To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy of his influence in the struggle for positive change in race relations, the NBA has scheduled an all-you-can-watch smorgasbord of games for fans to binge throughout today’s national holiday.
With all but two teams in action, here’s a look at the 14-game slate:
Sixers @ Nets — 3:00 PM EST, League Pass
Knicks @ Cavs — 5:00 PM EST, League Pass
Pelicans @ Grizzlies — 5:00 PM EST, TNT (18th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Game)
Warriors @ Blazers — 10:00 PM EST, TNT
While you’re waiting for the Pacers to take on the Jazz at 9:00 PM, go ahead and circle the games featuring Philly, Miami, and Boston as match-ups to watch — especially since they’re conveniently staggered throughout the day. It’s a wee bit early to start obsessing over the standings, but with only 2.0 games separating the teams currently seeded 2-6 (Miami, Toronto, Boston, Indiana, Philly), the race for the two-slot is already heating up. Among that group, Miami has the best record in games versus the other four (6-2). Meanwhile, if games were only played at home, Philly (20-2) would be tied with Milwaukee (20-2) for the best record in the East with the Heat following close behind (18-1).
Taken altogether, and assuming the Bucks stay separated at the top with their massive eight-game lead, the Pacers have definite incentive to push for home-court advantage as either the two or three-seed (i.e. not Milwaukee’s bracket). After all, Indiana is 4-2 at home versus the East’s top six, compared to 0-3 on the road, and it wasn’t particularly encouraging that they held Giannis to his third-lowest point total of the season on December 22 and still lost in a 28-point blowout.
The Bucks take away the rim better than any team in the league (ahem, Sabonis has shot 37 percent in games versus Milwaukee this season with only nine of his 29 attempts coming inside the restricted area), so the best way to be competitive with them in a seven-game series is to outscore them from three. That’s a problem for squads like the Pacers who are accustomed to hitting from outside on low-volume and already struggle to get to the line. As such, in order to generate more looks from three, Brogdon has to relentlessly subject himself to driving and kicking out of a fortified paint while also checking Giannis at the other end. Needless to say, that’s a heavy workload.
Defensively, meanwhile, there’s dizzying cross-matches at almost every position, which makes it that much harder to contend with the league’s leader in fast-break scoring.
Granted, Oladipo has the potential to create match-up issues for deep drops with his ability to pull-up from three and create separation, but that puts a lot of pressure on him to be back back this season in terms of his first-step and maneuverability.
In other words, avoiding Milwaukee for as long as possible is a prize worth vying for. Keep that in mind as you monitor outcomes for the rest of the teams seeded 2-6 through the back half of the season, and make note that playing in the Central Division with the East-leading Bucks will be a disadvantage for the Pacers if they fail to win head-to-head tiebreakers outright against the winner of the Southeast or Atlantic Division.
With that said, share your thoughts and observations on the games, cool ways that teams pay tribute to the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., and of course any Pacers-related topics throughout the day.
With the Pacers on the road for the holiday, Oladipo spoke in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. ahead of Friday’s game versus Minnesota.