Ah, spring. The flowers are blooming. The birds are singing. The Warriors are tanking. This is a glorious season.
But if you hate the outdoors (or watching a tanking team) here’s some games to peruse this week. I think you’ll enjoy. Let’s get to it.
Monday: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder (5:00 PM PST)
I said it at the beginning of the season, and I’m sticking by my statement: if any team can beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. In fact, I still like the Grizzlies as a sleeper finals pick. Last year’s seven game semifinal showed that these two teams match up well against each other. The Thunder have been on a tear recently, having won six straight against playoff (or near-playoff [Timberwolves]) teams, including the Bulls, Lakers and Heat. In each of these games, both Durant and Westbrook have played extremely well together. Memphis will likely employ the same defensive strategy they used in the playoffs last year, and concentrate on stopping one of the Thunder’s best two players. In the three games that the Grizzlies won in last year’s playoff series, they did a good job of shutting down either Westbrook or Durant. In games one and three, which the Thunder both lost, Westbrook shot a combined 16-45 (.355) from the field, and notched only 18 assists to 16 turnovers. In the sixth game, another loss, Durant shot 3-14 from the field, including 1-9 from behind the arc. Look for Memphis to concentrate most of their energy on one of their two superstars, and make the other (and OKC’s stellar supporting cast) beat them. The Grizzlies can counter Harden’s rise to stardom with a balanced attack that features Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, an increasingly surefooted Z-Bo, and sixth man O.J. Mayo. Should be fun.
Tuesday: New York Knicks at Indiana Pacers (4:00 PM PST)
I’m sure all those folks who became Knicks fans when Linsanity started are still following the team closely. Surely they realize that the Knicks are solidifying a 3.5 game lead over ninth place Milwaukee. They must be appreciative of the efforts of resident scapegoat Carmelo Anthony, who has played extremely well in the 8-2 run over the end of March. They must be surprised that the Knicks have a shot of winning the Atlantic division, and thus a chance to avoid either Chicago or Miami in the first round. They must really be pleased with the way things have turned out since Mike Woodson took over. They must really be looking forward to this matchup between old rivals.
Wait, what’s that? You haven’t watched a game since All-Star break? And you definitely won’t now that Lin’s likely out for the season? And you only did because it was cool? Oh. Well, then.
Wednesday: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat (5:00 PM PST)
One of the unexpected plusses of this shortened season has been the high number of marquee matchups that happen on a regular basis. We were treated to this potential finals preview a little over a week ago, and now we get to see them play again. I’d expect Miami to put up more of an effort in last week’s strangely lethargic contest. At the same time, the Thunder will be looking to make another statement against a team that seems to think they can “turn it on” like a Championship squad. Hopefully this one’s more competitive than the last.
Thursday: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls (6:30 PM PST)
The Bulls are currently first out East, and the Celtics are fourth. Provided that the Bulls can take care of the Knicks (they will) and the Celtics can dispatch the Pacers (they might), we should be treated to a very entertaining second round series. The Bulls lead the regular season series 2-1, and all of the contests have been highly entertaining. The 6.1 point differential doesn’t show how close games between these two clubs actually are on a regular basis. And everyone remembers the crazy 2009 first round series that, to this day, remains the most entertaining playoff series perhaps of all time. This game, too, should be pretty fun.
Friday: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 PM PST)
I’ve been wondering: what’s wrong with playing in Houston, especially if you’re a former Laker? Pau Gasol was not happy when he was briefly traded to the Rockets as a part of the CP3 trade. Derek Fisher quickly arranged a buyout when he was traded to the Rockets two weeks ago, something that general manager Daryl Morey was “a little disappointed” about. What’s wrong with Houston? Even without Pau Gasol, and All-World point guard Derek Fisher, Houston’s great. They’re 28-25, and have a one game lead over Utah for the eighth spot in the Western conference. Morey’s been a great GM, and McHale looks like a really good long term fit for what they’re trying to do. They’ve got two starting-quality point guards in Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, an efficient volume scorer in Kevin Martin, and a really nice supporting cast. Why these guys are so sad to leave the circus that is the Los Angeles Lakers is really beyond me.
Saturday: Portland Trailblazers at Milwaukee Bucks (5:30 PM PST)
The much-anticipated Pryzbilla Bowl! Joel Pryzbilla returns to Milwaukee, home of the team that “drafted” him (he was traded from the Rockets to the Bucks on Draft Day) in 2000, and the place where he spends his offseasons hunting, fishing, and avoiding catastrophic knee injuries while showering. This matchup features two teams that will miss the playoffs after quick starts to the season. I’m actually fairly intrigued by the Monta Ellis-Nolan Smith matchup. Smith, who has gotten more time since the trade deadline, looks like a Monta Ellis-type player if he can get some consistent burn. But really, all eyes will be on Ghostface. Welcome home, Vanilla Gorilla!
Sunday: Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs (4:00 PM PST)
The sexier matchup is likely Chicago versus New York on ABC, but those teams both have revolving door starting lineups at the moment. I really don’t need to see the Bulls machine operate unless Derrick Rose is at the helm, and I’m not that interested in seeing a less talented version of the perennial first round flops, a.k.a. the 2004-2008 Denver Nuggets, which featured Melo as the team’s best everything. Instead, I’ll settle down with some good, ol’ fashioned Western conference basketball. Defense, ball movement, and high pick and rolls. It’s not entertaining, but it’s well executed. A good way to finish off a week.