarrett Jack started in place of the injured Steph Curry and shot a miserable 3-13 in 42+ minutes. Whichever Point Guard shows up on this occasion will likely lead his squad to victory.
Prediction: Golden State wins 104 – 91.Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
When the Heat visited the Lakers on January 17th, they withstood a fourth quarter rally and came out on top, 99 to 90. In that game, L.A. flipped a nine-point deficit in the fourth into a tie game within two minutes. That’s when King James turned up the heat (sorry!), scored 10 points and dished out three assists. The Lakers will bring a different style to South Beach. Kobe Bryant shot 8-25 on Jan. 17th, but over the last five games (four of which were victories), Bryant has averaged under 13 shots and over 11 assists. While Dwight Howard has been battling a recurring shoulder injury, Pau Gasol has returned to his old form, scoring 22 points, grabbing 12 boards, and amassing three blocks in his return to the starting lineup in L.A.’s 111-100 win over Minnesota.
Keys to Victory: If Bryant is going to be the facilitator, then Miami’s close-out defense needs to be at its best. This is not as simple as sticking James on Bryant and harassing him into difficult shots. So, keep an eye on L.A.’s FG% and Offensive Rebounding numbers. If they shoot over 46% and grab over 12 offensive boards (with or without Howard), the Lakers can pull out the victory.
Prediction: Miami wins 98 – 96.
Last Week: 3 – 4
Season Record: 49 – 38