NBA Weekend Preview: Key Matchups and Storylines to Watch

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LeBron James Lamarcus Aldridge

Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) drives to the basket as Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) defends during the third quarter at the Rose Garden. The Heat won the game 107-93. Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s around this time of year, after their big Christmas Day showcase, that the National Basketball Association season begins to take form and kicks up another gear. Most teams have approximately completed over 33 percent of their games. There’s enough of a sample size to evaluate teams and players. Injuries to major stars like Kobe BryantRussell Westbrook, and Brook Lopez will no doubt change the landscape of their respective teams and the league itself. And if you thought the round-the-clock NBA coverage on Christmas was epic, then the 12 games that are on tap for Saturday, plus the five games on Sunday will definitely be colossal.

NBA CONNECT THE DOTS

The Boston Celtics will kick things off at 1 PM Eastern Time against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.  The last game on Sunday night will be hosted by the hated Los Angeles Lakers. How appropriate that the two most storied franchises will be the bookends to this weekend’s match-ups. Also, both teams are a combined 25-34 this season.

To commemorate this random act in the schedule, we will take one player from the Celtics and try to find his L.A. connection, forming a human chain of 17 (the number of games to be played this weekend). Think of it as an elongated version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” So without further ado:

  1. Jeff Green just so happens to wear a green-colored uniform for the Celtics. He used to wear green and gold for the now extinct Seattle Supersonics where he was selected fifth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. Also selected by the Sonics that year was…
  2. Kevin Durant, arguably the second the best player in the NBA. Durant played his college ball at Texas. Running the point for the 2006-2007 Longhorns was…
  3. D.J. Augustin, who is currently playing for the Chicago Bulls. He was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008, which caused an awkward situation at the point guard position because…
  4. Raymond Felton was already on the squad. Apparently playing at North Carolina did not help Felton’s cause as…
  5. Michael Jordan, the team owner, created this point guard controversy in Charlotte. But if one were to read Michael Leahy’s book When Nothing Else Matters, one would be accustomed to seeing Jordan set up these weird confrontations with players, such as with…
  6. Richard Hamilton who also had a stint with the Chicago Bulls, clearly on his last legs during that time. Kind of similar to former teammate…
  7. Ben Wallace, whose stint with the Bulls was pretty modest at most. He would later finish off his career with the Detroit Pistons. Matter of fact, while in his second stint in Detroit, he actually had the opportunity to play with former Bulls’ teammate…
  8. Ben Gordon, who is currently playing for the Bobcats. Gordon is on the same team as former UConn alum…
  9. Kemba Walker, who in his junior year at Connecticut, won a national championship alongside Freshman…
  10. Jeremy Lamb, who currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder alongside…
  11. Reggie Jackson, who was selected in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft out of Boston College. He was a pick away from being selected by the local Celtics, but the team had to settle with…
  12. MarShon Brooks, who would get traded to the New Jersey Nets, only to get traded back to Boston in the deal that brought in…
  13. Kevin Garnett, who was drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was coached for 31 regular season games in 2004-2005 by…
  14. Kevin McHale, currently the Houston Rockets’ head coach. He replaced…
  15. Rick Adelman, who currently coaches McHale’s former employer, the T’Wolves. Adelman coaches elite power forward…
  16. Kevin Love, formerly of UCLA. One of his current teammates happens to be…
  17. Ronny Turiaf, who was drafted in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers.

So there you have it. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are currently connected by Jeff Green and Ronny Turiaf.

AN ODD MIX

The Dallas Mavericks travel up to Chicago to face the Bulls. The Mavs have a winning record with a roster that’s oddly mixed with young players and veterans. The Mavs have five players that are either listed as rookies or sophomores. Conversely, they also have four players with 10 or more years of NBA experience with Dirk NowitzkiVince CarterSamuel Dalembert, and Shawn Marion. But this is definitely an intriguing match-up as the Mavericks bring their top 10 offense against the Bulls’, elite defense. Sadly, the Mavericks have a porous defense while the Bulls lack an offensive game. This game should be fun to watch if the Bulls can keep pace with Dallas and score 100 points. If not, seeing a clumsy defensive squad get into a grinding match with the Bulls inept offense might prove to be an ugly affair.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Miami Heat travel to the great northwest to do battle with the inconspicuous Portland Trail Blazers. Much hype has been bestowed by the most hardcore of NBA fans on the Blazers, but it’s not enough to garner much national attention. A win over the defending champs will definitely put the rest of the NBA world on notice. One hindrance in Portland is, while they’re the top-rated offense in the league, their defense is not quite as efficient. Compare that to the Heat who have proven to be a balanced squad, ranking in the top 10 on offense and defense.

But the Blazers should win this game and it would not be a surprise if Portland blows the Heat right out of the water (or into the water? That’s probably the best way to stop the Heat, right?). Point guard Damian Lillard should have his way against a gimpy Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers. If the Heat decide to have LeBron James help out on the perimeter defense, then that should leave LaMarcus Aldridge even more room to work with on offense. Not that the Heat seem to have an answer for him even if James doesn’t put his focus on helping the middle to prevent Aldridge from causing too much damage on the inside.

And who knows, we might witness an NBA Finals preview in Portland on Saturday night.

BONUS GAME OF THE WEEK

The Houston Rockets travel up to OKC in what should prove to be an emotional game. James Harden will make his presence known against the franchise where he first had made a name for himself. This was also supposed to be the grudge match between Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook, but with the latter requiring further surgery on his injured knee, the two will have to wait for another game to settle their differences. With no Westbrook, this game should be more evenly-matched. While the Rockets are an explosive team on offense, their defense could use more work. A disappointing statement to make seeing that Dwight Howard is now with the team. The Thunder are also a dynamic club on offense, but their defense is far superior than the Rockets.

Nevertheless, the x-factor for the Thunder in this game might boil down to Reggie Jackson and how he performs for the injured Westbrook. We have seen the Thunder play without Westbrook before and they’re just not the same, elite team without him, but that’s why emerging players like Jackson and Jeremy Lamb need to step up and perform.

GAMES FOR THE WEAK

The Cavaliers and Celtics are two teams that were supposed to go in different directions this season. The Cavs were finally supposed to be good enough to contend for a playoff spot, while the Celtics were in full rebuilding mode. Yet, it is the Celtics with the better record coming into this weekend.  Kyrie Irving and company have disappointed while the Celtics have gotten production from their top five players, led by Green and Jared Sullinger.

Both teams have struggled in their last 10 games, but the Cavs have the worse road record. And the Celtics have already beaten Cleveland at home in late November when they won by 17.

Meanwhile the Philadelphia 76ers and L.A. Lakers will finish this session of basketball and hopefully both teams don’t play down to the other team’s level. After winning four out of their first six games, the Sixers have only won four more games since then. Once the darlings of the NBA earlier this season, they are now finally going full speed towards the bottom. First round pick Michael Carter-Williams has proven to be a good all-around player, showing an ability to pad the stats’ line, but his shooting is still terrible. Philly only has one road win all season long.

On the other hand, the Kobe-less Lakers have another bonafide ball-hog in Nick Young so the offense should continue to be as ineffective as usual.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

Felipe Melecio was the managing editor for the blog Pathological Hate. When not watching sports, he's listening to music--or listening to music while watching sports. Keep tabs on all his knee-jerk reactions on Twitter:
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