Previewing the NBA's Week Ahead

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent IApril 16, 2012

Previewing the NBA's Week Ahead

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    Are you ready for NBA playoff basketball?

    This week is filled with potential late-round playoff matchups. If you like revenge games, then you can't miss the Oklahoma City Thunder-Los Angeles Clippers showdown at the Staples Center. The San Antonio Spurs will also look to avenge their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will have a showdown at Madison Square Garden.

    The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks will try to hold onto their playoff spots.

    Playoff basketball is almost here. This week will be a great lead-up to what will definitely be a great postseason. 

The Young Gun Game of the Week

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    Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers

    They last time these two teams faced off, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul had themselves a field day. Paul finished the game with 31 points, six rebounds, four assists and the game-winning layup with 8.8 seconds left.

    Griffin, back in his hometown, had the slam of the night.

    Griffin's dunk on Serge Ibaka was reminiscent of the dunk he had on Kendrick Perkins earlier in the season. Perkins responded by hitting Griffin in the face the next time they played. Will Ibaka do the same? 

    The Clippers look like a lock for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. Unless the Lakers collapse in their final six games, the Clippers will likely face the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1.

    That would be a terrible matchup for the Clippers. The Grizzlies are a battle-ready team. How would the Clippers, with their coaching issues and lack of playoff experience, respond? 

     

    When: Monday, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBATV)

    The Pick: Thunder over the Clippers

    The Reason: The Thunder will not lose to the Clippers two games in a row. They will look to send a message quick and early. 

    Bold Prediction: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will both score more than 30 points. They will not allow the Thunder to lose this game.  

Show Me What You Got Game of the Week

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    Boston Celtics at New York Knicks

    After losing to the Knicks in the season opener on Christmas Day, the Celtics responded by winning the next two games. When the two teams last played in March, Rajon Rondo finished with an historic 18 points, 20 assists and a career-high 17 rebounds.

    Iman Shumpert will do his best to frustrate Rondo this time around. Shumpert, who is only a rookie, is already one of the best defenders in the NBA.

    Carmelo Anthony has finally been playing up to the level that Knicks fans hoped he would after last season's blockbuster trade. He's averaging 30 points per game in the month of April.

    Since the injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, the Knicks have struggled to get offensive production from anyone consistently other than Anthony and J.R. Smith. When Smith is one of your go-to guys, there will be no shortage of headaches.    

     

    When: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET (TNT) 

    The Pick: Celtics over the Knicks

    The Reason: When Anthony isn't scoring, who does for the Knicks? They miss Stoudemire badly. The Knicks will fight hard, but the Celtics will pull away in the fourth quarter. 

    Bold Prediction: Rondo will once again get a triple-double. 

Grudge Match of the Week

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    San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers

    Even without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers blew out the Spurs behind Andrew Bynum's dominating performance. It was the first meeting of the season between the two elite Western Conference teams. Bynum finished the game with 16 points and 30 rebounds. 

    Bryant or no Bryant, the Spurs' main concern will be stopping Bynum. Their problem: They have no player on their roster that can guard Bynum. He will tear DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan apart.

    Tony Parker would have destroyed Derek Fisher if he were still the starting point guard for the Lakers. The addition of Ramon Sessions has taken away the Spurs' huge point guard advantage, though.

    Parker finished last week’s game with a whopping four points. He has to do better if the Spurs want to keep this game close.   

     

    When: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

    The Pick: Lakers over the Spurs

    The Reason: Once again, there will be too much Bynum for the Spurs to handle. 

    Bold Prediction: Bynum won't finish the game with 30 rebounds, but he will finish with over 30 points.

The Texas Civil War

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    Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks

    How are the Rockets on the verge of making the playoffs without a true go-to guy? With a deep roster that executes on the offensive end of the floor.

    Goran Dragic has been playing the part of "go-to guy" lately for the Rockets. He is averaging 21 points per game in the month of April.

    Despite currently holding onto the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, the Rockets are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Phoenix Suns are one game behind them in the standings. They need to win this game in order to hold of the surging Suns.

    The Mavericks need this win just as bad. They are also 5-5 in their last 10 games. If the Mavericks want to avoid playing the Thunder in the first round, they need to keep winning games. 

     

    When: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (KTXA)

    The Pick: Mavericks over the Rockets

    The Reason: Young teams fold down the stretch. The Mavericks' veteran players will lead them to a big victory. 

    Bold Prediction: Nowitzki will find his groove right in time for the playoffs. He will finish the game with over 25 points.  

The Revenge Match

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    Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat

    If last week's overtime thriller showed us anything, it's that the Bulls are no longer afraid of the Heat.

    The Bulls know they can beat the Heat. They expect to beat the Heat. If they play their best basketball, they will beat the Heat.

    This game will be a huge test for the Heat. How will they respond after getting outscored by the Bulls by 10 points in overtime with Derrick Rose sitting on the bench? 

    Expect Rose to play more in this game, even if he struggles. Rose needs to get his game on track if the Bulls are going to advance all the way to the NBA Finals. The Bulls can win regular season games without Rose, but they can't make it to the NBA Finals without Rose.  

     

    When: Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET (TNT)

    The Pick: Heat over the Bulls

    The Reason: The Heat need to beat the Bulls to prove that they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. They must treat this game like a playoff game. 

    Bold Prediction: Rose will play well, but the Bulls will lose. This will lead to "Are the Bulls better without Rose?" questions on ESPN.