NBA Predictions: Top 20 Games to Watch For in 2011
For every team, each game is just one of 82 games played throughout the course of a regular season. It doesn't matter to them which games are wins or losses as long as they make the playoffs or get a really good chance at the lottery.
But to the fans, some games matter just a little bit more than others.
There's a big difference between watching the New Jersey Nets take on the Minnesota Timberwolves and watching the Dallas Mavericks battle it out against the Boston Celtics.
It may be fun for every player who gets to be there on the court but the fans are the ones who have to actually watch the games and a lot of people pay a lot of money to watch these games, so you better believe they have standards.
With 2010 dwindling down and four more months of exciting regular season basketball left, I'm going to call out the Top 20 games to watch in 2011.
Also, to make this article more fun, when you read my titles on the top of every slide, imagine that a guy with a really deep voice is saying it all intense, like they do in videos.
Get your calenders ready.
20. Washington Wizards vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Showdown: March 12
The Los Angeles Clippers (10-22) and the Washington Wizards (7-22) are among the worst teams in the league yet they each have a gem ready to be showcased.
Blake Griffin of the Clippers and John Wall of the Wizards will go up against each other for the first time of their careers.
What makes this game even more significant is that Griffin was the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft and Wall was the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft. And due to the season-ending surgery to Griffin before his rookie season started, they're both seeking that Rookie of the Year award for 2010.
Although Griffin and Wall are extremely talented players, they are talented at different positions and they are leading their teams in different ways, so it will be tough for voters to decide based on statistics alone.
I believe that the way they perform against each other will have some effect on their votes for Rookie of the Year.
19. Houston Rockets vs. New Orleans Hornets
Showdown: Jan. 14
Series: NOH Leads 1-0
After starting the season 5-12, the Houston Rockets have reemerged in the Western Conference and now stand at 15-15, but there are a few teams who stand in their way. The New Orleans Hornets are one of them, but they have watered down their great start and now sit at 18-13, leaving the Rockets only two and a half games back.
This makes for a great match up between two competitive point guards in Aaron Brooks and Chris Paul, who each lead the way as captains of their teams.
The Rockets have been struggling to find any sort of identity early on in the season as they were trying to figure out how Yao Ming would fit in their rotation. But as previous seasons prove, they are better off without Yao.
Yao's talent is not as great as others would think and I hate to break this to you all, but without his height he would have been nowhere in this league.
The Rockets play a lot better in the open floor and with Brooks leading the way, I'm certain that this will be a high scoring affair for both teams.
18. Boston Celtics vs. Utah Jazz
Showdown: Jan. 21
When I think of the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics, I think of loud fans and feisty half court defenders, which will make this a very interesting game.
What makes this game so interesting are all the match ups that both teams will have to adjust to throughout the game.
They both have two talented point guards in Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo, but these guards have several options to turn to on the wing and on the post.
At any given time, Williams can pass it to Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap or Andrei Kirilenko and to make it fair, Rondo has Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
These types of matchups won't occur often as I doubt they'll appear in the finals together but it is always fun to watch two great teams battle it out in a traditional half-court set.
17. Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat
Showdown: Feb. 16
Series: MIA Leads 1-0
LeBron James received his home crowd welcoming back in Cleveland and it is only fair for Chris Bosh to get his own appreciation night. I just didn't realize that it came on the same night as the Raptor-Heat game in Toronto.
I feel like the crowd will be just as hostile towards Bosh as they were in Cleveland, even though Bosh didn't leave in the manner that James did.
Cleveland set a precedent for Toronto to treat Bosh terribly and I'm sure Raptor fans don't want to be shown up by Cleveland on how to boo their former superstar.
I expect this to be a one-sided game with Miami leading through the whole game, but don't be surprised to see Toronto give them a run or two down the stretch.
The Raptors just aren't strong enough to match up against Miami and don't have any good finishers to help them at the end of a game.
16. Atlanta Hawks vs. Orlando Magic
Showdown: March 30
Series: ATL Leads 2-1
The Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic match up very well against each other and considering that they might end up with a tied record at the end of the season, this game could help break that tie.
The Hawks have played the same core players for awhile now and they have grown to become very good together, so it will be interesting to see how the new look Magic play against a well balanced team that they might have to face in the playoffs.
There are a lot of chemistry questions surrounding the Magic and Hawks will test them since they are not a championship contending team, but at the same time they are not a team to disregard.
At the point of the season where this game will be played, it will be a great measuring stick for both teams to use and they will be able to see what adjustments need to be made for the playoffs.
15. Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Hornets
Showdown: March 24
With a potential playoff matchup down the road, the Jazz need to look at this game seriously. The chances of the Western Conference being in a tight race is high, so it will be entertaining to watch two old foes battle it out in Utah.
The Jazz are normally favored on their home court given their record in the past, but with their recent struggles the Hornets stand a good chance.
In order for the Hornets to take the season series against the Jazz, Chris Paul needs to find a way to lock down Deron Williams on defense and set up open players on offense.
The Jazz are the type of team that struggles on fast break defense, so by running the ball the Hornets increase their chances of winning.
14. New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Showdown: Feb. 11
There is something about playing at Madison Square Garden that Kobe Bryant just loves, so much so that he lights up the scoreboard every chance he gets, so you better bet he will do the same in this one.
Bryant and the Lakers are struggling and by the time they reach this road game, I am unsure of how well they'll be able to handle Amar'e Stoudemire and the Knicks.
But this will be a good test for Bryant who has been questioned by critics on his ability to take over games. If he can't even take over a game at one of his more favorite locations then maybe he it's time to accept that he is on the decline.
13. Utah Jazz vs. Chicago Bulls
Showdown: Feb. 9
Carlos Boozer makes his first trip back to Utah after signing with the Chicago Bulls and with all the things he has done for the Utah Jazz, it's hard to imagine him getting too much of a negative homecoming. It is hard to tell since Utah is a very hostile crowd to go against.
They still have a couple months to decide whether or not they'll forgive Boozer or not, so time will tell.
The Jazz have to find a way to get Al Jefferson around Boozer for his offense to get into rhythm. Boozer is a very good defender and Jefferson must be a main component for a Jazz victory over the Bulls.
Deron Williams will have a handful to deal with Derrick Rose, both offensively and defensively.
This might be a very physical game.
12. Phoenix Suns vs. Orlando Magic
Showdown: March 13
Series: ORL Leads 1-0
When we get past the trade deadline, everyone will see Steve Nash in a Suns uniform. I do believe, however, that he might play on one more team before he retires.
Nash will have to battle against some of his old teammates in Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson and it is always fun to watch these reunions take place.
The Suns don't have much going for them anymore, so I think the Magic can easily snag this victory and it will eat at Nash's patience just a little bit more. All the Suns' core players are at a constant change and he is the only one who stays put.
It will only make him wonder when it is his turn.
11. San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Showdown: Jan. 1
Series: SAS Leads 1-0
It will be a great way to start the New Year as the league's best team in the San Antonio Spurs will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have emerged out of their shell these past two seasons.
Kevin Durant still has a lot to prove in this league and the capability of beating this year's best team is one of them. The Spurs have already beaten them once this year but a victory in San Antonio should help their confidence a bit.
The Spurs play a different style and I believe that the Thunder have the ability and foot speed to keep up with them. If they cover their players on defense better than they did in their last matchup together, they stand a good chance.
Durant also needs to have a spectacular game and lead his team in this one because the Spurs are not an easy team to beat.
10. Orlando Magic vs. Miami Heat
Showdown: March 3
The Magic and Heat might see each other in the Eastern Conference Finals, so it will be fun to watch an evenly matched team play like there is something at stake in this game.
I believe that both teams will come out of the gates on fire since they're both very passionate about beating each other and the way they played in their last two games, I can tell that this one will be no different.
Dwight Howard has always been criticized for not having enough moves and how his game is very limited and it will be fun to watch him battle against Chris Bosh on the post. We'll see if he decides to show more of his game.
LeBron James will have no trouble penetrating through the Magic defense since they don't have anyone fast enough to keep up with him, so he might be able to put away the game if he gets his teammates involved early.
9. Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat
Showdown: Jan. 15
The Chicago Bulls have not played the Miami Heat so far this season so there first meeting together should be pretty interesting to watch and since both teams realize how important it is to get that first win of the series, I expect this one to be rough.
Derrick Rose will be able to get what he wants out of the Heat since I don't think they will waste much of Dwyane Wade's energy chasing down Rose on the defensive end.
The Bulls might be able to bull away with a victory in this one if they can find a way to contain at least one of the Miami's big three.
8. Phoenix Suns vs. New York Knicks
Showdown: Jan. 7
This will be a very emotional return for Amar'e Stoudemire, who has not played in Phoenix since losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
This is the city he had all his success in and it is also the city where he played through his major injuries. There have been long talks about him being traded and there was no doubt that he was a main component to the Suns playoff runs.
There was a lot of question marks on his ability to lead a team and a lot of people thought that Nash was the primary reason for his success, I guess he proved all his critics wrong and I think Stoudamire will look to have a big performance in this game to offset all those talks for resurfacing.
7. Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Showdown: Jan. 19
In recent years, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to have had the Dallas Mavericks' number almost every game, but with the Lakers struggling the Mavericks have a chance at redemption.
The Lakers seem to have no answer for the elite teams in the league and it is unsure whether they'll patch up their recent struggles by the time they fly over to Dallas.
If Dirk Nowitzki goes strong against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, it will remove almost all of their front court presence and from there they can open up the floor for their shooters.
6. New York Knicks vs. San Antonio Spurs
Showdown: Jan. 4
This will be another test for the New York Knicks when the San Antonio Spurs fly into town.
Amar'e Stoudemire is looking to showcase all his dominance to any team that comes in New York, so who better than the league's best?
The Spurs won't be easy as they'll probably have a strategy to take Stoudemire out of the game and have his teammates carry the load. The Knicks will have to try and stop the Spurs on the open floor who have dramatically improved from there this season.
5. San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks
Showdown: Jan. 14
Series: DAL Leads 1-0
It feels like it's a few years back and the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks are battling it out for the first seed of the west.
With both teams coming through with a recovered roster, it looks like they can finally renew their rivalry with some decent games that have a purpose.
The Mavericks have already beaten them this season, so the Spurs will be sure to come back with a vengeance in this next game to try and even the series.
Both teams realize how important home court advantage is, so they will be sure to battle hard against their matches together.
4. New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Showdown: March 21
Series: BOS Leads 2-0
The New York Knicks will look to recover from their previous two losses against Boston by battling them out on their home floor. They lost a couple games that were really discouraging for them, especially when you consider how minimal the deficit.
They match up well against the Celtics so you can pretty much expect another hard fought game that will be taken down to the wire, although if any team pulls away from this one it will be the Knicks.
They play well enough at home and I know Amar'e Stoudemire is looking to get the Celtics back for those two games.
3. Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Showdown: March 10
Series: MIA Leads 1-0
If anybody needs to redeem themselves for a terrible game, it's the Los Angeles Lakers. They will go off to Miami to face off with the Heat one more time this regular season and try to show the world that they can battle with the best of them.
The Lakers have a lot of time to get their act together and there are other big opponents to play against before this game, but they need their star player in Kobe Bryant to take better shots and get his team focused.
If Miami wants to sweep off the Lakers, then they need to come out with that focus that they had on Christmas Day and a triple-double from LeBron won't hurt them either.
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Showdown: Jan. 30
The Lakers and Celtics haven't played a game against one another since that Game 7 in Los Angeles back in June and it isn't hard to figure out what the Celtics have in mind for this first regular season match up.
There are a few players who have changed since their last meeting, the most notable being Shaquille O'Neal, who also happens to be Kobe Bryant's rival.
There will be a lot more incentives to watch the Lakers and Celtics this time around and one can only imagine the confrontations that might occur from this game.
1. Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
Showdown: Feb. 13
Series: BOS Leads 2-0
The Boston Celtics were able to pull away with two early season victories off the Miami Heat but it seems like this may be a whole new series as Miami has awoken and become a whole new team.
This will be a great test for Miami to see how much they have actually improved from the early onset of the season, since they already played the Celtics twice and know what to expect. This is also another possible matchup in the playoffs so both teams understand how important this game is.
If the Celtics are able to contain Miami this time, it may give them a mental edge over the Heat to the point where the Heat might question whether or not they can actually beat them in a seven game series.