• It’s a busy day in the NBA with 12 games on the slate for Wednesday night. Now trust me I get it.  It’s the middle of the week, your boss is probably giving you grief about something you apparently have done wrong, and all you want to do is go home and watch some good basketball. We here at Hoop Ball sympathize with you and we want to make your day a little easier by giving you a list of games that should satisfy your NBA watching needs.

    The Honorable Mentions: The Bucks face the Cavs, the Hawks take on the Wizards, the Raptors go up against the Celtics and the Clippers look to serve the Warriors their eighth loss of the season.

    I know what your thinking, how can the Clippers and Warriors game not be on the list of ‘must watch’ games? On any other night, this game would be on the list. But playoff implications carry the day so without further delay here are your ‘must watch’ games of the night.

    Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets

    Tip Time: 8 pm (est)

    Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

    Player Matchup: Gordon Hayward and James Harden

    Separated by just half a game, the Jazz and the Rockets are fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Let’s just say whoever wins this game may be a little more confident about their playoff chances moving forward.

    Houston (35-36), who is looking to avoid a three-game losing streak, is coming home on the second night of a back-to-back after falling short to the Thunder on Tuesday. James Harden did not seem limited playing through his ankle injury, finishing Tuesday’s contest with 24 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 16 assists.

    “I had to be out there. For us, every game counts,” Harden said. “I had to put whatever I’ve got going on to the side and just try to go out there and get the win.”

    In the previous game against the Jazz, Harden was unstoppable.  He got to the line 10 times and finished the game with 42 points, five rebounds and four assists.

    Utah’s Gordon Hayward is also playing through injury as he fights to keep his team’s playoffs hopes alive. Since returning from a two-game absence due to plantar fasciitis, Hayward has seen over 30 minutes of playing time during the team’s past two games.

    “(My foot) is fine,” Hayward said. “It is going to be sore the rest of the season. That is the nature of that injury. But it is fine”

    Luckily for Hayward, his teammates have stepped in and have taken their games to another level, especially point guard Shelvin Mack. Mack, who was acquired by the Jazz at the trade deadline, has been on a tear over his last 10 games averaging 13.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game.

    The Jazz (34-36) are not the greatest offensive team in the league. Over the team’s last three games, they have only averaged 96 points per contest. Defensively, however, is where they gets their wins. Over the past three games, Utah has only given up an average of 80.6 points to their opponents.

    Houston is the complete opposite. The Rockets look to outscore their opponents and try to make the game as fast-paced as possible. Over their last three games, the team has scored an average of 106.6 points per game, while surrendering 110.3 points per game to their opponents.

    With how much is at stake for both teams, this is without a doubt a ‘must watch’ game.

    Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers

    Tip Time: 10 pm (est)

    Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

    Player Matchup: Deron Williams and Damian Lillard

    The Mavericks (35-35) and the Blazers (36-35) are also separated by just half a game in the standings and they play for possession of the six slot tonight.  The Mavs took Round 1 of this home-and-home set on Sunday and scored 132 points in the process.

    The ageless veteran, Dirk Nowitzki, was dominant in that game as he put up 40 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The 37-year old is on a tear this month, averaging 24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

    Head coach Rick Carlisle has been experimenting with lineups and with Chandler Parsons likely to undergo season-ending knee surgery, he will need to be even more creative.

    “We just got to make it work with the guys we got available,” Carlisle said. “We got 13 active guys and these are the guys we are going to war with for the last 12 games.”

    Deron Williams came up big in Sunday’s game on a 30-point, 16-assist night. If Parsons is indeed out for the remainder of the season, Williams will be asked to take on a bigger role on the offensive side of the floor.

    Damian Lillard has been doing all he can to keep his team from falling into the three-way battle for the seventh and eighth seed. Through the month of March, Lillard has been averaging 27.8 points, four rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. He led the Blazers in scoring on Sunday and had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a poorly-conceived shot didn’t go and the Mavs were able to pull away in overtime.

    “I shot a shot that I’m really comfortable shooting and it just didn’t go in,” Lillard said. “I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t end the game right there. Going into overtime on the road against a pretty good team is tough.”

    If Portland loses and Houston wins, the Blazers would move from the sixth seed down to the eighth seed.

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