As a way to help you set your NBA-watching calendar, this space will get you ready for the best games that aren’t on ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBATV each week. We provide a little insight about why you should check out each matchup and a few nuggets about the teams involved.
Monday 2/17 – Wednesday 2/19
The NBA All-Star break continues through Wednesday.
Heat at Hawks
Miami opens their stretch run on the road. That’s been a challenging spot for the Heat, as they’re just 13-16 away from home. This is a game Miami should win, however, as Atlanta has the league’s third-worst record. The Heat are working in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder as part of their revamped bench. If Erik Spoelstra can figure out how to divvy up minutes, Miami is legitimately 10-11 players deep. That should allow Spoelstra to mix and match, while spotting guys rest days, the rest of the way.
Trae Young is coming off his first All-Star appearance, but he’s not the only reason to watch the Hawks. Atlanta has adopted a full-on youth movement around Young. John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cameron Reddish are all getting major minutes for the Hawks now, including playing a lot as a five-man unit alongside Young. Once Clint Capela is able to join the lineup, Travis Schlenk and Lloyd Pierce will have a couple of months to see who fits and who doesn’t as the Atlanta rebuild continues.
Grizzlies at Lakers
It’s past time to take Memphis seriously as a playoff team. The Grizzlies come out of the break with a four-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Memphis has a difficult schedule to close, but Portland has struggled with injuries, and the Grizzlies are up at least five games on the other teams chasing them. If Justise Winslow can get healthy, Memphis will add a rotation player to replace what they lost when they traded away Jae Crowder. Beyond that, the Grizzlies will go as far as the trio of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks will take them.
The Lakers open the second half with a four-game lead for the number one overall seed in the Western Conference. That cushion could allow Los Angeles to spot LeBron James and Anthony Davis some rest days down the stretch. Given their lack of top-end talent behind James and Davis, keeping them healthy is paramount for a long playoff run. The schedule also features 16 of the Lakers final 29 games at home. It’s looking increasingly likely the Western Conference playoffs will go through Los Angeles.
Rockets at Jazz
Houston and Utah have both had up-and-down seasons to this point. The Rockets started out hot at 11-3, while the Jazz have been at their best since the start of December, despite a bump in the road in late-January. Houston has gone all-in on small-ball by trading away Clint Capela for Robert Covington. In addition, Mike D’Antoni is back to his Phoenix Suns style in another way by playing a very short rotation. Only about eight players are seeing significant minutes for Houston, and none of them are taller than Covington at 6’7’’. That’s asking a lot of guys to stay healthy and to be ready to go come playoff time, when they’re all playing big minutes and battling against much bigger players.
The Jazz present an interesting challenge for Houston because of Rudy Gobert. Either the Rockets will stretch the floor and play Gobert off the court, or Gobert will dominate inside with no one to challenge him at the rim. Elsewhere, the Jazz and Rockets matchup in some fun ways. Outside of Gobert, Utah runs an offense with four perimeter-based players featuring Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic. Those two combine for 45.3 points per game on over 45% shooting. The Jazz are always stingy defensively, but now have a second offensive weapon alongside Mitchell in Bogdanovic. If Mike Conley can get and stay healthy, Utah will be tough out in the playoffs. This becomes even truer if they can hold on to homecourt advantage in the first round.
Pacers at Raptors
The League Pass week closes with a matchup between two certain Eastern Conference playoff teams. Toronto is trying to hold off Boston for the second seed, while Indiana is trying to push past Philadelphia and Miami for homecourt advantage in the first round. The Raptors saw their 15-game win streak snapped right before the All-Star break, but have weathered the injury storm quite well. Pascal Siakam has become a star, while Kyle Lowry still does his thing. Toronto needs to get Marc Gasol and Norman Powell back on the floor. They won’t push either player, as the Raptors are angling to be healthy come playoffs, but their ceiling changes dramatically when Toronto has their top-7 players available.
The Pacers have reincorporated Victor Oladipo into the starting five and will spend the last couple of months of the regular season finding their best lineups. Malcolm Brogdon has played as a near-All-Star level, but has been nicked up at various points throughout the season. If healthy, he and Oladipo make for a dynamic and versatile backcourt. That pairs well with the big frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. And keep an eye on TJ Warren, who is turning in the best scoring season of his career at 18.5 points per game on 53/37/80 shooting splits. Finally, with Oladipo back, the Pacers have been able to move Jeremy Lamb to the bench, which fills out a deep reserve unit. Don’t bet against Indiana in the race for homecourt in the East.