Often I find myself looking back on games – what happened last night? What big highlights did I miss? Who dropped 40? Who is the hottest team right now? Who has the longest winning streak? As we have now crossed the all-star break and the season is really getting into the stretch run, I wanted to be more proactive to look forward to what’s coming next. Let’s get hyped for what’s on the horizon! Here are the key teams, players, and games that have caught my eye in the next two weeks that I will be paying attention to, and I think you should too. Here’s your 15 day forecast.
NBA Dates: 3/5/20 – 3/18/20
- LA Clippers @ Houston: Thursday 3/5 8:00 ET TNT – Two teams that are in the thick of the homecourt battle in the West (#3 and #4 seed at the moment). I’m curious to see Houston’s small ball (6’7s or less) against the Clippers, who can toss out a very formidable centerless team as well – Beverly-Shamet-PG-Kawhi + Morris or even Jackson/Williams if you want to go really small. I’ll be watching to see if Doc wants to use that counter or if he would rather keep it in the bag for the postseason.
- Washington @ Atlanta Friday 3/6 7:00 ET LP Only – With the 28th and 30th ranked defensive teams in the NBA, this just cracks the list to see if anyone can spot two consecutive defensive stops by either team. We might just get a pair of teams in the 150s. Beal and Trae are both officially on the 50-point watch list. In the last game the two played they combined for 85 points, as the Hawks were victorious by a score of 152-133! Fantasy (DFS) players will not be skipping this one.
- Milwaukee @ Los Angeles Lakers Friday 3/6 10:30 ET ESPN – If you don’t have league pass, or have conveniently cleared your entire Friday night, you are going to want to settle in for this nightcap as well. The Lakers face off against the Bucks in a potential NBA Finals preview. The top seed in the East vs the top seed in the West. Giannis vs LeBron – likely the top two MVP finishers this season. These teams are a combined 98-22. Sign me up. Milwaukee soundly won round one 111-104 (led by 19 at half) but this one is in LA, and Giannis probably won’t be going 5/8 (his season high) from downtown this time around.
- Los Angeles Lakers @ LA Clippers Sunday 3/8 3:30 ET ABC – There are a lot of great games coming up this weekend. Clippers vs Lakers probably doesn’t need too much added explanation as the teams battle for the supremacy of Los Angeles. The Clippers have won both meetings thus far, and though this game probably won’t be too important for seeding, I think starting 0-3 might damage the Lakers’ psyche just a bit. I expect them to come out with a fury.
- New Orleans @ Utah Friday 3/13 9:00 ET ESPN – No list would be complete without a Zion game. The Pelicans are still hanging around in the hunt for the eight seed, although the team will have to increase its sense of urgency soon. Utah has been scuffling and needs to start winning to avoid a road matchup in round one road against a scary opponent in the Clippers or Rockets. Above all else though, I just really want to see Zion attack the basket with a head of steam as Gobert attempts to protect the rim.
- Toronto: I’ve been keying in on the Raptors a bit more recently, mostly just because I love watching them play. They are just relentless. It feels like they never stop moving, never stop attacking, never stop forcing the issue. Their ball pressure reminds me of a hard-nosed NCAA team – only much scarier as they have an abundance of length and quickness. They also seem to have no weak links in their rotation, especially when VanVleet and Gasol are back, which will hopefully be soon. They have slipped a bit recently, losers of three straight, but the team was shorthanded in those games. For this two-week stretch, they will be completing a 5 game Western road trip, coming home for some easier games (Det, GS), and finishing with the 76ers. I’m anxious to see if they can regain their footing and continue to push hard for the Eastern 2nd seed. Gasol and Embiid battling in the post is always something I’m looking forward to so here’s hoping they both are healthy enough to play in that game.
- Brooklyn: Brooklyn has nosedived as of late, as the team had lost four consecutive games before their crazy comeback over Boston and recently lost Kyrie Irving to a season-ending surgery. At 27-33, they amazingly still have a 5 game lead on the 9th place Wizards at the moment. I know what you’re thinking. Who cares? The right to get walloped (Detroit 2019 style) against the Bucks? I care. I’m jumping on board Team Regular Season Matters. I know Zach Lowe is with me. You play to win the game! The sad .440-win percentage makes the race slightly less exciting, but it’s still a race for a playoff spot. It’s still exciting for a team and a city to score two home games, and maybe even steal game 1 or game 2 (Orlando last year) and come home fired up with a chance to take the series lead at home (Maybe as a Minnesota native, I’m slightly influenced by the fact that I’ve seen 1 playoff appearance in the past 15 years – sigh). With the draft being so bereft of high-end talent (according to scouts) this year, I don’t think making the playoffs should be something any of the East dregs shy away from. The possible exception could actually be these Nets, as they will lose their pick to Minnesota if it’s outside the lottery. Even with that, I think the growth of some of their younger players, as well as showcasing them for a possible trade (Kyrie/LeVert/Dinwiddie is a crowded ball dominant backcourt) would be worth getting into the postseason for.
- Steph Curry – Steph’s plan to return in early March was thwarted by the Warriors pushing his timetable back, so I’m running this one back. The latest blurb has him possibly playing on Thursday, March 5th against Toronto. We remain deprived of the two-time MVP and a game against the defending champion Raptors on TNT seems like a great environment to see him get back on the hardwood.
- Paul George – George has had a bit of an up and down season thus far for the Clippers, but lately the team has hit a little stride, as they’ve won five straight. Also, the Clippers are 9-0 when fully healthy and with just under 25% of the year left to go, now is the time for PG to ramp it up. They will need George clicking on all cylinders in the playoffs to reach their ceiling and topple some of the other West powerhouses.
- Victor Oladipo – Still only 10 games into his season, Oladipo has career lows in all of his shooting percentages and is still struggling to totally reacclimate himself to the lineup. Indiana is just 5-5 in games Oladipo has played, although they have won their last four. With Philly hobbled (and nightmarish on the road), Indiana could be a real threat to make a little playoff noise if Oladipo can find his groove and become 85% of his former self.
- Kristaps Porzingis – Coming off of his best month this year, one in which he averaged 25-10 on 48-39-88 splits, I feel like the Zinger might finally be feeling comfortable with his knee and his new team. I want to see if this is just a (prolonged) hot stretch or if the ceiling of this Mavs team might be even higher than I realized here in their first year of the Luka-Kristaps pairing. Already sporting the best offense in the league, a top five MVP candidate, and one of the best coaches in the league, Porzingis being dialed in as the best version of himself would be a frightening sight to see as a Mavs opponent.
Semi-serious Semi-educated Bold Predictions:
- The Clippers defeat the Lakers again and surpass them as favorites to come out of the West. Currently rolling and have the shiny “undefeated when healthy” tag, another win for the Clips over the top seeded Lakers will have pundits and betting markets flipping the Clippers to favorites over the Lakers to win the West.
- The Kings close within a game of the Grizzlies for the 8th seed. The Kings will be at home for five of their next six games and have been playing much better as of late, while the Grizz have scuffled lately, partially due to injuries. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. Could they break this be the year they break the drought?
- The Heat go undefeated. This did not go well. The Heat immediately lost in their first game, allowing 50 points to Trae Young. They did beat the Bucks and went 4-3, but the team lost some ugly games (Hawks, Cavs, Wolves) Grade: C-
The Cavs go winless. This also did not go well. As my last piece was being edited, coach Beilein stepped down and the Cavs received the classic play hard for your new coach bump. They immediately won 3 of their next 4, although they did draw a Philly team without their stars. They finished 3-4. Grade: D+