As a way to help you set your NBA-watching calendar, this space will get you ready for the best games that aren’t on ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBATV each week. We’ll provide a little insight about why you should check out each matchup and a few nuggets about the teams involved.
Grizzlies at Hawks
Memphis is trying to hang on to the final playoff spot in the east, despite injuries having decimated their frontcourt. Both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke are out and Justise Winslow has yet to make his Memphis debut. That’s put a lot of pressure on Kyle Anderson to step up as the only healthy power forward option on the roster. In addition, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks are having to do even more of the scoring. With the NBA’s toughest closing schedule out of all teams in playoff contention, it’s going to be a real feat if the Grizzlies can make the postseason.
The Hawks are in a different spot as they’ve got no shot at making the playoffs. Lloyd Pierce is using the remainder of this season to see how all of his young pieces fit together. In several recent games, the Hawks have started a lineup that makes up Atlanta’s core: Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cameron Reddish and Kevin Huerter. That group is a little light on defense, even though Hunter and Reddish are developing quickly on that end. That unit can score however, which makes most of their games entertaining.
Clippers at Thunder
Lots of players facing former teams in this one, as Paul George returns to Oklahoma City to face former Clippers Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
Doc Rivers finally has his full complement of players available and the Clippers have won four-straight as a result. Kawhi Leonard looks like the guy who led the Raptors to the title, while George is finally starting to settle in. During the streak, LA handled Denver and Memphis with ease and also beat Philadelphia. The Clippers are finally coming together and they look like a title contender.
The Thunder have pushed all the way up to sixth in the Western Conference and are just 2.5 games out of hosting a first-round playoff series. Oklahoma City is 7-3 over their last 10 games and continues to play well against good teams, with the fourth-best record against fellow West playoff contenders. Billy Donovan is starting to garner a lot of support for Coach of the Year, and deservedly so.
Magic at Heat
Orlando is playing .500 ball over their last 10 games, which is an accomplishment for a team that is six games under .500 overall. The Magic enter the week half-a-game ahead of the Nets for seventh in the East and 4.5 games clear of the ninth-place Wizards. It looks like a return to the postseason is on tap for Orlando, after they snapped a six-year drought last season. Keep an eye on Aaron Gordon, who played some of the best basketball of his career in February, as he averaged 18.6 points on 39.6% from behind the arc, 8.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists for the month.
The Heat are threatening to create a little separation between themselves and the 76ers for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Miami is now up 1.5 games over Philadelphia. The challenge for the Heat is that their closing schedule is more difficult than the Sixers. Miami still has two games left against both the Bucks and Celtics, while Philadelphia has the league’s third-easiest slate down the stretch.
76ers at Kings
It’s a typically light Thursday as TNT has the national TV games, but Philadelphia at Sacramento should be a fun one. The Kings have fought their way back into the playoff race in the Western Conference. Sacramento is just three games out entering the week. De’Aaron Fox has shaken off injuries to average 20.1 points and 6.9 assists per game for the season. Buddy Hield doesn’t seem to mind coming off the bench, as he’s averaged 19.8 points per game on 46% three-point shooting in the 16 games since Luke Walton made the lineup change. And in February, with several other bigs out due to injury, Harry Giles started 10 games and played the best basketball of his young career. Giles averaged 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and gave the Kings an interior presence on both ends of the floor.
Joel Embiid joined Ben Simmons on the shelf, as Embiid suffered a strained left shoulder in the middle of last week. On Sunday, Embiid’s injury status was described as a short-term thing. Simmons’ status remains more up in the air, and his timetable for return is unknown. With the two All-Stars out, Al Horford and Shake Milton have moved into the starting lineup. Milton stepped up big in a loss to the Clippers on Sunday with a career-high 39 points. Philadelphia will need more of that if they’re going to catch Miami for homecourt advantage in the East playoffs.
Jazz at Celtics
Boston is hoping to get Kemba Walker back on the floor after a five-game absence since the All-Star break. While Walker was out, Boston went 3-2, including a victory in Utah. Jayson Tatum had a ridiculous February, as he averaged 30.7 points on 49/48/77 shooting splits, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Jaylen Brown wasn’t bad himself, as he averaged 21.8 points over the same period. The Celtics depth has been tested with injuries, but when healthy, they have the look of contender behind the strength of their two young wings.
The Jazz are in a rough patch, as they are just 5-5 over the last 10 games, with a four-game losing streak in there. Quin Snyder has changed the lineup again, and sent Joe Ingles back to the bench. Maybe that change will eventually spark the Jazz, as Utah’s normally rock-solid defense has slipped all the way down to 12th in the league.
Kings at Trail Blazers
There is a chance that Damian Lillard will be back for Portland by this one, and the Blazers need him. The Kings are one team that the Trail Blazers are fighting with to get into the playoffs. Portland has gone just 3-7 in their last 10 games and have fallen to 12th in the Western Conference and are 3.5 games behind Memphis for the eighth-seed. C.J. McCollum has stepped up with Lillard out, as has veteran Carmelo Anthony, but the Blazers just don’t have enough offensive firepower to win on a consistent basis without their All-Star guard.
Pacers at Mavericks
Indiana continues to sneak up the standings behind Miami and Philadelphia in the race for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. The Pacers are now just two games behind the Heat and enter the week on a three-game win streak. Victor Oladipo has dealt with back and ankle soreness recently, but seems to be fitting in just fine when he plays. Indiana did lose Jeremy Lamb to season-ending knee and leg injuries last week. Fortunately, the wing depth is fairly good for the Pacers with Oladipo back and Justin and Aaron Holiday playing well off the bench.
The Mavericks remain in the mix for homecourt advantage in the West, as they’re three games behind the Rockets. Unfortunately for the Mavs, they’d also have to get past the red-hot Thunder and the Jazz before even getting to Houston. With Luka Doncic continuing to miss time here and there due to ankle injuries that might be a big ask. Kristaps Porzingis might be up to the task though. In 10 games in February, Porzingis averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He’s rounding into form just in time for Dallas to make their playoff positioning push.