As way to help you set your NBA-watching calendar, we’re bringing back RealGM’s League Pass Games of the Week! This space will get you ready for the best games that aren’t on ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBATV each week. We’ll provide a little insight about why you should check out each matchup and a few nuggets about the teams involved.
Rockets at Grizzlies
Houston is one of the NBA’s better teams, so their inclusion here is no surprise. Russell Westbrook has gotten off to a good start, and has been the Rockets best all-around player so far. James Harden has been off the mark shooting the ball to start the year, but remains a lethal scoring option. Houston’s defense is best described by talking about the strength of their offense
The Grizzlies are moving forward with their youth movement built around Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. As expected, Morant has been must-watch. His ability to get up and down the floor makes every possession a trip into the unknown. He might dunk on someone or he might throw a pass into the tenth row.
Heat at Nuggets
Denver is a contender struggling to find their way a little bit. The Nuggets were recently called out by head coach Mike Malone as a “great talk team.” But Denver still has great depth around Nikola Jokic. In order to take the step from good to great, they’ll need to shoot the ball better than 42.6 percent as a team. Making shots should also up the team’s current standing at 20th in assists per game.
Miami is finally getting the players on the floor that they envisioned as the roster was put together in the offseason. Jimmy Butler is back after missing some games early and Dion Waiters’ exile from the team is over. In their absence, young players Bam Adebayo and early season surprise Kendrick Nunn have gotten off to terrific starts.
76ers at Jazz
Philadelphia has gotten off to a great start and remains the NBA’s lone unbeaten team as of this writing. By the time they get to Utah, they’ll have Joel Embiid back off his two-game suspension after a scuffle with Karl-Anthony Towns. Philly’s jumbo-sized lineup will always be tough defensively, but they’ll need someone to make shots to be a true title contender. That might be a challenge against a very good Jazz defense. It will also be interesting to see how they match up with a Utah team that can do a lot of damage from the perimeter on offense.
The Jazz are who they are. They defend like crazy and run some of the best offensive sets in the league. Mike Conley is off to a slow start in his first year in Utah, but his shot will eventually come around. Rudy Gobert vs Embiid is always a fun matchup, and Al Horford has had success in the past pulling the Jazz big man away from the rim. Look for Utah to make sure Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic make the Sixers defend on the move a lot.
Thunder at Spurs
A TNT Thursday is a good time to check in on Oklahoma City and their post-Westbrook rebuild. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has gotten off to a great start and looks the part of future franchise player for the Thunder. Chris Paul is doing what he always does, while many still expect a trade to eventually come that sends him to a contender. And, assuming he’s back from a knee bruise, Steven Adams is now freed from the Russ Rules of Rebounding and is dominating the glass.
The Spurs just do what the Spurs do. They run an offense that prioritizes the post-ups and mid-range jumpers that most of the NBA now avoids. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan take advantage of defenses that are set up to force those exact shots. And in Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, San Antonio has a pair of young point guards that would make any team envious.
76ers at Nuggets
Bucks at Jazz
Friday night features a double dose of great League Pass games with Philadelphia at Denver as well as Milwaukee visiting Utah. We already covered the Sixers, Nuggets and Jazz, so let’s take a look at the Bucks.
Milwaukee rampaged through the NBA last year on the way to a league-best 60 wins. The Bucks aren’t catching anyone off-guard this time around. Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing his thing, but teams are locking in on the role players around him. Milwaukee also seems to miss Malcolm Brogdon as a shooter and secondary playmaker. The Bucks will figure it out eventually, as Mike Budenholzer finds the best lineups with some new rotation players.
Celtics at Spurs
Boston hasn’t won in San Antonio since 2011 and they’ve dropped 14 of their last 15 games against the Spurs overall. Despite losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in the offseason, Boston has gotten off to a good start. Kemba Walker has more than replaced Irving and Gordon Hayward looks more like the guys from his Utah days than the player finding his way back from injury that he was last season. Most exciting for the Celtics? Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have gotten off to great starts after a year where their development seemed to have stagnated.
Hawks at Trail Blazers
Hopefully Trae Young will be available to play for the Hawks after rolling an ankle last week. With Young, Atlanta is a completely different team. He opens up the floor with his shooting, and when teams press up on him Young becomes a playmaker. The Hawks have surrounded Young with fledgling talent in John Collins, Kevin Huerter and rookies DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish. With some solid veterans backing up the young core, Atlanta looks frisky in the Eastern Conference.
Portland remains perennially underrated. Their big man rotation is a bit of mess, as Hassan Whiteside and Anthony Tolliver are the Blazers only available NBA-level players. That puts a lot of pressure on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to carry the offense. The hope is that eventually Jusuf Nurkic makes it back, but Portland needs to upgrade the forward spots if they hope to make another long playoff run in a deep Western Conference.