Hope everybody had a great christmas and holidays etc. Right time to preview the 5 top games that will see us into the new year.
Monday 29th December 2008: Orlando (24-6) @ Detroit (17-11)
Orlando Magic (24-6)
Orlando has been on fire this month. With wins over the Spurs, Jazz, Blazers, Hornets and Lakers along with a closs loss to the Suns on the road, the Magic look better than ever. Finally being recognised as one of the elite NBA teams, the Magic look to finish their tougher December schedule on a high note with a win against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. Jameer Nelson has been playing fantastically of late, he is playing his natural game -- being a scorer. Let's take Devin Harris out of the equation for a second, I'd say he has a fairly good shot at MIP.
"We're a lot more mature. We're learning what it takes to win a championship." ~ Jameer Nelson
Detroit Pistons (17-11)
Detroit has dropped from the echelon of the elite, and are slumming it in the middle of the conference for now. Over the past week they have lost to Atlanta, beat Chicago by 6, an 11 point win over Milwaukee and a last second win over the Thunder. They are still a playoff outfit, and teams should be at least wary of them come playoff time (at least in the first two rounds ;P) -- they can still compete, and experience is ever-valuable in the playoffs. There are many reasons they traded Billups away, one of them is because the Pistons management saw something in Stuckey, a leader and a floor general. He has really come through for them -- he even had hist first 40 point perfromance last week.
"When we have the bigger lineup, obviously we're better defensively" ~Tayshaun Prince
Detroit have been playing with a small lineup, but with Rip injured they'll go bigger with Amir Johnson likely moving into the starting lineup. I would have like to see Rip guarding one of Turk and Shard...There should be some good shows, but the matchup I want to see is Jameer and Stuckey. The two point guards for the teams are playing fantastic. Stan Van Gundy also has the edge over Michael Curry for me, so overall I can't go past the Magic in this game -- and what better motivation do you need then the Pistons being the team that knocked you out of the playoffs?
Tuesday 30th December 2008: Boston (28-4) @ Portland (19-12)
Boston Celtics (28-4)
The Celtics were completely undefeated in December, with good wins over Magic, Hornets, Blazers and Jazz. Coming into a four game road trip to end the year, the Celtics lost the plot. First losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles, which is by no means anything to spit at. But then losing to the Warriors. They bounced back with a nice win over the Kings and now will travel to Portland to attempt to go 2-2 on their road trip. Definitely a disappointing stretch for them. The Celtics crushing defense is still tough for any opposition to crack, and they still are playing like NBA Champions.
"We weren't worried when we were winning 19 in a row, and we don't worry when we lose two in a row. Our (goal) is, by (the) playoffs, to be the best team we can possibly be. That's what we think about every day." ~Doc Rivers
Portland Trail Blazers (19-12)
Portland have had a rough month. They had a few road games -- notably against Boston, Toronto, Utah and Denver. While they have also had tough teams at home; Orlando, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Toronto and now Boston again. Combining to go 7-6 for the month of December. Brandon Roy has become a true leader for this side, and they are really going to need him as their January schedule doesn't make it any easier for them. In the first 14 days of January alone they have the Lakers, Hornets, Pistons and Sixers along with Utah and Cleveland later on in the month. Portland have played very well and have started to compete for the division a lot sooner than many thought.
"If we keep the mind-set, 'Defense first,' we can beat those guys (Boston)." ~Brandon Roy
Boston are on the fourth game of their road trip, Portland are great at home, while Boston are great - period. Oden and Aldridge up against Garnett and Perkins, Pierce and Allen against Batum and Roy and Rondo against Blake. There is no doubt who has the most talented lineup and both teams have great benches. I have to give the game to Boston here, four quarters of stern defense and pure talent should be enough to squeak by Portland at home.
Tuesday 30th December 2008: Cleveland (26-4) @ Miami (16-13)
Cleveland Cavaliers (26-4)
Cleveland has only suffered one loss this month -- to Atlanta. Denver, Houston and Miami are the three best teams they've played this month -- but they did beat all three. In the first month of the new year they will get to play Jazz, Lakers, Magic, Hornets and the Celtics. Mo Williams appeared to be the perfect fit for LeBron and the Cavs, his appearance at Cleveland has been timed nicely with LeBron playing MVP-calier basketball and Detroit losing their grip on the division.
"His leadership is something no one seems to talk about." ~ Mike Brown (On Mo Wiliams)
Miami Heat (16-13)
Miami are actually playing a lot better than their record suggests. They started off 1-5. Since then they have gone 15-8. If they continue they could potentially be as high as a 4th seed in the talent baron eastern conference. Though in the next fornight the Heat will tip-off against the Lakers, Magic, Nuggets and Spurs. That will be a true test to measure where the Heat are at, and where they - and their fans - should expect to end up come playoff time. Mario Chalmers is also starting to settle in as an NBA point guard. Many may disagree, but if you ask me Chalmers is the best rookie in a Miami uniform so far -- which is more a huge credit to Chalmers than it is a discredit to Beasley.
"We were still up nine and it was our game to close." ~Erik Spoelstra (On the Cavs game)
There are good players to watch all over the floor, good matchups, good skills. But what I, and a lot of people, will be looking at is the top two players out right now: LeBron and Wade. Seeing those two in one basketball game, can only be good. I can't watch to see those two play again. Though I can see a repeat of the game at Cleveland. Cleveland takes this one on the back of LeBron.
Saturday 3rd January 2009: New Orleans (18-9) @ Denver (20-11)
New Orleans Hornets (18-9)
For the most part the Hornets have looked like a division winning, all-conquering playoff outfit. But sometimes they look like a playground team, especially against the Magic and Lakers. They have had a topsy-turvy month with wins over Spurs, Suns and Rockets and losses against the Magic, Lakers and Celtics. Chris Paul is playing well as always, and the Hornets are on their road to being anywhere from 1st to 9th in the tough west. We don't know what will happen between now and the playoffs, but the Hornets have experience now, and they almost went to the WCF last season -- who knows the damage they could achieve on a trip back to the playoffs.
"He does what great point guards do. He carries the team on his back." ~Jim O'Brien (On Chris Paul)
Denver Nuggets (20-11)
Denver may have joined a very small group of teams at the 20 win mark, but I don't know if they really impress me [i]that much[/i] - after looking at their schedule. This month they have losses to Spurs, Suns, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Cavaliers and Hawks. Pretty much every elite team they played. The top three teams they've beaten are Dallas, Portland and Toronto -- after that you have New York, Minnesota, Golden State -- not really teams to brag about getting wins from in the west. In January they will have games at home against Orlando, Phoenix, Detroit, New Orleans, Miami, Dallas and utah. As well as road games against the Rockets and the Hornets. So they will have all of January to prove themselves.
"They were letting him play one-on-one and the jumper was going. And we kind of just rode a hot guy." ~George Karl (On Carmelo Anthony)
Denver come back from a road trip, and a game in Oklahoma the night before. Whereas New Orleans will be in Portland the night before, and have to travel to Denver overnight. It should be a great game, overall I can't go past the home team on this game. Denver takes it.
Sunday 4th January 2008: Portland (19-12) @ Los Angeles (25-5)
Portland Trail Blazers (19-12)
Sergio Rodriguez has budged his way into the rotation, and Nicolas Batum has gotten into the starters, while Rudy Fernandez gets minutes on the bench. Greg Oden is a starter. But Jerryd Bayless hasn't managed to get into a the rotation lately. This is because the Blazers have quite a deep lineup, and they're all young. It all spells for a very good future. If there future is even brighter than what they are acheiveing now, than other teams should all be very scared. But right now they are competeing against the NBA's elite and their fans should be cheering there team on all they can, it could mean a home playoff series at the end of it all.
"We have to play four quarters to get it done" ~Brandon Roy
Los Angeles Lakers (25-5)
The Lakers are the elite team in the West. They are the team with the target on their back. They were called soft, but if how they play is soft, I want to be a soft basketball player too. With a fantastic win against arch-rival Boston, the doubters fade and the homer fans (and of course the genuine supporters) are even louder. The Lakers have great depth, I passed the comment that I wanted to see Sun Yue play, and he got minutes. I just want to see that kid play, just because of the Magic-esque height factor at point guard. It's almost like the Lakers could have anybody on injury report (bar Kobe) and they would be able to cope.
"They had won 19 straight games, so they were due for a couple of bad ones." ~Kobe Bryant (On the Celtics)
Portland has a tough week. The Lakers are the Lakers. I would love to say more, but I don't think there is much else to it. I predict a win for the Lakers. There will be some good matchups though. For instance, Oden and Aldridge down low against Bynum and Gasol. You have Roy against Kobe, if Roy needed a better measuring stick to see where he is in terms of elite guards in the NBA -- here it is. It'll be good to watch, but I can see the Lakers taking it.