The Christmas holiday is usually when casual NBA fans really start paying much closer attention to the league, thanks to ABC and ESPN televising several games featuring top contenders and stars on Christmas Day. But January is the first full month when the schedule really begins to present a ton of marquee matchups, many of which play out on national TV.
Martin Luther King Day will have several quality games televised on TNT and NBA TV. ABC will begin its Saturday night primetime telecasts on Jan. 21, while two days later, TNT begins its weekly Monday night broadcasts for the first time in the new NBA television contract.
Here are the 10 big NBA games to watch in the month of January:
Thursday Jan. 5, Thunder @ Rockets, 8 p.m., TNT
In the month of December, Russell Westbrook averaged 30.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.9 assists and didn’t win the Western Conference Player of the Month award. That went to James Harden, who put up 28.3 points, 12 assists and 9.1 rebounds per game for a Houston team that went 15-2 in December. Harden’s New Year’s Eve statline of 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds were the most points scored in a triple-double since Wilt Chamberlain.
Harden and Westbrook are clearly the top two candidates for the MVP award, and seeing the two former Thunder teammates go at it this week will definitely be must-watch viewing.
— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2016
Friday Jan. 13, Celtics @ Hawks, 8 p.m., ESPN
After nine seasons and four All-Star appearances with Atlanta, Al Horford makes his return to the ATL to play against the Hawks for the first time since signing a max contract with the Celtics in the offseason.
Horford spoke to The Comeback about his decision to leave the Hawks back in October, and it seems like he made the right choice. Boston has won eight of its last 10 and are in third place in the Eastern Conference, despite Horford missing nine games after suffering a concussion in early November. Meanwhile, the Hawks are hovering around the .500 mark and rumors have surfaced that the team could look to trade veteran starters Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.
Monday Jan. 16, Cavaliers @ Warriors, 8 p.m., TNT
Their first meeting on Christmas Day following their incredible seven-game NBA Finals series — which was The Comeback’s top NBA moment of 2016 — could end up going down as one of the best regular season games we’ll see this season.
Kyrie Irving was the hero once again, just like in Game 7 of the Finals. His jumper with 3.4 seconds left proved to be the game-winner in a 109-108 victory over Golden State, which led by as many as 14 in the fourth quarter. All eyes will be on this matchup, and NBA fans can’t wait to see what’s next in this budding rivalry of superteams.
Wednesday Jan. 18, Thunder @ Warriors, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Things didn’t go particularly well for OKC in its first trip to the Bay Area this season after their classic Western Conference Finals series back in late May, when Golden State came back from a 3-1 series deficit. Kevin Durant scored 39 on Nov. 2, when the Warriors pasted the Thunder 122-96.
Oklahoma City is just 8-9 so far this season away from Chesapeake Energy Arena, the only squad among the West’s top seven seeds which isn’t at least .500 on the road.
Friday Jan. 20, Warriors @ Rockets, 8 p.m., ESPN
Once you’re sick and tired of inauguration coverage, a matchup between teams with two of the four best records in the league will be waiting. And when you put Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden on the same court together, crazy things are bound to happen.
The first meeting between the teams on Dec. 1 yielded an incredible 132-127 double overtime road win for Houston behind a 29-point, 15-rebound, 13-assist triple-double from Harden. It could very well be a preview of what would be an awesome Western Conference Finals.
Saturday Jan. 21, Spurs @ Cavaliers, 8:30 p.m., ABC
The first Saturday night primetime matchup is a damn good one featuring the other two teams among the NBA’s top four.
The matchup to watch will definitely be LeBron James being guarded by Kawhi Leonard, the winner of the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards. Despite losing Tim Duncan to retirement, San Antonio is still second in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions and points allowed per game. Cleveland is scoring just under 110 points per game this season and will definitely put the Spurs’ defense to the test.
Monday Jan. 23, Knicks @ Pacers, 8 p.m., TNT
This is the first game for Turner Sports’ new package that will have additional weekly games on Mondays for the second half of the season.
The Knicks have lost six in a row mainly due to horrific defensive play that’s caused first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek to publicly criticize his players. Only Brooklyn now allows more points per game in the Eastern Conference than New York.
Indiana has also been a disappointment this season under first-year head coach Nate McMillan. Team President Larry Bird fired longtime head coach Frank Vogel in favor of McMillan, hoping to ignite an anemic offense. Currently 16th in points per game and 20th in points scored per 100 possessions, Indiana is a mediocre 18-18, three games worse than its record after 36 games last season.
Tuesday Jan. 24, Spurs @ Raptors, 7 p.m., NBA TV
Here’s why Toronto isn’t taken seriously as a contender right now, despite the East’s second best record: Against the Cavs, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers, the Raptors are 1-7 this season.
Toronto’s 110-82 loss to San Antonio on Tuesday was the first time this season that the Raps scored fewer than 90 points in a game. Kyle Lowry scored just six points in the entire game. Granted, the game was at the end of a six-game, 12 day road trip, but this Raptors team needs to prove they can beat the elite clubs in order to ultimately be considered as one.
Wednesday Jan. 25, Warriors @ Hornets, 8 p.m., ESPN
ESPN is going to hype the crap out of this because it’ll be Stephen Curry’s annual game in his home city of Charlotte. Curry will be a free agent this summer, so artificial, speculative stories about Curry’s future will likely rule the day.
On the actual court of play, Charlotte is quietly fourth in a crowded middle of the Eastern Conference behind a career year from point guard Kemba Walker and the seventh-ranked defense in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions.
— Kirolbet.es (@Kirolbet_es) January 5, 2017
Saturday Jan. 28, Grizzlies @ Jazz, 9 p.m., NBA League Pass
Though Clippers-Warriors will be on at the same time on ABC, we’ll throw one in here for people who like rugged interior play and strong defense.
This matchup features two of the four teams that allow fewer than 100 points per game. What will be fascinating is the dynamic between Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Will Gobert be tasked with chasing Gasol around the perimeter, where the Spaniard is shooting an absurd 41.1 percent from three?
Also featured will be Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who came back three weeks early from a scary lower back injury, and Gordon Hayward, an upcoming free agent who drew cheers from the Boston Celtics fans Tuesday night, much to Celtics forward Jae Crowder’s dismay.