Definitive Guide to Pacers vs. Spurs and Saturday's NBA Action
If you've got NBA League Pass at your disposal, you may want to reconsider your weekend plans.
For Saturday evening, at least. The schedule-makers were kind enough to grace us with a nine-game slate that features more than its fair share of juicy matchups.
How about a showcase of beautiful offensive basketball that'd bring a tear to Dr. James Naismith's bespectacled eye? The Miami Heat's trip up north to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves should suffice. So too should the Western Conference clash between the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Maybe you're a basketball masochist. In that case, the torture-chamber-of-a-game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks will do just fine.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs will be going toe-to-toe in a potential NBA Finals preview?
Yeah, you're going to want to cancel those dinner reservations; you've got a date with your TV (or laptop...or other video device). Be sure to let us know which players and games you'll have your eyes on in the comments section below!
Saturday Night's Lineup
Denver Nuggets vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 7 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Detroit Pistons vs. Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. ET
Golden State Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET
Miami Heat vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 8 p.m. ET
Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Indiana Pacers vs. San Antonio Spurs, 8:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Best Matchup of the Night: Indiana Pacers vs. San Antonio Spurs
Both of these teams are all too familiar with the sting of coming up short against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
Each pushed Miami to seven games in 2013 playoffs—Indy in the Eastern Conference Finals, San Antonio in the NBA Finals. Each can point to a specific play (LeBron James' game-winning layup in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Ray Allen's miraculous three in Game 6 of the NBA Finals) that ultimately unraveled its hopes of finishing the job.
And both have come back even stronger this season. At 17-2, the Pacers sport the league's best record along with the best point differential (plus-10.2), the best defense, arguably the best center in Roy Hibbert and one of the three-to-four best players in basketball in rising superstar Paul George.
The Spurs haven't done too shabby either. Their 15-3 record is the second-best in the ultra-competitive West, and their plus-9.8 point differential is second only to Indy's. The Spurs don't have a singular superstar on whom they've leaned, unless you put Tony Parker in that category, though they do sport a whopping nine guys contributing at least seven points per game.
In essence, San Antonio gets the job done with its by-committee depth, while Indy succeeds on the strength of its superb starting five.
Each approach has worked quite well so far, though only one can prevail at the AT&T Center on Saturday night.
Must-See Individual Matchup: Chris Paul vs. Kyrie Irving
Those fans lucky enough to snag seats at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday will be treated to a tango between the present and future of the point guard position in the NBA.
In one corner will be Chris Paul, the league leader in assists (11.8 per game) and probably no worse than the third- or fourth-best basketball player on planet Earth right now. His Clippers are sitting at a comfortable 13-7, with a wrist injury to J.J. Redick testing the team's tremendous backcourt depth.
And in the other corner will be Kyrie Irving, who seems to have regressed in his third year. Cleveland's latest savior went scoreless for the first time in his career during a 19-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night and has seen his shooting percentages collapse across the board amid the chaos that's subsumed the Cavs' once-promising season.
CP3 has his sights set on much bigger things than a December showdown with a 21-year-old All-Star stuck on a 6-13 sinking ship. Paul's trying to put his Clips in position to compete for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs—and for a championship thereafter.
The onus then is on Kyrie to step up his game against the best floor general around if he intends to own that throne sooner rather than later.
Who Has the Most on the Line?
You could throw any number of middling Western Conference teams into the mix here, but I'll go with the Minnesota Timberwolves. They may not be taking on a team from their own side of the bracket, but their home game against the Miami Heat is no less important.
The T-Wolves have dropped seven of 10 games since their sizzling 6-3 start and may well have been losers of eight out of their last 11 right now had their matchup with the Spurs in Mexico City not been postponed.
As it stands, Minny is sitting at 9-10 through its first 19 games, "good" enough for 12th place in the West, in a virtual tie with the New Orleans Pelicans and just behind the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wolves can ill-afford to see their slide continue if they're to keep pace with the 11 teams out West that currently sport non-losing records.
Furthermore, if Minny is to convince Kevin Love (who'll be absent from this game for personal reasons) to stick around over the long haul, it certainly can't spare many more losses, lest it watch the franchise's first playoff appearance in a decade slip away.
And perhaps its All-Star power forward along with it.
Here's a look at some of the biggest names who maybe/probably/definitely won't be suiting up for their respective squads on Saturday.
Derrick Rose (knee)
He's still out for the year until further notice.
Jimmy Butler (turf toe)
Butler's back to running, though he's yet to return to practice with the Chicago Bulls, per ESPNChicago.com's Doug Padilla.
Devin Harris (toe)
Harris hasn't played yet this season and isn't expected to on Saturday.
Ty Lawson (hamstring)
Lawson strained his hamstring during the Nuggets' loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday. It's unclear if he'll be available to play against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.
Chauncey Billups (knee)
Billups has been battling knee tendinitis all season, though he hopes to be back soon after returning to practice with the Pistons this week, per Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News.
Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala (hamstring)
Iggy has been out on account of a bad hammy since November 22 and isn't expected to be back for some time, though he's currently traveling with the Warriors.
Danny Granger (calf)
Still no Granger for the Pacers...not that they've needed him or anything.
Ed Davis (ankle)
Davis sprained his ankle during the Grizzlies' loss to the Clippers on Thursday. There's no word yet as to whether he'll be able to play against the Warriors on Saturday.
Marc Gasol (knee)
Gasol's knee is still sprained, so he'll continue to sit.
Dwyane Wade (illness)
Wade missed the Heat's blowout loss to the Bulls with a case of the flu. His status for Saturday's game in Minny remains undisclosed.
Caron Butler (knee)
Butler wasn't with the Bucks for their overtime win against the Wizards in D.C. on Friday.
Kevin Love (personal reasons)
Love isn't injured, though he won't be in the building for Minny's matchup with Miami on account of the death of his maternal grandmother, per Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Michael Carter-Williams (knee)
MCW missed the Sixers' loss to the Bobcats on Friday and will probably sit out Saturday's tilt with the Nuggets on account of soreness in his right knee, per Christopher A. Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times.
Pop-in Potential: Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers
If you have yet to catch the Portland Trail Blazers in action this season, might I recommend getting your first glimpse on Saturday night?
The Blazers will welcome the Dallas Mavericks, winners of their last two, to the Moda Center (formerly the Rose Garden) for what figures to be an absolute barnburner. Portland sports the most efficient offense in basketball, not far ahead of Dallas' fifth-ranked brigade.
Keying both of those attacks will be lightning-quick pick-and-roll guards (Damian Lillard for the Blazers, Monta Ellis for the Mavs) and the power forwards (LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki) who make them look so good. The matchup between Aldridge and Nowitzki should be particularly juicy. The former, with his old-school post-up game and penchant for nailing mid-range jumpers, is arguably the best power forward going today (depending on how you feel about Kevin Love), while the latter is far from finished, even at the tender age of 35.
Portland has won eight straight in its own building, though it may be due for a comeuppance after scoring massive wins over the Pacers and the Thunder prior to Friday's blowout of the Utah Jazz.
I may not be a fantasy expert (as my side blog should make abundantly clear), though I surely know enough about the NBA to pitch these guys for big nights on Saturday...right?
The Big Guns
If you thought Boogie's numbers against the Los Angeles Lakers (20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block) were impressive, just wait until you see what he does against the Utah Jazz's fragile front line of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Per HoopsStats.com, the Jazz have surrendered the third-most points and fourth-most rebounds per game to opposing frontcourts in the NBA thus far.
Throw in Cousins' career line of 18-12-4 against Utah, and you've got yourself a fantasy winner if the big boy for the Sacramento Kings is in your lineup.
I know, I know. CP3 will probably have his hands full guarding Kyrie Irving on Saturday night, to the point where it might infringe on his ability to put up big numbers for your fantasy squad.
But don't let that discourage you—not that it would. According to HoopsStats.com, opposing point guards have torched the Cavaliers for an average line of 18.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 10.6 assists and 2.5 steals this season.
To be sure, Paul won't play all of L.A.'s minutes at the point, and if this game turns into the blowout that it should, then he won't play much at all. Then again, Cleveland's strength on the interior, with Andrew Bynum rounding into form, could keep the Cavs within arm's reach of the Clips, thereby forcing Paul to come to his team's rescue for the umpteenth time.
Much to the delight of your fantasy team, hopefully.
Assuming Michael Carter-Williams is indeed out of commission for the Sixers, Tony Wroten should be in line for another big night, this time against the potentially Ty Lawson-less Denver Nuggets. In five starts this season, Wroten has averaged 20-4-6 with a shade under two steals, including Friday night's 21-8-9 at the Bobcats' expense.
If the 37-year-old Andre Miller ends up starting in Lawson's place on Saturday, expect the young, athletic Wroten to run (and jump) circles around him.
And stuff the stat sheet in the process.
Everybody's workin' for the weekend on Twitter!