Cavaliers vs. Spurs (8pm ET Wednesday, TNT)
This may be the NBA Finals preview you’ve been waiting for, and Kawhi vs. LeBron is always worth the price of admission.
Cleveland is riding an 8-game winning streak that begs the question: Are the Cleveland Cavaliers the best third-best team in league history? At 27-9, the Cavs are on pace (along with the Spurs and Warriors) to win 62 games – only once since the advent of the 82-game schedule have three teams won that many games: in 2008, when Cleveland, L.A. and Boston each did it. Since Kyrie Irving’s return from a knee injury that derailed the Cavs’ title hopes last June, Cleveland has gone 10-2. Yes, it’s been against a soft spot in the schedule, but 10-2 is 10-2, and the surge has helped solidify their hold on the top spot in the East. Oh, and LeBron James is averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
The Spurs, meanwhile, have won 16 of 17, bringing their record to 34-6, and finally forcing people to consider that they might be even better than the 36-3 Golden State Warriors. The Spurs are outscoring opponents by 14.1 points a game – the single-season record, set by the 71-72 Lakers of Baylor, Chamberlain and West, is 12.3. Head coach Gregg Popovich has done a masterful job of preparing this team for the inevitable retirement of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and the ascension of Dynasty 2.0 led by Kawhi Leonard and LeMarcus Aldridge: the Spurs have 8 guys averaging 19.4 minutes or more, with only the 24-year-old Leonard averaging more than 30. It’s incredible that they win that often and by that much while rolling that deep on their bench.
Lakers vs. Warriors (10:30pm ET Wednesday, TNT)
Who’d’ve guessed that the Lakers would be coming into this game off a win, while the Warriors would be coming off a loss?
The Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 95-91 on Tuesday, overcoming a 4-point deficit in the final 2:23. The Lakers led for a total of just 69 seconds, but it included the final 43, and that’s what matters. This game was actually won at the free throw line, where the Pelicans made just 9 of 14, while the Lakers hit 25 of 32. Just last week, Jordan Clarkson said, “I remember Kobe was telling me that I’ve been going to the hole like a light-skinned dude. So I’ve got to start doing it like a dark-skinned [dude]” – maybe drawing fouls and getting to the line is a secondary result Kobe had in mind. If you’re curious as to what going to the hole “like a dark-skinned [dude]” looks like, here’s the dunk that inspired the quote:
Kobe left Tuesday’s win early with a sore Achilles and is questionable for tonight’s game.
How do the Warriors lose to a team like the Nuggets? Simple: Draymond Green took the day off. In the absence of Green at center, the Warriors got a little chippy on D, committing 25 fouls that led to the Nuggets making 33 of 37 free throws, and Denver won the battle of the boards, 49-39. Through the first three quarters, Curry had made 7 turnovers and scored “just” 18 points, as Golden State fell behind by 10. After resting for the first three and a half minutes of the fourth, Curry went off, scoring 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, but it wasn’t enough, as a Klay Thompson 3 closed to gap to 1 point with 3 seconds to play, before time ran out.