The NBA schedule-makers thought they'd struck gold with Thursday night's three-game slate. If not for the anti-Empire State basketball gods and an injury-bug epidemic, they would have.
Through the offseason lens, this lineup was built as a show-and-prove slugfest with conference bragging rights and playoff implications at stake:
- New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets, 7 p.m. ET (TNT)
- Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET
- Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
But most of the teams in action don't pack the same punch we thought they would this summer:
Thursday's entire slate reeks of shattered dreams. Nets-Knicks misery, Heat-Bulls without Rose, Clippers-Grizz without Gasol and maybe Zbo.— Rob Mahoney (@RobMahoney) December 4, 2013
Injuries have decimated the star power that should have been on display. A quick scan through the injury report, via CBS Sports, shows how none of these six teams have been spared.
Marc Gasol (knee) is out indefinitely for the Grizzlies (9-8), and his frontcourt mate Zach Randolph (toe) is questionable. The Clippers (12-7) won't have sharpshooter J.J. Redick (wrist) until after the New Year.
The night's prizefight could be missing heavyweights on both sides. Derrick Rose (knee) and Jimmy Butler (toe) are out for the Bulls (7-9). The two-time defending champion Heat (14-4) may or may not have Dwyane Wade available, who's questionable with nagging knee soreness.
Brooklyn and New York have their own injury concerns, but those health problems are one item on a laundry list of issues:
Knicks and Nets are going to have a hell of a time figuring out how they can both lose on Thursday.— Rob Mahoney (@RobMahoney) December 3, 2013
So, have the vengeful basketball gods really sapped all the fun out of Thursday night's three-game session?
Not in the least.
The battle for the Big Apple should be thrilling, even if it's a bit rough around the edges. These two teams split their four meetings last season, and just one of those games was decided by more than seven points.
The Clippers and Grizzlies have battled in the playoffs during each of the last two seasons, and both series went at least six games. Memphis already struck first in this series series with a 106-102 win at Staples Center on Nov. 18, and L.A. has its own motivation in trying to snap a two-game losing streak.
Few teams can step it up with this much visual appeal.
The Bulls-Heat pairing is one of the best rivalries going in today's game, with or without Rose. Chicago has taken seven of its 12 regular-season matchups with Miami since the Big Three was formed in 2010, but Miami has laughed last with a pair of five-game playoff series wins.
Which game are you most excited to see?
Emotions will be high inside the United Center, no matter which players take the floor. It's always that way with these two clubs.
"We don't like them, they don't like us," James said, via ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh. "It's not unheard of. We all know how it is."
Yes, LeBron, we do know how it is. And we know that nothing—not even injuries or deservedly bruised egos—can spoil what will be a great night of NBA hoops.
No matter how hard those spiteful basketball gods and relentless injury bugs try.