Definitive Guide to Wizards vs. Heat and Sunday's Top NBA Games
Bring it, Sunday.
True NBA fans won't be sitting glued to their televisions this evening watching the NFL's remaining games. They'll be sitting down on the couch, feet up, a night's worth of snacks and beverages in hand and one or two buckles loosened on their belt, waiting anxiously for a solid tilt of Association action to unfold.
Although it's still early in the season, the NBA isn't short on meaningful games. The Miami Heat are already searching for a solution to their "regular season sucks" problem. Most of us are still waiting for Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough to pull his hair out after each victory. And more than a select few of us are wondering which version of the Minnesota Timberwolves plan on showing up to the Big Apple.
Get your channel-surfing skills ready. There's a full evening of basketball in store for us this Sunday, and you're not going to want to miss it—unless you're rooting for the Boston Celtics. Then you have my permission to wrap yourself in a blankie, assume the fetal position and miss it.
Sunday Night Lineup
Detroit Pistons vs. Boston Celtics, 6 p.m. ET
Miami Heat vs. Washington Wizards, 6 p.m. ET
Orlando Magic vs. Brooklyn Nets, 6 p.m. ET
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Phoenix Suns, 7 p.m. ET (NBATV)
New York Knicks vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 7:30 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Atlanta Hawks, 9:30 p.m. ET
Best Matchup of the Night: Miami Heat vs. Washington Wizards
Remember the days when you could just sense the Heat were headed for a victory? This isn't one of those days.
Miami has started off the 2013-14 regular season slow. Or disinterested. However you want to put it is fine, as long as the underlying message is that the Heat have been disappointing.
Washington hasn't been much better. The Wizards were touted as a bona fide playoff team following John Wall's extension and the acquisition of Marcin Gortat. All they've managed to do thus far is lose to the Brandon Jennings-less Pistons and join the Heat in their mission to show the Sixers that they're tanking wrong.
Both teams are desperate for a win, plain and simple. Miami needs to dig deep and sustain the killer instinct it periodically displays, while Washington just needs to notch one in the win column. Beginning the season winless through three games as John Wall battles back issues isn't what the Wiz had in mind, after all.
Then again, the Heat, with Dwyane Wade's perpetually uncertain status and all, never thought they'd open the year with the same record as the Charlotte Bobcats and a worse record than the still-perfect Sixers.
Must-See Individual Matchup: Pau Gasol vs. Al Horford
Big meets big in Los Angeles tonight.
Paul Gasol and Al Horford are off to strong starts for their respective teams. Both are averaging double-doubles and, more importantly, both are attempting to boost the ceiling of mediocre-to-below-average squadrons.
Mike Budenholzer hasn't shied away from playing Horford 30-plus minutes a night. Mike D'Antoni, on the other hand, has yet to allow the 33-year-old Gasol to push that limit. He came close against the Spurs (29 minutes), but Magic Mike has been careful not to overwork the aging tower.
Where Gasol's 15.7 points per game lead the Lakers, Horford's 16.5 are third on the Hawks, behind Jeff Teague (20.5) and Paul Millsap (17.5). Still, their roles, like their skill sets, are similar.
Each team toed the line of postseason worthy to lottery bound at one point or another before the start of the year. These games—the ones against fellow fringe organizations searching for an identity—will go a long way in determining each team's postseason chances.
Look for the outcome of this individual matchup to shape the direction of the entire game.
Who Has the Most on the Line?
Those perplexing Heatles.
Four games won't make, break, define or shape their season. Try though we might to gain some big-picture insight early on, four games isn't enough to pen an opus on the Heat's demise or their resurgence—regardless of whether they win or lose.
But the Heat shouldn't want to lose or be comfortable with dropping another one. Their current two-game losing streak matches their longest stretch of losses from last season. Losing a third would break last year's mark.
Since the dawn of the Big Three, the Heat have also never started the season worse than 3-1 through four games. That streak is already finished; starting 1-3 would just add insult to injury.
But despite the early season struggles, Miami remains focused and has set a goal to rediscover its winning ways, as Dwyane Wade told the Miami Herald after Friday's one-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets:
We've dealt with this before. The story line continues. At the end of the day, we want to play better. We would love to play better, obviously the start, the first and the third, but we had a chance to win the game. We have to find a way to pull it out.
This doesn't have to be the same team that won 27 straight games a year ago. They don't even have to play like they did when they won more than 80 percent of all their contests in 2012-13. But they do have to pick it up soon to avoid any further championship hangovers.
Lou Williams, Knee
Rajon Rondo, Knee: The Celtics are 0-2 and we still have no idea when Rondo will return. In other words, everything's right on schedule in Boston.
Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant, Achilles: If there was ever a night Kobe would ride into Staples Center on horseback, ready to play despite medical professionals' wishes, this isn't it.
Tobias Harris, Ankle: Magic.com's John Denton says Harris is still weeks away from returning, which is a shame—not just because I drafted him in two fantasy leagues, either.
New York Knicks
J.R. Smith, Suspension: Four down, one to go, New York. Fear not, your shooter of all things contested will be back in the lineup soon enough.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Vacation: That's what this is—vacation. Per Newsday's Al Iannazzone, coach Mike Woodson will give STAT the night off in favor of Kenyon Martin. This is going to be a common theme throughout the season. Get used to it. And be sure to send STAT plenty of portable board games he can play on the bench during his nights off.
*All injury information obtained via CBS Sports unless otherwise noted.
Pop-in Potential: Phoenix Suns
Tanking is the new blueprint for contending.
Not really, but if you have the opportunity to pop in on the Suns on Sunday night, you shouldn't miss this game.
Phoenix has looked awfully good through its first two contests, beating a Jazz team it was projected to out-tank and a Blazers contingent supposedly built for a playoff run. Though it hasn't always been pretty, Eric Bledsoe looks comfortable in his new digs. He continues to bomb away and is coming off a game-winning three against the Jazz.
Oklahoma City is a different kind of opponent but remains unconvincing. Durant's 42 points led the Thunder to a near-loss over the Jazz to open the season before they got pummeled by the Timberwolves two days later.
If the Suns pull off the upset against the Thunder, Twitter just might die. One week into the regular season, the Sixers will have already beaten the Heat and the Suns the Thunder. Social media cannot handle those kinds of upsets.
Our brains can't, either. So, you know, watch.
Fantasy Stock Watch
Michael Carter-Williams isn't in action tonight, so your fantasy lineup is going to stink.
Your team must go on, though. Others players are going to score, rebound and earn you tons of fantasy street cred. Certain stars are headed for an explosion. There might even be a sleeper in our midst Sunday night.
Lament the inaction of the juggernaut Sixers with me. I'll get you through, with the help of these guys.
The Big Guns
Here's a bold prediction for the Thunder-Suns game: Durant will attempt more than 11 shots.
The Durantula won't be giving us an encore of his forgettable performance against the Timberwolves. After following up a 42-point assault on the Jazz with a 13-point outing—the fewest number of points he's scored in a game since December 2011—in Minny, Durant will go off.
Plan on him torching the allegedly tanking Suns for at least 30, maybe more. Don't rule out the possibility of a triple-double either.
It's the home opener in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder aren't going to lose. Durant won't let them.
The Chosen One has toiled with a triple-double this season. Kind of.
With the Heat facing a 1-3 start, I'll be damned if he doesn't do so again. At the very least, expect him to notch his first 30-plus-point game of the season.
If one good thing can be taken away from the Thunder's loss to the Timberwolves, it's Jeremy Lamb's aggressiveness.
In 21 minutes, Lamb went for 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor to go along with four rebounds and two assists. Facing a Suns team that barely has a starting lineup, let alone a bench, this is Lamb's opportunity to string together consecutively promising performances.
With Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka playing like Brian from Thunderstruck stole their talent and not Durant's, the Thunder are going to give Lamb more touches. Expect more points to follow.