Best: Celtics @ Knicks: The Knicks, especially at home, never put games to rest. If they’re blowing teams out or vise-versa, they come back or allow a comeback. While Marbury and Pierce may be main attraction, there’s plenty of excellent up-and-comers in this game. Channing Frye is the Rookie of the Year so far, and Al Jefferson and Delonte West easily make up for Payton and Walker’s intensity.
Runner-up: T’Wolves @ Kings: It is a law in the NBA that Dallas, Sacramento and Minnesota must play one another at least one time in the playoffs. It was the Mavs and Kings last year, so can the Timberwolves make a postseason return? The Kings strength is as a team, because Stojakovic, Sbdur-Rahim, Bibby and Wells can’t lead a team by themselves. It’s oppo for Minnesota with Garnett being the only thing preventing a total season collapse.
Blowout: Hawks @ Suns: The Hawks lost big time in Phoenix last year, and not enough has changed for Atlanta to prevent that from reoccurring. The Hawks run-and-gun offense matches up with Phoenix, which would normally make the game more competitive. However, the Hawks are terrible in just about anything, so keeping Nash from a double-double is highly unlikely.
Best: Heat @ Clippers: Brand and Wade are the leaders of their teams, but the deciding factor is the supporting cast. Walker and Haslem have been far too inconsistent without Shaq, and need to combine to outwork Chris Kaman. Posey will size up well with Cuttino Mobley, while Maggette and Wade will balance each other out.
Runner-up: Spurs @ Magic: The saving grace for Orlando is that so far they’ve delivered at home, but facing San Antonio is an important and necessary encounter. If the Magic can size up to the Spurs, they can outplay any other team at home. While Orlando has done surprisingly well against San Antonio the last few years, no Grant Hill this time around hurts.
Blowout: Bucks @ Jazz: Utah is 4-4 on the road yet is oddly 2-6 at home. Those 2 wins though were blowouts. Eastern teams like Indiana still have trouble traveling to play at the Delta Center, and the Jazz need to start winning at home. A quality team has to at least have a winning home record, no matter dismal the attendance or injury situation is.
Best: Mavericks @ Pacers: With Josh Howard out, the little defensive presence the Mavericks have is diminished. Unlike the Lakers or Sixers, the Mavs do very well when their star Dirk Nowitski has a monster game. Jermaine O’Neal will defend Nowitski, but O’Neal isn’t good defending long-range players. Aside from Artest, this game features some tough defensive minded players who don’t play great defense as much as they should.
Runner-up: Celtics @ Rockets: T-Mac is back, and Houston is notorious for having bad starts, although being the worst in the West in new. Without Pierce or McGrady on either team, both the Celtics and Rockets would be done. Rafer Alston returns to Houston, which definitely helps. If you thought a Jeff Van Gundy team was slow, wait until you see a Van Gundy team with no PG.
Blowout: Hornets @ Grizzlies: No team has a more unsung hero than Pau Gasol, whose Grizzlies team is going rather unnoticed with the Clippers resurgence. Taking on Bobby Jackson and Damon Stoudemire’s injury/drug problem was undoubtedly risky even if it is Jerry West’s forte. They’ve done better than Jason Williams did at the Point, and should steamroll through Chris Paul and Speedy Claxton.
Best: Suns @ Warriors: The West is deep, but deep in this case is bad for the West. Not long ago Portland won 49 games and was the #7 seed. Nowadays a 49-win team is looking at the Conference Finals. The Suns and Warriors are both on the bottom. Golden State needs to continue to hover around .500. Phoenix just needs to hold off until Stoudamire comes back.
Runner-up: Bucks @ 76ers: A lot has changed since Milwaukee beat Phili on the first day of the season: Terry Stotts has gone with numerous starting lineups, and it’s unclear whether it will be Andrew Bogut or Joe Smith who claims the C position. With the return of Kevin Ollie, Iverson was expected to play less PG minutes. Yet Iverson’s assists have actually gone up, showing how he differs from Kobe Bryant.
Blowout: Nets @ Bobcats: The Charlotte Bobcats on the winning side of a blowout have been seldom to say the least. The least to expect from teams like Charlotte is that they’ll play hard. New Jersey has struggled against every Pacific division team, including the Lakers. The Bobcats themselves beat the Knicks at home big. New Jersey isn’t too far different for me to think this is a good game.
Thursday (12/8) [There are only 2 games on TV on Thursday]
Best: Rockets @ Kings: Teams like the Clippers, Warriors and Timberwolves are rising up into the playoff mix; some Western teams have to fall out of it. Trying to prove they aren’t one of those declining teams are the Rockets and Kings. Sacramento is trying to justify the loss of Chris Webber, but Toronto wanted Carter gone and look how off they are. They still have scorers, so was the Abdur-Rahim signing really essential?
Runner-up: Wizards @ Pacers: No Kwame Brown means no problem, it’s Larry Hughes gone that hurts Washington. Antonio Daniels led the NBA in assist/TO ratio, and is adequate defensively. It still doesn’t make up for Hughes, who averaged 20+ points as well as being All-NBA Defense 1st team last year. Both teams reached the Semi-Finals last year, and both have a lot to improve. Indiana has lost a pair of home blowouts to Charlotte and the Clippers: will the Wizards be next?
Best: Lakers @ Bulls: For years this was a powerhouse matchup. So much so that last year was the first time in 20 years that the Lakers trip to Chicago didn’t warrant a sellout. Attendance is up in the League, and the recent attraction over the massive number of shots Kobe has taken should once again make this a sellout. With everyone watching, will Kobe keep the shots down?
Runner-up: Pistons @ Warriors: The Warriors more than recall their giant loss to San Antonio recently. They’ll face the Spurs later in the year, but they only face Detroit once. Expect Golden State to come out with intensity. They have to win the battle of the ‘boards and that won’t be easy against Detroit. One-and-down offensively won’t work; they’ll positively need offensive rebounds.
Blowout: Celtics @ Spurs: Boston is the only NBA team to have not won on the road, so facing the Spurs is an automatic loss. Tony Parker is going to educate Delonte West on transition defense and Bruce Bowen will stop Pierce enough to get the lead in the 20’s by the 3rd quarter.
Best: Nuggets @ Magic: The most memorable moment from these 2 teams playing was Tim Hardaway throwing a television set onto the court. While we can’t expect that from this game, we can anticipate a weak performance from the Nuggets frontcourt. Dwight Howard is the solid front court player Orlando has been looking for since Shaq, now they just need a Center who can score.
Runner-up: Cavaliers @ Bucks: Cleveland heads into the NBA’s second darkest arena besides Madison Square Garden. The Cavs are a better team, but are on the back end of a back-to-back and are at the end of a short West Coast swing. Milwaukee needs collective scoring between Ford, Redd and Simmons to win.
Blowout: Lakers @ T’Wolves: Phil Jackson wants Lamar Odom to improve upon his slender 13 shots a game. It’ll have to wait, since Odom won’t exactly be motivated to show up against Kevin Garnett. Phil doesn’t play rookies often, but he’s going to have to start playing Bynem more minutes. He’ll have to realize that developing players takes precedence over trying to win.
Visit NBA Odds for more expert articles on sports and learn how to profit playing the games of the week.