The venues of the NL Central are the focal point of Wednesday’s TV daily sports schedule, with matinee action in the afternoon and then prime-time on ESPN. Baseball fans can tune into the MLB Network at 12:30 PM ET for a getaway game between the Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds.
Then ESPN takes over at 8 PM ET—note that it’s one hour later than the normal start time—for the Dodgers-Cardinals from Busch Stadium. All four teams are on a pace to make the playoffs, all four are in hot races, so it adds up to a good baseball TV day.
The high-quality baseball action becomes even more necessary when you consider that the NFL Network will spend the day foisting reruns of the Hard Knocks look at the 2012 Miami Dolphins. These reruns go from 2 PM ET to 7 PM ET, which amounts to five hours that humanity will never get back.
If you want to avoid baseball that badly, stick with a college football rerun, with last year’s Orange Bowl matchup of Florida State-Northern Illinois going on ESPNU. While the Seminoles controlled this game and eventually blew it open, NIU hung around deep into the third quarter.
NBA-TV continues its great showing this week of classic games. At 2 PM ET, it’s Game 7 of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics nipped the 76ers by two, completing a comeback from 3-1 series deficit, with none of the three wins by more than a bucket.
Then at 8 PM ET, it’s another moment from Celtics lore. In Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals, the Lakers looked on the verge of taking control of the series. Then Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, and the momentum seemed to shift, with Boston ultimately winning the championship. The McHale hit on Rambis would be recalled twenty years later when Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek popped Alex Rodriguezin the face and a then-lifeless Red Sox team seemed to come together at the point en route to a title.
Here at TheSportsNotebook today, we’ve got college football coverage on the brain. The SEC preview posted yesterday and now we’re on to the Big 12 today.
The biggest game of the NBA season to date is the focal point of Thursday’s daily sports. It’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers tied two games apiece. Tip time is at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.
It’s not breaking new ground to say that Indiana has to win this game. The odds of taking a Game 7 on the road in the NBA—especially against the league’s signature star—are imposing, and the Pacers best chance comes with winning tonight and then going back home on Saturday night and clinching. It’s a formula the Boston Celtics almost pulled off last year, when Paul Pierce’s late three-pointer helped the Celts steal Game 5. But then LeBron pulled out his 45—literally, in terms of 45 points in the Garden, won Game 6 and Miami prevailed.
This is why, though the game is obviously important to Miami, it’s not literally must win. They’ve proven they can get a must-win game on the road. That’s why I won’t go so far as to say this game decides the series, but if you were a fan who was observing this series skeptically, wondering if Indiana could make a go of it, tonight would be the time to start tuning in.
Baseball coverage will be at 7 PM ET on MLB Network, with the Mets-Yankees from the Bronx. If you find New York announcers obnoxious, don’t worry—this game won’t be a local feed, but will be the actual MLB team of Bob Costas and Jim Kaat on the call.
The best feature on the TV schedule is on ESPNU at 8:30 PM ET, and it’s about the life and career of Bo Jackson. He was a Heisman Trophy winner, a two-sport star with the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders, and went on to become a legend by being made into an absolutely unstoppable player in the Tecmo Bowl video game. I’m curious as to what aspects of Bo’s career will be emphasized. ESPNU’s focus is college sports, so perhaps this will be heavy on his time at Auburn.
If you’re wondering what’s on the main ESPN tonight, it’s a national spelling bee. No joke. Nothing against those kids who earned their way onto the national stage, but….wow.
TheSportsNotebook will have NHL analysis coming up, as we look at how the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks survived their Game 7 battles over the last two nights. Yesterday’s NBA commentary took an overview of the Miami-Indiana series, and MLB coverage earlier this week provided a one-sentence soundbite summarizing every team at the Memorial Day checkpoint.
The highlight of the week in sports for April 8-14 comes early, with tonight’s NCAA Final between Michigan and Louisville (9:23 PM ET, CBS). You can read the special preview for that game here, along with thoughts on Saturday’s semifinals. But there’s still a lot more going on in the world of sports. It’s the last full regular season week for the NBA, the NHL is down to three weeks to go and we move into Week 2 for baseball. Here’s the menu for the week in daily sports…
MONDAY: You can warm up for the national championship game with either baseball or hockey, as its Mets-Phillies at 7 PM ET on ESPN, or go to the NHL Network for Carolina-Boston. There’s also matinee baseball on tap, as a lot of teams still have their home openers. The Reds-Cardinals grudge match is shown to regional audiences by the MLB Network at 4:15 PM ET.
TUESDAY: The Western Conference playoff push comes to NBA-TV, with a late game between New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 PM ET. The Lakers are tied with Utah in the loss column for the final playoff berth, but trail by a game in the win column. The Jazz host Oklahoma City in a non-national TV game.
The Hornets-Lakers game is preceded on NBA-TV by Phoenix-Houston at 8 PM ET, although a more consequential game in that time slot will be in hockey when Chicago visits Minnesota (8 PM ET, NBC Sports Network). The Blackhawks are still fighting for pole position in the West and overall, and the Wild slipped out of first place in their division after being featured in TheSportsNotebook last week (no team can survive the infamous jinx of TheSportsNotebook). The MLB Network has a doubleheader that starts at 7 PM ET with White Sox-Nationals, then splits its 10 PM ET coverage between AL West games, A’s-Angels and Astros-Mariners. I can only hope you’re in an area that gets Oakland-LAA.
WEDNESDAY: The city of Boston hits the airwaves tonight, although the Red Sox won’t be involved. But ESPN’s got the Celtics’ home game with Brooklyn (8 PM, ET). Boston is two games up on Milwaukee for the 7-seed in the East and the right to avoid Miami in the first round, but this game is one of a few tough challenges the C’s have ahead of them. And NBC Sports Network shows the Bruins’ visit to New Jersey at 7:30 PM ET. If you want to avoid Boston, you can watch baseball on ESPN, but you’ll only be partially successful. The 7 PM ET game is Yankees-Indians, and we’re sure to get plenty of dugout shots of Terry Francona and recollections of his battles with the Pinstripes while he managed in Boston.
THURSDAY: It’s our last Thursday night NBA doubleheader on TNT, although Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley & Co, will be on hand through the playoffs. Tonight’s fare is Knicks-Bulls and Thunder-Warriors, starting at 8 PM ET. New York has gotten a grip on the 2-seed in the East, but still has to nail it down. And Oklahoma City is just a game back of San Antonio for the top spot in the West.
The NBC Sports Network seems to have caught a bad break with its hockey game of Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay at 7:30 PM ET. An anticipated showdown of scorers between Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos has gone by the wayside, as Crosby’s out indefinitely with his jaw injury. The team has no reason to rush him back before the playoffs and now the Penguins-Lightning just sits as a bad game. If you want baseball, there’s more Yankee action, as their finale in Cleveland is telecast by MLB Network at 7 PM ET.
FRIDAY: It’s a full night of NBA action, a dream setting if you’re a League Pass subscriber. NBA-TV has a doubleheader of Boston-Miami and Oklahoma City-Portland that starts at 7:30 PM ET. Other notable games are Brooklyn-Indiana, Milwaukee-Atlanta, Minnesota-Utah, Golden State-LA Lakers and Memphis-Houston. It’s got a real playoff feel to it on a night when the real postseason will be just eight days out. It overshadows the hockey coverage of Detroit-Chicago (8:30 PM ET, NHL), where the Red Wings are still struggling to secure their playoff position. MLB Network gives you NL East rivals Atlanta & Washington at 7 PM ET.
SATURDAY: It’s strange to get to this spot and not have a raft of college basketball games to talk about. But now the NHL Network’s customary Saturday tripleheader gets the spotlight. Starting at 3 PM ET, its Vancouver-Colorado, Montreal-Toronto and Anaheim-LA Kings, with a game starting every fourth hour. If hockey’s not your thing, Fox will have baseball and NASCAR coverage starting in the late afternoon. The 4 PM ET baseball slot is highlighted by Oakland-Detroit and Baltimore-NY Yanks, rematches of last year’s American League Division Series. Although if you live in the wrong area you might get stuck with Milwaukee-St. Louis or NY Mets-Minnesota. Then it’s a rare Saturday night NASCAR race from Texas Motor Speedway at 7:30 PM ET.
SUNDAY: The American League East bookends the day in baseball, with Rays-Red Sox from Fenway at 1:35 PM ET on TBS and Orioles-Yanks from the Bronx being the ESPN showcase at 8 PM ET. ABC’s NBA coverage is Chicago-Miami at 1 PM ET, with NBA-TV carrying a night doubleheader of Dallas-New Orleans and San Antonio-LA Lakers that starts at 6 PM ET. The Spurs could have a chance to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs, and away from national TV is a good Pacers-Knicks game, with this perhaps being Indiana’s final chance to make a push for the East’s #2 spot. NBC gives us more of the Chicago Blackhawks, in their visit to St. Louis at 12:30 PM ET, while NBC Sports Network keeps the Midwest theme going at night with Detroit-Nashville at 7:30 PM ET.
The NBA is going to slide well under the media radar now that March Madness is underway, but the pros are taking full advantage of their Monday night with the TV spotlight. ESPN will be in Boston, as the Miami Heat put their 22-game win streak and run at history on the line against the still-surging Celtics in an 8 PM ET tipoff. That game will be followed by New York-Utah, another matchup of significance in the playoff picture.
TheSportsNotebook’s focus will be on the NCAA Tournament—regional previews will start going online early this evening in anticipation of the play-in games that start Tuesday—with our MLB coverage continuing with team previews, as we build to the April 1 opener. But we can’t completely lose sight of the NBA. By the time the sports world comes up for air when the NCAAs conclude on April 8, the NBA season will have just nine days left and all the races that are compelling right now might be mostly settled. As such, today’s daily sports look will double as NBA commentary, and we’ll summarize the key races within each conference and look ahead at the entire week of pro basketball.
We can pencil in Miami-Milwaukee as a first-round matchup in the Eastern Conference, with the Heat having pulled away with the 1-seed and Milwaukee three games out of seventh, yet well in command of the playoff push. But after that, it’s a crapshoot in the East.
Indiana is 40-26 and in second, but Danny Granger is again dealing with knee problems. New York is tied with the Pacers in the loss column, but have their own injury issues with Carmelo Anthony’s nagging knee troubles, so much so that even Knicks’ head coach Mike Woodson admitted concern in public. Brooklyn is only a game back in the loss column, while Atlanta, Chicago and Boston all have 29 losses, well within striking distance.
Everything is up for grabs and almost every seed level has its own importance. #2 gives you the homecourt path to a shot at Miami in the conference finals. #3 at least gets you opposite Miami in the bracket. #4 will give you a good homecourt to win a playoff series. The only area of strangeness might be the of the 5-6-7 spots, is probably the worst. You’re on the road in the first round, the opponent is not demonstrably easier and even if you win, you can’t get opposite Miami in the draw.
The Western Conference breaks down much more clearly, with three distinct races…
*San Antonio and Oklahoma City look locked into the 1-2 spots and are fighting for homecourt.
*Memphis, the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver are in a tight battle for the next three spots, with the odd team out having to on the road for the first round. The winner of this mini-race avoids having to play the other two and gets a first-round opponent one rung down. The Nuggets by the way, are having about the quietest 11-game win streak ever, thanks to Miami’s bold charge at the ’72 Lakers record of 33 straight wins.
*Golden State is in the six-spot and leads up a group of six teams fighting for the last three spots. Houston and the LA Lakers are currently the other two teams, but Utah is tied with Los Angeles in the loss column. Portland and Dallas are still lurking. The Lakers and Jazz have 32 losses, while Portland has 34 and Dallas is at 35. The Blazers and Mavs aren’t finished yet.
Finally, let’s not overlook the race for the overall #1 seed. Miami’s big win streak has put them at 51-14 and in the lead. But the Heat’s slower start to the season (at least relatively speaking) means this is still a race. San Antonio is 51-16 and Oklahoma City is at 50-17. Miami was able to win the Finals last year without the benefit of homecourt, but as anyone who’s watched the NBA playoffs for any length of time can tell you, this isn’t the NCA A Tournament—seed position matters, because homecourt is huge, especially if a series gets to a decisive seventh game.
That’s the context of the NBA race. Now here’s what’s ahead this week…
*Besides the ESPN doubleheader tonight, you’ve got Denver-Chicago and Dallas-Atlanta in a key interconference games.
*Tuesday it’s a good game out West on NBA-TV, when Denver-Oklahoma City tip at 8 PM ET.
*Brooklyn-Dallas get ESPN coverage on Wednesday at 8 PM ET. It’s the headliner of a good night of pro hoops. Utah-Houston is a big game in the Western playoff fight, along with Golden State’s visit into San Antonio. The higher-ups have a key battle with Oklahoma City-Memphis, a tough road assignment for the Thunder coming off the Nuggets game the night before. Out East, Atlanta hosts Milwaukee. And there’s even some soap opera fun—LeBron and Miami go into Cleveland. Now it’s not a question of a hatefest, but whether LeBron will keep laying the groundwork for a return home when he can opt out of his contract the end of next season.
*The NBA then goes dark, like a Catholic church on Good Friday, at least when it comes to TV coverage. They don’t even try and contest college basketball now that the NCAA Tournament hits full gear and nothing is on national TV the rest of the week. Thursday only has one even notable game and that’s Portland-Chicago.
Friday has three noteworthy games of Milwaukee-Indiana, Boston-Dallas and Utah-San Antonio. The same goes for Saturday, with Indiana-Chicago, Boston-Memphis and Brooklyn-LA Clippers. This is an interesting southern road swing for the Celtics. They also have New Orleans mixed in earlier in the week and this comes off what’s likely going to be an emotionally exhausting game with the Heat tonight.
ABC eschews its Sunday doubleheader to give way to the colleges, but League Pass subscribers can still enjoy an Atlanta-Milwaukee rematch in the Midwest, or three games at the bubble of the Western Conference playoff race—Houston hosts the Spurs, Portland goes to OkC and Utah-Dallas go head-to-head.
It’s going to be tough for even passionate sports fans to find time for the NBA over the next few weeks. But don’t let them go completely off the radar, because who plays well know will go a long way to deciding who wins when everyone’s tuned back at the end of April.
If you like college basketball, clear your Saturday schedule, because while there’s interesting games throughout the week, it’s the penultimate Saturday of the regular season that features big battles with possible conference championships at stake. So our walk through the week in TV sports will begin with the end in mind, as we start with all there is to look forward to on Saturday.
*Tip it off at noon EST with three big games. The juiciest is Louisville-Syracuse (CBS) and the ultimate significance does depend on what happens earlier in the week. Both teams are a game back of Georgetown in the Big East standings, but the Hoyas have a tough trip to UConn on Wednesday. A loss there, and Cards-Orange could be for a piece of first place.
In the Atlantic 10, both Butler and Virginia Commonwealth lost last week to St. Louis and need help, but both—especially the Rams, who are still just a game out—have a shot at the A-10 crown. They go head-to-head on ESPN2. And Alabama, featured hereat TheSportsNotebook last week, is two games back of Florida, but gets a shot at the Gators on ESPN. As noted in last week’s feature, the Tide are that rare power conference team who has a shot at a regular season championship, but is also fighting for its life for the NCAA Tournament.
*When the clock moves to 2 PM EST it’s a big battle between Jesuit schools—perhaps some viewing fare for Benedict XVI in his first weekend of retirement. Notre Dame pays a visit to Marquette on ESPN. Don’t overlook Arizona State-USC an hour later on FSN. The Sun Devils still have to work to do to nail down an NCAA bid and a tough closing schedule to do it with.
*Speaking of work to do, Kentucky can’t let up after Saturday night’s big win over Missouri. The Wildcats pay a visit to fellow NCAA bubble team Arkansas (4 PM ET, CBS). This isn’t necessarily the best game of the day, but it’s the biggest matching two teams who can both swing either way on Selection Sunday. By halftime of this game, there will be a 5 PM ET tip out west between Colorado and Cal. We looked at red-hot Cal yesterday here at TheSportsNotebook and the Buffaloes are right in the hunt themselves. The Buffs-Bears battle will be on ESPNU.
*It will be the dinner hour on the East Coast when the day’s best game starts at 6 PM ET. Miami makes the long-awaited return trip to Duke. The Hurricanes jumped on the national stage back in January when they smoked the Blue Devils in Durham. Its revenge time for Duke, but Miami can also bring a little chip on its shoulder. The ‘Canes haven’t played well in two weeks and suffered an embarrassing loss at Wake Forest over the weekend. The gap between the ACC is down to two games, so a once-secure regular season championship for Miami isn’t there just yet. If this game isn’t close in the final ten minutes, you can switch over to Iowa-Indiana at 7:30 PM ET on the Big Ten Network. The Hawkeyes still have an NCAA chance, but need a really big win. This would qualify.
*The prime-time showcase on ESPN is going to be Arizona-UCLA at 9 PM ET as the Gameday crew packs for Westwood. Both teams are in the mix with Oregon, along with fast-charging Cal for the Pac-12 title.
So settle in at noon and go for eleven straight hours with college basketball games of significance in each time slot, with the Miami-Duke battle in the ACC being the biggest. Here’s the rundown of other notable TV sports moments this week, including NBA & NHL action…
Monday: We mentioned that Louisville-Syracuse game that starts the Saturday marathon. If the Orange want to be in the hunt for a Big East title it starts tonight with a trip to Marquette (7 PM ET, ESPN). This game might have been a winner-take-all battle for first place before Saturday when the ‘Cuse lost to Georgetown and Marquette fell at Villanova. But it’s still plenty significant. And Big 12 co-leaders Kansas and Kansas State are each in action. The Jayhawks go to Iowa State (9 PM ET, ESPN), while the Wildcats host lowly Texas Tech (7 PM ET, ESPNU).
Tuesday: Florida’s got that two-game cushion in the SEC we mentioned, but with a road game at improving Tennessee (9 PM ET, ESPN), the race could tighten by Saturday. And Indiana puts its #1 ranking and two-game Big Ten lead on the line at Minnesota in the game just prior on ESPN. The Hoosiers still have a road trip to Michigan next week, so this is not a two-game lead that Tom Crean can feel comfortable with. And speaking of Indiana, the state’s NBA team is on a roll and up to second place in the Eastern Conference. They play Golden State tonight, though you’ll have to be a League Pass subscriber to get the privilege of watching.
Wednesday: The best college game of the night is Georgetown-UConn (7 PM ET, ESPN2), with a Hoya loss meaning good news for Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville. This is also a good night for professional sports. Across the state border from UConn, the Knicks will be in Madison Square Garden to host Golden State (8 PM ET, ESPN). Carmelo Anthony’s team is in a tough stretch right now and needs to right the ship. And NBC Sports Network offers an NHL doubleheader starting at 7:30 PM ET. In the East, Washington needs to start winning quickly, as goes to Philadelphia. As do last year’s Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who host Detroit in the nightcap. The compressed hockey season is almost halfway through, so the Caps and Kings can’t be cavalier about these games.
Thursday: The TNT doubleheader in the NBA is dull, with Philadelphia playing early and Minnesota meeting the Los Angeles Lakers later. That’s three disappointments all in prime-time. Only Chicago, who hosts the Sixers isn’t a train wreck. The college fare offers an important appetizer though—Duke goes to Virginia (9 PM ET, ESPN) and if the Dookies want their big Saturday battle with Miami to be about more than revenge, they need to get this tough road win.
Friday: ESPN’s NBA coverage gives us LeBron & Durant, as Miami hosts Memphis in the opener and Oklahoma City goes to Denver in the nightcap. Action starts at 8 PM ET on ESPN. In hockey, no team is hotter than the 15-0-3 Chicago Blackhawks, who will be on the NHL Network at 8:30 PM ET against Columbus.
Saturday: For those who aren’t into college basketball, the NHL Network is offering an all-day quadruple-header. Start it with Ottawa-Philadelphia at noon ET, where the Senators are hanging with Montreal and Boston in the Northeast Division. Then it’s Washington-Winnipeg with the Caps facing the aforementioned urgency. At 7 PM ET, a good one between Pittsburgh and Montreal goes down, and it caps off with a big game out west with Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Sunday: The best college game on the board is Michigan State-Michigan (4 PM ET, CBS), but it only matters for conference title purposes if Indiana loses either at Minnesota on Tuesday or at home to Iowa on Saturday. If one of those happens, the Sparty-Wolverines is a big battle. For the NBA, it’s more LeBron & Durant. The Heat pay a visit to the Big Apple to start ABC’s doubleheader at 1 PM ET with their game against the Knicks. Then it’s Thunder-Clippers in the second game. At 8 PM ET, ESPN picks up the NBA with Bulls-Pacers being a key game in the Central Division race. Hockey fans can check out Montreal-Boston (7:30, NHL), a battle among Eastern Conference contenders and two blood rivals.
The week of the Harbaugh family’s conquest of the American sports culture isn’ t limited to Sunday night’s Super Bowl in New Orleans (6:30 PM ET, CBS). Nope, before Baltimore and San Francisco tee it up, the extended family gets into the act. The sister of the Brothers Harbaugh is married to Indiana basketball head coach Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers are not only in the spotlight on the weekend, but they have a Saturday night prime-time date with Michigan (9 PM ET, ESPN). You can block off about a 24-hour period where this entire extended family owns American TV sports.
Indiana-Michigan is a battle for the top of the Big Ten, and here at TheSportsNotebook we’re going to take a closer look at both teams on Friday, the same day the Super Bowl preview article will go up. (Heck, I may as well as get in on the Harbaugh craze and devote Friday on the website to them). But the Hoosiers-Wolverines is just part of what is a really good day in college basketball, with two more games that will significantly impact the races for major conference championships.
It all starts at 4 PM ET on CBS. Miami and N.C. State have each gotten their licks in on Duke in the early part of the ACC schedule but now, the Hurricanes and Wolfpack go head-to-head in Raleigh. Then at 7 PM ET, ESPN shows the Ole Miss-Florida game. Both are unbeaten in SEC play. It’s part of a big week for the Rebels, who host Kentucky on Tuesday night (9 PM ET, ESPN). Here at TheSportsNotebook, we’ll acknowledge the Rebels, with a feature on Ole Miss for Tuesday afternoon to get everyone up to speed on this darkhorse national title contender.
Therefore, the sports fan with a busy life can build his entire focus for the week to start late Saturday afternoon. Kick back and enjoy the weekend with a tripleheader of big college basketball games, with Miami-N.C. State, Ole Miss-Florida and Michigan-Indiana, then cap it off with the Super Bowl on Sunday.
LEBRON & LOUISVILLE
The Miami Heat lost a double-overtime thriller in Boston on Sunday, but they’re still atop the Eastern Conference. The Heat have two nationally televised games this week against competitive teams from the East. It starts Wednesday night with a trip to Brooklyn (8 PM ET, ESPN). The Nets are playing some very good basketball since P.J. Carleisimo took over the coaching reins, are up to #4 in the East and are on track to play Miami in the second round of the playoffs. The Heat are vulnerable to top post players, of which Brooklyn’s Brooke Lopez is one.
I don’t want to call a January game in the NBA “big” for anyone other than borderline playoff hopefuls, but Heat-Nets certainly qualifies as “interesting.” The same goes for Miami’s Friday night visit to Indiana( 7 PM ET, ESPN), a team they ousted in last year’s second round. The Pacers have done an admirable job keeping in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff outlook.
While LeBron’s boys occupy the middle of the week, slumping Louisville gets the TV cameras on the first and last days. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have lost three in a row. Even though two of those were by just a basket, it’s still created an appropriate sense of urgency for Louisville. They’ll host Pitt on Monday (7 PM ET, ESPN) and then host Marquette as a Super Bowl appetizer on Sunday (2 PM ET, ESPN).
HOW GOOD IS OKLAHOMA?
Oklahoma basketball is having a nice year so far, and is hanging two games back of Kansas in the Big 12 race, and right in the mix with Baylor, Kansas State and others when it comes to being the challenger to Jayhawk reign. We find out this week what to expect from the Sooners the rest of the way. On Wednesday afternoon, TheSportsNotebook will feature them with an in-depth look, as they get set to visit Baylor that night (7 PM ET, ESPN) and then on Saturday it’s a home date with Kansas State (6 PM ET, ESPN2).
THE REST OF THE WEEK
Monday: Besides the Pitt-Louisville game, it’s dry tonight. Kansas visits West Virginia (9 PM ET, ESPN), but the Mountaineers aren’t doing much this year and it would take a lot more than even beating Kansas at home to make Bob Huggins’ team relevant for this year.
Tuesday: I mentioned Ole Miss’ game with Kentucky at 9 PM ET on ESPN. The first part of that doubleheader is Wisconsin-Ohio State at 7 PM. The Badgers have played two consecutive ugly games where neither team broke 50 points. However, the Badgers also currently lead the Big Ten in conference road wins (8 of the last 12 conference games), including a 63-60 win in Columbus last season. This is a big game for both UW and OSU, who are a game back of Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten and know that at least one of them will lose this week.
Wednesday: If you like hockey and aren’t into Miami-Brooklyn in the NBA, check out the Chicago-Minnesota NHL game (8 PM ET, NBC Sports Network). The Blackhawks have won their first six, good enough for their best start in their 86-year franchise history, and have some excellent skaters on the offensive end. And yesterday at TheSportsNotebook we featured Villanova’s revival. The Wildcats go to Notre Dame on Wednesday (6 PM ET, ESPN2).
Thursday: TNT has got a good NBA game from the Western Conference with Memphis-Oklahoma City (8 PM ET). I suppose you could say the same about Dallas-Golden State immediately following on the same network, although that requires a lot of unwarranted faith in the Mavericks’ ability to become relevant again this year.
Friday: If the Heat-Pacers don’t do it for you, forget about sports and spend some time with the spouse or significant other.
Saturday: At the top we covered the highlights, which are the three big games starting at 4 PM ET and also mentioned Oklahoma’s game with Kansas State. Some of the other watchable games include a pair of Big East games. Syracuse is atop the conference and goes to Pitt (Noon ET, ESPN) and St. John’s is coming on strong and pays a visit to Georgetown (4 PM ET, CBS with split coverage on the Miami-NC State game). Hockey fans get a good one on the NHL Network at 1 PM ET with New Jersey—out to a strong start after going to the Finals last June—paying a visit to preseason Eastern favorite Pittsburgh.
Sunday: The only other Super Bowl appetizer besides Marquette-Louisville is the LA Clippers-Boston game on NBA TV (1 PM ET). Although that might be my pro-Celtics bias coming out in even putting it that high. With Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL, you don’t get a Rondo-Chris Paul battle at the point and there’s no real hope for Boston elevating themselves past the playoff bubble. Forget I brought it up.
Then the week—and in fact the sports year—reaches an end with the Super Bowl. The winner will be the last team we officially recognize as a 2012 champion.
We’re down to a month left in the NBA regular season, with the race for the Atlantic Division staying red-hot and the jousting for the final spots in the Western Conference still heated. TheSportsNotebook takes an overall look at the standings with an eye to the weekend ahead…
Philadelphia and Boston are now in a dead heat for the Atlantic Division and likely #4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Each team is at 28-22, and both are in action Friday night. The Sixers play the Washington Wizards team that former Maryland coach Gary Williams says could lose to Kentucky if the Wizards were playing their third game in three nights and the game was at Rupp. I love Gary, but the man’s lost it on this topic. Sure, Kentucky has four solid NBA prospects. Prospects like John Wall, who happens to be the point guard for the Wizards. And overall, Washington’s got a roster of pro prospects. But I’m getting off the topic. They’re still no match for Philadelphia. The Celtics head north to face Minnesota in what’s going to be a battle. Even without Ricky Rubio, and even with their playoff hopes dim, the Timberwolves have shown fighting spirit, and Kevin Love is averaging 27 points/14 rebounds a game. With Ray Allen nursing a sore ankle, this will be a tough road win for the C’s to pick up.
The Philly/Boston runner-up is currently slotted for 7th in the Eastern bracket, meaning a date with Miami or Chicago (likely Miami), but both teams are creeping up on Atlanta for the coveted 6-spot and a playoff date with Orlando. The Hawks have to play a New York team that’s getting it done for Mike Woodson, and then Atlanta-Philly go head-to-head on Saturday. As for the Knicks, they’ll play tonight’s game, and tomorrow’s NBA-TV telecast at home against Cleveland (7:30 PM ET) without Jeremy Lin, in addition to being sans Amare Stoudamire for at least a couple weeks and possibly the rest of the regular season schedule. The injury bug may prevent New York from pulling away from Milwaukee for the last playoff berth. The Knicks are presently 2 ½ games up, and Milwaukee makes a road trip to Cleveland tonight and then plays a talented Memphis team back at home tomorrow. A healthy Knick team would be ripe to add at least one, and possibly two games to their lead. A wounded squad probably closes the weekend as they started—still in control, but a race far from over.
One race that’s a long way from being over is the bottom of the Western Conference. The top six, including teams like Memphis, Dallas and the LA Clippers have opened up a little bit of breathing room on the peasants, but are still only 2-3 games ahead in the race just to qualify. Utah, Denver and Houston all lost key games this week, creating the space to breathe. All three teams are 27-24 and two of them can make the playoffs. Utah visits the Clippers on Saturday, and then on Sunday, Denver goes to Orlando and Houston hosts Indiana. The odds say that the three teams remain packed, but the top six get a lot more comfortable.
Chicago and Oklahoma City continue to lead their conference races for the #1 seed, and the Bulls-Thunder go head-to-head in Oklahoma City on Sunday afternoon (1 PM ET, ABC). Chicago continues to amaze, getting it done without Derrick Rose and building a formidable case for Tom Thibodeau as Coach of the Year. Kevin Durant is the NBA’s second-leading scorer behind only Kobe Bryant, and looking to stake his claim to MVP. The award almost surely comes down to Durant-LeBron, with Kevin Love being the third-party candidate that will deserve more attention than he gets. A big day for Durant against a tough defense on national television could push him over the top. Oklahoma City remains three games up on red-hot San Antonio, two up on Miami in the event it’s a Heat-Thunder Finals, and 1.5 back of Chicago for the best record overall.
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.
With this being the first no-football weekend since August, that means it’s time for the NBA to slowly start taking over Sundays, a trend that will hit full steam after the Super Bowl. ABC is striking quickly this week with Chicago-Miami (3:30 PM ET, ABC) set to highlight the Sunday card. Through an unpredictable year, the Bulls and Heat have met expectations and hold the top two spots in the East, with Miami looking to close to within a game on their home floor.
Following that game, flip the channel over to ESPN to watch San Antonio-Dallas at 6:30 PM ET. Both teams are 12-8 and packed in the middle of the Western Conference’s top eight. In this competitive conference, if you drop down to 11-8, you end up tied for the last playoff spot (see Lakers/Rockets) and 10-8 leaves you on the wrong side of the line (sorry Grizzlies). Remember, in a 66-game schedule, we’re almost a third of the way through, so while it’s early, it’s not too early to be looking at this stuff.
Other interesting games Sunday include Cleveland-Boston. The Celtics have won four in a row, including twice over Orlando and last night over Indiana, while the Cavs are actually in the playoffs as of today, in the 8-spot. Out west the LA Clippers visit Denver, two teams off to strong starts and leading their divisions.
Today’s card is a little quiet, but New York-Houston is a game between two teams just on the outside of the playoff picture. They’re there for two different reasons through. The Rockets rebuilding project under Kevin McHale is going well in a tough conference and they’ve played their way into contention. The Knicks are flailing in a weak conference and trail big-market powers like Milwaukee and Cleveland. Tonight’s NBA-TV fare is Sacramento-Utah (9 PM ET). The Jazz have been another nice surprise and currently slot #7 in the Western Conference playoff standings. They aren’t going to stay ahead of the Lakers all year, and I would imagine the Grizzlies are going to come strong too, but Utah joins Houston is a team it would be nice to see stay in the hunt all the way to April.