The Los Angeles Clippers (35-16) are preparing to take on the Miami Heat (32-14) in a hotly anticipated showdown between two of the top teams in the NBA.
Even with a rash of injuries to some of the biggest stars on these squads, it will still be an excellent contest worthy of a prime-time, nationally televised audience.
Let’s take a look at where you can catch all the action, highlight some players to watch, make prediction on the final score and more in our preview.
When: Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
SG Jamal Crawford, Questionable, Shoulder
PF Blake Griffin, Questionable, Hamstring, Ankle
PG Chris Paul, Questionable, Knee
PG Chauncey Billups, Out, Foot
C Chris Bosh, Questionable, Illness
Clippers Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Chris Paul hasn’t played since Jan. 22, but Bledsoe has been absolutely phenomenal in backing him up.
Over the past five games, the third-year man out of Kentucky is averaging 17.4 points, 7.0 assists and 3.8 rebounds, including a near triple-double this past Sunday (23 points, 10 assists and seven boards against the Boston Celtics).
If he continues to play this way in Paul’s absence, coach Vinny Del Negro is going to have no choice but to find more minutes in his backcourt rotation once his star PG returns from a knee injury.
Bledsoe has proven that he’s an absolute asset as a backup guard and a tenacious defender, but it’s also going to drive his cost through the roof in the summer of 2014, when he becomes a restricted free agent.
Another good showing in front of a nationally televised audience will only further drive up Bledsoe’s value, and we suspect this kid very well knows it.
Heat Player to Watch: LeBron James
King James is playing perhaps the best basketball of his illustrious career lately.
Earlier this week against the Charlotte Bobcats, LBJ went bonkers and nailed 13-of-14 shots on his way to 31 points. He cooled off a bit versus the Houston Rockets, only hitting 11-of-18 attempts for 32 points. Add in the fact that he’s averaging 7.0 assists and 8.2 rebounds in 2012-13, and you have what looks to be a shoo-in for a second-straight MVP award.
James is going to take center stage on Friday night, and once again he will be counted upon to lead his team to victory. With some of the Clippers' best defenders banged up, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to put up an impressive performance in all areas of the game and help the Heat grab a W.
Prediction: Heat 95, Clippers 88
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Heat are likely going to beat a team missing its two best players (Paul and Griffin).
Which team would win, IF both rosters were fully healthy?
However, that doesn’t mean this one will not be close or interesting for fans for most of the 48 minutes. Miami has played down to its opponent’s level in 2012-13, and that shouldn’t change in this one.
As defending champs, it’s not surprising that LBJ, Dwyane Wade and Co. occasionally lapse against subpar competition—until they realize the game actually might be in doubt.
We expect James will take over late in the fourth and put this one out of reach after a back-and-forth affair.