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NBA League Pass: Must-see matchups in second half

The second half is loaded with great games, but these 15 stand above the rest on the NBA League Pass calendar.

Brian Martin, for NBA.com

Note: All records and statistics through games played on Feb. 23, 2021

Friday, March 12, 2021

Philadelphia at Washington (8 ET)

Joel Embiid and Bradley Beal are two of the five starters representing the Eastern Conference at All-Star. Whether they are All-Star teammates depends on next week’s draft, but they have both shined when facing one another this season. In their last meeting on Jan. 6, Beal scored a career-best 60 points, but it was not enough as Embiid stuffed the stat sheet with 38 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks to lead the Sixers to a 141-136 win. Here’s the list of players that have hit all five of those marks in a game while playing fewer than 40 minutes: Embiid (2021), Dirk Nowitzki (2007), Shaquille O’Neal (2001), Hakeem Olajuwon (1993), Patrick Ewing (1987).

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Portland at Minnesota (8 ET)

Carmelo Anthony can take the next step up the all-time scoring leaderboard against the Timberwolves; he has Hakeem Olajuwon in his sights, for 11th place all-time. Anthony currently needs an even 100 points to pass Olajuwon and if maintains his currently level of scoring (15.3 ppg across 13 games in February), he would be on track to reach that mark in this game.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Sacramento at Charlotte (7 ET)

This is the first in a number of games to watch centered around the race for Rookie of the Year. As the NBA.com Kia Rookie Ladder suggests, the competition is tight between Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards — and now that he’s healthy and back on the court, Golden State’s James Wiseman. Ball leads all rookies in points, assists and steals, while Haliburton ranks third in points, second in assists and steals, and first in 3-pointers made.

LA Clippers at Dallas (9 ET)

This is a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff matchup, which the Clippers won, 4-2. The Mavericks won the first meeting with the Clippers this season in spectacular fashion as they led by an NBA-record 50 points at the half and finished with a 124-73 win for their first victory of the season on December 27. Both teams were missing a key player in the first meeting: Kawhi Leonard for LA and Kristaps Porzingis for Dallas.

Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic are two of the top performers in clutch situations.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Dallas at Portland (10 ET)

Luka vs. Dame. Two of the top five scorers in the league – Lillard is fourth at 29.6 ppg and Luka is right behind at 28.9 ppg. Both players also have a penchant for delivering clutch baskets in big moments. In the final minute of a one-possession game (ahead or behind 3 points), Lillard is 6-for-10 from the field, 2-for-4 from 3 and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line; Luka is 5-for-9 from the filed, 2-for-5 from 3 and has four assists. In their first meeting of the season on February 14, Lillard scored 34 points — including a step-back three with 32 seconds left to break a tie and put the Blazers up for good – despite Luka scoring 44 points.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Golden State at Sacramento (10 ET)

Another game featuring two of the top rookies of the season in Golden State’s Wiseman (drafted No. 2 overall) and Sacramento’s Haliburton (No. 12th). Wiseman had 10 points and five rebounds in the Warriors win over the Kings on January 4 in a game that Haliburton missed due to injury. Of course in addition to the rookies, you also have two of the top 3-point shooters in the game with Stephen Curry (158 3PM; 1st) and Buddy Hield (115; 3rd) both in the top three in 3-pointers made this season.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Minnesota at Brooklyn (7:30 ET)

James Harden currently sits in fifth place all-time in 3-pointers made with 2,409 in 860 games played. He needs 42 treys to pass Kyle Korver for fourth place and at his current 3-point rate — since joining the Nets (3.2 3PM per game in 19 games) — it would take Harden 14 games to pass Korver. That 14th game would come against the Timberwolves in Brooklyn. At his current pace, Harden would need 48 games to pass Reggie Miller for third place all time. That’s nine more games than are left on the schedule for the Nets this season.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Philadelphia at New Orleans (8 ET)

When looking at the second half schedule, there were games that stood out because of potential awards races or playoff implications and there are others that just have matchups that everyone wants to see. Zion Williamson vs. Joel Embiid. Two of the most physically dominant and skilled big men in the game today will square off for the first time in April. This is their first meeting of the 2020-21 season; Zion missed the only matchup against Philly in his rookie season.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Golden State at Washington (7 ET)

This is a matchup of the top two scorers in the NBA so far this season – Bradley Beal (32.7 ppg) and Stephen Curry (30.2 ppg). Stephen Curry won the NBA scoring title during his second MVP season in 2015-16 (30.1 ppg) and Beal is still looking for his first scoring title in his ninth season. Beal’s scoring has steadily risen over the past four seasons from 22.6 ppg in 2017-18, to 25.6 in 2018-19, 30.5 in 2019-20 and 32.7 this season. Beal is on pace to become only the 15th player in NBA history to average at least 32 points over a season.

Chris Paul is on pace to become the third player to rank in the top five in both assists and steals.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Phoenix at Boston (7 ET)

On Saturday, Chris Paul passed Oscar Robertson to climb to sixth place on the NBA’s all-time assists list. His next target is Magic Johnson as Paul needs 242 assists to pass the Lakers’ legend. Paul currently ranks fifth in the league in assists at 8.5 per game for the Suns. If he maintains that pace, he would need 29 games to pass Magic for fifth place. Assuming good health and playing each game, Paul would be on target to pass Magic against the Celtics on April 22.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Golden State at Minnesota (8 ET)

The last in our series of games looking at the top rookies in this year’s class features a matchup of the top two picks in the 2020 Draft: No. 1 Anthony Edwards and No. 2 James Wiseman. Each has had moments to shine, with Edwards’ entry for Dunk of the Year over weekend setting a bar that will be tough to beat. Wiseman just returned to the Warriors lineup after missing nearly four weeks due to injury; he had 14 points in 16 minutes in first game back.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Portland at Cleveland (7 ET)

It’s another episode of milestone watch with Carmelo Anthony, who can climb into the top 10 all-time in scoring this season by passing Elvin Hayes (27,313 career points). Carmelo needs 467 points to pass Hayes; if he maintains his season scoring average (13.4 ppg), he would pass Hayes in 35 games, which would come on May 5 in Cleveland. Carmelo has increased his scoring in February, helping make up for the absence of CJ McCollum, who is out with the broken foot. But with McCollum set to return in the next few weeks, Carmelo’s scoring may return to his season average as the season progresses.

Phoenix at Atlanta (8 ET)

The all-time assist list isn’t the only leaderboard that Chris Paul is climbing this season. He currently ranks seventh all-time in steals and if he maintains his current pace (1.2 spg), he can scale up to fifth during this matchup in Atlanta. Paul needs 40 steals to pass Scottie Pippen for sixth place and 43 steals to pass Maurice Cheeks for fifth place. It would take Paul 34 games to pass Pippen (Target game: May 2 at OKC), and 36 games to pass Cheeks. If Paul can break into the top five in both all-time steals and assists, he would join John Stockton (first in both) and Jason Kidd (second in both).

Friday, May 7, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers at Portland (10 ET)

This matchup has multiple layers to break down: First, it is a rematch of last year’s first round series, which the Lakers won in six games after Portland crawled their way into the postseason by winning the first-ever Western Conference Play-In; second, it is a meeting of two of this season’s top MVP candidates as LeBron James and Damian Lillard rank first and third, respectively, in the latest edition of the Kia MVP Ladder. Finally, LeBron James can reach another milestone as this is the target game for him to pass Oscar Robertson for seventh place all-time in assists. LeBron needs 283 assists to pass Robertson and, based on his current season average (8.1 apg; 8th in NBA), he would reach his mark in 35 games.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Miami at Boston (7 ET)

We close out the list with another 2020 Playoff rematch, this time the Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Celtics; Miami won in six games to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014. Both the Heat (14-17; 10th in East) and Celtics (15-16; 6th in East) have some work to do as they hope to avoid the Play-In Tournament and secure a playoff berth to initiate another deep run. In their first meeting of the season, Jayson Tatum (27 points) and Jaylen Brown (21 points, 12 rebounds) combined for 48 points and rookie Payton Pritchard hit the game-winning tip-in with 0.2 seconds left as the Celtics prevailed, 107-105.

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