NBA Games of the Week (Jan 4 – Jan 10)
Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers
Does anyone in the East want to claim the title as the second best team in the conference? Even without an elite offensive talent for majority of the year, the Cavs have been the best team in the East without a suitable challenger emerging thus far. Early last season, Raptors faithful had the Q rocking with their signature, “We the North” chant, and will look to have Quicken Loans Arena buzzing again. Even with Cleveland not clicking on all cylinders just yet, this matchup serves as a barometer for the Raptors as they look to be contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Chicago Bulls
The Bucks and their unique Warriors kryptonite, stride into the United Center to take on the Bulls in a rematch of a physical first round showdown from last postseason. By majority of accounts, the Bulls seem to have high school drama within their locker room. And they don’t call it the Windy City for nothing; trade rumors have been swirling as Chicago’s inconsistency may lead to a major roster shakeup. With Milwaukee, I don’t know what the hell is wrong. Everyone knew they needed shooting, but nobody expected their defense to be a major weakness after it was their biggest strength last season.
Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma City Thunder
After believing both the Grizzlies and the Thunder would be elite teams in the West, only one has met expectations. After an incredibly poor start, Memphis has grinded their way back above .500 and are in striking distance of a top four seed. Oklahoma City hasn’t been quite as good as Golden State or San Antonio, but factor in Kevin Durant sitting six games, and the Thunder are sitting pretty as the third elite team in the conference. OKC needs wins against teams like Memphis to keep pace, while Memphis needs wins against top seeds to make up ground. Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad.
Los Angeles Lakers @ Sacramento Kings
The Lakers and Kings were part of one of my favorite moments in NBA history. Those clashes between these two powerhouses in the early 2000s were some of the most thrilling moments I remember watching basketball as a child. In 2016, these two are the bottom two teams in California, a far cry from what we all witnessed at the turn of the century. But with Utah and Phoenix reeling with injuries, Sacramento needs wins against the league’s bottom feeders to propel themselves to a playoff berth. Rondo is rejuvenated and Cousins is still a force on the court. With the young guns for the Lakers continuing to improve, this could be a fun Cali showdown before Inside the NBA returns.
Miami Heat @ Utah Jazz
Both the Miami Heat and the Utah Jazz made important decisions during last season to bolster their front court and change the fortune for their teams. Miami signed Hassan Whiteside, who has blossomed into a shot blocking machine and will be in line for a huge payday this offseason. Utah shipped Enes Kanter to Oklahoma and moved Rudy Gobert into the starting lineup which transformed the Jazz into one of the best defensive teams in the league. With Gobert still out with an injury, Jeff Withey has been a formidable rim protector. Both shot blockers face off in what’s bound to be a battle of rejection.
Indiana Pacers @ Houston Rockets
Houston has quietly turned their season around after an embarrassing start saw Kevin McHale’s employment cut short. Indiana has been the positive surprise of the East, with Paul George truly inserting his name for MVP consideration. Both the Rockets and the Pacers shoot at least 25 three’s a night, so it’s safe to say this will be a long distance shootout. With two of the better offensive players in the league dueling, this could be a classic Sunday night showcase.