The NBA continues to break into the middle part of the season, with every team now having played 20 or more games. So, without further ado, here is this week’s docket of exciting and interesting games with non-Sixers teams:
Nuggets @ Raptors: The Nuggets (15-7) and Raptors (20-4) both sit in the upper echelon of their respective conferences, with Toronto leading the East and Denver at number 2 in the West. The aspect of this match is how Denver’s star big man Nikola Jokic will perform against Toronto’s deep rotation of defensive bigs in Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and occasionally flashes of defensive strength from Pascal Siakam. The biggest knock on Jokic, for obvious reasons, is his lacking defense-especially against other bigs. As complete as he is on offense, you can’t score points if you get benched for being in foul trouble, which has proven to limit Jokic’s ability to shift a game in Denver’s favor. Further developing storylines also include Kawhi Leonard, who despite sitting games now and again has stepped up offensively in the past few weeks, and continues to assert his defensive dominance.
Spurs @ Jazz: This game takes place Tuesday night, and it comes at a big crossroads for both teams. Despite being only two wins back from the 8th seed, both sit in the bottom 3 of the Western Conference, record-wise. Both teams are usually great defenses that have struggled incredibly often this year, as the Spurs have allowed 130 points or more multiple times this year, and the Jazz just look clumsy sometimes, despite having reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert. On offense, the Jazz need to find a way to continue to empower shooters like Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, although Mitchell’s success usually comes at a very high volume and with low assist numbers, making efficiency a problem as well. The Spurs have struggled to find a coherent gameplan, as often individual players have good performances, but not enough to match the amount of points they’ve been allowing lately. A win means a lot for both of them, and boy, they both need a reason to celebrate, too.
Warriors @ Bucks: Last week, the Warriors saw the Raptors for an overtime thrilled in which Kevin Durant scored 51, but the Dubs fell short. This time, GSW will visit another Eastern Conference leader in the Milwaukee Bucks, who despite their long win streak to start the season have begun to falter. The Bucks’ shooting has regressed a little bit as was expected, and it will be a test on Mike Budenholzer’s ability to manage how many shots players are taking if all of them aren’t shooting the lights out, and of course, how Giannis factors into all of that. The Warriors, thankfully, graciously, have regained Steph Curry from injury, which couldn’t have come enough for the Warriors or my sanity. I just can’t hear about Draymond and KD beefing anymore. It’s boring and dumb and the media is annoying me by trying to force a storyline, but that’s neither here nor there. It is perfectly reasonable to expect this game to be into the 125-135 range for both teams, especially once Steph has had a game or two under his legs again.
This stretch of the season has the potential to be a large stratifying force in both conferences. Will those in the hunt fall further behind? Can those in the playoffs solidify their position? Will the West ever get a clear pecking order, or at least win records that actually reflect a team’s capabilities? This is what keeps the middle of a season, what could normally be the doldrums of garbage time games, fun and interesting.