NBA Game Previews for March 20, 2018
March 20, 2018 at 7:00 PM ET
Raptors Striving to Bounce Back Versus Magic
By Juan Carlos Blanco
The Toronto Raptors take on the Orlando Magic at Amway Center on Tuesday evening.
The Raptors (52-18) continue to hold a comfortable five-game lead over the No. 2-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings, despite having experienced a rare home loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder in their most recent contest on Sunday afternoon. OKC toughed out a 132-125 victory, snapping Toronto's 11-game winning streak. DeMar DeRozan, who was ejected late in the game for arguing with an official, led the way with 24 points, a total he supplemented with five assists and three rebounds. Kyle Lowry generated a 22-point, 10-assist double-double that also included four rebounds and one block. C.J. Miles and Delon Wright paced the bench with matching 15-point tallies, with the former adding two rebounds, and the latter dishing out eight dimes, hauling in two boards and recording a pair of steals. Jonas Valanciunas compiled 10 points, two rebounds and two assists in a modest 22 minutes. Pascal Siakam matched Valanciunas' scoring total off the bench and added two rebounds and one steal. Serge Ibaka finished with seven points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The Raptors will likely list Fred VanVleet (hand) as a game-time decision for Tuesday's game.
The Magic (21-49) haven't had much to smile about this season -- as their record implies -- but they'll head into Tuesday's home matchup with the benefit of a bit of good news. Orlando received word that Aaron Gordon, who'd missed the past five games while going through the league's concussion protocol, has obtained clearance to play in Tuesday's game. The Magic could certainly use his formidable presence after having dropped six of their last seven contests, with their most recent stumble a 92-83 defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Friday night. Shelvin Mack paced the Magic with 16 points in 26 minutes off the bench, a total he supplemented with seven rebounds and three steals. D.J. Augustin registered 13 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. Jonathon Simmons matched Augustin's scoring total and added four boards, three assists and one steal. Nikola Vucevic contributed 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and one block, and Mario Hezonja accounted for 11 points, four rebounds, one assist and three steals.
The Magic will continue to be without the services of Evan Fournier (knee) and Terrence Ross (knee) on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Jonathon Simmons carries a questionable designation due to a wrist injury.
Tuesday's game marks the second of three meetings between the teams this season. The Raptors notched a 117-104 road victory on Feb. 28 in the first contest.
Posted on March 19, 2018 at 10:43 PM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 12:08 AM ET
March 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM ET
Celtics Play Host to Streaking Thunder
By Joel Bartilotta
The Oklahoma City Thunder travel to Beantown to play the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Tuesday.
The Thunder (43-29) come into this matchup winning six-straight games, as that catapulted them up the standings in a tightly-contested Western Conference. In fact, Oklahoma City is now fourth in the west, as they are two games up on three teams tied between fifth and eighth. Having homecourt advantage is a huge factor for the Thunder as well, as they are just 18-18 in the road and 25-11 at home. That's why games like this are huge, as Oklahoma City needs to prove they can win on the road against elite competition. What's really made this a scary bunch is the defensive mindset they've implemented, with Oklahoma City sitting eighth in points allowed and fifth in rebounding. If they can just maintain that stout defense with the impactful offensive weapons they possess, they'll be a team no one wants to face in the postseason.
The Celtics (47-23) come into this matchup losing three of their last four games, as they haven't been the same team over the last two months. In fact, Boston is just 13-12 after a 34-11 start, as they can't stay healthy right now. The laundry list of injuries is laughable, with Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford all missing games over recent weeks. The good news is that the Smart injury is the only serious one, as all three of those other players are expected to be healthy within the next few weeks. That's all that truly matters, as Boston is securely in second place in the east, sitting five games behind Toronto in first and six games up on Cleveland in third.
Despite the fact that Boston won their one game over Oklahoma City earlier this season (101-94, on November 3), the Thunder won eight of their previous nine games over the Celtics.
Posted on March 19, 2018 at 10:46 PM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 12:09 AM ET
March 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM ET
Pelicans Play Host to Mavericks
By Joel Bartilotta
The New Orleans Pelicans play host to the Dallas Mavericks at Smoothie King Center on Tuesday.
The Mavericks (22-48) have lost three of four headed into this matchup, as they simply can't get out of their own way. What's really brought this team down is their inefficient offense, with Dallas sitting 25th in scoring. That offense could get even worse here, as Dennis Smith Jr. is expected to miss the next week of action due to an ankle issue. The rookie has been one of the only bright spots for this team and it's unfortunate that his development will be stunted for this short amount of time. That means it's time to lean right back on to the veterans, as Harrison Barnes has done a great job of becoming a team leader. He leads this team in minutes and scoring, as he appears to be living up to his sizable contract. It will be fascinating to see what this team does in the offseason too, with veterans like Wesley Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki likely returning next season as well.
The Pelicans (40-30) come into this matchup losing four of their last six games, despite that following up their best stretch of the season. In fact, New Orleans won 10-straight before this minor slump, as they're battling to stay in the playoffs in a tight Western Conference. The Pelicans now find themselves in sixth place in the west, as they are currently tied with the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. What's concerning is the fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are just behind as well, as they all sit within three games of the Pelicans. That means if this poor stretch extends, New Orleans could find themselves out of the playoffs altogether. What further muddles this upcoming stretch is the fact that this is the first of three straight games for New Orleans, as that's one of the rarest scheduling dilemmas in the league. That means a team battling to stay in the playoffs will have to play three nights in a row, as this could be the most grueling three days these players have ever had in their careers. Anthony Davis is up to the task though, as he's averaging nearly 40 points and 15 rebounds per game since the All-Star break.
New Orleans has won two of their three meetings over Dallas this season, with both wins coming in Dallas.
Posted on March 19, 2018 at 11:06 PM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 12:22 AM ET
March 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM ET
Timberwolves Host Clippers in Battle of Playoff Hopefuls
By Juan Pablo Aravena
The Minnesota Timberwolves will host the Los Angeles Clippers at Target Center on Tuesday.
The Timberwolves (40-31) are nine games above .500, but they are far from qualified to a postseason spot in a tightly-contested Western Conference. In fact, Minnesota sits in eighth place in the standings and they currently have a 1.5-game lead over the Denver Nuggets for the final postseason berth if the season ended today. The Timberwolves have struggled to adjust after the injury sustained by Jimmy Butler, but they have managed to hang on and they register a 2-3 mark in their past five games, although they are coming off two consecutive losses against the San Antonio Spurs (101-117) and the Houston Rockets (120-129). This game against the Clippers represents the end of a short two-game homestand for Minny, and they will try to end it on a positive note before heading into a two-game road trip.
The Clippers (37-32) remain alive in playoff contention, but they only have 13 games left in the schedule and sit two games behind Minnesota. So, this is a must-win game for them if they want to remain alive in that race. It has been a great comeback for the Clippers in recent weeks considering how they started the season, but they are not performing at their best when it matters the most. They are coming off a 109-122 defeat against the Portland Trail Blazers, and they have dropped their last three games. This game against Minnesota represents the start of a four-game road trip, and six of their upcoming seven will be away from Staples Center where they have a 17-17 mark. It is not a secret that they will need to be at their best if they want to keep their playoff chances alive in the coming days.
Posted on March 20, 2018 at 12:48 AM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 1:03 AM ET
March 20, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET
Hawks Head West for Showdown with Jazz
By Juan Carlos Blanco
The Atlanta Hawks face off with the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Tuesday evening.
The Hawks (20-50) gave up postseason aspirations months ago, so they're essentially playing for pride and player development. However, they likely wouldn't mind spoiling some other teams' playoff hopes along the way, and they'll have an opportunity to at least partly derail one such squad on Tuesday. The odds are stacked against them on paper, as Atlanta comes in having won on just five occasions over 33 road games, as well as having dropped six consecutive contests. They fought valiantly in their most recent defeat -- a 122-117 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Taurean Prince continued a recent tear by leading the way with 38 points, a total he supplemented with eight boards, one assist and two blocks. Dennis Schroder totaled 18 points, nine assists, three rebounds and one steal. Rookie John Collins generated a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double that also included one assist. Mike Muscala finished with 12 points, six boards and one steal. Dewayne Dedmon filled out the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
The Hawks will be notably short-handed for Tuesday's contest, as Collins (ankle), DeAndre' Bembry (abdomen), Malcolm Delaney (ankle), Jaylen Morris (ankle) and Antonius Cleveland (ankle) have all been ruled out.
The Jazz (40-30) have managed to tunnel their way up to the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings for the moment, courtesy of an impressive nine-game winning streak that they'll carry into Tuesday's game. Utah's most recent success came at the expense of the Sacramento Kings, which they toppled by a 103-97 margin on Saturday night. Donovan Mitchell unsurprisingly paced Utah with 28 points and added three assists, two rebounds and two steals. Rudy Gobert turned in a 22-point, 13-rebound double-double that also included four blocks. Ricky Rubio generated a full stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block. Joe Ingles matched Rubio's scoring total while also dishing out nine dimes and hauling in seven boards. Jae Crowder finished with 11 points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal in 29 minutes off the bench, while Derrick Favors supplied 10 points, six rebounds, one assist, three blocks and two steals.
The Jazz will be without Favors (knee), Tony Bradley (concussion) and Raul Neto (wrist) for Tuesday's game.
Tuesday's contest marks the second and final meeting between the teams this season. The Hawks pulled off a surprising 104-90 upset Jan. 22 on their home floor in the first contest.
Posted on March 19, 2018 at 11:02 PM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 12:24 AM ET
March 20, 2018 at 10:00 PM ET
Pistons Visit Struggling Suns
By Juan Pablo Aravena
The Phoenix Suns will host the Detroit Pistons at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Tuesday.
The Suns (19-52) are out of playoff contention, but they lead the race for the worst record in the NBA -- and the higher chance to get the first-overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Phoenix has lost their past eight games, and they are coming off a 109-124 defeat against the Golden State Warriors the last time out, in a game where highly-touted rookie Josh Jackson finished with a career-high mark of 36 points. The Suns have nothing but their pride to play for but if recent results are of any indication, then they are likely to struggle once again. The Suns' offensive struggles are noticeable, since the team sits in the bottom five in several categories such as field-goal percentage (27th), assists per game (29th), points per possession (30th) and three-point field-goal percentage (30th).
Is this the last chance for the Pistons (31-39) to make a playoff push? The team sits six games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth place in the Eastern Conference and with only 12 games left in their schedule, the time is now for Detroit if they want to make a serious push. They might be favorites on paper against a struggling Suns team that owns the worst record in The Association at the moment, but the game will be on the road and Detroit tends to struggle away from home where they have a 10-25 register. They are coming off a 106-90 win against the Sacramento Kings, but they are in the midst of a six-game road trip where they have gone 1-3 so far. With upcoming games against Phoenix and the Houston Rockets, they need to win at least one of those two to keep their playoff chances alive.
Posted on March 20, 2018 at 1:03 AM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 1:04 AM ET
March 20, 2018 at 10:30 PM ET
Rockets Visit Portland in Powerhouse Showdown
By Oscar Heanue
The Houston Rockets will visit the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on Tuesday night.
Now 3.5 games up in the Western Conference, Houston (56-14) owns the league's best record and is not showing any signs of slowing down. The Rockets are riding five straight wins, including a recent 129-120 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Historically strong offense has been the key to Houston's success this season. The Rockets lead the league in offensive efficiency and are scoring a whopping 113.6 points per game. The mastermind behind the team's incredible offense is James Harden, who is averaging a league-best 31.0 points per game this season. The mark is also a career high for the six-time All-Star. Houston is in the midst of its strongest stretch of the season, going 22-1 in its last 23 games.
As good as the Rockets have been, beating Portland (44-26) at Moda Center is a tall order for any team. The Trail Blazers are riding a league-best 13-game win streak heading into Tuesday's matchup, and the team has been particularly potent on its home court. In their last 19 games at Moda Center, Portland has gone 18-1. Like the Rockets, the Blazers' success has been largely a product of their star backcourt. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are averaging over 48 points per game as a duo, including a team-high 26.7 for Lillard. Lillard, who made his third career NBA All-Star Game this season, is also dishing out 6.5 assists per game. While Portland has profited from the duo's offensive success, the Blazers have also become a strong defensive team this season. At just 103.0 points allowed per game, the Blazers rank fifth in the NBA in opponent scoring.
Houston has won both meetings between the two teams this season, averaging 122.6 points over the two-game stretch.
Posted on March 20, 2018 at 12:28 AM ET
Updated on March 20, 2018 at 12:49 AM ET