by Matthew Brennan, NBA D-League.com
On Saturday night, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers will host the Los Angeles D-Fenders on VERSUS presented by Papa John's, with the game airing at 11:00 p.m. ET. Here are five good reasons why you should tune in to VERSUS to see some of the NBA D-League's top prospects in action for two Western Conference rivals.
The Land Of The Call-Ups
If you've watched a Vipers game in 2009-10, then its likely that you have seen a player who has gone on to play in the NBA this season. Rio Grande Valley has set a new NBA D-League record with 10 GATORADE Call-Ups to the NBA. Despite the constant roster turnover, the team hasn't missed a beat by leading the West Conference with a 31-13 record. A few players who have made the jump to the NBA will be in action on Saturday night in the form of Will Conroy and Antonio Anderson. Conroy, who has earned five call-ups in his NBA D-League career, was most recently with the Rockets while rookie swingman Anderson is back from two ten-day contracts with the Oklahoma City Thunder. If neither makes a return to the NBA, they will be the go-to guys as the Vipers head into their first postseason appearance since joining the NBA D-League.
Los Angeles' High Flyer
The D-Fenders do not have any players with NBA experience, but they do have someone who became well known to basketball fans around the world in Dar Tucker. The rookie from DePaul lit up the highlight reels in Dallas while winning the NBA D-League Dunk Contest in spectacular fashion. Saturday will be your chance to get a look at Tucker in regular season game action. The former All-BIG EAST player has shown flashes of talent this season, most recently with a 26-point, ten rebound outing against Utah last Friday. For the season, Tucker is averaging 11.4 points in 42 games.
The Vipers have clinched a playoff berth, but there is still much to be settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Heading into Friday's action, Rio Grande Valley held a three game lead for the West Conference title over the Austin Toros. Winning the conference will enable the Vipers to be able to choose their opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The Vipers can also still capture the first choice of opponent and get home-court advantage if they can overtake Iowa for the league's best record, although the odds of finishing with a better record than the Energy are slim. The D-Fenders will not make the playoffs this season, so they will be forced to play spoiler and try to manage some wins against the Vipers.
Battle Of NBA Connections
Both teams in this match-up are controlled by their NBA affiliates. The D-Fenders are owned by the Los Angeles Lakers, while the Rockets run the basketball side in Rio Grande Valley under the hybrid affiliation agreement. Since they run the same offensive and defensive sets as their NBA affiliates, a close look at the x's and o's of the game probably won't look very different from a Rockets-Lakers contest. In the standings the teams have had different results this season, but their presence shows how NBA teams see the NBA D-League as a valuable tool for player development. Even if none of these players earn a call-up in the last week of the season, there is a good chance you will see some of them suiting up for the Lakers and Rockets in NBA Sumemer League, training camp, and maybe even on the next level during the 2010-11 season.
Bringing The Offense
Despite their revolving door of players this season, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers will bring one of the league's best offenses to the court on Saturday night. In 2009-10, the Vipers are second in the league with 108.5 points per game, and lead all teams with a .493 field-goal percentage. Despite the loss of Harris, the Vipers should be in line for another big total on the scoreboard against a D-Fenders' team that is one of the worst in the league at stopping their opponents on the defensive end. Los Angeles has given up 114 or more points in four of their last five games, so expect the Vipers to hit triple-digits and beyond in Saturday's game.