Welcome all, to the second installment of my new Monday column The Other 29, in which I seek to examine some exciting match-ups in the upcoming week for the 29 non-Sixer NBA teams. I’m still experimenting with exactly how I’d like to format the column, but for the meantime I’m gonna keep going day by day, match-up by match-up. Without further ado, here is the week’s marquis games:
Celtics @ Pelicans, Monday 11/26: Both Boston and New Orleans enter this battle of conflicting styles with records of 10-10. For Boston, this is much more comfortable as .500 is still good for the playoffs for right now, but I digress. New Orleans is a steamrolling juggernaut with AD on the floor, but lack any semblance of an identity without him. Alternatively, the Celtics look like they lack an identity no matter who is on the floor for them, even when Kyrie Irving is playing well. It’s easy to assume that the point guard playing better would make the offense improve as a whole, but this has not been the case in Boston. They still sit at the bottom of the barrel at 25th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in PPG, and they just can’t seem to find their footing on that end of the ball. Defensively, they’ve still been a bastion, as Al Horford continues to anchor a switchable, efficient defense. With that said, Boston’s wins have come from dragging the game into the mud and trying to play a physical game while attempting to improvise on offense. New Orleans, however, has dealt with having to sit AD for health concerns off-and-on, leaving them with two potentially very different teams on a nightly basis, depending who they have in. As good as Nikola Mirotic has been offensively, the team struggles to mount a cohesive game-plan without AD, and the offense has suffered. This game will be a battle between one team who wants to throw for 140 and one team that wants to hold their opponent to 90. Mostly, this game matters in order to see the ways in which a win or loss shakes up the rankings, as the Pelicans need to climb the rankings and the Celtics are at risk of falling down.
Warriors @ Raptors, Thursday 11/29: This will be the first meetup of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference leaders and the respective favorites to make the Finals entering the season. Rumor has it that Steph Curry will be playing again after a brief absence due to injury, and the Raptors offense has looked much more optimized in recent games, with Kyle Lowry doing more to initiate plays and Kawhi Leonard being a threat for 25 or so every night. Additionally, Toronto’s bench and role players have stepped up; the Raptors look like far and away the deepest contending roster in this year’s NBA. It will be interesting to see how quick of an impact the return of the senior splash brother will have, as the point guard responsibilities have diminished Klay Thompson’s offensive efficiency and the team just looks like a panicked scramble without Steph to hold it all together.
Nuggets @ Trailblazers, Friday 11/30: Both Portland and Denver are two of the more deep rosters contending for high playoff seeds in the West, however they both also seem to struggle to maintain consistency. So much of the Nuggets’ offense relies on Nikola Jokic initiating plays and staying out of foul trouble, neither of which are very easy for a ball-dominant big man with defensive issues. Meanwhile, Portlands’ backcourt continues to look like one of the very best out there, I’d say truly only the Warriors have them convincingly beat in that regard. At the end of the day Denver continues to face a decision between strong offensive but weak defensive backcourts, or more stable but less efficient lineups on offense. No matter which pill they take, it will be interesting to see how CJ and Dame try to exploit either weakness, and the big-man battle between Nurk and Jokic will determine a lot as to which team mounts an offense easier.