Game of the Night: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Dallas Mavericks

Dec 7, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis (11) celebrates after hitting the game winning shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center. The Mavs won the game 108-106. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

The abundance of basketball in, and surrounding, the Lower Midwest is arguably better than that of any other region of the country. Think about it. The San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, and Houston Rockets all hail from Texas, while the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans – relatively – recently abandoned their respective homes on the coasts for new beginnings. Is there a matchup between any of these teams that wouldn’t be interesting? I doubt it.

Tonight, it’s the Mavericks hosting the Pelicans. It’s the second night of fun between these teams, unfortunately, this matchup won’t be living up to it’s potential because of injuries.

Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans suffered a herniated disc and it was announced he may not play again this season. Prior to Friday’s Southern Showdown, New Orleans announced one of it’s offseason acquisitions, Jrue Holiday, is sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his tibia. New Orleans’ other above-average acquisition, Tyreke Evans, injured his left ankle (one he’s had issues with in the past) and was removed from yesterday’s game during the first quarter — Evans did not return, his status for tonight is uncertain.

The Pelicans and the Mavs engaged in a cajun-style, heated, and competitive first half of basketball yesterday in New Orleans. Dallas group of veterans executed on one end and and clamped down on the other, better execution during an ugly third quarter kept the Pelicans at bay going into the final quarter. Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki brought 19 apiece while Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert, and Jose Calderon contributed a combined 29 and they Mavs headed home, ready for a rematch the next day, with a win.

Dallas is fighting for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference while New Orleans just hopes to stay afloat and out of the lottery. Thinking about the final two of eight slots in the West, the Mavs (along with the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies) are going to need every victory as it doesn’t look like things are going to get any easier. The Pelicans, on the other hand, should start considering an assessment for what they want to do this season. Eric Gordon, N.O’s starting shooting guard, will be on display with Evans possibly unavailable — Gordon is a player the Pelicans may consider trading because of his large contract.

Maybe sidelining some key players is the best idea on one side, but the other needs to do everything on a nightly basis to make sure they stay ahead in the heated West. If the Pelicans don’t see themselves as a playoff contender, or a team that can even come close, shutting down Anderson and Holiday and having them ready to go next season isn’t a bad idea. New Orleans could make more moves in the upcoming offseason to obtain pieces that would complement the already young, and talented, pieces in place. The Pelicans could attain another asset in this summer’s draft, one that figures to have a plethora of future stars, too.

Regardless of the each organization’s season, and long-term goals, there will be a combination of 10 Mavericks and Pelicans on the floor in Dallas trying to win tonight. There’s plenty of mediocre games in the NBA scheduled for this evening, but, I’m sticking with the one featuring two teams from the southern, middle from the country because – as people in Texas say – that’s where things are just “Bigger.”

 

Advertisements

Game of the Night: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves

Make no mistake about it, there is a rivalry between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Target Center in Minneapolis is the stage for these Northwest division foes as they meet for the third time this season. The Thunder and the Wolves are 3-3 in their previous six meetings dating back to last season.

Mar 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks on during the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Wolves won 101-93. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks on during the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Wolves won 101-93. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder will be without Russell Westbrook, again, tonight — just as they were when they traveled to Minneapolis earlier this November. In each team’s second game of the season, the Wolves jumped out to an early, 34-19, first quarter lead and never looked back. Kevin Love effortlessly managed to attain a double-double (24 points and 12 rebounds) while Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic combined to score 29 — Kevin Durant was held to only 13 points and the Thunder fell by 19, 81-100.

For awhile the Wolves held a lead again, in Oklahoma City, against the Thunder on December 1st. Kevin Martin scored 22 points against his former team through three-quarters and the visitors entered the final quarter leading by five. That’s when “the Durantula” began to spin its web. The Durant takeover wasn’t the late-game, “score on the final x possessions to prevail victorious,” takeover we’re accustomed to seeing performed by an NBA Superstar. Durant may have only scored six-points in the final 12 minutes, but his six assists and clutch 3pt-shooting helped the Thunder roll-over the fatigued Wolves in the final quarter — 113-103.

The Thunder are 25-7, but the absence of Westbrook is a hindrance and OKC has lost two-consecutive games going into tonight. Reggie Jackson has improved, progressively, playing close to 30 minutes a game starting at point guard. Overall Jackson averages 3.7 assists per game but in the last five outings he’s averaged 4.8 in addition to 13 points per game. On the season Jackson has scored one point less per game in appearances off-the-bench, but, as a starter he averages nearly two-more assists per game — Jackson’s assists account for 8.6ppg according to NBA Player Tracking (Stat VU).

Mar 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman claps after a shot is made in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman claps after a shot is made in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Contributions outside the starting-five for the Wolves have been anything but dependable. The lineup of Rubio, Love, Corey Brewer, Pekovic and Martin have played more minutes than any group of players this season, they’ve held the ship steady but only have a .500 record to show for it. J.J. Barea’s five points against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday were the Wolves only bench points, Love determined and vocalized that this type of effort from professional players was ‘unacceptable’. Head Coach Rick Adelman agreed.

“I don’t think that anybody can deny that five points isn’t going to do it for us. It’s the way you do it. Like Kevin said, I don’t think it was malicious.”

Two days later against the New Orleans Pelicans, the bench responded — Barea, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham combined to score 37. Were Love’s remarks what sparked to outburst of points?

This is the Wolves sixth opportunity dating back to December to go over the .500 mark with a victory – they are 0-5 in these games. Can the Thunder avoid dropping a third-consecutive game, or will the Wolves starters – again – jump on the Westbrook-less lineup of developing players early never to look back? We’ll find out later tonight.

The Wolves-Thunder is Saving the Skyhook’s Game of the Night for Saturday, January 4th.

Game of the Night: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs

Tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder roll across the Texas border and into San Antonio to take on the Spurs.

If there’s anyone caught that Garth Brooks reference, thank you. 

Both the Thunder and the Spurs find a way to fill the void when impact players are absent, when guys are down — players step up.

Dec 19, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) congratulates point guard Russell Westbrook (0) after a play in action against the Chicago Bulls during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

 

Reggie Jackson was the capable co-pilot that kept the ship afloat in Russell Westbrook’s absence, he’s one of the unsung sailors of the Thunder’s success this season. Jackson is using the experience attained playing in 70 games last season to maximize production in 17 minutes per game on the floor this year, averaging 18 points and 5 assists per game.

The Thunder are undefeated at home (13-0) but are 8-4 outside of Oklahoma City this season. They’ve been the team we expected them to be since Westbrook’s return. They’re 14-1 in their last 15 games, and Westbrook averages 20 points per game in 14 of these contests.

Kevin Durant has been everything we’ve expected, before, and since the return of Westbrook. The average “Durantula” line in the Thunder’s previous 15-games? 29-9-5. If the season ended today and if I had a say in who receives the Most Valuable Player award (I don’t), Durant is without-a-doubt the guy I’d vote for.

But the Spurs don’t expect an MVP performance from one player on a nightly basis, they’re the cohesive unit that’s represented by Gregg Popovich and it’s become impossible to hate this team. Believe me, growing up a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, this is the last team I’d like to give any credit, but they’ve earned it.

After going 16-4 to start the season San Antonio is 5-1 in previous six games, including a win over the Golden State Warriors without the help of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to do so. Only Parker, however, was sidelined because of legitimate injury and the league doesn’t like fans not being able to see the Spurs’ stars. But Coach Popovich doesn’t care.

“How smart do you have to be to rest guys that are older than dirt?” Popovich said. “Everybody has a different kind of team. I know my team. We’ve been doing this for years. We’ve been saving minutes for Timmy and Manu since the day they got here, and I think it’s prolonged their careers.

When it’s not the Spurs, “Big-3,” Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard and Marco Belinelli are called on to uphold San Antonio’s reputation of excellence we’ve seen time-and-time again throughout the regular season.

With Leonard, not only is the 22 year old from Los Angeles expected to lockdown the opponent’s most prolific scorer — he’s expected to produce points, too. Leonard has started 25 of 26 games for the Spurs and is shooting over 50 percent fromt the field this season. He’s also averaging 15-and-a-half points per game, the highest of his career. Although Leonard is ‘supposed to’ emerge into one of the league’s most elite perimeter players, he’s not playing bad basketball thus far this year.

Belinelli, well, he’s been up and down throughout the year and has made a few headlines off-the-court, but, the Italian Stallion (Editor may kill me for that one. Ed note: I’ll allow it) scored 28 points a few days back in the Spurs’ win over the Warriors.

The Spurs are, again, methodically en route to boast home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, again. However; things have slowed down since opening the season, particularly defensivly. San Antonio is allowing 99 points per game in the recent six-game stretch — that’s an average of 10ppg higher than the Spurs allowed through the first 10 games to start the season.

Between each of the core of each team, or the young supporting cast eager to fill the void of a star’s absence — the Thunder and the Spurs are both staples of the Western Conference. They’re the obvious choice for the Game of the Night.

National TV: None

Local TV: FSOK (Thunder) | KENS (Spurs) | Or Check League Pass

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Game of the Night: Los Angeles Clippers at Washington Wizards

 

Tonight’s Game of the Night is between the Washington Wizards and the Los Angeles Clippers, but only by default. On a night full of -meh- games in the NBA Chris Paul and John Wall, two of the league’s premier point guards, face off in Washington.

The Wiz are 4-1 on the second night of back-to-backs, that lone defeat came yesterday at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks — 99-101.

According to the NBA Stats John Wall has more assists on the season and is averaging more assists per game than Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves’. Wall’s passes account for more of his team’s points per game, too. Him and Rubio post the second and third best numbers, respectively. This is where the Wizards usually have the advantage.

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are 2-5 in games on the road against the Eastern Conference and, surprisingly, 5-6 overall.

But, yea — their point guard is pretty good, too.

Paul, and this is also a testament to the pieces around him, is number one on the aforementioned list of point guards. He’s maintained his position at the top despite losing J.J. Redick, who was averaging 16 points per game before fracturing a small bone in his right hand, at the end of November. The Clippers are missing his presence.  They were once the NBA’s highest scoring team but since Redick’s injury they’ve averaged only 95 points per game. That’s a decrease of almost 10 points and they’ve dropped down to the league’s seventh-best scoring team.

Wherever you rank Paul and Wall on the always-difficult and obligatory, “who’s the best point guard in the NBA, list?”, list — these two are the best matchup at the position whenever they’re on the same floor.

Is saying that Paul and Wall (heh heh, Paul Wall) are the best point guards in their respective conferences outrageous? I don’t think so. Wall has a chance at home, where the Wizards are 6-4, for a signature win over -arguably-  the best point guard in the game. The Clippers are coming off an inexplicable loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Paul and the Clippers would probably like to go home, so it fits the ‘trap-game’ description.

Dec 12, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) advances the ball during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

This is the final stop on a seven-game road trip that’s traveled over 6,000 miles. The Clippers are 5-1 against the Wizards dating back to the 2010-2011. Paul claims the game is a must win, and it would send his team home 4-3 over the seven game trip.

 

The Wizards and the Clippers tip-off at 7:00PM EST; that’s the Game of the Night.

Game of the Night: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets

The Minnesota Timberwolves face the Houston Rockets at 7:00PM Central Time, it’s the Game of the Night on NBATV and will air at 7:00 PM (CT).

 

It’s the fifth time the Wolves have played in a back-to-back in 15 games this season, and they have yet to win when the second game is on the road. Minnesota lost in Cleveland and Los Angeles to the Cavaliers and Clippers, respectively, earlier this month. They lost to the Wizards in Washington on Tuesday and fell to this Clippers, again – this time at home – Wednesday on a road-home back-to-back this week. Half of the team’s losses have come in nights the team has, or will play, consecutive nights.

It’s going to be another, tough road test against the Rockets tonight.

Prior to Wednesday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Houston had won three-straight. The Rockets are coming together offensively – ranking fourth in efficiency – scoring over 100 points in all but two games this season.

Nov 20, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after a technical foul called against him with guard Patrick Beverley (2) and forward Terrence Jones (6) against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. The Mavs beat the Rockets 123-120. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Houston’s Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin in addition to eight Wolves players averaging double-digit point totals, per 36 minutes, this season are expected to make this game the one to watch this evening. These are two of the most potent offenses in the league.

Although it took some time “Big Pek” is proving he can score efficiently, consistently, around the rim.

Pek ranked eighth in the league in Close Shot PTS Per Game (Points that are scored by a player on any touch that starts within 12 feet of the basket, excluding drives) on November 7th with 5.4 points per game. However, he ranked 181st in Close Field Goal Percentage (Field Goal Percentage on shots taken by a player on any touch that starts within 12 feet of the basket, excluding drives.) at the time. Pekovic was getting his points, but, wasn’t doing a great job of finishing shots taken around the rim.

Heading into tonight Pekovic is scoring a league-leading seven-points in close shot PTS per game, and shooting 59 percent on shots taken around the rim. A significant improvement from the 45 percent he was shooting earlier in the month.

Nov 22, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Reggie Evans (30) and Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) battle for position for a rebound in the first quarter at Target Center, Friday. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Howard will have his hands full tonight trying to deal with Pekovic. In a piece published before the season, SB Nation’s Mike Prada explained how Timberwolves center Nicola Pekovic asserts his presence, citing Howard as a victim.

Romantics can enjoy the shooting guard battle between Martin and Harden, former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates that were essentially exchanged for one-another in a deal that moved Martin to OKC and Harden to Houston.

Rockets point guard and scrappy defender Patrick Beverly’s effort will be tested by Ricky Rubio. Although Rubio, the current league leader in steals this season, has shown the ability to be a bother to opposing guards in his own right.

With Love, Harden, Howard, Parsons, Rubio and Martin all on the same court on a Saturday night — Wolves-Rockets undeniably the Game of the Night.

National TV: NBATV

Time:  8:00 p.m. ET

Game of the Night: Indiana Pacers vs. Chicago Bulls

On November 5th the Indiana Pacers came out of the locker room at halftime trailing by eight to the Chicago Bulls. Despite inefficient sub-32 percent shooting from Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the Pacers – who defeated the Pistons on the road in Detroit less than 24 hours earlier – outscored the Bulls by 23 points in the second half and kept an undefeated record intact despite feeling the fatigue from the night before. Indiana had five players with double-digit point totals and outscored Chicago 60-37.

The Bulls return home after defeating the Toronto Raptors, 96-80, and on Saturday, welcome in the Pacers, who spent last night coasting to a to a 27 point, 104-77 rout over the Milwaukee Bucks

Derrick Rose is shooting less than 33 percent from the field so far this year.

Derrick Rose is shooting less than 33 percent from the field so far this year.

Derrick Rose is averaging 15 points and 5 assists in six games since his return from, well, you know — not playing last season. He, like George and Stephenson, was also inefficient in the first meeting between these teams — scoring 17 points after hitting only one of five from three-point range and six of fifteen from the field overall. 11 days has passed since the teams met at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the Bulls may have to remember how to play without their former MVP on Saturday; Rose is listed as day-by-day. Prior to last night’s victory over the Raptors, the Bulls’ franchise point guard was back to answering questions about when he expects to return.

For me, I didn’t go out there and shoot yet,” Rose said. “[I’ll] go out there and see how it feels, and if it feels good enough to play, I’m going to play.

They’re still leaving it up to me to go out there,” Rose said. “See how [it] goes, and if it’s any tightness or soreness there’s no point to go out there and play. But if I go out there and it loosens up, I think I’ll be playing.

The Pacers easily outpaced the Bucks with smothering, hard-nosed defending last night, and own the league’s best defensive rating of 91.3. George has fully emerged as a superstar type player capable of winning league MVP, as has Roy Hibbert, who’s made it clear that he’s the first one with the Defensive Player of the Year award on his mind this year. With veterans David West, Louis Scola and Stevenson alongside him, the Pacers are poised to make a postseason run. And the Finals are the destination.

 

Whether or not Rose is able to play will be the key in tonight’s meeting between these Central Division foes. No team has been able to inflict a defeat on Indy this year, if Rose isn’t able to go for the Bulls, the Pacers will likely live without a loss for another day. The added responsibility will be on Chicago’s back up point guard, Kirk Hinrich, if Rose is unable to go. Hinrich had this to say after scoring 12 points on 4 assists in last night’s victory in Toronto.

“It’ll be a great test, they’re playing as good as anybody in the league right now.”

National TV: None

Local TV: FSMW (Pacers) | WGN (Bulls) | League Pass

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Game Of The Night: Indiana Pacers vs. Detroit Pistons

The Indiana Pacers hope to continue their success against the Detroit Piston in the Motor City on Tuesday night. The Pacers out-paced (Ed. note: Are you trying to get fired with that pun, Zach?) the Pistons four times last season and have won five straight dating back to the 2011-2012 season.

Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe (10) backs Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) into the paint during a game between the Pacers and Pistons last season Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe (10) backs Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) into the paint during a game between the Pacers and Pistons last season Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Two days removed from a 10 point victory over the Boston Celtics Detroit’s offseason acquisitions will continue the chemistry building process, the team has playoff aspirations this season. Indiana, however, has more important things on their mind in terms of post-season success.

“We’re competing for a one seed,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel told the team’s official website. “We said from the opening day of training camp, that’s what we’re going after.

Brandon Jennings returned after suffering a hairline fracture to the jaw on Sunday night, he had four assists and scored 14 points at home against the Celtics. Josh Smith is averaging 17 points a game and continues to shoot three-point shots despite struggling from downtown. He’s shooting a mere 28 percent from behind-the-arc through three games this season. Jennings and Smith were the summer’s big names acquired by Detroit during the offseason, but it’s Andre Drummond who leads the team in scoring with 18 points per game.

For the Pacers, it’s about staying focused towards the next step after falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last  year. Paul George, who emerged as one of the leagues up-and-coming superstars during the postseason, continues potential MVP form — scoring 26ppg, shooting over 50 percent from inside the three-point arc and 44 percent from long-distance.

Lance Stephenson is averaging nearly 20 points per game thus far this season. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell- USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson is averaging nearly 20 points per game thus far this season. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell- USA TODAY Sports

Because of the preseason injury to Danny Granger, Lance Stephenson has seen extended playing time for the Pacers and he’s made the most of every minute of the floor. Stephenson is second among the team in ppg with 19 and is shooting a ridiculous 64 percent from three-point range.

The Pistons frontcourt of Drummond and Greg Monroe are excellent getting up and down the floor in transition, Jennings also likes to play fast and Smith, known as J-Smoove, is never afraid of attempting to make the highlight reel. The Pistons rank seventh in the league in offensive rating but have their work cut out for them against the NBA’s best defensive team thus far season. The Pacers have a defensive rating of 88.5.

With a revamped roster and reason to be hopeful in Detroit, the Pistons hope to knock off one of the Eastern Conference foes in the Palace of Auburn hills tonight — tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 EST.