These are the Nationally Televised Games for the week. All times are Eastern Standard Time.
Detroit at Atlanta 2:30PM ESPN
“We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future. As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced. In fairness to Josh, being a highly versatile 10-year veteran in this league, we feel it’s best to give him his freedom to move forward. We have full respect for Josh as a player and a person.” – Stan Van Gundy (Detroit Head Coach and Pepsi Aficionado)
And then Detroit unleashed absolute terror on the league. Since waiving their “highly versatile 10-year veteran”, Detroit has only lost 2 games. One of those teams that the Pistons have lost to is the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks were 3rd place in the Eastern Conference last year until Al Horford went down with an injury early in the season. While Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague played admirably, without their veteran player, they barely made the playoffs. This year, with Horford returning, I wasn’t surprised that the Hawks have been amazing.
What has surprised me has been how unbelievable Kyle Korver has been. People often say that an above average shooter “doesn’t miss” but Kyle Korver makes that hyperbolic statement less of an exaggeration. Korver is approaching shooting 50% from the field, 50% from 3 point range, and 95% from the free throw line. Any of those things would be amazing for a shooting guard, but a combination of all 3 is unheard of. Even though he doesn’t have the volume of Durant, Bird, Nash and Nowitzki, the accomplishment is still amazing.
Dallas at Memphis 5:00 PM NBATV
The Dallas Mavericks set up the frenzied trade market over the last 2 months. They made a huge trade to obtain Rondo by trading Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and a 2015 first round draft pick. Since then, western conference teams have been making huge trades to boost their starting lineup or add depth. After trading Brandan Wright and Jameer Nelson, both have ended up back in the Western Conference, now playing for the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets respectively. Dallas has a rapidly closing window thanks to the age of their best players Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.
Meanwhile in Memphis, they made a trade for Jeff Green, former Thunder upstart, recent Boston disappointment. In Oklahoma City he was a miscast power forward whose growth was limited by the misfortune of having the best scorer in the league, Kevin Durant play Green’s natural position.
Chicago at Cleveland 7:30PM TNT
The return of the Chicago-Cleveland rivalry has gotten off to a rough start. These two teams were expected to be the number one and two teams in the conference. Now, Cleveland will likely struggle to get home court in the playoffs and possibly make the playoffs at all.
Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix 10PM TNT
The Lakers are rebuilding. One of the things that did not help the process was trading multiple 1st round picks for Steve Nash. Steve Nash isn’t playing this year and is getting paid handsomely to do so. It was a short-sighted idea that backfired spectacularly. Now, the Lakers need a top 5 pick in the lottery to keep their pick this year.
Oklahoma City at Miami 7:30PM NBATV
At the end of the 2012 NBA Finals, it appeared to be destined that the Thunder and Heat would battle for years. This would be Celtics-Lakers for our generation. One team was built by free agent moves. The other team was built by struggling and drafting well. Before the next season began, James Harden was traded to the Rockets. Miami has since lost Lebron to free agency. It’s a bit disappointing. The Thunder and Heat will both likely make the playoffs, but it’s sad that they won’t be the dominant teams that they should have been.
Oklahoma City at Washington 8:00PM ESPN
Speaking of the Harden trade, Harden wasn’t supposed to go to Houston. The Thunder tried to trade Harden to the Wizards for Bradley Beal. This would have been a huge game changer had the deal gone through. On one hand, Bradley Beal, a spot up shooter, would have been a great fit for the Thunder, especially since their point guard and small forward are ball dominant with high usage rates. On the other hand, it’s clear that Durant and Harden were really close in Oklahoma City and continue to be close. Durant is also going to be a free agent in 2016, next summer. Durant was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in the DMV. Durant may have a tough decision next year when deciding whether to “go home” or stay loyal to the Thunder, but that decision would be worse if he also had his friend James Harden in Washington waiting for him.
Houston at Golden State 10:30PM ESPN
The MVP race starts here this year. LeBron James and Kevin Durant have missed a lot of games this year, so suddenly there was a space for new contenders. Stephen Curry and James Harden have stepped into that position. Curry leads the league in steals and Value over Replacement Player. He’s also top 5 in assists, points, free throw percentage. Harden is a different type of leader, leading the league in free throws made, points per game and he’s seventh in assists despite being a shooting guard. (Harden also leads the league in turnovers.) Both of these players play like combo guards. Curry’s “rise and fire” game is more aesthetically pleasing, but Harden’s ability to collect free throws attempts is masterful. Neither Curry nor Harden would be confused for defensive stoppers but Harden’s defense has improved dramatically.
The other subplot here is the “Shooting god” award for best shooting guard in the league. Klay Thompson is perennially underappreciated, but he’s the second best shooting guard in the league. (Sorry, Jimmy Butler.) He’s also become a solid defensive player. The last time that these two teams played, Thompson had 5 blocks and blocked Harden 3 times.
San Antonio at Chicago 8PM TNT
Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau are two of the best coaches in the league. They have two entirely different styles when it comes to resting players. Popovich is known for resting his stars throughout the season. Pop rests players during nationally televised games and relatively meaningless local games alike. Thibideau, on the other hand, goes to war every night. He also appears to be running his players into the ground. There’s no need to play Jimmy Butler nearly 40 minutes per game.
Brooklyn at LA Clippers 1030PM TNT
There are many ways to destroy a team’s future. The most effective way to do it is to trade 1st round draft picks for underwhelming talent. Deron Williams was traded for Derrick Favors and picks that would later become Enes Kanter and Gorgui Dieng. Joe Johnson and his hefty contract were traded for the right for Atlanta to swap first round picks in 2015 (barring a set of miracles and catastrophes, Atlanta will gladly do so). Gerald Wallace was traded for the pick that became the assassin, Damien Lillard. The Nets also subverted the Stepien rule by trading 2016 and 2018 first round picks and the right to swap picks with Boston in 2017. All of those picks are completely unprotected. This could not have gone worse for the Nets. The current roster won’t win a championship and they probably won’t have a decent first round pick until 2019. Mikhail Prokhorov may have presided over an era that sets the Brooklyn Nets back a decade. Take notes, Steve Ballmer.
Chicago at Dallas 8PM ESPN
As much as I love Maple Jordan and Jabari Parker, if I could have any “rookie” this year, I’d choose Nikola Mirotic. His stats don’t jump off the screen, but he’s a polished player who does everything well. He’d have more of a chance of winning the Rookie of the Year award if he did not have the misfortune of playing in the most crowded front court in the league. Every time he has an opportunity he makes the most out of it. He’s a stretch four who defends well. One day, he’ll be a highly coveted free agent. (#FreeNikola) Until then, I’ll just pray that he somehow gets the starting spot that he deserves.
Detroit at Milwaukee. 730PM NBATV
Occasionally when I make picks at the beginning of the season, I’m right on. I did not see Milwaukee coming. The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t “good” as much as they are “team in the Eastern Conference that is not tanking” but either way if they are currently a playoff team. Last year, they had a season where everything that could go wrong did. Now with the addition of Jabari Parker, the presumptive Rookie of the Year, they have played better. Their conference is loaded with the Cavaliers, Bulls, and Pistons sharing their space. At the beginning of the season, people would have thought there would be lottery ramifications to this game. Now, there are playoff ramifications for the Bucks and Pistons who are only one game out.
Washington at Portland 10PM NBATV
“Stick the knife in ’em. Kill ’em. And that’s my favorite part of the game. That’s really my favorite time of the game when you can just take somebody’s life out of ’em” – Damian Lillard (Portland Point Guard)