Tuesday 20 March 2018 / 03:25 AM


Highlighting the key games, intriguing match-ups and what to look out for in this week’s NBA action. 

Heavyweight match-ups

Contending teams battling it out (all times AEDT) 

Grizzlies @ Trailblazers, Wednesday 2pm

The two most slept-on teams in the west with very different styles but one very similar factor that has been key to their success — they know exactly who they are.

Within that lies the intrigue for this match-up: how their rigid game-plans match up with one another; whether the Blazers’ high pick-and-roll spread attack can break down the Grizzlies’ D, especially with plus defenders guarding their usual advantage points; if the Blazers have enough defensive troops to handle the Memphis two-man game with Conley and Gasol’s expertise in pick-and-pop and their all-round general craftiness; who dares to try pick up the pace and run in transition.

A fascinating sidebar will be the total turning of the tables where Portland turn to Ed Davis and Caleb Swanigan to batter down low in the style Memphis rested their hat on for the past decade whilst the Grizzlies will look to hoist threes and get the ball moving.

Cavaliers @ Rockets, Friday 12pm

James Harden and Clint Capela targeting the Rose-Love combo in the pick-and-roll is going to get ugly. No two ways about that. The Rockets just dropped 137 on the Utah Jazz, a bona fide top-five defence, without their second-best player with relative ease. The Cavaliers might be the inverse of that, so how they hold together against the potency of the Rockets should give a general idea whether they can still get up for big games.

Houston’s new bench depth has opened up a range of new line-up options and D’Antoni has been confident in busting the super-small-ball unit with PJ Tucker at the 5. Cleveland have flirted with James at center in recent games and may be forced to use that line-up to hold fort with the Rockets’ new versatility.

Their new depth’s most important function is to have plenty of potential options to shut down star wing players — Ariza, Tucker and Mbah a Moute will face their biggest test yet. Conversely, the Cavs might have no options but to throw Jae Crowder on Harden, and even that feels like a huge mismatch. With no equally dangerous wing players, if the games tight could we see LeBron take the assignment?

Bucks @ Spurs, Saturday 1pm

Pray to the basketball gods that we can have Kawhi Leonard back and healthy to guard the ‘Greek Freak’. Their proficiency on either side going head-to-head would be a treat on the eye, but outside of that how their respective teams stack up to one another will mean a lot on either side.

The Bucks are undeniably long, but the Spurs hold an advantage over most with their size and inside presence, the crafty combination of Gasol and Aldridge has flourished in Leonard’s absence. As one of the only teams that can truly match Milwaukee for length, where the Bucks turn to for an advantage — especially if Kawhi is available to track Giannis — will give insight to their variability and what they might be able to throw at the likes of Boston and Toronto in the playoffs when they attempt to match with similar lineups. The Spurs are built for this.

Grizzlies @ Rockets, Sunday 12pm

When these teams met in the preseason the Grizzlies were style-crafting their new identity and were given a touch-up in attempting to come to the three-point party. They’ve found a way to integrate their old, successful habits in with their new flashier style, but how far from the finished product they are will get a timely checkpoint against the savants of the pace-and-space system in Houston.

Harden probably won’t take the Conley assignment, at least when the game matters, but Conley might have to step up and guard ‘The Beard’, the Grizzlies’ other perimeter options being way out of their depth.

Lessons to learn

Teams jostling for position and other intriguing matchups (all times AEDT) 

Pelicans @ Pacers, Wednesday 11am

Heading into this fixture the Pelicans have the same record as Indiana at 4-5, which is concerning to say the least. A favourable matchup for New Orleans — Jrue Holiday can flash his defensive chops against the in-form Oladipo and the Sabonis-Turner front court shouldn’t hold a candle to the superior Davis-Cousins duo — should help kick-start their winning ways, whilst the Pacers look to continue to build on their surprising start and keep the good vibes rolling before the inevitable slide begins.

The Pels haven’t shown an ability to pull games against the heavyweights of the West just yet, so picking up an easy W against the projected cellar-dwellers of the East will help prop up their record as they hunt down a playoff spot. In the bloodbath of the Western Conference, this is a game they can’t afford to drop.

Nets @ Nuggets, Wednesday 1pm

Will Brooklyn try and run the Nuggets off their own supremely tough home court? Considering their entire game-plan revolves around running and gunning, they might dismiss the threat of the altitude and push the Nuggets harder than anyone has in Denver for a while. The Nuggets’ pace has slowed considerably from last year, and the fearless Nets might be what takes to uncover a hidden flaw. 

Clippers @ Pelicans, Sunday 11am

The battle of the big men, a showcase of all the different moulds of modern-day bigs in two enthralling matchups: the point-guard turned scoring forward and all round phenom Anthony Davis guarding the athletic freak-turned-pseudo-point-forward in Blake Griffin; the rim-running, lob-finishing defensive orientated shot-blocker in DeAndre Jordan against the score-first, bully-ball battering ram that is Demarcus Cousins.

Ironically, despite their talent up-front, the game will be decided by which set of perimeter men can win the battle, which gives way to the more pressing question for both teams’ seasons — we know what to expect out of their All-Star bigs, so who else shows up to the party might be more important.

‘Are They For Real?’ Game of the Week

Bucks @ Cavs, Wednesday 11am

It’s disappointing that either team falls into this category, but this match-up shapes as a turning point for both teams.

In the first meeting, the Bucks were unable to forge a challenge despite a 34-8-8 line from Giannis, with no one from the Bucks supporting crew having a good night out, whilst the Cavs put forward a well-rounded effort — one of their only on the season — and cruised to a comfortable 19-point win.

It’s tough to see the Cavs holding anyone, let alone Milwaukee, to under 100 points in their current sappy state, and the Bucks will have to take a step back and reassess their offence (and their personnel choices) if they aren’t able to score on one of the most vulnerable defences in the league.

A coming of age moment feels due for the Bucks and another high-stakes loss could tip the Cavaliers over the edge into crisis mode. Aside from a potential playoff preview, the immediate repercussions will alter the state of someone’s season, for better or worse.

Quick hits

  • Nets @ Suns, Tuesday – Tank-off alert! This week’s leading candidate for a 260-plus point game. If you like defence, maybe skip this one.
  • 76ers @ Jazz, Wednesday – Gobert, the best interior and big-man defender in the game, checking Joel Embiid. That alone makes this a must-see.
  • Timberwolves @ Warriors, Thursday – The Wolves are four games above .500 for the first time since 2007 (!), but the Dubs are shaking off the rust and growing each week, a scary proposition for the entire league. Let’s see how the Wolves stack up to the best and whether the strong start is just a mirage, or if there’s something real here
  • Hornets @ Celtics, Saturday This is a nice test for whether the C’s have cemented themselves in the top tier of the East. The matchup is favourable — an offensively-limited team visiting them at home, so it should be a routine victory. Kemba Walker makes everything a show, though.
  • Clippers @ Thunder, Saturday – We won’t hit the panic button on the Thunder just yet, but it’ll be cause for concern if they don’t look up to speed with the Clippers, a team they were projected to finish way ahead of.





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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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