Sunday 25 February 2018 / 03:07 AM


Sifting through the schedule to highlight the key games, intriguing match-ups and what to look out for in this weeks NBA action

Daily highlights

Each day’s main event (all times AEDT)

Cavs @ Pistons, Tuesday, 11am

The Cavs have regained some steam, but their defence remains problematic: they are still owners of the worst defensive record in the league and rank dead last with a 110.0 defensive rating. Detroit have begun to regress, but they are still well-equipped to punish Cleveland’s vulnerabilities. They sit comfortably within the top 10 on offence, and as a pick-and-roll-centric offence can exploit the Cavs’ poor rim protection, specifically Kevin Loves lateral deficiencies. Andre Drummond should prove to be problematic and after watching Harden and Capela tear Cleveland to pieces, Stan Van Gundy should know not to stray too far from their usual game-plan.

Detroit are one of the better teams in the East right now, which is where this gets really interesting: Cleveland, despite their fluctuating effort, get their back up when the up-and-comers in the East come for them. The match-up might appear to favour Detroit, but the Cavs have LeBron. That makes any game winnable, and every game watchable, even if they’d have trouble stopping a G-League team on defence.

Bulls @ Lakers, Wednesday, 2:30pm

With only one game on the docket, this absolute tank-off between the Lakers and Bulls takes the cake. I would usually suggest skipping this game altogether, but with it being the only serving for the day (and with an empty slate on Friday) maybe we’ll dive in.

As with all tank-tastic games, the young guys are the selling point: Chicago should experiment with Markkanen at center for stretches against one of the predecessors of the silky-shooting big-man Brook Lopez, to see how he handles defending both in the post and on the perimeter, and if playing a super-stretch line-up does anything for their offence.

On the Lakers side: the Lonzo Ball-bashing is at an all-time high, but if he can’t get it going against the worst point guard rotation in the league, the naysayers will have plenty of ammunition. With a rare night off at the deepest position on the league he should be aggressive and look to wreak havoc. Also, Kyle Kuzma vs Denzel Valentine should be plenty of fun.

Warriors @ Thunder, Thursday, 12pm

When building a contending team in 2017, everything is viewed in context to the Golden State Warriors. Such was the case when the Thunder pulled the trigger to bring Paul George to town, likewise when Carmelo waived his no-trade clause to join them. Now, after the expected up-and-downs of putting a star-studded line-up together, OKC will face the only test that truly matters this season.

The Warriors overpower everyone, but it’s still a fascinating test as to whether Oklahoma’s stellar defensive performance so far (ranked third in defensive efficiency) can translate in big games against top-tier teams. Clamping down night to night is fantastic, but claims to an elite defence can only be made if they can hold fort with the elite teams. The Warriors boast the league’s best offence and will be out for vengeance after surrendering a 17-point lead to Boston — when they lock in and turn it on they’re almost a guarantee to put up 120+, and if OKC can show signs of slowing them down at all, they might have something real.

Oh, and KD back in OKC – but that storyline feels a little tired now.

Magic @ Celtics, Saturday, 11:30am

After both teams raced out of the gate to lead the East, the Magic have since cooled off and have fallen back to earth to hover around .500, whilst the Celtics haven’t lost… at all. Which is where the intrigue for this clash should start: by the time this game rolls around, the Celtics could be looking down the barrel of 17 straight victories with only the last-placed Mavericks and struggling Heat in their way.

The Magic will try throw the rhythm of the game off by playing big — something we’ve seen the Celtics struggle with in recent times — and possibly try to exploit rookie Jayson Tatum trying to guard the athletic marvel Aaron Gordon. We’ll see if he handles that assignment with the class he’s carried throughout the season so far.

Orlando will cast a keen eye over the job Elfrid Payton does defensively on Kyrie Irving — with their fall down the standings coinciding with Payton’s return, it’s appearing that his fit may be less than ideal. If he is able to show any growth defensively, maybe Orlando will stick by him, but otherwise patience is running thin.

Blazers @ Wizards, Sunday, 11:00am

So much to like here: Lillard and Wall going head to head is the main event, but there’s also two of the most potent secondary-scoring options in the league with Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum shooting it out. Gortat and Nurkic should make for a great physical match-up down-low as should Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre up against Portland’s wing army.

Splitting these teams is tough. As the match-ups dictate, they’re quite evenly matched, and both head into the week with the same 9-7 record. The Blazers bench should do real damage here: whilst neither team is particularly confident when turning it over to their subs (21st and 23rd in bench scoring), Washington’s back up bigs are a real weak spot, whilst the Blazers wrecking crew Swanpool and Davis continue to beast bench units down low and gobble up all the rebounds, playing a large part in Portland’s absurd, league-leading 53.8% total rebound percentage.

Intriguing match-ups

Teams jostling for positions and other exciting showdowns (all times AEDT)

Nuggets @ Rockets, Thursday 12pm

The Nuggets are surging up the pace rankings, and simultaneously the Western Conference standings. After starting the season slow meshing their new parts together, they’ve begun to rediscover their speedy identity and have already climbed to 13th after strangely toiling in the bottom 10 through the opening two weeks.

That puts coach Mike Malone in a tough spot: Houston, whilst comfortable playing a range of styles, are built to run. Any team that has tried to play fast against them gets blown off the court. Denver don’t have the firepower to match them in that department, but the increase in speed as coincided with recent upswing in results. If the Nuggets do have some variability up their sleeve, we’re about to find out.

Bucks @ Jazz. Sunday 1pm

This might be the longest game ever, and I’m not being negative. Whilst yes, these two do have a tendency to plod along (26th and 27th in pace of play) — expected by the Jazz as it is fully engrained in their identity, but inexplicable for a team with the youth and athleticism the Bucks possess — both teams benefit from the ample wingspans of their players across all positions.

The Bucks haven’t quite learnt how to convert that into anything substantial, but the addition of Eric Bledsoe has seen them look sharper and more dynamic. From a wider perspective, the Bucks have plenty riding on this game. The match-up is well in their favour — the Jazz play at their preferred tempo, lack a perimeter defender to throw on Giannis and with no Gobert the paint should be wide-open – so they have to show they can capitalise and steer these advantages to wins.

Quick Hits

• Wizards @ Bucks, Tuesday – A chance for either side to make a statement and come forward as the next best in the East. The rest of the conference will be watching with a keen eye. Match-ups like these remind us how important the Bledsoe trade was for the Bucks.

• Jazz @ 76ers, Tuesday/76ers @ Jazz, Sunday – Being robbed of Embiid v Gobert twice this week is a real shame, but Rubio and Simmons are two of the best five passers in the league, so there should still be plenty of highlight plays. The Sixers are going to run the Jazz off the floor, though.

• Bucks @ Suns, Wednesday – Bledsoe’s return!

• Celtics @ Heat, Thursday – The C’s chase their 16th straight, and the match-up should favour them plenty. Miami play a small rotation of guards and rely way too much on threes. Boston are perfectly designed to shut that kind of game-plan down. If Miami have another way to carve out a victory we’re yet to see it. Maybe the night off going out in South Beach gets the Celtics when they least expect it.

• Lakers @ Kings, Thursday – Lonzo Ball vs D’Aaron Fox, and you know Fox smells blood in the water. If Ball can get some confidence going against the Bulls the game before, this might be a real show.

• Bulls @ Warriors, Saturday – The Bulls might be better off just not showing up to this game. After losing to the Phoenix Suns by eight points last week, this borders on the impossible.

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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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