The elite teams of the NBA are all hitting their stride as we head into the first post-All Star break weekend of action. Miami has won nine in a row, Oklahoma City seven in a row, Chicago’s win streak is at four, and even Indiana is getting into the act, with a five-game win streak that’s helping the Pacers get a little separation from the non-Bulls/Heat portion of the Eastern Conference playoff race. It all sets the stage for a weekend of basketball that’s highlighted by a great Sunday card.
ESPN’s Friday doubleheader is pretty weak tonight, as somehow Golden State finagled its way on with a game at Philadelphia. This is another one of those games where I feel compelled to ask—was there ever a point where this looked like a good game? Unless there’s some anniversary commemorating the Warriors’ return to the city where they began, it would have been better if ESPN would have just given us the Bulls’ again, as Chicago visits Cleveland. The nightcap of the doubleheader is another mismatch, with the LA Clippers playing Phoenix, although at least in this case the inferior team is at home. But again, why not just stick Miami-Utah in that spot, even if Chris Bosh is out for the Heat, and Paul Millsap is doubtful with a heel injury for the Jazz. Since when did ESPN suddenly get hesitant about putting Miami and Chicago on prime-time? The two premier teams in the league, locked up in a tough fight for the #1 seed, making road trips to teams on the playoff bubble would have been an interesting doubleheader. As it is, there’s not compelling television tonight.
The Saturday card is its usual quiet self, with Oklahoma City’s visit to Atlanta being of interest and the best game being Minnesota-Portland, where both teams are fighting for a playoff berth. It’s been a tough trip West for the Timberwolves, who’ve dropped games in Los Angeles and Phoenix, and they need something to stop the bleeding.
Sunday brings a quadruple header, and while I wouldn’t presume too many people can lay on the couch and watch all four, any one of them is worth your time. Start it off with New York-Boston (1 PM ET, ABC). The Knicks and Celtics are each at .500 and tied in the 7/8 spots in the playoff bracket. Who finishes ahead in that particular race is irrelevant because either seed matches you up with Miami or Chicago. But both New York and Boston can think about pushing ahead to #6. The Celtics got a couple needed wins over Milwaukee and Cleveland this week to push back the charge from below the playoff border.
At 3:30 PM ET on ABC is Miami-LA Lakers, and you have to think sparks are going to fly. In last Sunday’s All-Star game, Dwayne Wade put a hard foul on Kobe Bryant that put the latter in a face mask and concussion concerns are floating around in Hollywood. Is this going to be the NBA’s version of Pete Rose barreling over Ray Fosse at the plate in the 1970 MLB All-Star game? I just can’t imagine that the Lakers take this lying down. It would seem, as ESPN’s Michael Wilbon argues, to be almost “mandatory” that some sort of retribution follow, and I would have to concur.
When Sunday afternoon gives way to evening, ESPN takes over from partner ABC and gives us Chicago-Philadelphia (7 PM ET) and Denver-San Antonio (9:30 PM ET). The 76ers need to show they can defend their home floor against quality opposition. The Bulls have no room for error if they want the 1-seed. San Antonio is a hot team themselves, having won eight of ten, and the Nuggets are part of the group of teams in the West hoping to hold on to the 7 or 8 spot in the playoffs.
On a closing note, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to the interview ESPN’s Bill Simmons did with President Obama this week, it’s a must-listen. Don’t take this as a political statement or a political podcast. I didn’t vote for the president in 2008 and won’t be this November, but it’s a straight sports podcast, and Obama is clearly knowledgeable about the NBA in general and the Bulls in particular. It was a fun thirty minute-listen. Obama is like his predecessor in the White House in that they each know their subject matter when it comes to sports.