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7 NBA things to know for Jan. 20
Some key storylines and NBA tidbits to know for the day ahead
Jeff Case, NBA.com
We hope your calendar is clear today — or at least it will be around 2 p.m. Eastern Time — because there’s plenty of basketball available to fill it up. In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NBA has a full slate of games starting with Pistons-Wizards (2 ET, League Pass) all the way up to a Warriors-Blazers showdown to cap things off (10 ET, TNT). Best of all? There’s a League Pass free preview going on this week, which means you can catch pretty much every game that’s on between national TV broadcasts and League Pass. It’s a hoops bonanza!
Nearly one month ago (Dec. 18, to be precise), Memphis had lost to OKC to fall to 10-18 in the West. In the month since then, the Grizzlies have the NBA’s sixth-best record (10-4), a mark that includes their current seven-game win streak. The Grizzlies have knocked off equal parts struggling squads and playoff contenders as they host New Orleans in one of MLK Day’s marquee games (5 ET, TNT). No player has been more central to this hoops resurgence on Beale Street than Ja Morant. This game entices because of the young scorers it will feature: the dazzling Morant and the Pelicans’ up-and-coming All-Star hopeful, Brandon Ingram.
Few, if any, matchups in NBA lore speak to the game and league’s rich history than Lakers vs. Celtics. That’s exactly what’s on tap tonight (7:30 ET, TNT) — and we don’t have to get wistful for old Magic vs. Bird showdowns as this game nears. The Lakers are coming off a big Saturday road win in Houston and have won 10 of their last 11 (which includes two wins vs. Dallas and one vs. OKC). The Celtics haven’t been nearly as hot, going 2-6 over their last eight games, including embarrassing recent losses to the Pistons and Wizards. There’s added star power to this game as well as the Lakers’ Anthony Davis and the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown are available to play, while Boston’s Kemba Walker will likely suit up as well.
Our advice to you: give that free League Pass free preview a workout today. First up in that mix would be Sixers-Nets (3 ET). While Joel Embiid will miss this showdown, there’s always Ben Simmons vs. Brooklyn (sorry, no Kyrie Irving today, either) and the storyline of Nets rookie center Nic Claxton. The Rockets host the Thunder (5 ET) in a matchup of two Western Conference playoff squads who have struggled of late. Houston has lost three straight and four of its last five, while OKC is 2-3 in its last five games. And to cap things off, the Jazz and Pacers — two of the NBA’s best all-around teams this season — meet in Salt Lake City at 9 p.m.
Toronto has seen its offense surge during its three-game win streak, which have included victories against the Timberwolves, Wizards and Thunder. That has pushed the Raptors to the top of the Atlantic Division as they visit the offensive-minded Hawks today (2:30 ET, NBA TV). It’s worth keeping an eye on the Raptors’ defense, too, for signs of slippage. Although they are No. 2 overall in Defensive Rating this season, since Jan. 1 they have fallen to No. 4 (105.1). Additionally, should this game get tight, two of the NBA’s top clutch scorers will be on the court: Trae Young (tied for 10th in total clutch points) and Kyle Lowry (20th).
There are big showdowns to watch today, yes. But there are a handful of 5 p.m. ET games on League Pass to keep on your radar as well. Check out Bulls vs. Bucks, which is Chicago’s first game since Zach LaVine lit up the Cavs for 42 on Saturday. The latest “Steve Clifford Bowl” is upon us as well as the Magic visit the Hornets in a showdown of two teams fighting for that No. 8 spot in the East and more consistency overall. The struggling Cavs and Knicks meet up in Cleveland and, thankfully, someone’s losing streak (Cleveland has lost four straight; New York has lost four) will come to an end. Lastly, it’s Kings vs. Heat from Miami as Sacramento tries to upset the NBA’s best home team (the Heat are 18-1 at AmericanAirlines Arena this season).
You may not remember Dale Ellis, but know this: he was a legendary 3-point shooter before it became en vogue in the NBA. On Jan. 20, 1996, he made history by becoming the first player to surpass 1,200 career 3-pointers. Today, there are more than 60 players who have hit 1,200 or more 3-pointers in their careers. But at the time of his retirement in 2000, Ellis ranked second in 3-point makes with 1,719 in his career.