February 8 Game Previews
LAL @ CHA: After being crushed in Boston, the Lakers must regroup 24 hours later. Fortunately for them, it’s against the lowly Bobcats, who have just completed a winless road trip. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (concussion) might return for Charlotte, and Byron Mullens has looked good in his first two games after a severe ankle sprain, so Jeffrey Taylor and Jeff Adrien won’t be starting much longer. Kemba Walker should bounce back after a poor performance in Cleveland. Someone in addition to Kobe has to step up for L.A. tonight, or this could be even more embarrassing.
BRK @ WAS: As the Knicks found out on Wednesday, visiting DC is no longer a vacation. The Wizards are playing better than the sum of their parts, and John Wall makes it all happen. The bigger surprises have been Emeka Okafor and Martell Webster. They might even get Bradley Beal (wrist) back tonight. Brooklyn can’t take this lightly; they will need Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to be at their best. I also like Andray Blatche, who was booted out of Washington via the amnesty clause, to be inspired by the boobirds again. He double-doubled in his first game back.
TOR @ IND: It’s hard for someone like me to know what makes a great pro basketball coach. The #1 quality is getting 15 guys to row in the same direction. Frank Vogel has done that with these Pacers, who thrive on their identity as defensive stoppers and have recently begun to score more points. Given that they are 20-3 at home, while Toronto is integrating new pieces after the Rudy Gay trade and the return of Andrea Bargnani, look for David West and Paul George to be the headliners.
NOH @ ATL: Both these struggling teams got back on track with home wins on Wednesday. The Hawks got an improved effort from Josh Smith and another solid game from Al Horford, but it was Jeff Teague who set the tempo. His matchup with Greivis Vasquez is the focal point tonight. Robin Lopez has a size advantage up front, and Ryan Anderson is dangerous off the bench, but Eric Gordon admits he isn’t 100% healthy and Al-Farouq Aminu is inconsistent. The edge goes to Atlanta at home, and it sure would help if Devin Harris can avoid injury for a while.
SAS @ DET: The rodeo road trip continues for the Spurs, who have won 11 in a row and don’t care who (or where) they play. Tim Duncan (knee) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) are officially day-to-day, as are we all. Tony Parker has rarely been better in his 12-year career than he has been the last couple of months, and different teammates step up every night. It was Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard last game if you want to play the hot hands. The Pistons can count on Greg Monroe, but they are still sorting out three positions since the Jose Calderon deal.
ORL @ CLE: Break up the Cavs! Led by the sensational Kyrie Irving, they shocked Oklahoma City last week, then trounced Charlotte by 27. Compared to the devastated Magic, they are quite healthy. Orlando is down to Jameer Nelson and Nikola Vucevic, at least until Arron Afflalo (calf) and J.J. Redick (shoulder) return. This figures to be their 12th straight defeat. Cleveland is getting solid work up front from Tristan Thompson, rookie Dion Waiters is rolling again and the bench is much better since stealing Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington from the penny-pinching Grizzlies for next to nothing.