Pacers vs. Celtics (8pm ET Wednesday, ESPN)
The Pacers are 22-16 and the 5th seed in the East following a 116-97 victory last night over the lowly Suns. Guard Monta Ellis has been nursing a sore knee since earlier in the week, but played 34 minutes last night, contributing 14 points and 7 assists. Paul George is showing no ill effects from the gruesome broken leg that cost him virtually all of last season, as he is again playing lockdown defense to go along with his 24.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The Pacers have already set an NBA record this season for most guys on the roster named Hill, as George, Jordan and Solomon have collectively played more than 2000 minutes. If they can get Grant to come out of retirement on a 10-day contract, they could put this one out of reach.
The Boston Celtics have fallen on hard times since a December 27 victory over the Knicks, losing 6 of 7 and falling to 19-19. Last night’s 120-114 loss to the Knicks allowed New York to move into a tie with the Celtics for the 9th seed in the East. The C’s lost even though point guard Isaiah “No Relation” Thomas dropped 34 points and 7 dimes and Carmelo Anthony missed almost all of the second half with a sprained ankle. Boston enjoyed a small measure of success in the second half when they had 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart D up on 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, a move that even head coach Brad Stevens admitted was “crazy.” Despite all the strife, the Celtics incredibly maintain the 8th-best scoring differential in the league, at 2.9.
Heat vs. Clippers (10:30pm ET Wednesday, ESPN)
The Miami Heat are 22-16 and the 6th seed in the East after having lost 3 of 4, most recently losing Monday to the Golden State Warriors, 111-103. After outshooting opponents 46.2% to 42.5% for a couple of months, the Heat have flipped the script over their last four games, getting outgunned 49.8% to 45.3% – and it wasn’t Golden State doing the damage. The Knicks shot 55.7% from the floor last Wednesday, and the Jazz on Saturday 54.9% – including 9-of-20 for 3. Defensive stalwart Hassan Whiteside missed the Heat’s last game with a bad knee and is questionable for tonight, and is the subject of intensifying trade rumors as the Heat ponder whether to offer him a max contract. The Heat don’t seem terribly concerned about the recent losses or Whiteside’s future, as they spent yesterday’s off-day at the movies, where they saw the forthcoming Michael Bay classic 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
But who needs practice when your next game is against a team that last lost a game more than three weeks ago? The Los Angeles Clippers have ripped off 9 wins in a row, a streak that began on Christmas Day, as they’ve outscored opponents 108.7-97.3. The streak has been built on the backs of the league’s weaklings, as the best team they’ve played is the 17-19 Washington Wizards, and they’ve also dispensed with the Sixers, Lakers and twice the Pelicans.
But what’s made the streak impressive is that they’ve done it almost entirely without star forward Blake Griffin, who’s missed the last 8 games with a torn quadricep. Chris Paul remains healthy, however, averaging 20 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds during the streak, but it’s JJ Reddick who’s really upped his game in Griffin’s absence, chipping in with 18 a game, 3 more than his season average. The Clips are now 25-13, and have the 5th-best record in the NBA.