A star-studded night of hoops offers plenty of reasons to tune in
POSTED: Mar 11, 2016 10:50 AM ET
Dwyane Wade and the Heat are trying to maintain their grip on the East's No. 4 seed.
Miami, the fourth seed, and Chicago, the ninth seed, are separated by just 4½ games in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture. The fourth seed, with homecourt advantage in the first round, is a realistic goal for both teams, while landing the eighth seed -- with a likely matchup against the No. 1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers -- is the worst-case scenario (outside of missing the playoffs). Miami was riding a six-game win streak before falling to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Since the All-Star break, the Heat have the fifth best defensive rating in the NBA. The Heat lead the season series with Chicago 2-0, with the final matchup coming on April 7 in Miami.
It hasn't been a good 2016 for the Bulls so far. Jimmy Butler (knee), Nikola Mirotic (appendicitis) and Joakim Noah (shoulder) have missed significant time and are still out of the lineup, while Derrick Rose (hamstring) has missed games but is back on the court. This season, the Bulls are 5-9 with Butler out of the lineup. Pau Gasol has stepped up during this stretch, with two triple-doubles over his last six games with the most recent coming against the Bucks on Monday (12 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists). As well, Derrick Rose is playing better of late, averaging 21.4 points, 5.6 assists and shooting 53.1 percent since the All-Star break. The Bulls will need another big game from Gasol (and Rose) tonight if they hope to win and get back in the playoff chase.
Hassan Whiteside has been on a tear since coach Erik Spoelstra moved him to the bench on February 3. The Heat are 10-5 over this span with Whiteside averaging 16.4 points on 60.3 percent shooting, 13.2 rebounds and an NBA-leading 4.1 blocks in only 28.4 minutes. His move to the bench has allowed the Heat to play at a faster pace as Whiteside plays alongside versatile forwards like Luol Deng and Justise Winslow instead of slower veterans like Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson. Stoudemire, who is the new starting center, has shown flashes of his old self as he brings a needed offensive tenacity to the Heat's frontline that has been missing since Chris Bosh went down due to illness. Watch tonight to see how Whiteside matches up against the Bulls' bench bigs.
They don't get the hype of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State, but Chris Paul and J.J. Redick are almost as proficient from deep as the "Splash Brothers." Our own John Schuhmann dug into this fact two weeks ago, highlighting the backcourt's high percentages from everywhere on the court. This hot shooting has continued for the Clippers' backcourt, allowing them to hold a 3½ game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 4 seed in the West. It hasn't been all offense for the Clippers, though. Since Blake Griffin went down due to injury on Dec. 25, the Clippers have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA (behind only Atlanta and San Antonio). Let's see if that defense comes to play tonight against a struggling Knicks' offense.
After a promising start to 2015-16, the Knicks have come back down to earth and are now looking for some semblance of direction over the final month of the season. New York has lost 17 of its last 22 games with its last win streak occurring in mid-January. A win tonight in Los Angeles would give them two straight wins after they scored a season-high 128 points in defeating the woeful Suns on Wednesday. Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points in the win for his sixth straight game of 20 or more points. Will 'Melo and the Knicks be able to replicate this dominant performance tonight against an elite Clippers' defense?
The top three teams in the Western Conference have been Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the majority of the season. But quietly, the Clippers are gaining ground on the Thunder for that No. 3 spot and sit only 2½ games back from Oklahoma City. Whoever lands in the No. 3 spot is rewarded with not having to likely face the Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. The Spurs are no consolation prize, but the Clippers have some experience eliminating San Antonio in the postseason. As the impact of each game matters more in the season's final month, expect the Clippers to play focused against the struggling Knicks.
NBA.com staff reports