NBA Martin Luther King Jr. Day Showcase: Game-by-game previews

At this point in the season, we’re seeing a resurgence in the Eastern Conference. Nine teams currently have above-.500 records, as opposed to last season when just six teams in the East finish with a record of .500 or better. … Continued

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SiriusXM Editor
January 15, 2016

At this point in the season, we’re seeing a resurgence in the Eastern Conference. Nine teams currently have above-.500 records, as opposed to last season when just six teams in the East finish with a record of .500 or better. The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the way at 27-10, followed by the Toronto Raptors (25-15), Chicago Bulls (23-15) and Atlanta Hawks (23-16). New members of the top eight, include the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic.

In a stark contrast, the wild West has tamed a bit with just seven teams above .500. The Western Conference is now top-heavy with six games separating the No. 2 and 3 teams. Defending champion Golden State is dominant at 37-3, with the San Antonio Spurs following close behind at 35-6. Oklahoma City (28-12) and the Los Angeles Clippers (26-13) round out the top four. Dallas, Memphis, Houston and Utah complete the top eight, and are separated by just four games.

With this parity in the league, every game on the slate has a certain charm. Here’s a quick preview of each game in the NBA’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day showcase. (All time ET.)

Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks, 1 pm (SiriusXM channel 212, Internet channel 902): The Sixers are 4-37; it’s impossible to make the thought of watching them sound exciting. But Philadelphia does feature a top rookie in Jahlil Okafor, who is likely to battle with Knicks rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? No? OK. The Knicks have exceeded expectations so far by hovering at or above .500 for most of the season. Porzingis has been a joy to watch, and Carmelo Anthony is his usual self, averaging 21.6 points. Worst-case scenario, you’ll be watching a blowout victory for New York.

Utah Jazz at Charlotte Hornets, 2 pm (SiriusXM channel 213, Internet channel 908): The Jazz are currently clinging to the eighth spot in the West at 17-22. They are an incredibly young team with three players older than 25 – and none older than 28. Gordon Hayward leads the way at 19.4 points per game, and Derrick Favors adds 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. Utah also boasts a strong defense, ranking fifth in the NBA with opponents averaging 96.9 points. Charlotte is two games out of the eighth spot in the East at 18-20 after making a playoff appearance last year. Center Al Jefferson is sidelined after undergoing surgery at the end of December to repair a torn meniscus. He is expected to miss at least six weeks. The Hornets have a dynamic backcourt duo in Kemba Walker (19.1 points) and Nicolas Batum (15.7), but the key for them as the season goes on is to get their players healthy. Batum recently missed some time due to a toe injury.

Portland Trailblazers at Washington Wizards, 2 pm (SiriusXM channel 215, Internet channel 904): This game, featuring two teams who have a ton of potential but have failed to use any of it, will be dubbed “The Battle of the Disappointing Children.” Both teams are currently on the outside looking in, but could likely make the playoffs if they just get their acts together. So far, the Trailblazers have struggled to adjust to life without LaMarcus Aldridge, limping out to a 17-24 start. Damian Lillard is doing D-Lill things with 24.7 points and 7.1 assists, and the emergence of C.J. McCollum (20.8 points per game) has been fun to watch. Portland is still learning to jell as a unit, but could potentially be turning the corner soon after wins over Oklahoma City and Utah this week. Washington has also failed to meet expectations with a record of just 18-19. John Wall (19.6) and Bradley Beal (19.3) are as good a backcourt as any in the NBA, but injuries continue to limit their potential. Beal is on his way back after missing a month with a stress reaction in his leg. Wall, who has been a rock all season, underwent an MRI on his knee on Thursday. Supporting players like Otto Porter Jr. have yet to do anything to alleviate the weight on Wall’s shoulders.

New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies, 2:30 pm (Sirius 207, XM channel 86, Internet channel 898): The 12-26 Pelicans were expected to make some noise this season, but they just can’t get all their best players on the floor at the same time. Anthony Davis has battled multiple injuries all season, though he is averaging 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans both missed extended time and are still trying to return to form. The Grizzlies (22-19) have been a consistent top-eight team in the West for years now, but have yet to break through the glass ceiling. Six players average 10 or more points, led by Marc Gasol (15.9) and Mike Conley (15.1). This game will feature a contrast of styles as the young Pelicans like to run-and-gun, while the Grizzlies take a more measured approach. Memphis loves to drag offensive-minded teams into the mud and slow them down with its trademark defense.

Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons, 3:30 pm (SiriusXM channel 214, Internet channel 884): The Pistons are arguably the biggest surprise of the season so far with a 21-18 record. Andre Drummond has been a monster, averaging 18 points and a league-leading 15.4 rebounds. He’s finished with 20 or more rebounds in a game seven times. Reggie Jackson has consistently produced all season, averaging 19.6 points and 6.6 assists. Stan Van Gundy finally has the players he wants, and he has them playing the right way. The Bulls are third in the East, despite a dysfunctional first half of the season. The melodrama over Derrick Rose’s health has been a constant distraction, overshadowing the outstanding season Jimmy Butler (22.2 points per game) is having. Pau Gasol’s production has dropped off a bit, but he’s still averaging a healthy 16.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. The Pistons already hold two wins over the Bulls, including a four-overtime 147-144 marathon. That can’t sit well with Chicago, so the Bulls should be playing with a fire under them.

Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks, 5 pm (Sirius channel 207, XM channel 86, Internet channel 901): The Magic has also been a delightful surprise, sitting in the eighth spot in the East at 20-19. Orlando ranks seventh in the league on defense, holding opponents to 98.6 points. Tobias Harris has lessened his emphasis on scoring, averaging 13.6 after posting 17.1 last season. Nikola Vucevic has picked up the slack with 17.1 points and 8.3 rebounds. The Hawks were a well-oiled machine last year, finishing with the best record in the East at 60-22, and sending a league-high five players in last year’s All-Star game. This year’s machine has slowed down slightly, but Atlanta is still efficient, averaging 102.5 points per game, while shooting 46 percent from the field (seventh in the league). Paul Milsap is having another All-Star-caliber seasonm averaging 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds, and Al Horford and Jeff Teague both average 15 points. The Hawks won the first meeting 103-100 on Dec. 20, so it’ll be fun to see the young upstart squad try to get some revenge on the veterans.

Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors, 7:30 pm (SiriusXM channel 212, Internet channel 882): The Nets are second-to-last in the East at 11-28. On top of that, Brooklyn recently fired its head coach and demoted its general manager. This is not a spot teams want to be in at the midpoint of the season. The Nets have a nice frontcourt combination in Brook Lopez (19.7 points, 8.5 rebounds) and Thaddeus Young (15.6, 9.3), but everyone else on the team contributes next to nothing. Joe Johnson continues to decline and disappoint, averaging 11.3 points. The Raptors sit in second place in the East and look hungry to make some noise in the postseason. Toronto’s offense flows through its efficient backcourt of DeMar DeRozan (22.6 points) and Kyle Lowry (20.8). The Raptors rank fourth with opponents averaging 96.8 points against them, and the Nets average 95.6 points on offense, which ranks second-to-last. This one could get ugly.

Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers, 8 pm (Sirius channel 207, XM channel 86, Internet channel 889): This is the game we’ll all be waiting for throughout the day. It’s a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, and possibly a preview of this year’s championship. Both the Cavaliers and the Warriors are at the top of their respective conferences once again. Their meeting on Christmas was a fun game to watch while filling up on eggnog, with Golden State winning 89-83 at home. The advantage this time around seems to go to Cleveland, as all three of the Warriors’ losses this year have come on the road. Golden State leads the league with an average of 114.4 points per game, and Cleveland ranks third by holding opponents to 95.6 points. The Warriors’ 89 points in the first meeting marked the team’s lowest output all season. The Cavs’ 83 points in that game, meanwhile, was their second-lowest total this year. Stephen Curry leads the league with 29.7 points per game, and LeBron James ranks fifth with 25.7. This game will be everything we want it to be and more. Excited now? You should be!

Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks, 8:30 pm (SiriusXM channel 213, Internet channel 881): The Celtics sit right outside the top eight in the East with a 20-19 record. Isaiah Thomas has been a godsend for third-year coach Brad Stevens, averaging 21.6 points and 6.7 assists in his first full season with the team after coming over in a trade late last year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder both average 14.4 points, and the Celtics are seventh in the league with an average of 102.6 points per game. At 22-18, the Mavericks are fifth in the West, much better than anyone had expected after this summer’s DeAndre Jordan-fiasco. The ageless wonder Dirk Nowitzki still leads the team with 17.7 points. Deron Williams seems to be returning to form, averaging 14.2 points and 5.7 assists. Chandler Parsons is still trying to find his groove after missing the early part of the season. The Mavs don’t do anything particularly extraordinary on offense or defense, but the veteran group finds ways to win against lesser teams.

Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 pm (Sirius channel 207, XM channel 86, Internet channel 890): Our nightcap is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals. (Remember the Clippers’ epic collapse in Game 6? Yeesh.) The Rockets have disappointed so far with a record of just 21-19. Houston has been rife with rumors of dissension among its players. James Harden is still cooking, ranking second in the NBA with 28 points, and Dwight Howard adds 14.2 points and 11.9 rebounds. Houston’s supporting cast has been a disappointment – especially point guard Ty Lawson, who is averaging just 6.4 points and 4.2 assists after arriving via trade in the offseason. The Clippers sit in fourth place in the West, but are not without drama of their own. The Clips are still trying to find combinations that fit after adding a slew of new players in the offseason. Josh Smith, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson have all underwhelmed. Blake Griffin leads with 23.2 points per game, and adds 8.7 rebounds and 5 assists. Chris Paul contributes 18 points, 9.6 assists and 2 steals. DeAndre Jordan leads the league with a .715 field goal percentage, and averages 11.6 points and 13.4 rebounds. You’ll probably be asleep by this point, but if you’re awake, this game should be entertaining enough to make you smile before you drift off to dreamland.