Fluctuating power struggles marked the first full week of 2015 in the NBA. Last week saw Memphis tested and in a midweek game the Grizzlies were beaten in Atlanta by the Hawks 96-86. Memphis has lost ground in the Southwest Division, and they are now in a virtual tie for first with Houston and Dallas. Without LeBron James, Cleveland struggled mightily, losing five straight, including a 112-94 beating by one of the best clubs in the NBA, Golden State. After spending the week winning games against the Pelicans, Knicks, and Bulls, the Wizards lost out to Atlanta in what was a major Southeast Division contest. The score was 120- 89. Finally, after a good week, Dallas sputtered at the end, losing two straight, including a 120- 100 blowout by the L.A. Clippers.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Phoenix Suns (January 13th)
The Cavaliers are in a tailspin right now. As they prep to play the Suns, the good news is that James may be back in the lineup for Cleveland. If he can play, they will have a shot at beating the Suns, who are weak on defense. However, the Cavs will have to shutdown what is the fourth-best scoring team in the league. Led by SG Goran Dragic (16.7 PPG), the Suns have a very good outside and inside game. With or without LeBron, Cleveland will have to play up a notch or two to have a chance against Phoenix.
Washington Wizards trip at Chicago Bulls (January 14th)
The game between the Wizards and Bulls will be a good test for both clubs. Washington excels on defense and in assists, while Chicago is one of the best rebounding teams in the league. For Washington, PG John Wall (17.1 PPG, 10.3 APG) does a fine job of keeping the team on track, while center Marcin Gortat (12.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG) commands the paint. The Wizards will have to stop Bulls’ SG Jimmy Butler (21.0 PPG) and battle PF Pau Gasol (18.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG) under the boards. The Bulls have the edge in this one.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets (January 15th)
When the Thunder meet the Rockets this Thursday, two of the NBA’s better rebounding and defensive teams will be on the court. For Oklahoma City, just about every starter is strong in grabbing the ball off the rim. PG Russell Westbrook (26.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.1 APG) and SF Kevin Durant (25.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.6 APG) are major contributors and forces. The Rockets counter with SG James Harden (26.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) and center Dwight Howard (17.2 PPG, 11.6 RPG). Howard is nursing a knee injury and may be slowed down a bit. This will be a tough battle; it’s too close to call.
Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors (January 16th)
The high-flying Atlanta Hawks are proving to be a tough team to stop. The Hawks have a strong front and backcourt. In the paint, PF Paul Millsap (16.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG) center Al Horford (14.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG) and SF DeMarre Carroll (11.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG) are major contributors in points and rebounds. PG Jeff Teague (17.4 PPG, 7.2 APG) is an able playmaker. The Raptors are a scoring team. Third in the NBA in points, they average 107.7 PPG. The outside shooters tend to be their bread and butter, with PG Kyle Lowry (20.7 PPG) and SG DeMar DeRozan (19.4 PPG) leading the way. Look for the Hawks, who are deep, to give the Raptors a good fight and take this one.
Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets (January 17th)
If Golden State has one weakness, it’s their defense. If Houston excels in any one area, it’s on defense. Thus far, the Rockets have played Golden State twice this season and have lost both times. The first lost was at home on November 8th when they were beaten 98-87. Then on December 10th the Rockets traveled to Golden State and lost 105- 96. Can Houston’s Harden and an ailing Howard stop PG Stephen Curry (22.9 PPG), SG Klay Thompson (21.6 PPG) and the rest of the Warriors? That will be a very tough thing to do.
Upcoming the Week Starting January 19th
There are some big division contests next week with the Dallas Mavericks at the Memphis Grizzlies (January 19th) and the Chicago Bulls at the Cleveland Cavaliers (January 19th). Memphis will need to show that they are a full season contender, while the Cavs will be looking to get back on track and get some respect from division leader Chicago. In non-division games, The Oklahoma City Thunder will test the Washington Wizards (January 21st) and the Toronto Raptors will try to reestablish themselves when they meet the Memphis Grizzlies (January 21st). Another game of interest has a potential NBA bubble team, the Brooklyn Nets, at the L.A. Clippers (January 22nd). We’ll review these matchups and look at where teams stand in our next article.