Denver Nuggets (9-9) vs. Atlanta Hawks (9-5)
It is still early enough in the season to wonder what kind of identity teams will be taking on. Twenty games hardly seems like enough to establish a long-range identity. But habits are still being formed and, believe it or not, 20 out of 82 is nearly one-fifth of the season (where did the time go?).
The Nuggets were expected to be one of the Western Conference's very best teams. Andre Iguodala was supposed to add the kind of star power and one-on-one play, yet fit in with the team, necessary to make the Nuggets a cut above all the other teams in the West. Or at least among its contenders. Denver is still good, but at .500, the team is not among the West's elite.
Sure Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried continue to play well. Iguodala continues to do his thing. And JaVale McGee had his moments of briliance and his McGee moments.
The Hawks were kind of in the same boat, but heading the opposite direction. After years of being in the East's middle, Atlanta voluntary took a step back to be in a better position to move forward (namely, looking at this year's free agent class).
Al Horford, Josh Smith and the emergence of Jeff Teague continue to make the team more than competitive. The Hawks should still make the Playoffs. Horford looks like an All Star once again. Josh Smith is having a stellar season too (as he prepares for free agency too).
The Hawks are still a very very nice team. But perhaps many thought these team's records would be flipped. At the very least, they should make for an interesting matchup.
Other Storylines to Watch
-Pau Gasol seems to be the hot name in the trade rumor circles, even though there is not substance to these rumors. Josh Smith is a free agent and could be a versatile four, he would make sense. Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld said he has not heard anything. And likely there is nothing to it.
-Adding to the Hawks finding their footing, Al Horford said he has been surprised with how the new Hawks squad has come together this early part of the season. Horford should be surprised with how well he has come back from that torn pectoral that kept him out most of last season.
Tonight's Other Games
New York Knicks (12-4) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7-9)
Marcus Camby, who has rarely played this season, will miss the next two games (tonight and tomorrow against the Heat) with plantar fascitis. Tough injury for the veteran. Then again, it has been a tough year for Camby anyway.
Portland Trail Blazers (8-10) vs. Indiana Pacers (9-9)
The Trail Blazers have had a very nice close to this long East Coast swing. After two tough losses, the Blazers have surprisingly won two straight. They can finish this road trip 3-4 with a win tonight against the Pacers. How has Portland done it? LaMarcus Aldridge has done everything. He has put his work in early this season and continues to fight hard for a team that is sometimes struggling a lot.
Minnesota Timberwolves (8-8) vs. Boston Celtics (9-8)
The Celtics are looking for some post help after letting Darko Milicic go. The first candidate was Kenyon Martin. Boston has been hesitant to go after Martin though. The next candidate? Yes, that would be Erick Dampier. Dampier has been out of the league for a few years now, but his defense and rebounding could still be pretty useful. If not, it would allow Boston to challenge New York for oldest roster.
Golden State Warriors (10-7) vs. Detroit Pistons (6-13)
The Warriors are opening up a seven-game East Coast swing in Detroit tonight. Golden State has been one of the surprises of the season, competing for first place in the Pacific Division early on in the season. While the Pistons do not exactly inspire fear in many teams (by record, I mean), the trip out West will be a very big challenge for this young team. We may know about Golden State when the team gets home in a few weeks.
Chicago Bulls (8-8) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-14)
Apparently Derrick Rose has been dunking for weeks. But he is not close to practicing as some other reports are saying. Still, to have Rose doing that shows how close he is to being back for the Bulls. The injury news is not good for the Cavaliers though. Dion Waiters is out tonight and Kyrie Irving is still a few weeks away.
Los Angeles Lakers (8-10) vs. New Orleans Hornets (5-11)
Pau Gasol continues to be at the center of the firestorm of Lakers blame and the skapegoat for all the Lakers problems. His name has surfaced at the center of various trade rumors. Perhaps we should not read too much into those. A source told Ric Bucher that Steve Nash may have joined the Lakers on the condition that Pau Gasol would not be traded. At least, initially. We know that these things can change though.
Milwaukee Bucks (8-8) vs. San Antonio Spurs (14-4)
The Larry Sanders road show continues in San Antonio. The young center is playing the best basketball of his career, blocking shots seemingly at will and putting up some crazy numbers. For him, at least. it is always good to see players like Sanders remind us that every sing player in the NBA is there for a reason. And no one can be overlooked.
Orlando Magic (7-10) vs. Utah Jazz (9-10)
It seems too soon for this much trade talk. But the winds are picking up. And the Jazz might be near the center of the storm too. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson seem to duplicate talents a lot and either one could be on the move if the deal is right it would seem.
Toronto Raptors (4-14) vs. Sacramento Kings (4-12)
Andrea Bargnani expressed some frustration over his up and down season. He complained that his production has been all over the map, scoring 30-plus points one night and struggling to get to 10 the other. The Raptors need Bargnani to do what he does best: scoring. Kyle Lowry is still getting back and DeMar DeRozan is playing well. But Bargnani needs to produce for the Raptors to bounce back.
Dallas Mavericks (8-9) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (11-6)
Lamar Odom is starting to get into shape and produce for the Clippers. That is some really good news for Los Angeles. Maybe that is bad news for Dallas though. Odom was disgruntled in his less than a season with Dallas in a relationship he never really gave a chance. Odom reflected on that time and called it a blur. Now he faces them.