OKC @ LAC: It was no surprise that Chris Paul (bruised knee) took the night off, or that Eric Bledsoe (12 PTS, 4 AST) was no match for Russell Westbrook (26 PTS, 6 AST, 4 REB), or that Kevin Durant (32 PTS, 7 AST, 7 REB) is unstoppable. Serge Ibaka (17 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST) helped the Thunder roll to a predictable win. As a team, they hit 15 of 27 three-pointers, while the Clippers made just four of 16. Blake Griffin (31 PTS, 11 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL) did all he could and the bench scored 38 points, but in a back-to-back without their best player, L.A. was simply overmatched. Basketball fans can only hope that these teams are healthy if (when?) they square off in a playoff series.
January 23 Game Previews
TOR @ MIA: We could see the debut of Chris Andersen, as Miami signed the always colorful Birdman to a 10-day contract and a shot-blocking rebounder is exactly what they lack. Chris Bosh can really use the help against big centers, and I like him tonight against his former team, which features Ed Davis at PF and Amir Johnson at C. The only Raptors edge is at PG, where Jose Calderon starts and Kyle Lowry comes off the bench. Both are capable of big numbers, depending on how the minutes are divided. LeBron James could easily triple-double, though if it’s a blowout, he may not be needed in the fourth quarter.
ATL @ CHA: This is no sure thing, as the Hawks have lost six straight road games and have some key injuries. Devin Harris (ankle) might return to back up Jeff Teague at PG, with Jannero Pargo the next option if Harris can’t go. Zaza Pachulia (Achilles) is doubtful, which moves Al Horford back to C and Josh Smith to PF, with Kyle Korver my best guess at SF. Horford (hamstring) skipped practice yesterday but looked great on Monday. The Bobcats will be determined to win after dropping 15 straight home games. Kemba Walker has been sensational, but they need more scoring from other spots.
LAL @ MEM: Dealing away Speights was all about cap management for the Grizzlies, though it has two peripheral effects. First, it’s a ringing endorsement of Darrell Arthur, whose minutes will increase as he’s now the primary backup at both C and PF. Secondly, it lowers the frequency and volume of trade rumors surrounding Rudy Gay (and even Zach Randolph) which should make the locker room a happier place. Meanwhile, frustration is boiling over for the Lakers, career mediocrity Earl Clark is starting ahead of an astonished Pau Gasol, nobody likes Mike D’Antoni and Memphis is a very tough place to turn around a long slump.
DET @ CHI: The emergence of Jimmy Butler has been a positive development for Chicago. With Luol Deng (hamstring) sitting out the last two games, Butler has filled in so capably that they don’t have to rush Deng back. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are playing well up front, Kirk Hinrich is coming off his best game of the year (by far) and Richard Hamilton is beginning to heat up after being slowed by a sore foot. The Bulls are rested and at home against a weaker team that played last night, so they should prevail.
BRK @ MIN: Letdowns are inevitable, and Brooklyn is coming off a tremendous high — beating their crosstown rivals at Madison Square — for their 11th win in 13 games. Complacency and overconfidence may be their biggest hurdles tonight, as the Wolves are limping badly. Ricky Rubio is ‘shooting’ an abysmal 23% so far in his comeback from knee surgery, Derrick Williams is hardly an adequate replacement for Kevin Love, and starting C Greg Stiemsma is certainly not as talented as Nikola Pekovic. They do have a couple of fantasy sleepers on the bench in Dante Cunningham and J.J. Barea. Logic says that Deron Williams and Brook Lopez should get whatever they want, and if Luke Ridnour tries to cover Joe Johnson, JJ could have another big night.