With college football taking a breather this weekend, Saturday night should be reserved exclusively for NBA viewing.
Following up Friday night's impressive 13-game slate, there are eight games set to tip off on Saturday.
Whether it's Kobe Bryant and the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers looking to knock off the surprising Charlotte Bobcats, LeBron James seeking to go 2-0 against the Cleveland Cavaliers this season or the Portland Trail Blazers searching for their 20th win, tonight's lineup certainly doesn't lack for intrigue.
Saturday Night's Lineup
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Charlotte Bobcats, 7 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Washington Wizards, 7 p.m. ET
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Atlanta Hawks vs. New York Knicks, 7:30 p.m. ET
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 8 p.m. ET
Toronto Raptors vs. Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. ET
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Dallas Mavericks, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET
Saturday's slate is largely devoid of playoff-caliber duels.
However, any time the Cleveland Cavaliers square off against LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the basketball universe is going to turn its undivided attention to this matchup.
When they meet on Saturday, Miami will be looking for its 11th win in 12 opportunities against the Cavs since James signed with the Heat in the summer of 2010.
Miami emerged victorious when the two teams clashed back on Nov. 27, defeating the Cavs 95-84 behind James' 28 points (9-of-19 shooting), eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals. On the season, James is averaging 25.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists while leading the league in player efficiency rating with a mark of 28.95.
Erik Spoelstra's bunch will need to be wary of a hot Cleveland team, though, one that enters Saturday night's matchup having won five of its last six.
And after he disappointed in the teams' last meeting (16 points on 6-of-19 shooting, three assists and four turnovers), Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving will be looking to rebound against the defending champions.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, that may prove to be a rather tall task for the 21-year-old, considering he is shooting just 39.9 percent from the field and 29.1 percent from three in road games this season.
However, according to B/R's own Grant Hughes, one way for opponents to try and get on track offensively against the Heat is to attack them from the corners:
Per NBA.com, Miami's foes have tried 142 triples from the corner this year, good for the fourth-highest total in the league. They've connected on 46.5 percent of those attempts, which ranks third in the NBA.
Miami employs more traps and blitzes on ball-handlers than anybody, and when opponents manage to escape the Heat's aggressive defensive scheme, they often get solid looks as help defenders scramble to rotate. And while it's hard to question the overall effectiveness of the Heat's defensive strategy, it's worth noting that the slightest lapses in effort often lead to disastrous results.
Leading an offense that ranks among the league's five worst in offensive efficiency, Irving will need to put forth one of his strongest individual efforts of the season to defeat a Heat team that is well rested after losing to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.
An abundance of dimes will be dropped when the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards clash on Saturday night as Chris Paul and John Wall go head-to-head in a matchup of the league's assist leaders.
Paul currently leads the NBA, dishing out 11.4 assists per game. He also holds the NBA's best assist-to-turnover mark at 4.38-to-1 among players with at least 60 assists this season.
But Wall doesn't lag far behind.
The Wizards' 23-year-old point man is holding steady at 9.2 assists per game, a mark that ranks second only to Paul.
And when you examine some advanced metrics, it's evident just how far Wall has come as a passer after his assists dropped to a career-low average of 7.6 in 49 contests last season.
According to SportVU's player tracking data, Paul and Wall are rank No. 1 and No. 2 in a number of key passing metrics.
In points created by assists per game, Paul leads the pack with a mark of 25.3, while Wall has generated 22.1 points via assists, putting him ahead of renowned passers such as Stephen Curry and Ricky Rubio. And when it comes to points created by assists per 48 minutes, Paul holds a seven-point advantage over the second-place Wall.
However, Wall holds his own when it comes to generating points off of secondary, or "hockey," assists as he's dished out 2.1 per game compared to Paul's two.
Paul's the established leader in the point guard clubhouse, but don't sleep on Wall, who's living up to the hefty contract Washington bestowed upon him shortly before the season started.
It's been tough sledding for the Los Angeles Lakers since Kobe Bryant made his return to the starting lineup last Sunday.
Three straight losses to the Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder have been bad enough, but news that Steve Blake will be out a minimum of six weeks with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow has left the Lakers extremely shorthanded at point guard.
Remember, Jordan Farmar is already sidelined until January and Steve Nash continues to deal with nagging injuries to his back and hamstring. According to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, Nash is heading back to Vancouver to rehabilitate the nerve-root irritation in his back that has limited him to appearances in six games this season.
With the team's three leading passers sidelined, the onus will fall on Bryant to do the playmaking, according to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell. For the time being, Bryant and Jodie Meeks will start in the backcourt, as general manager Mitch Kupchak has noted that finding a replacement may be difficult.
"We'll continue to look, but to find a player that can come in and play in front of Xavier, Jodie and Kobe is unlikely," Kupchak said, according to Trudell.
Although Bryant is fully capable of assuming a distributor role (he dished out 13 assists on Friday against OKC), the Lakers would undoubtedly prefer to play him off the ball, as he'll now be tasked with carrying a heavier offensive load while he continues to work himself back into game shape.
Another sign times are tough in Hollywood? Pau Gasol recently called out head coach Mike D'Antoni for not utilizing his skill set properly within the Lakers offense.
"The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness," he said, according to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. "When I'm not getting the ball where I want to, where I'm most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity."
D'Antoni responded on Friday by taking a shot at Gasol's defensive effort, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard...That’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well, you don’t have trouble getting up to the paystub line. You know what you need to do to get your check. You know what to do. They will. They’ll figure it out.
That’s one thing. They don’t want to do it that way. I understand that. That’s when you have to accept it or not. But there’s no reason not to play hard.
Matched up against a feisty Charlotte Bobcats club that ranks among the top five in defensive efficiency, the Lakers figure to have their hands full on Saturday night.
Let's take a quick look at notable players that could be held out of Saturday night's action due to injury.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hand)
The Charlotte Bobcats' defensive stopper is expected to be out for the rest of the month with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand.
Luol Deng (Achilles)
While Jimmy Butler returned from a toe injury on Friday, Luol Deng sat against the Milwaukee Bucks with a nagging Achilles injury. According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, Deng had hoped to return for Wednesday's bout with the Knicks, so he should be back sooner rather than later.
Los Angeles Clippers
J.J. Redick (Hand, Elbow)
Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick is out indefinitely with a fractured right hand and a torn ligament in his right elbow. The original prognosis was that he would miss six to eight weeks. The good news is that the injury won't require surgery, according to the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner.
Los Angeles Lakers
Jordan Farmar (Hamstring)
He's out until January with a tear in his left hamstring. Just the beginning of the Lakers' point guard woes.
Steve Blake (Elbow)
The Lakers announced on Friday that Steve Blake will be out a minimum of six weeks with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Steve Nash (Back, Hamstring)
According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Nash says that he could return at any point, but wants to make sure that his return to the starting lineup is "sustainable." Nash is taking the cautious route, and rightfully so, given his age and the number of injuries he's sustained over the past two seasons.
Michael Beasley (Hamstring)
The Heat announced on Friday that Michael Beasley will miss Saturday's game with the Cleveland Cavaliers due to a left hamstring strain.
Larry Sanders (Thumb)
It's unlikely that Bucks center Larry Sanders will return to the lineup on Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks, considering he just had the pin removed from his surgically repaired thumb, according to the Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times (Racine, Wisc.).
A more realistic return date for Sanders will be somewhere toward the end of the month.
New York Knicks
Tyson Chandler (Leg)
The Knicks' big man is inching closer toward a return, as he is now participating in all non-contact drills during practice. Don't expect him to be out there against the Atlanta Hawks, but if his timetable holds true, Chandler could be back before the New Year.
Raymond Felton (Hamstring)
Raymond Felton pulled his hamstring on Tuesday, and head coach Mike Woodson said he could be out "a little while," according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley. In his absence, Pablo Prigioni will continue to draw the start at point guard while Beno Udrih slides into the primary backup role.
Michael Carter-Williams (Knee)
The Sixers' rookie point guard hasn't played since Dec. 3 with an infection on his knee. There currently is no timetable for his return, although it isn't believed to be a long-term injury.
Portland Trail Blazers
C.J. McCollum (Foot)
Portland's 2013 lottery pick has been cleared for participation to play 3-on-3 but remains without a timetable for return, according to the Blazers.
Bradley Beal (Leg)
According to J. Michael of CSN Washington, it's unlikely that Beal will play in the Washington Wizards' back-to-back this weekend, as he continues to rehab from a stress injury to his right leg.
All injury information courtesy of CBS Sports unless noted otherwise.
At first glance, you may be thinking, "Why would I want to spend part of my Saturday night watching the Philadelphia 76ers?"
It's a puzzling proposition on the surface, but when you dig deeper, it's clear that the Sixers are among the league's most entertaining nightly watches despite their recent losing skid.
The Sixers may be falling back to earth after turning heads with a 3-0 start, but they've sustained the league's fastest pace operating in Brett Brown's high-octane offense.
Want another reason to tune into this one? The Sixers rank dead last in points allowed per game, meaning Terry Stotts' group, which leads the league in offensive efficiency (112.9 points per 100 possessions), should have a field day against an extremely porous defense. Portland's precise ball movement has truly been a sight to behold.
With MVP candidate LaMarcus Aldridge (23.5 points and 10.6 rebounds), Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews primed to take center stage in a shootout, this one could turn into must-see TV if both teams bring their A-games to Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center.
With eight games on Saturday's slate, it's time to examine a couple of superstars and a sleeper who should be plugged into lineups as the week nears a close.
The Big Guns
Although Carmelo Anthony hasn't been particularly efficient in two games against the Atlanta Hawks this season—shooting below 40 percent from the field in both contests—he managed to score at least 23 points on both occasions and recorded a double-double in New York's 20-point loss on Nov. 16.
And despite entering Friday night shooting 44 percent from the field, Anthony's been more efficient of late, scoring 23.7 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting so far this month. In fact, prior to the Friday contest with the Boston Celtics, Anthony had shot 60 percent or better in three of his last five games.
More good news for Anthony owners: Due in part to Tyson Chandler's absence, Anthony has picked up the slack on the glass and is currently averaging a career-best 9.4 boards per game.
While praise continues to be heaped on another Western Conference forward with a sweet fadeaway jumper, Dirk Nowitzki is quietly putting together an extremely productive season.
Nowitzki, who's averaging 21 points per game, is percentage points away from cracking 50/40/90 splits, shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from three and 92.6 percent from the free-throw line. Over the last seven days, Nowitzki has been a man on a mission, dropping 23 points per night while grabbing 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
With a matchup looming against a Milwaukee Bucks defense that ranks among the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency, fantasy owners should be salivating as Nowitzki has a chance to toy with a platoon consisting of John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova.
Michael Carter-Williams' knee infection has made Tony Wroten a hot commodity on the waiver wire, as his ownership has increased by 26.7 percent over the last week in ESPN leagues.
Filling in as the starting point guard, Wroten has averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 dimes during the month of December, and he even dropped in a career-high five three-pointers against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
Matched up against a Portland Trail Blazers defense that's surrendering 106.2 points per 100 possessions, Wroten shouldn't have much trouble getting to the rim.
According to the NBA's SportVU tracking data, Wroten entered Friday night ranked No. 16 overall in points per game on drives (5.1), tied with Kyrie Irving.
Even when Carter-Williams returns, Wroten is worth owning in deeper leagues. He's emerged as a reliable sixth man who excels at creating instant offense in Brett Brown's uptempo system.