CHI @ NYK: The rest of the Knicks will be tired from that loss to the Pacers, so Melo figures to dominate the ball (and the scoring) even more than usual. These teams played a barnburner at MSG on December 21, with Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler tossed out for a skirmish and nine technical fouls called. Raymond Felton (hand) was playing then; 39-year-old Jason Kidd may be wearing down in his absence. I’m sticking with Carlos Boozer after six straight double-doubles, but the game is too close to call.
MIN @ NOH: Since Kevin Love re-injured his hand, the Wolves have lost two of three. Derrick Williams is putting up better numbers off the bench, but Dante Cunningham remains the starting PF, while Nikola Pekovic has picked up his scoring and rebounding to become a must-start. Andrei Kirilenko will be more productive when he isn’t guarding superstars; he gets Al-Farouq Aminu instead of Kevin Durant this evening. The Hornets have been much better since Eric Gordon returned, if only because he spreads the floor. They are also getting a lift from Jason Smith, to the dismay of Anthony Davis owners. The rookie’s minutes are way down in this 3-game win streak.
SAS @ MEM: This is a marquee matchup between divisional rivals, though it’s unlikely to be a fantasy goldmine. Memphis will crank up its defensive intensity and the Spurs — who have struggled of late on the road — will try to solve them. The battle up front is particularly interesting; Tiago Splitter has rather quietly emerged as the starting C and his minutes keep rising. He and Tim Duncan will need to be at their best against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
CLE @ DEN: It will be fun to watch Kyrie Irving and Ty Lawson turn on the jets against each other, but Cleveland has no real chance. Kenneth Faried will be a very tough matchup for Tristan Thompson and at C, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee each present different problems for Tyler Zeller, whose NBA baptism-by-fire will continue for several more weeks now that Anderson Varejao is having quad surgery. As usual, look for the Denver bench (led by Andre Miller) to keep up the fast tempo.
POR @ GSW: I’m never a fan of the Blazers in back-to-backs, as they rely so heavily on five players. Off an emotional win at home over the defending champions, a letdown is more than possible. Rested and at home, the Warriors will be determined to stop a 2-game slide (against the Clippers and Grizzlies) so look for Stephen Curry and David Lee to break out with big games. It might be close and high-scoring, but Golden State will have more life and determination when it counts.
OKC @ LAL: Even if the Lakers were at full strength, this would be quite a challenge. As well as Metta World Peace has been playing at PF, he’s giving up a lot of height and reach to Serge Ibaka, and it won’t be easy for venerable Steve Nash to stop Russell Westbrook. The last time these teams met, Kevin Durant (36) outscored Kobe Bryant (35) so expect more of the same. We’ll see if Earl Clark can follow up his amazing 22-point, 13-rebound performance on Wednesday with a reasonable facsimile; I think he’ll be too busy chasing Kevin Martin. L.A. has lost five in a row, so there’s a sense of desperation that could make this quite exciting, but the Thunder should prevail.
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