Wednesday, Jan 13
Bucks (15-24) vs. Wizards (16-19)
Two teams that were comfortably above the .500 mark in 2014-15, with the Wiz-kids advancing to the second round and nearly upsetting the conference’s top-seeded 60-win Atlanta Hawks.
Washington has arguably been hit harder by injuries than any other team this season.
Bradley Beal has only been available for 17 games, and though he seems confident about returning to action soon, his specific stress ailment is highly concerning going forward, and sadly it won’t be that surprising if he winds up re-aggravating it.
Hopefully this isn’t the case, as John Wall just has to do way too much for this team. Otto Porter is having a pretty spectacular campaign, building on last year’s late breakout. Marcin Gortat is still doing his thing. Jared Dudley’s new-found health has helped them turn the ship around to an extent, but it’s going to be tough for the Wizards to wind up making the postseason.
Dudley was on that Bucks playoff squad from last year—but Milwaukee gave him away for nothing over the summer. Expecting to improve after swapping out Zaza Pachulia for Greg Monroe, the Moose’s arrival has not helped the deer. The spacing is non-existent most nights for Milwaukee, which makes it all the more amazing how well Kris Middleton is playing lately. Further, the defense is in desperate need of a jolt.
Michael Carter-Williams has also awoken of late, but he will have his work cut out for him against Wall. Expect the Wizards to win at home, as Milwaukee has a game the night before versus the Bulls—which should slow them down just enough for Washington to sneak by.
Pelicans (11-25) vs. Kings (15-22)
The Pelicans play on Tuesday against the Lakers. They’ve lost three in a row heading into that one, but the West is still allowing them to remain a relevant, albeit unlikely playoff hopeful. An 11-25 start in 2014-15 would have buried the birds, but in this year’s West—which as a whole looks a lot like last year’s East—only six teams are above .500.
New Orleans’ schedule also starts getting much easier this week, but this is a team that can’t afford to count wins before they hatch. As is par for the Pelicans’ course, they’ve dealt with injuries this season. Still, Jrue Holiday is finally playing without any restrictions, and the team actually competed admirably without Anthony Davis able to go against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Pels were actually sharing the basketball with purpose—a must in Alvin Gentry’s offense that hasn’t often come to fruition.
Tyreke Evans showed confidence in his outside shot, taking it in rhythm, but most importantly he was a willing passer on Sunday, not letting the ball stick to his hands for unnecessarily long periods of time. Of course, Evans also played his first several seasons in Sacramento, so it is sort of a homecoming for him even though he is from the Philly area.
The Kings could also make the playoffs—though the Jazz (17-20 entering the week) just got Rudy Gobert back—and Derrick Favors could be available soon as well. Hopefully Davis is healthy so we can enjoy the DeMarcus Cousins-AD matchup.
I have no idea what to expect in those one in terms of result, but I do have a feeling this game will be filled with a palpable, playoff-like passion and atmosphere. Kings fans can sniff a postseason berth the first time in a decade, and that crowd is crazy. On the other hand, every game is starting to feel like a must-win for New Orleans if they truly want to avoid finishing in the lottery.
Saturday, Jan 16
Trail Blazers (16-24) vs. 76ers (4-36)
C.J. McCollum played his college ball at Lehigh University , so there will likely be a fairly large following of his fans at the game in Philly Saturday night.
Meanwhile, the 76ers are a real NBA team again. They have four wins, and this squad seems rather unlikely to break any records for season-long futility since acquiring Ish Smith from the Pelicans. Still, the most interesting situation in Philly is still whether Nerlens Noel can prove capable of playing the four. If he can’t, the 76ers will have (at least) three centers come training camp of next year if Joel Embiid is healthy.
I’ve said it time and time again: but if Noel, who we know can protect the rim with his length and leaping ability, becomes comfortable covering stretch fours like Paul Millsap over time, he is going to be an All-NBA defender. That type of defensively versatility would quiet a lot of the doubters—myself included—who are still shaking their heads at the Sixers’ decision to draft Okafor.
Of course, Oak has as much work to do defensively as any center in the NBA, but for Noel to work alongside him or Embiid, Noel has to be willing and able to chase and contain perimeter-oriented players and switch onto smaller players.
Safe to say, Okafor and Noel will be forced to switch onto McCollum and Damian Lillard early and often, and how they fare in those cross match-ups will likely decide the outcome of the game. If those two go off, it will be another blowout at Wells Fargo Center. However, if the Sixers can somehow slow them down, this could actually be a close contest.