The NBA weekend always starts early with their Friday night showcase on ESPN, and it’s a good doubleheader package tonight. Boston-New York tips it off at 7 PM ET. If you’re just thinking that this is a key game between two teams who have struggled to find their footing, but have a serious playoff potential, you’re too constricted in your outlook. In reality this is the beginning of the battle between the two cities that reaches its crescendo in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the NHL wasn’t with the program so we don’t have Bruins-Rangers on tap, but the Ivy League is with us—Harvard-Columbia go on Saturday. The second game on ESPN tonight is LA Lakers-Denver. The Nuggets were TheSportsNotebook’s feature on Wednesday, as they hold down the two-spot in the West. I think it’s safe to say no one at ESPN counted on Denver being the best of the four teams they’re featuring tonight.
Friday’s got other games that would be worthy of national showcases. Miami battles Philadelphia, as the Sixers get another home game in what’s been a friendly early schedule—14 of 22 games have been at home. And Dallas goes on the road to play Indiana. Here’s where I get a cheap shot in on Jerry Jones by pointing out that the Mavericks will be the only professional team from Dallas getting anywhere near Indy on Super Bowl weekend.
On Saturday, Dallas then goes to Cleveland, whose in the hunt for the East’s last playoff spot. This is the kind of home win the Cavs are going to need to find a way to steal if they want to sneak in. Eventually you have to beat a few good teams and a Mavs team coming straight out of Indy should be ripe to be picked. Kevin McHale takes his surprising Houston Rockets back to his old stomping grounds in Minnesota, where he once elevated the Golden Gophers college hoops program as a player and once decimated the Timberwolves as a general manager. If there’s not some serious boos for McHale on Saturday I’ll be surprised, with the one caveat that a prediction of boos is based on fans actually being in attendance. Chicago-Milwaukee offers a rivalry game, with the Bucks playing at home and playing good basketball right now.
The juice on Saturday night in the NBA though comes from Oklahoma City-San Antonio, with the Thunder trying to use their athleticism and depth to outgun the veteran Spurs. And NBA-TV has a doubleheader with playoff race implications. Orlando is slumping amidst the drama show Dwight Howard is putting on—hey, say this for Brett Favre—you might hate him, you might think he’s a diva, but he never came anywhere close to putting an organization through what Howard is doing to the Magic right in the middle of the season. Howard’s self-absorption is dragging down what should be a promising year. The Magic try and get it turned around against the Pacers in Indy. What are the odds Howard uses all the media coverage in town because of the Super Bowl to fuel the trade rumors again? The nightcap of the doubleheader has Portland, another team that’s struggling, albeit in more benign circumstances, visiting Denver.
Next Sunday starts the regular run of marquee NBA double and tripleheaders on ABC or ESPN. For today it’s a quiet slate. The city of Boston can start off the Super Bowl parties by tuning into Celts-Grizzlies at noon ET on NBA-TV, while their guests roll in the door. Then it’s time for some football.
IN THE NHL
It’s a quiet Friday night in the NHL, with Los Angeles-St. Louis being the best game on the board. The Kings and Blues are trying to chase down San Jose and Detroit in their respective divisions and both are in good shape for the playoffs. Saturday, the NHL Network has a day-night doubleheader with Pittsburgh-Boston going at 1 PM ET, and Los Angeles going to Carolina for a 7 PM ET face-off. The Panthers are having a miserable season, though they did complete a sweep of Boston earlier this week and are hoping to catch a jet-lagged King team coming East and having just played the night before. Another game worth keeping an eye on is Vancouver-Colorado. The Avalanche are three points out of the playoffs right now and they might catch the Canucks lagging after their loss to Detroit earlier in the week.
Sunday’s schedule isn’t heavy, but the East Coast will get its share of fireworks. Boston plays its second straight nationally televised game when they visit Washington for a 12:30 PM ET start on NBCSN (formerly Versus). The Bruins join the Celtics in providing early Super Bowl Sunday appetizers for the good people of New England. Maybe they can get the Red Sox to have a video game tournament, replete with fried chicken and beer, and put it on NESN, thus completing the pre-Patriot buildup. The other NHL game is Philadelphia-NY Rangers, as that titanic battle for the Atlantic Division title and possible #1 seed in the East rolls on.