Heat at Pacers (7pm ET Friday, ESPN)
The Miami Heat head into tonight’s contest riding a two-game losing streak, most recently taking a 99-81 beatdown at the hands of the Hornets in which guard Goran Dragic shot 2-of-7 from the floor for 5 points to go along with 2 turnovers, 2 assists and 2 rebounds. It’s been an up-and-down year for the Heat, and most of the Eastern Conference, as there are 10 teams within 3 games of first place, with Miami smack in the middle, tied for fifth. But Hassan Whiteside is enjoying a monster year, ranking among the top 10 in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage, as well as a number of other rather esoteric stats.
And who are the Heat tied with at 12-8? Why, it’s your Indiana Pacers, proud owners of a three-game losing streak. The big question mark for the Pacers heading into 2015-16 was the health of Paul George, who missed the 76 games last season after suffering a compound fracture while practicing with the US national team. The answer to that big question has been a resounding “It’s all good,” as George is averaging 28-8-4, while playing 36 minutes per game.
Lakers vs. Spurs (9:30pm ET Friday, ESPN)
Normally a match-up between the second-worst team and the second-best team in the NBA would offer little more than the thrill of feeding time at the zoo, but this game is different. Look at it as an opportunity to consider the incredible contrasts between two of the 20 best players in NBA history. Kobe Bryant came into the league in 1997, fresh out of high school; Tim Duncan arrived a year later, with a degree and four years of college ball under his belt. Over the next 18 years Kobe won an MVP award, while Duncan won two MVPs and a Rookie of the Year; they’ve each won 5 NBA titles; Kobe averaged, 25-5-5, Duncan 19-11-3.
Though he’s 2 years younger, Kobe’s played 900 more minutes, but over the previous two seasons, Duncan’s played three times as many minutes, as Kobe’s suffered brutal injuries; Kobe has the self-given nickname “Black Mamba,“ while Duncan gets called things like “The Big Fundamental”; Duncan peaked at 40.6 minutes per game, while Kobe topped that 5 times; according to Win Shares, Kobe was never the best player on a championship team, but Duncan has been 4 times; Duncan’s Spurs have never won less than 61% of their games or finished lower than 2nd, while Kobe’s Lakers have had worse winning percentages 6 times (including 3 losing seasons), and have finished 3rd or lower 5 times; Kobe is the all-time leader in field goals missed, and Duncan will probably finish this season as the all-time leader in defensive rebounds. Even their private lives speak to their differences, as Kobe was forced to admit to marital infidelity after being accused (and acquitted) of rape, while it’s rumored that Duncan’s marriage ended ‘cuz his wife was stepping out on him. And just try to imagine what a Tim Duncan farewell tour would like… Anyway, it’s the 18-5 Spurs playing host to the 3-19 Lakers – who ya’ got?