Busy slate of games this week. A veritable bar fight! Right, KG? Right, Craig? Anyways, let's get right to it.
Monday: Portland Trailblazers at Utah Jazz (6:00 PM PST)
In a night stacked with great games, this Northwest Division showdown stands out above the rest. The Northwest Division is nuts this year. Every team except one is above .500, and that team (the Wolves) are 9-11 (.450), which would be good for eighth seed in the Eastern conference if the playoffs started to day. Wages of Wins recently argued the the Utah Jazz's power forward Paul Milsap is the most productive power forward in the NBA so far in the NBA season, and Utah's 11-7 record speaks to his usefulness. The Millsap-Aldridge matchup will be exciting to watch, as will the Jazz fans' reaction to the return of Wes Matthews. This will be a really fun game, I think.
Tuesday: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors (4:00 PM PST)
Now worth watching when there's nothing on League Pass: Andrea Bargnani. When he's healthy, at least.
No really. Bargs has been looking very much like a #1 overall pick this season, averaging 23.5 points per game, to go alongside a career high 6.5 rebounds and 2 assists per game. Problem is, the Italian Job has been banged up all season, managing only thirteen games (not enough to officially count him among any of the league statistical leaders, though he would be top ten in scoring). The Raptors aren't great, but at 7-14, are showing some signs of life under new coach Dwayne Casey. They're sitting tenth in the East at the time of writing, and really, have no reason not to climb upwards. This game against Atlanta can be seen as something of a benchmark contest. If the Raptors can beat the wounded Hawks, I might start paying a bit more attention to this team.
Wednesday: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers (4:00 PM PST)
The Bulls, who lost in dramatic fashion to the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon, are certainly looking ahead to this matchup against a surefire playoff team, and the current leader of the Atlantic Division. Both the Bulls and the Sixers have responded well to their coaches in this abbreviated season, and are playing with maximum effort every outing. This is a benchmark game for both teams, in a way. For the Bulls, it is imperative that they reestablish their footing against the third best defense in the NBA. For the Sixers, who will likely be facing a Luol Deng-less Bulls club, this is a real opportunity to record a quality win against a bona fide contender. Andre Iguodola, especially, needs to play well. Though he recorded a 10-10-11 triple double in his last outing, he is only averaging nine points per game on 41% shooting. He needs to have a breakout game with Deng, one of the most complete defenders in the NBA, sitting this one out.
Thursday: Utah Jazz at Golden State Warriors (7:30 PM PST)
As Warriors fans -- blind, naive supporters of a 6-12 disaster -- all we can really hope is that we can make it into the arena on time. This past Thursday, Oracle Arena's security detail decided to make believe they were TSA agents, and run all ticket holders through metal detectors and full body searches. You know, just in case the terrorists decide that America's most vile institution is the Golden State Warriors. Which they might be. Anyways, most people missed tip off in the name of safety, and celebrated (and tokenized) CEO Rick Welts is here to remind you that that was your fault in the first place. "We understand that this practice can be perceived as an inconvenience, but please know that the safety of our patrons is of the utmost importance,"Welts wrote in a statement emailed out to season ticket holders this past weekend. "For this reason, we encourage all fans to plan on arriving early to our games if and when possible." Might work on Warriors fans, sheep that we are. But those Miami fans, who don't seem to arrive until halftime? THEY'RE the real terrorists, Rick. Not us. Reports are coming out that Miami Heat security details will be authorized to use waterboarding in order to ensure timely arrival of their fans.
Oh, and the Warriors have little chance of winning this game. Let's be serious, here.
Friday: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics (5:00 PM PST)
Two of the NBA's signature franchises square off in what I will call the "Lowered Expectations Bowl." Both of these teams were expected to compete for the Atlantic division title, but at this point in the season, it's clear neither of them will be winning the crown. The Diss has already spent time lamenting the sad state of the Knicks, who have shown little improvement since we gave them all those awesome suggestions about how to fix their team. Just like last week, the Knicks are awaiting their 30-year-old perpetually injured and out of shape point guard Baron Davis to save their season. The Celtics are playing better, but still clearly don't have their legs, and have played without Rajon Rondo for most of the season. That said, these two teams have something of a rivalry since last year's playoffs, and last year's matchup between the C's and the pre-Melo trade Knicks was one of the most entertaining games of last season. In any case, this should be a bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight! A bar fight!
Saturday: Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs (5:30 PM PST)
Watching this game is like doing boring math homework in 10th grade. Really, there's nothing that's going to delight you about this. You'll be frustrated by the formulaic nature of the proceedings, and will get sick of the same things happening over and over again (screen and rolls). But, throughout the unpleasantness, you know (or at least vaguely suspect) that this will help you out in the long run, and give you a better understanding of a lot of different things. Watching matchups like Thunder vs Spurs -- winning teams that play scripted, formulaic, fundamentally-sound, and mostly boring basketball-- makes you a smarter, more well-rounded basketball fan. Now eat your peas.
Super Sunday: New York Giants vs New England Patriots (Kickoff at 3:30 PM PST)
Really, in many ways, the Super Bowl is the most fascinating and enjoyable American holiday of the calendar year (if you own a TV). I plan on observing that day, so I will fast from basketball. I'm rooting for that hokey mouth-breather Eli Manning, I guess. That slow-witted, good ol' boy beat my Niners, so he might as well beat the Pats too.