Chris Paul (LAC) — 16 pts, 10 assts
Ty Lawson (DEN) — 21 pts, 11 assts
Los Angeles Clippers (44-19) vs. Denver Nuggets (40-22)
Let us talk about entertainment. That is what the NBA really is all about to the casual fan at least. The casual fan may not appreciate the finer points of a weakside rotation, a well-set pick or a perfectly timed pocket pass.
No, fans like scoring. They like seeing athletes get up and down the court and display their athleticism in breath-taking ways.
So, fans, stay awake for this one. There may not be two better teams at running a fast-break offense in the league than the Clippers and Nuggets (with all due respect to the Rockets who have a record closer to .500 and not near the top of the West like these two teams).
Need proof? Watch the highlights of Jamal Crawford's between the legs pass to Blake Griffin for a windmill dunk from last night's win over the Bucks. Or watch the way Chris Paul or Ty Lawson weave their way through traffic and around picks to set themselves and others up.
Both teams have a running mentality and are best out on the break in transition. That should make defense a big deal in this game. And both of these teams are pretty good at that. Whoever wins the transition points might very well win this game.
So who is better?
The question might better be put as who can execute better in the half court. The Nuggets and Clippers have split their first two meetings and this is the rubber match. In the long-run, the Clippers might actually be slightly better in the half court but do not have the omnipresence of Chris Paul directing things.
Denver won a 92-78 game on January 1, so maybe the Nuggets have a slight edge. Particularly since the Nuggets are very difficult to beat in Denver.
As a disinterested fan though, there might not be a more entertaining way to spend the late hours of Thursday evening.
Other Storylines to Watch
-The NBA world is still buzzing over Crawford's fancy dish to Griffin for another "dunk of the year candidate" from Lob City. Crawford explained to ESPN.com that he knew he had a clear runway and the best jumper in the world behind him he needed to do somthing creative. Crawford said he always wanted to try that between the legs move and was waiting for an All-Star Game to do it. Guess the Bucks had to do.
-The Nuggets may not be discussed among the Western Conference teams that could make the Finals, but Ty Lawson is beginning to believe. He said he was talking with veteran Andre Iguodala and they both seemed to agree that this team really might have the right formula to surprise and make a championship run.
Tonight's Other Games
|Oklahoma City||95||Pace: 91.8||103.5||50.0||21.2||16.2||41.4|
Kevin Durant (OKC) — 34 pts, 8 rebs, 6 assts
J.R. Smith (NYK) — 36 pts, 14/29 FGs
Oklahoma City Thunder (44-16) vs. New York Knicks (37-21)
Carmelo Anthony might still be questionable for tonight's game against the Thunder, but his absence has allowed a bit of a Renaissance for Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire had a strong effort against the Cavaliers and then followed it up with another solid game against the Pistons. He had 22 points in each game and shot 18 for 27 (66.7 percent) in the two games. If Stoudemire can find his footing again, the Knicks become very dangerous.
Denver Nuggets (39-22) vs. Sacramento Kings (21-40)
Kevin Johnson's coalition to keep basketball in Sacramento is growing. Former Kings guard Mitch Richmond is joining the group hoping to buy the Kings from the Maloofs. The deal also will include the option to try and bring a WNBA team back to Sacramento after the Monarch folded a few years ago. The Kings' fans have also planned another Here We Buy night to sell out Power Balance Pavilion.
Arron Afflalo (ORL) -- 26 pts, 10/20 FGs, 5 rebs, 5 assts
Anthony Davis (NOH) -- 17 pts, 15 rebs
Orlando Magic (16-44) vs. New Orleans Hornets (21-39)
Things are bad for the Magic right now. Orlando has lost 31 of the past 35 games. Things seemed to be worse last night against Memphis at home. Orlando drew its smallest crowd -- a little north of 16,000 -- since moving into the Amway Center three years ago. While the Magic have nine home wins, going on the road might be a good thing for this team. They have a better win percentage on the road.
Dwyane Wade (MIA) -- 32 pts, 10 assts, 7 rebs
Derrick Williams (MIN) -- 25 pts, 10 rebs
Miami Heat (43-14) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-36)
The Heat have signed Juwan Howard to a 10-day contract. Why might you ask? Your guess is as good as mine. The Heat say Howard was a good locker room presence and they want him back in the lineup. That is as good a reason as any other. Tonight against the undermanned Timberwolves, Miami will not need Howard. LeBron James got knicked up in New York but he should be fine to wreak havoc in Minneapolis.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (CHA) -- 17 pts, 10 rebs, 8/11 FGs
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) -- 23 pts, 14 rebs
Charlotte Bobcats (13-46) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (27-31)
With the New Orleans Hornets becoming the New Orleans Pelicans next year, the Bobcats are in a strange place. The Charlotte Bobcats are thinking of reaquiring the Hornets name and retaking the name of their original NBA franchise (before they moved to New Orleans). Michael Jordan and the Bobcats organization announced it is reviewing whether fans want the name to return by hiring a polling company.
|Golden State||125||Pace: 102.3||122.2||62.2||17.6||12.9||34.1|
Amir Johnson (TOR) -- 23 pts, 15 rebs
Stephen Curry (GSW) -- 26 pts, 12 assts, 5 rebs
Toronto Raptors (23-37) vs. Golden State Warriors (33-27)
The Warriors have sort of fallen off since that fast start and are dangerously close to falling out of the Playoff race. Maybe a little more dangerous than you would have thought at the beginning of the season. The key though is staying together particularly on the defensive end. Stephen Curry has been providing plenty of offense lately.
|L.A. Clippers||106||Pace: 93.4||113.4||61.8||23.1||14.6||34.2|
Gerald Henderson (CHA) -- 24 pts, 12/19 FGs
Blake Griffin (LAC) -- 24 pts, 7 rebs, 6 assts
Charlotte Bobcats (33-43) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (40-18)
If there is any more sign that the Clippers culture has changed, it is seen in a tweet Jamal Crawford sent out earlier today. Crawford called the Clippers the best organization he has been with top-to-bottom. When the wins are going well, even a blind dog finds a bone, I guess.
Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) -- 25 pts, 7 rebs, 10/17 FGs
Ryan Anderson (NOH) -- 20 pts, 12 rebs, 7/11 FGs
Dallas Mavericks (24-29) vs. New Orleans Hornets (19-36)
The Mavericks made a minor move in acquiring Anthony Morrow at the trade deadline. But he comes with some big praise. Coach Rick Carlisle called Morrow the best shooter he has seen aside from Chris Mullin. That might be going a bit far perhaps. But Morrow is a strong 3-point shooter and should help spread the floor if Dallas intends on making the Playoffs this year.
|Oklahoma City||127||Pace: 102.7||123.7||63.3||25.8||16.3||26.5|
Alexey Shved (MIN) -- 17 pts, 7/12 FGs
Russell Westbrook (OKC) -- 37 pts, 7 rebs, 9 assts
Minnesota Timberwolves (20-31) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-15)
It might have been a minor move, but it will rock international basketball. After Russia's strong performance in the 2012 Olympics, they not only will lose their coach but also their best player. Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko announced his retirement from international competition, ending a very successful and decorated tenure in FIBA basketball.
Jeff Green (BOS) -- 31 pts, 7 rebs, 11/14 FGs
Goran Dragic (PHX) -- 19 pts, 10 assts
Boston Celtics (28-26) vs. Phoenix Suns (18-37)
There was definite talk that Kevin Garnett was going to get traded out west to the Clippers. That ended up not happening for a variety of reasons. One was Garnett being unwilling to waive his no trade clause. Another might have been the internal disagreements within the Clippers about the best move. In the end, Boston made a relatively minor move to bring in Jordan Crawford and inject some scoring. It will be interesting to see whether this veteran team can finish.
|L.A. Lakers||111||Pace: 104.0||106.8||50.6||25.5||13.8||40.0|
J.J. Hickson (POR) -- 22 pts, 11 rebs
Kobe Bryant (LAL) -- 40 pts, 15/23 FGs
Portland Trail Blazers (25-29) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (26-29)
With Mark Cuban jokingly saying the Lakers should amnesty Kobe Bryant to get away from crushing luxury tax debt, the Lakers were guaranteeing they would make the Playoffs. That is definitley the mindset Kobe Bryant has and his teammates -- particularly Dwight Howard, Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol -- concurred. So now the season starts anew... again. A big game against another Playoff-hungry team should give all the motivation necessary.--->