Golden State Warriors (15-8) vs. Atlanta Hawks (14-6)
At the mid-point of December, no team may be as surprising as Golden State. The Warriors have a couple of nice players in Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson, but no one near a superstar level at this point and a history of not playing defense.
Mark Jackson has changed that in his one-plus year as Golden State tries to be more than just an offensive show. Golden State wants to start winning games.
That takes a little bit of a change in attitude. Perhaps those bumps in the road were met last year. This year the Warriors have come flying out the games. This seven-game road trip which wraps up tonight in Atlanta has seen Golden State win the first five including a win over Brooklyn and Miami.
It has been an impressive run for the Warriors. The team was deconstructed last year and now has some really nice pieces and some really nice chemistry. Draymond Green, David Lee, Marcus Landry and Festus Ezeli have provided some good inside grit. Jarrett Jack has turned in a very nice season as well.
If there is a team that is Warriors East, if you will, it is likely the Hawks. Atlanta admittedly took a step back in trading Joe Johnson but has shocked everyone with a balanced scoring effort and the strong defense they have usually put forth in the Mike Woodson/Larry Drew era. Josh Smith and Al Horford have worked well together and both are scoring and attacking efficiently.
Even though this Warriors team looked flat against the Magic on Friday night and has the end of the road trip to look forward to, this is a matchup of the two biggest surprises in the league.
Other Storylines to Watch
-The Hawks have had a nice season going. The reason though that the franchise made the trades was to clear cap space. Atlanta will have a lot of it next season and the rumor is that the team is thinking with eyes very wide. Among the expected free agents this summer: hometown product Dwight Howard.
-Floyd Mayweather is known to gamble. But is he the first member of the Warriors bandwagon? Jarret Jack told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he heard Mayweather placed a $100,000 bet on the Warriros in their game against the Heat.
Tonight's Other Games
Orlando Magic (9-13) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7-15)
If you are interested in positioning at the bottom of the Southeast Division, this is your place. The Magic's up-and-down play has enabled them to take a two-game lead over the Bobcats as the Bobcats have slipped into a 10-game losing streak.
Cleveland Cavaliers (5-19) vs. New York Knicks (17-5)
Kyrie Irving will miss the game tonight after slamming his head hard onto the floor and breaking a bone in his cheek against Milwaukee on Friday night. Irving will be fitted for a mask, joining Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller on the team's mask club. Irving is only two games removed from returning from a 19-game absence for a fractured finger. Been a tough-luck season for him so far.
Washington Wizards (3-17) vs. Miami Heat (14-6)
Ted Leonsis is doing some damage control at this point after a report claimed that the Wizards turned down a deal to acquire James Harden in fear that it would put them in the luxury tax. Leonsis said in a statement that this assertion is not true. He publicly commented that he is willing to spend to make his team better. Of course, Leonsis was known as one of the hawks during the lockout, pushing the league to go harder on the players and take more of the split.
Indiana Pacers (12-11) vs. Detroit Pistons (7-18)
A reminder for all fans. December 15 is the first day players who signed a contract this offseason can be traded. Unless they were signed with Bird Rights. That means players like the struggling Roy Hibbert who resigned with their teams this offseason cannot be traded until Jan. 15. That gives a month for Hibbert and other such players to feel safe. For Hibbert, who has struggled mightily this season to get himself right before rumors can begin swirling.
Brooklyn Nets (13-9) vs. Chicago Bulls (12-9)
More on that point on players becoming available for trades today, the Nets changed pretty much their entire roster with signings and will have a lot of players available for deals if they so choose. The report is though that the Nets do not have any plans to make any deals at the moment.
Dallas Mavericks (11-12) vs. Minnesota Timberwoles (11-9)
Ricky Rubio will make his season debut tonight for Minnesota after tearing his ACL last year. Which leaves the question: When might we see Dirk Nowitzki? Nowitzki is starting to increase his basketball activities, running to mid court and back and shooting with his shooting coach. No timetable is set for his return.
Los Angeles Clippers (16-6) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (12-9)
The Clippers are on an eight-game win streak which is the longest for the franchise since 1984. The scary part is the Clippers continue to get healthier and to get more depth. Those waiting for whatever "Clippers curse" that might exist might have to wait longer. This is a good team. Certainly the best team in Los Angeles… for now.
Boston Celtics (12-10) vs. San Antonio Spurs (18-6)
It was an emotional night for the Celtics last night. Kevin Garnett and Kevin McHale shared a long embrace as the two long-time friends, dating back to their days in Minnesota, shared a close moment in mourning over McHale's recently deceased daughter. It was a poignant moment that showed that these players are human and the games are ultimately meaningless and only serve as a diversion from the relationships and the life we live.
Memphis Grizzlies (14-6) vs. Utah Jazz (13-11)
This, I believe, is the first game of the John Hollinger era of the Memphis Grizzlies. The longtime NBA stat guru and ESPN analyst accepted a job with the Grizzlies to run their analytics department. Of course, one game is hardly a sample size. So maybe John is taking a vacation while the Grizzlies collect data points to analyze.