Bulls vs. Cavaliers (8pm ET Thursday, TNT)
The Chicago Bulls enter the fray without the services of their best player Jimmy Butler (knee), their starting power forward Nikola Mirotic (appendectomy), their heart and soul and rebounding specialist Joakim Noah (shoulder), and their other starting power forward Taj Gibson as he nurses a strained foot. The Bulls have lost all four games since Butler went down against the Nuggets on February 5th and find themselves 27-25, barely hanging on to the seventh spot in the East.
The Cavs won their last three games before the All Star break, beating up on weaklings like New Orleans, Sacramento and the Lakers, lifting their record to 38-14, good enough to stay atop the East and keep the upstart Raptors three games back. Kevin Love excused himself from the Cavs’ game against the Lakers in deference to a bruised shoulder, but is expected to play tonight. However, with the NBA trade deadline at 3pm today, there’s a chance Love won’t even been on the Cavs by the time you read this.
Spurs vs. Clippers (10:30pm ET Thursday, TNT)
San Antonio comes out of the break winners of their last seven, as they continue to get it done without Tim Duncan, who returned from injury to play 18:29 in the final contest before the All-Star game. Last month, Charles Barkley told Bill Simmons he thought Duncan was “pretty much done,” and he doesn’t have “a lot left in the tank.” If Sir Charles is right, it’s nothing for the rest of the league to celebrate because the Spurs are 13-2 without Duncan. At 45-8, the Spurs are 3.5 games back of the Warriors for the top spot in the West and remain on pace to set the single-season record for best point differential at 13.2.
After going on a 13-3 tear starting Christmas Day, the Clippers have lost two of their last five, including their final game before the break – a 139-134 overtime shootout with the Celtics. This one had to hurt the Clippers, as they were largely done in by bad free throw shooting, specifically from DeAndre Jordan, who made just nine of 15 in regulation – if the dude makes just two-thirds of his freebies, they never go into OT. Otherwise, LA outshot Boston from the field and beyond the three-point line, outrebounded them 44-43, had two more steals, and seven more blocks, though, the C’s did have some wicked ball movement, racking up 34 assists. The Clippers are now 35-18. Good enough for the fourth spot in the West, the Clips must continue to soldier on without star forward Blake Griffin, who’s still at least a month away from returning from breaking his hand on the face of his friend and assistant equipment manager, Matais Testi.