What To Watch Here In 2k12?
These 10 games headline an entertaining week in the NBA.
by Doobie Okon / @doobieSLAM
Hello boys and girls. The year 2011 has come and gone—good riddance for some (cough, LeBron) and goodbye for others (entire Mavericks squad). As the new year begins now, the sheer excitement in merely beginning this season-in-doubt certainly hasn’t faded and I hope it doesn’t. The lockout-return, like with the NFL, seems to have helped the NBA’s popularity.
Maybe it’s the 66 games. Or the Xmas commencement. Whatever it is, I’m not questioning anything right now—I’m just loving it. But since we’re now into the second week of the season, certain teams have had a few games to make statements while others have wilted here in the early going, so the thrill among some franchises and fan bases has worn off a tad. So without further ado, after scouring the worthiest, I present the 10 best games of the week:
1) Heat at Hawks: Thurs, 1/5, 8 (EST), National TV: TNT
Dime-worthy because… of Monday night, duh. Even had Atlanta lost to Miami that night, this game would still be here. But the fact that the Hawks completely dominated the fourth quarter, in Miami, resulting in the Heat’s first loss obviously makes this battle that much sweeter. It was easy to be skeptical of Atlanta early on as they housed the Wizards and the Nets twice to start off 3-0 before losing in Houston. The Miami game on Monday added a whole new dimension to their season. And yes, I know they squandered away a 19-point lead in Chicago the following night, but the fact that they were in that game at all surprised me being that it was the second night of a road back to back, against the two best teams in the East.
Key matchup: Miami’s half-court ‘O’ vs Atlanta’s zone ‘D’
Yup, you read right. You wouldn’t expect a zone defense, let alone Atlanta’s, to disrupt the mastery and talent of the Heat’s offense. But both Hawks coach Larry Drew and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra emphasized that the zone changed the rhythm of the entire game, especially in the fourth quarter where Atlanta outscored LeBron and co. 33-21 to win by eight. The Hawks’ ‘D’ was phenomenal again in the first three quarters against Chicago until DRose took over. That blown lead definitely can’t afford to be overlooked, but at least it seems Atlanta is committing to serious defense this year. It’ll be very interesting to see the adjustments made by the Heat if this game is again close late.
Oh, and remember Tracy McGrady? Yeah, same guy. T-Mac poured in 13 points in the final quarter, including two huge late threes and a sick alley-oop to Josh Smith to essentially put Miami out of striking distance. If he’s still got the scoring touch, feed it to him Hawks. Another scoring option besides Joe Johnson would be a gigantic boost for this squad especially after losing Jamal Crawford to Portland.
Prediction: Aside from the fourth quarter on Monday, the Heat have been a human highlight reel, but that obviously doesn’t always result in the W. I still feel like I’m going out on a limb picking Atlanta, but I like what they showed in Miami and their fans should be plenty riled up Thursday night. Hawks by 3.
2) Mavericks at Spurs: Thurs, 1/5, 8:30 (EST)
Dime-worthy because… it’s Mavericks-Spurs. Sure, the Mavs are reeling here in the early going, but I think that whole Championship thing last year still earns them a level of respect. Sure, the Spurs unfortunately just lost their scoring leader and supreme energizer in Manu Ginobili, except it’s not like the rest of San Antonio is chopped liver. Plenty of veterans, plenty of youth… as long as San Antonio stays afloat until Manu comes back, I’m not too worried about them. This great rivalry between these Southwest division counterparts will lose something on Thursday, yet nevertheless still showcases two of the top-flight NBA organizations over the last decade-plus.
Key matchup: Dirk Nowitzki vs Tim Duncan
I know, I know. Obvious, right? Wrong. If Manu were healthy, he’d be the key for Dallas to focus on as he had been doing everything for the Spurs, as always. Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson know how to score. They’ve done it in the past. This game, however, is going to rest on the shoulders of one Tim Duncan. Duncan, only averaging 10.4 points so far, needs to step up his offensive game in Manu’s absence. And if he can’t score, then he best damn well prevent Dirk (22.5 ppg) from doing so, as the Finals MVP stands as the only bright spot in Dallas’ disappointing start so far.
Prediction: While I’m not too worried about San Antonio, their offense did go south in Minnesota after losing Manu in the second quarter. They scored 37 points in the second half compared to 59 in the first, so there’s definite reason for concern in that regard. Their consistent, tough D will help them along, but I think the Mavs take this particular game.
3) Lakers at Blazers: Thurs, 1/5, 10:30 (EST), National TV: TNT
Dime-worthy because… both teams have a shot. L.A. is 4-3 so far, but that includes only one bad loss in Sacramento. They lost to Chicago on Christmas by one and to Denver, in Denver, on the second night of a home and home. The Lakers lost some key players in Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown, but Kobe, Pau and Bynum are still ridonculous together with plenty of serviceable vets behind them. Meanwhile, the Blazers are pretty loaded and currently sit atop the West as the only one-loss team remaining. Even without Brandon Roy, you have to love their starting unit with Crawford off the bench. Nate McMillan continues to do a fantastic job with his team, whose 10-point win in Oklahoma City marked an impressive response following their first defeat at the Clippers. See game 10 for that rematch!
Key matchup: Frontcourt vs Frontcourt
This puppy’s coming down to the big men inside. After serving a four-game suspension for his JJ Barea takedown, Andrew Bynum has recorded three monster efforts in as many contests, capped off by his first 20/20 game of his career against Houston Tuesday night. The Lakers’ center has shown plenty of brilliant flashes in his first six years, but has never put it fully together. He now seems poised to do so, with a much more mature attitude, and is still only 24 years old. If Bynum can become the consummate 20/10 guy, a mega payday is coming in 2013. Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Spanish PF is still doing his thing. Playing the most minutes of any Laker so far (36.0), Gasol continues to be effective on both ends of the court, putting up 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. On nights when both Lakers’ big men are on, do not expect them to lose.
Marcus Camby, at age 37, still brings the defense for Portland every night and, like Pau, is averaging almost two blocks so far. You cannot underestimate the value of having a guy like Camby inside. But LaMarcus Aldridge is the star of the Blazers…we all know it. Aldridge showcased himself well in OKC the other night, recording his first 30-point effort and is quickly moving towards the top of the discussion for best power forward in the League.
Prediction: Lakers win a big one on the road. Keep an eye on Bynum this year. It’s only been three games, but he has the size, ability and youth to completely shatter the stat-books.
4) Bulls at Magic: Fri, 1/6, 8:00 (EST), National TV: ESPN
Dime-worthy because… both teams are talented, both teams are off to fast starts, and both have something to prove. Miami is the prize of the East, and Chicago definitely will have something to say about that in the postseason, while Orlando seems like they’ve become a forgotten team throughout all the Dwight drama.
Key matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Joakim Noah/Carlos Boozer
If the lowly Pistons can frustrate Howard (15.3 rebounds per game) enough to only post seven boards before fouling out, then you know the Bulls and their bangers inside have a chance. I really do like the players surrounding Dwight on the Magic, but if he is shut down on any given night, it will be extremely tough for Orlando to come out victorious. They need to retain Dwight’s services if they have any chance in the future. The Bulls are playing great team basketball so far, led by DRose, although this game will come down to the paint.
Prediction: Bulls take care of business in Orlando.
5) Bulls at Hawks: Sat, 1/7, 7:00 (EST)
Dime-worthy because…of Tuesday night, duh. Imagine if the Hawks had blown out the Bulls, or at least held on to win close. We’d be talking about the 5-1 Hawks who just beat Miami and Chicago on the road in back-to-back nights. That’s worthy of a number one power ranking if you ask me. Sadly though, Atlanta finally became tired while Derrick Rose started his own MVP campaign. He put the Bulls on his shoulders in the fourth and wisely acted as a decoy on the last play of the game, which allowed Luol Deng the easy lay-up from Noah. Tom Thibodeau drew it up perfectly, the players sold it well, and Chicago won after a seemingly methodical comeback. You have to think Atlanta wants revenge.
Key matchup: Derrick Rose vs Jeff Teague
DRose is an MVP because he can take over and win games for the Bulls single-handedly when it looks like they should lose. Teague showed flashes of good defense against him in Chicago, but was then completely stifled in the fourth quarter by Rose’s first step and strength. The young Hawk point guard also missed two gigantic free throws with 17 seconds left which could’ve extended Atlanta’s lead to three. The pressure of the comeback and the moment clearly got to the young fella, but of course there’s always another game to redeem one’s self.
Prediction: So, let’s think about it. Atlanta has rematches this week against Miami and Chicago, which means they will have played the two best teams in the East four times in a span of six days. Bru-tal. They would have been in prime position had they finished off Chicago to then play both teams again at home, but now the Hawks have some work to do to make up for that fourth quarter debacle. Bulls by 4.