Sunday 18 February 2018 / 09:33 PM


Highlighting the key games and what to look for in this week’s NBA action

Heavyweight match-ups

Contending teams battling it out (all times AEDT)

  • Celtics v Spurs, Tuesday 10:30am

Injuries suck, but without star small-forwards Kawhi Leonard and Gordon Hayward, there’s still plenty to like here: another great chance for Dejounte Murray to showcase his defensive fortitude against Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’ super-small ball against the massive size of San Antonio, and two of the league’s most brilliant tactical minds going head to head in Popovic and Stevens calling the shots from either bench.

  • Clippers v Warriors, Tuesday 1:30pm

Never not heated since the Clippers essentially birthed the current Warriors era after eliminating them in the first round in 2013, the stakes of either teams’ start — the Clippers exceeding whilst the Warriors coming in underdone — adds intrigue to an already charged match-up. Blake Griffin has been one of the best players in basketball, but nobody spooks him like Draymond.

  • Bucks v Thunder, Wednesday 11:00am

The narrative is quite different on either side: the Bucks, spurred by the unstoppable force of the perpetually improving Giannis Antetokounmpo appear to be on the brink of something special. Cohesion and continuity has built the foundation for their young core to continue to improve, whilst the Thunder look to bring three veterans stars together in hopes of finding a contender.

The similarities might not be as apparent, but are far more significant: neither have found their identity or transferred their ideal offence into late game situations, instead bogged down by iso-heavy possessions that fail to showcase the talent on hand. Whoever can begin to carve out and implement a dependable, successful strategy will make a big splash, making this an intriguing and awfully important matchup.

  • Grizzlies v Magic, Thursday 11:00am

Two weeks ago, neither of these names would seem fitted to this category, yet we find them sitting first and fourth in their conference respectively, the Grizzlies refusing to fall from the Wests elite and the Magic stunning the league behind the perceived improvements of the electric Aaron Gordon and dependability of Evan Fornier. How they perform in accordance to one another will give an insight to whether their respective standing is to be taken seriously, and another test for the disparity between conferences.

  • Spurs v Warriors, Friday 11:00am

The Warriors have quite obviously entered the dynasty territory, but could take some tips from the ever-present Spurs in terms of consistency. Their ‘shaky’ start is nothing to worry about, but we’ll hope to see them prove able to get up for the big games, and considering the job the Spurs did in their first matchup last year, this is probably the wake-up call the Dubs need to end their extended pre-season and get the ball rolling. How they handle the Spurs’ size is probably more important than the final result.

  • Wizards v Cavaliers, Saturday 10.00am

If the Wiz are to really make the leap, this is their chance to make a statement, with the Cavs wounded and down on confidence, looking vulnerable early in the season. The immense talent of their backcourt without suitable counterparts to defend them is the real selling point here and should be front and centre as they stake their claim for the wide-open east.

  • Thunder v Celtics, Saturday 12:30pm

Massive test for young duo Brown and Tatum as they take on one of the more fearsome scoring wing duos in the league, and the Celtics as a whole, in regards to whether they have the firepower to hang with the East’s elite sans Hayward. The fact that Kyrie vs Russ isn’t the headline speaks to the gravity of the game and depth of the intrigue.

  • Clippers v Grizzlies, Sunday 6:30am

The “are they for real?” game of the week, the two hottest teams in the West through the first two weeks, both clubs only dropping one of their opening games and blowing expectations out of the water. Neither considered top-four teams in the West in the preseason, their season series could have massive implications if the playoffs are to be as tight as expected.

Lessons to learn

Mid-tier teams vying for position and other intriguing matchups (all times AEDT) 

  • Heat v Timberwolves, Tuesday 10:30am

Sitting at around the same rank in either conference, the matchup of two playoff hopefuls will help paint a better picture of how far from the mark they are. The matchup itself:  The Wolves have the length to stop the Heat’s ever-increasing need for three’s whilst the Heat are pesky active defenders that can disrupt the perimeter and Whiteside will give Towns some trouble with his post defence

  • Trailblazers v Raptors, Tuesday 1:00pm

The Drakes have done a full 180, jacking over 36 threes so far, an attempt to add some variation to an offence that has failed to transfer to the post-season. The Blazers have come close to mastering the game-plan they’ve tried to implement and won’t be spooked by the Raps’ fearless chucking, whilst forcing them to display their perimeter fortitude to deal with Lillard and McCollum. Expect the Blazers to attack Jonas in the pick-and-roll, which gives way to a weirdly easy to answer question: has Jusuf Nurkic overtaken Jonas Valanciunas in the center hierarchy?

  • Jazz v Trailblazers, Thursday 12:00pm

Tables turned from a year ago, which was again a different circumstance a year prior: escaping the middle tier of the West is an almost impossible task, and these two have been neck-in-neck alternating with on another to claim the title of the best non-elite team in the West. The continuity of the Blazers makes them feel ahead, but they need to prove their adept at breaking down stout defences and beating a strong central presence at the rim. Unsurprisingly, the Jazz make for the perfect litmus test.

Quick hits

  • Rockets v 76ers, Tuesday – Philly looks to even the series after outplaying the Rockets before coming apart down the stretch and falling victim to the Eric Gordon dagger. Who guards Ben Simmons for Houston?
  • Clippers v Mavericks, Thursday – The infamous DeAndre chair saga makes any time he visits Dallas a must-watch.
  • Mavericks v Pelicans, Saturday – The Pelicans can’t afford to be messing around with these types of teams anymore, an especially important test against Dirk and Noel who shouldn’t give the twin towers any trouble.
  • Nuggets v Warriors, Sunday – Jokic gave the Dubs fits in their meetings late last season, so whether the addition of Millsap aids or detracts from that makes for keen viewing, and will have the Nuggets nervously waiting.

* All dates and times in AEDT

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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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