The Top NBA Games This Weekend

With no “real” football this weekend (the Pro Bowl doesn’t count), the eyes of the sporting world will be squarely on the NBA. Here is a rundown of the bigger games of the weekend to consider.

On Saturday, two of the more intriguing matchups include the Brooklyn Nets (26-16) at Houston Rockets (22-22) and the Los Angeles Clippers (32-12) at Portland Trail Blazers (21-21).

The Rockets have a tenuous hold on the final Western Conference playoff spot after losing eight of their last nine games, including 105-95 home loss to the Denver Nuggets as a 3-point home favorite on Wednesday. The Nets enter as the NBA’s hottest team having won 10 of their last 11 games straight up.

Sunday’s slate is headed by the Miami Heat (27-12) at Boston Celtics (20-22) and Oklahoma City Thunder (33-10) at Los Angeles Lakers (17-25).

Miami and Oklahoma City are the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences and will go favored in this spot. Boston currently has a tenuous hold on the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Lakers are outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and are fading fast.

Crawford The Glue For Clippers

Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers pronounced that they had arrived and were going to be contenders in the Western Conference. This year, not a lot has changed, but the addition of Jamal Crawford has clearly brought the team to the next level, where it can certainly feel like it has a shot of winning the NBA title this year.

Crawford is tied as the second leading scorer on the Clips at 16.6 points per game, and he provides instant offense off of the bench. If it weren’t for Crawford, there would be a number of games that LA would have probably lost, instead of making for great NBA picks.

A streaky shooter as always, Crawford is only knocking down 41.8 percent of his shots from the field this year. However, he has had plenty of games like his recent outing against the Houston Rockets in which he shot 11-of-20, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc to help out his club.

Suns Turn To Lindsey Hunter

The Phoenix Suns have had a frustrating season, as they are 13-28 through the first half of the year and have the worst record in the Western Conference. As a result, Head Coach Alvin Gentry was dismissed, and Lindsey Hunter is taking over in his first ever head coaching job.

Hunter was always known as a coach on the court during his lengthy NBA career, but this is a curious hire. Normally, teams make coaching hires based upon some sort of past experience, but there isn’t a heck of a lot of that with Hunter.

The top task for Hunter to give his new team a shot at winning games is going to be improving defense. The Suns rank 23rd in the league, allowing 99.7 points per game this year. The disturbing stats are the 46.7 percent that opponents are shooting from the field and the 38.9 percent that they are shooting from long range. Those rankings are second to last and last in the NBA respectively.

Curry Leads List of Potential 3-Point Shootout Stars

The 3-Point Shootout is one of the great events of the All-Star weekend in Houston, and today, we’re making our NBA picks for the men we think should be in the event.

Stephen Curry is knocking down 46.1 percent of his three-point shots this year, and if he can get over a sprained ankle, he would probably be one of the favorites in the competition. His teammate, Klay Thompson, is another great choice though, as Thompson is averaging 2.8 three-point shots made per game on the campaign.

Kevin Love won the contest last year by coming up with a final score of 17 in Orlando. Kevin Durant entered the competition for the second time in his career, while James Jones has now participated in two 3-Point Shootouts in a row as well.

Keep an eye on Steve Novak as well. Novak really does nothing for the Knicks but shoot three-pointers, and he is lethal at it. The 6-10 sharpshooter is knocking down 42.5 percent of his long range shots, and he is good for 43.9 percent from downtown in his career.

Derrick Rose Nearing Return for Chicago Bulls

Good news for the Chicago Bulls: former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is likely to return to the lineup for the first time this season immediately following the Feb. 15-17 All-Star break.

Rose, who has been sidelined since suffering a knee injury in the first round of last year’s playoffs, is reportedly ramping up his participation in practice in preparation for a return to the lineup. ESPN reports Rose could be back better than ever after adding 10 pounds of muscle and tirelessly working on his jump shot. This is well worth considering when making your NBA picks moving forward.

The Bulls have performed admirably in Rose’s absence, thanks in large part to All-Star-caliber production from Joakim Noah and resurgent play Carlos Boozer. The Bulls (22-15) currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and are just three games behind the first-place Miami Heat. Rose’s return figures to be huge and could make the Bulls a legitimate to challenger to the Heat for conference supremacy.

Rudy Gay On Way Out Of Memphis?

It’s not often that a team with one of the best records in the NBA is trying to sell off its top scorer and arguably its best player, but that’s what the Memphis Grizzlies are working on right now with F Rudy Gay.

Gay is averaging 17.8 points and 5.7 boards per game, but he has a very bulky contract that will see him make almost $18M next year and over $19M in 2014-15 before he becomes a free agent.

Teams like the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings seem interested in bringing in Gay, but the intriguing contender right now is the Dallas Mavericks. Owner Mark Cuban has said that his team is openly shopping for new players, and the Mavs have been known to make blockbuster deals.

If we had to make our NBA picks, Dallas would be the frontrunner to land Gay prior to the trade deadline in February.

Evans Being Targeted By Lakers, Grizzlies

With just over a month until the NBA trade deadline, speculation is starting to increase on what players are on the trading block. One name being dangled as possible trade bait is Tyreke Evans, the young, dynamic guard for the Sacramento Kings.

The Los Angeles Times reports the Kings have made it known that they are “willing to listen” to offers for Evans, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft and is in the final year of his contract. Speculation is that the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies are the leading contenders to acquire Evans.

Evans has been dealing with recurring knee soreness this year, but is still having a fine campaign for the struggling Kings. He is averaging 14.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game this season. It is unknown what the Lakers—who are desperate to get younger and more athletic for a potential playoff push—would have to give up to acquire Evans.

This and other potential trades are well-worth following on SBRforum.

Aldridge A Quiet Star In Pacific Northwest

Portland Trail Blazers starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is quietly putting together one of the most productive seasons by an individual player in the NBA this season. The six-year pro has averaged 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game to help spur the Trail Blazers to a 19-15 record and the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

Drafted out of high school with the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls,  Aldridge has a smooth left-handed post game that includes an increasingly deft passing touch. In fact, folks in Portland are already thinking the league’s highest-scoring power forward could soon become triple-double material.

According to local reports, Aldridge has been dealing with a bothersome right wrist since early November and it has been a concern. However, he and the Blazers were able to exhale this week when doctors determined it was no worse a sprain.

Kyrie Irving Taking Charge in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers spent the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft two years ago on G Kyrie Irving out of Duke, and this year, he is really starting to pay some dividends for the club. He isn’t eligible for the scoring title at this point thanks to the fact that he missed 11 games with a hand injury, but he is averaging 23.5 points and 5.6 assists per game for the Cavs.

Irving has put up at least 30 points in three out of last four games, and he is starting to become a truly lethal shooter. In that stretch, the second year man has helped Cleveland in its quest to win more games with a .493 shooting percentage.

For a season that has otherwise stunk with just a 9-28 record, at least Cavaliers fans can rest assured, knowing that they have a new face to their franchise that should carry them into the future.

Nowitzki Starting Again For Mavericks

Any time a player goes through the entire offseason without any training camp, he is going to need some time to get back into the swing of things. The Dallas Mavericks played it safe with  Dirk Nowitzki, who had offseason knee surgery and missed the first quarter of the season. He came off of the bench and was limited to right around 20 minutes per game for his first six games, but on Saturday, he made his first start of the year against the New Orleans Hornets.

Nowitzki scored 20 points in both the game against the Hornets and the game two nights later against the Utah Jazz, playing 35 and 33 minutes in those games respectively.

The Mavs made for lousy NBA picks in both games though, and if they are going to turn that around over the course of the rest of the year, they’ll need Nowitzki to prove that he can play at an even higher level than this.

Chris Paul To New York Continues To Be An Intriguing Scenario

The New York Knicks appear primed to do damage in this year’s NBA playoffs, but that still hasn’t been enough to stop speculation that superstar point guard Chris Paul might be ready to bolt the West Coast and the Los Angeles Clippers following this season.

Paul’s relationship with Knicks’ forward Carmelo Anthony has been well-chronicled over the years. In fact, Paul gave a speech at Anthony’s wedding last year that alluded to possibly joining forces, along with Amare Stoudemire, for a new “Big Three” in New York, similar to that seen with the Miami Heat. Paul further stoked the rumors over the summer by turning down a contract extension from the Clippers for $60 million over three years.

The scenario now is that Paul will play out the season with the Clippers and be eligible for a 5-year, $108 million contract in the offseason. The decision is likely to hinge on the respective performances of the Knicks and Clippers—both of whom have been won a ton of games already so far this season—over the next five months.

Waiters Making An Impact

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been dealing with numerous injuries this season, are glad to have first round pick Dion Waiters back from an ankle injury.

Waiters missed eight games because of the injury, with guys like C.J. Miles, Jeremy Pargo and Alonzo Gee earning more minutes while he was out.

The rookie has played in two games since returning, the first of which was a home loss against the Toronto Raptors. Waiters had eight points on 4-of-13 shooting and also dished out four assists in the loss.

The next day, the Cavaliers had a road games against the Boston Celtics and ended up with another loss, this time falling 103-91. Waiters fared better this time around, scoring 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting, while chipping in with four rebounds, four assists and a steal. Turnovers have been an issue for the rookie though as he’s coughed it up three times in each game since coming back.

As for his season numbers, Waiters is averaging 14.7 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game, but is shooting a dreadful 36.3 percent from the floor. That number is sure to go up – it can’t get much worse – as the young guard continues to find his feet in the NBA. He’s also shooting 33.3 percent from three and 74.1 percent from the line.

Despite owning some talent like Waiters and then Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers are just 5-22 so far this season. They’ve lost five straight games and 10 of their last 11 ahead of Friday night’s home date with Indiana.

We are however inclined to believe that this team will fare much better once they get fully healthy. Irving and Waiters have recently returned, but now Varejao is dealing with a sore knee. Who knows how competitive this team could be when all three are feeling good.

Griffin Big Part of Clippers Leap Forward

The Los Angeles Clippers are playing some of the best basketball of any team in the NBA right now, and despite his numbers being down this season, Blake Griffin has been an essential part of this early success.

Griffin was the number one overall pick in 2009 and was just as advertised, averaging 22.5 points and 12.1 assists per game as a rookie. He followed that up with averages of 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds in his sophomore season.

This season, his numbers are down, as he’s putting up 18.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. However, that’s a product of the Clippers improving dramatically across the board. They’re getting help from across the board now, instead of simply having to rely on Griffin or Chris Paul like they did last season.

With DeAndre Jordan improving his offensive game and additions like Jamal Crawford scoring at a great clip, the impetus to carry the load has gone for Griffin. Now he can just focus on making the right decisions and improving other facets of his game, like defense for example. Not known for his defensive prowess, Griffin has clearly been working on that side of his game, and it’s paying off rot the Clippers.

Just how good has L.A. been? Well, they’re #8 in points per game at 101.3, and are in the top five defensively, having allowed just 92.4 points per contest so far this season. The Clippers are winning NBA games left and right, thanks to solid production from numerous sources. Vinny Del Negro now has one of the deepest rotations of any team in the league, and that’s going to start paying off as we delve deeper into the season.

So, now is the time you want to jump on the Clippers’ bandwagon. These guys are for real and will most certainly lock up a high seed heading into the playoffs.

Rubio Has Looked Impressive In Limited Minutes

Ricky Rubio has finally made his long-awaited debut after sitting out for almost nine months because of a torn ACL. The Spanish point guard is sure to have an immediate impact for the Timberwolves.

Few could have predicted what kind of success Rubio would have in the NBA. He was selected with the fifth overall pick back in 2009 and then spent another season plying his trade in Spain, before finally getting the call up last year.

Rubio was a revelation in the league, averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds in 34.2 minutes per game. He forged an immediate connection with the likes of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic and Minnesota quickly became one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league, mainly because of Rubio’s play.

So you can see how devastated Timberwolves fans were when Rubio tore up his knee and had to sit out the rest of the season and the beginning of this season.

Fortunately for Rubio, fans and the organization, he’s finally made his return, though the team is still being extremely careful with how many minutes they’re giving him. Rubio is coming off the bench for now, playing 15-18 minutes per game and will sit out all back-to-backs for the foreseeable future.

Even with the limited playing time, Rubio has done his thing. In his first game action in over nine months, he had eight points, nine assists and four boards in just 18 minutes. Who knows what kind of numbers he’ll be putting up when he’s playing his normal allotment of minutes again?

The Timberwolves are already one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season, and that should be even more true now with their starting point guard back in the mix.

Dwight Howard Rumors Lack Substance

Those rumors that the Los Angeles Lakers may shop Dwight Howard? Don’t believe them for a second.

Howard may not be completely healthy and dominating like he has throughout his career, but it’s only a matter of time before he gets his legs under him and starts killing teams alongside Kobe Bryant.

Plus, it’s not like Howard is doing poorly. He’s averaging 18.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game so far and seems to be getting better and better with each passing day. His chemistry with the likes of Bryant should only improve, while the return of Steve Nash is going to help everyone involved with the Lakers organization.

Of course, the only mega troubling aspect of Howard’s game is his free throw shooting, which has proven to be a big problem already this season. Howard, funnily enough, is shooting at a higher clip from the floor (57.9 percent) than he is from the charity stripe (49.8 percent).

Teams are using this fact against the Lakers. They’re fouling Howard whenever the situation calls for it and it’s been working wonders. Howard needs to keep working on his shot from the line if he’s ever going to post those crazy-good numbers we’re used to seeing from Superman.

Howard’s defense has also been disappointing at times, but all in all, his presence has been positive for the Lakers, and there’s simply no way they would want to trade him away. After all, he’s apparently going to take the reins from Kobe once the Black Mamba retires from the NBA and lead this Lakers franchise going forward.

It’s still a bit too early to back the Lakers with your NBA picks – let’s wait until Nash and Pau Gasol get back and this team builds some chemistry – but keep an eye out on this team.

Sooner or later they will figure it out, and Howard will be a huge part of it all.