After a surprise night with just three games played, the NBA returns to its usual cluster of games in the wee hours of Wednesday.
After seeing Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans emerge winners; fans get to see potential winners in the Washington Wizards (judging by its home dominance), Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets among others as they take on the likes of Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets respectively.
Bulls recent uptick in form seems set to take a nose dive as the team lines up against John Wall and Bradley Beal without its top performing duo of Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade on the back off losing to Oklahoma.
The Atlanta Hawks are a lock in the win column as it takes on the worst team in the league Brooklyn Nets same way Golden State Warriors tango with Miami Heat is expected to turn out same for the home side.
Despite the presence of the last three winners of the NBA Championship on the list of games, the standout tie is between Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.
A quick peek at the standings shows why this is easily the standout tie with the second placed Toronto hosting the Celtics with just a win (and a potential tie breaker) separating both sides.
Both teams have one goal in common at this stage of the season and that is to finish in second place behind Cleveland since the Eastern Conference’s top spot has the inevitable feel of having been signed, sealed and delivered.
There lies more to this game than just topping the opponent in this matchup however.
For starters, Toronto has been mentioned among teams interested in Hawks Forward Paul Millsap in a move the team needs to close the gap on the Cavaliers. Losing to Boston can spark General Manager Masai Ujiri into going all in for the 32 year Forward who can become a free agent in July even it means losing a host of young talents. Ujiri has demonstrated in past years of not being afraid to make a big trade midway through the season just as he did in Canada by moving Rudy Gay to Sacramento Kings.
Conversely, Gay was moved at a time his contract was expiring and is in stark contrast to Millsap’s situation. So Ujiri might not be willing to make the move after all but that doesn’t mean Canada’s team will stand pat during the trade period. Since Toronto was in this position last season (second seed), Boston’s fourth position played a hand in its first round exit at the hands of Atlanta and would want an easier path to the next round this postseason.
A second seed can go a long way to make that happen and that is why this game is so crucial. Factor in the improved image of the club as a second seed with free agency around the corner and Boston will surely be revving for that win tonight.
All the above relates to the respective team’s outlook but what about the players and coaches on the teams? Whilst winning as many games as possible is the main objective, individual accolades are hunted by personnel slugging it out on the court and boards on the sidelines.
Cleveland Coach Tyronne Lue is not eligible to lead the Eastern Conference in New Orleans opening the path for either Dwayne Casey of Toronto or Brad Stevens of Boston to take up the top seat. That can be achieved by having the second best record in the conference behind the reigning champs and the tussle for that spot begins in a few minutes. Away from the sidelines and on to the court, both teams feature players on the periphery of starting the All Star Game.
As the polls stand, neither Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry makes the conference starting five. A dip into the pool of history behind the midseason festivities shouldn’t surprise many how Chicago Bulls Shooting Guard Wade has garnered more votes than any of the aforementioned trio or even Kemba Walker and John Wall, since despite the changes, fans have a major say in who gets to start or not.
Dazzling in a showpiece game featuring other All Star selections is a sure strong statement to fans, media personnel and other NBA players to keep the votes coming in and that will be on the players and indeed coaches mind when they take to the court.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah