• It’s Thursday Night and that means there’s going to be some quality, nationally televised basketball being played in between falls count anywhere mud wrestling matchups from Shaq and Barkley. Home stretch of the regular season gets a good Thursday slate without the added depression of having to deal with dueling tanks so lets get after it.

    Washington Wizards @ Detroit Pistons

    Both the Wizards and Pistons have been hanging on for dear life, but only one of them is going to the playoffs. It wouldn’t be all that upsetting if neither of these teams made the playoffs, but after all, the East does require eight teams to get in and the Raptors and Celtics could use a doormat in round one.

    Balls to the John Wall

    To say that this team needs John Wall back is an understatement. They’ve lost three of their last four and one of those a completely inexcusable disaster to the Knicks. The need a returning Wall to keep this team from completely hitting a different kind of wall. This is completely evident in Bradley Beal, who is struggling to carry this team. This past month Beal is only just above top-100 value as his turnovers have mounted, a far cry from the top-40 value he’s put up all season. If Wall is officially back and gives them the spark they need, the Wiz could be a tough out for a top seeded team and they could throw my doormat comment right in my face. That is unless they haven’t drained themselves to the point where Wall’s return just gets them back to square one.

    Player to Watch: Another player that seems to be floundering is Otto Porter. A typically hovering around 50% shooter, he’s gone the past two weeks with a 38% field goal percentage, which is usually reserved for the Ricky Rubios of the world. The Wizards need Porter to break out of his funk and if not tonight, hopefully Wall can help find him some bunnies when he returns.

    Momentum in Motown

    The Pistons still have a tough hill to climb, but are at least doing what they need to do to climb it. They’ve won two in a row and if they can put a spell on the Wizards, then they get a stretch where four of their next five come against teams that have already been eliminated from the playoffs. It’s enough of a window that Stan Van Gundy is going to demand that the team jump through. And with this team seemingly healthy and the rest of the East hanging on for dear life, this could be the right time for the well-timed run they were hoping would happen when they traded for Blake Griffin.

    Player to Watch: The Wizards have been pretty stingy against big men all season, but Andre Drummond needs to keep having those 20/20 nights if the Pistons want to keep that Mo going.

    Chicago Bulls @ Miami Heat

    In order for the Pistons to have any hope, the Heat have to do their part and give them reasons to believe. The Heat decided that they would do no such thing by dispatching of the Cavs. Now come the Bulls, who aren’t nearly as tough as LeBron and company, and could aid the Heat in making sure the door hits the Pistons in the rear end on their way out of the postseason.

    Chicago Bulls, I Know Your Full Name

    The Bulls signed Sean Kilpatrick to a three-year deal on Monday. This will be Kilpatrick’s fourth team this season alone, which gives you all the information you need about this team. With their best players hurt or getting their summer vacations started in March, Kilpatrick is another addition to a team that needs to begin warmups with stickers that say “Hello My Name Is …” They should come out in pregame and do Trust Falls instead of Layup Lines.

    Player to Watch: I don’t know. Lauri Markkanen is good and gives this team some semblance of hope. I can’t think that much more about it, I’ve already wasted enough time on this cast of misfits.

    No Shirt, No Shoes, I Have Problems

    Miami should win easily and Kelly Olynyk continues to give his fantasy owners championship dreams, so I want to dedicate this space to a couple of NBA commercials that I’m sure most NBA fans can never get out of their heads. In the NBA Store commercial, I don’t have an issue with the Heat dude wearing just a towel. Weird yes, but it bothers me more that he just drops a bunch of change on the counter and goes “Thuh Heat” as though his fandom makes his fiscal irresponsibility totally fine. If some jackass who was already disobeying store rules just decided to throw a bunch of change on the counter for me to pick up then I’m going to chase him out of the store with a broomstick regardless of the team he roots for.

    Also, I need to talk about the NBA Tickets family. Why does the Dad get so annoyed by the Andersons going to the game? He’s like genuinely pissed at missing what I presume is a very good albeit still a regular season game. So why the added annoyance? Are the NBA Tickets family and the Andersons in some secret neighborhood rivalry? Did Anderson once date his lovely wife? And after getting the tickets on NBATickets.com thanks to the trope of a typical kid mocking an old man’s limited understanding of technology, how did they get to the game so quickly? The Andersons were already snapping pics at the game so it had to have been close to tip-off. What does this family drive to get to the game so quickly, a ballistic missile? These are the things I think about during basketball games that feature at least one team that is just playing out the string.

    God the playoffs can’t get here soon enough.

    Player to Watch: I’m biased because he’s carried my team in the fantasy playoffs, but Kelly Olynyk has been a wonder with Hassan Whiteside still out. He’s been a thrift store version of Nikola Jokic these past couple of weeks and the return on Olynyk for these past couple weeks has made him worth every penny.

    Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs

    Now we’re talking. With so much up for grabs in the West, these two teams are right in the thick of it. The Thunder or Spurs could conceivably host a first round series, or be bounced out of the playoffs altogether. I think these guys know this game is pretty damn important. There’s a ton on the line in this one and we fans should get a great game as a result.

    And I Knew, I Knew There Was No Help From You

    The Thunder ripped off a six game win streak and followed that up by dropping their next two of three. Still, that stretch vaulted them up in to 4th in the Western Conference standings to give them a little breathing room for just making the field. No comes the tricky part. Their next five come against Western conference playoff threats. After the Spurs, they get a fighting-for-their-lives Nuggets, a Pelicans team equally motivated for playoff position, a Warriors team that will be much healthier, and a Rockets team that has been destroying everyone in their path. If you’re a Thunder fan and just read that, you probably had the same reaction as the boat guy from Caddyshack. That’s a potentially murderous stretch that could alter the West significantly.

    Player to Watch: Paul George needs to step up during this stretch. This is why the team traded for him, to make a deep run and go toe to toe with the league’s best. He’s been shooting so poorly of late and now is the time to get out of his funk.

    Mirror Images

    The Spurs ripped off a six game win streak and followed that up by dropping their next two. No, that’s not a copy paste error. The Spurs have essentially followed the same path as the Thunder on their way to rising up the Western ranks. The Spurs and Thunder have essentially been the Spiderman meme where they’re pointing at each other. One of these teams is going to have their masks ripped off to be revealed as an impostor. I just want Pop to do a sidleline interview where he says that he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

    Player to Watch: If Paul George has been flailing of late, LaMarcus Aldridge has been doing the exact opposite for his team. He’s had a fantastic season and has only heated up over the past couple of weeks. He’s been averaging over 30 with eight boards over his last seven and is showing no signs of slowing down. I know the MVP race is already decided, but what LMA has done with no Kawhi and a roster full of unknowns has been nothing short of remarkable after the offseason talk was that he was on the outs in San Antonio. If he ends up sitting this one out the Spurs will be in major trouble.

    Indiana Pacers @ Sacramento Kings

    The Pacers clinched a playoff spot, but find themselves having to keep up with a couple of on fire teams in the Cavs and Sixers that are now ahead of them in the Eastern standings. Being on a West Coast road trip this time of year isn’t ideal. What is ideal is playing a terrible Kings team when a win is needed to get that extra playoff home game.

    Indiana’s Last Crusade

    The schedule makers didn’t do the Pacers any favors. They’re in the middle of a West Coast road trip during the last leg of the regular season. Six of their last eight are road games. If they hadn’t already clinched a playoff spot, there’d be good reason for concern. Instead with the bottom half of the East not really posing much of a threat, it seems like the Pacers are locked in to travel to Cleveland or Philly for round one. Considering what the expectations of this team were at the start of the season, I don’t think anyone on that team is sweating the extra travel.

    Player to Watch: The emergence of Victor Oladipo is the main reason the Pacers are headed back to the playoffs, but we can’t overlook Darren Collison as part of that success as well. Thought to be just a veteran placeholder for a rebuilding team, Collison instead put up one of the finest seasons of his career despite missing a month with a knee injury. He’s getting back into full form right in time to make him and Dipo a formidable backcourt pairing for the postseason.

    The Kings Shall Lead Them

    The Kings are bad, tanking, and that blabbity blah, but all any fan wants from a rebuilding team is a sign of hope. That hope may have come out of an awful tragedy. The shooting death of Stephon Clark is another horrifying incident in a world where this happens all too frequently, but the Kings have helped to rally an angry and hurting community in the aftermath. From Vivek Ranadive to the front office to the players, all have shown their support and unity. For a team that’s been nothing but turmoil for the past few seasons, it’s been one of the first signs of cohesive strength from the top down all the way down that we’ve seen from these Kings in quite some time. Sports has a way of healing tragic wounds and this terrible and unfortunate incident may be something that these young Kings can rally around to improve both their play on the court and their involvement in issues that exist in the city and community they represent.

    Player to Watch: Justin Jackson has gotten a lot of run as the Kings continue to rebuild. De’Aaron Fox got much of the hype as the Kings top pick, but it’s been Jackson that’s been far more valuable over the past few weeks. He’s been lost among a star-studded rookie class, but his future is pretty bright as well.

    Milwaukee Bucks @ Golden State Warriors

    The Deer are clinging to their playoff lives and with the Warriors locked into the two-seed out West, they could come out of Oracle with a win. The Warriors just need their players healthy again. It’s easy to hate on the superteam, but I think we can all agree that this iteration of the Warriors if far less appealing for our viewing purposes.

    Deer in Headlights

    The Bucks are a confounding team. The talent is there in abundance, but the results are not. They haven’t had a win streak of greater than four games, or a losing streak of greater than four games. This team is exactly like their animal moniker. They just give you a blank stare then zigzag wildly without any sense of direction when you flash a light in their face. That’s not a ringing endorsement of a team that was a chic pick to make significantly more noise both before the season and after the Eric Bledsoe trade. They too are in the middle of a poorly timed West Coast trip that is going to test their mettle at a time when every win is precious. They dropped a tough one against the Clippers so based on their season, don’t be surprised if they come out charging against a banged up Warriors team and promptly turn into dashboard venison the following night against the Lakers.

    Player to Watch: The guy with all the letters. I’m sure people freaked right out when he came up hobbling a week ago, but it’s good to see him healthy and dominating right when fantasy owners need it most as the rest of the league drops like flies around him.

    B-Diddy and Captain Jax are Still Available

    Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green seem poised to return soon, which is good because the Warriors without their Big Four were starting to look like the Warriors of their orange lightning uniform years. Those teams had such NBA luminaries like Troy Murphy, Adonal Foyle, Erick Dampier, and Vonteego Cummings. Warrior fans are probably now having PTSD about their previous existence from 10-20 years ago. We used to gush about the current Warriors’ vaunted depth, but with that bench manning the helm they’ve been completely underwhelming, which doesn’t bode well when they’ll need to still play major roles come playoff time. They’ve lost five of their last eight and it could have been worse had the Suns and Hawks not happened to have appeared on their schedule at the right time. You never realize just how much you miss the Death Star. It’ll be good to have proper villains back again in time for the playoffs.

    Player to Watch: If Kevin Durant goes as expected, everyone will keep a close eye on how he plays with his rib injury. People will of course freak out if he shoots poorly, but with the Warriors pretty much locked into the two-seed, it makes sense to give KD an opportunity to get his rhythm back as quickly as possible.

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