The only thing more exciting for TNT’s Inside the NBA is the doubleheader preceding it. Boston at Milwaukee offers a matchup of two of the best teams in the East, and that’s followed by a New Orleans at Sacramento tilt that could double as a John Calipari Alumni Scrimmage. Playing in any of our NBA contests on Thursday? Read this first.
Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks
There are Boston fans that would just like to forget that the first week of the season ever happened. An 0-2 start and the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward before the calendar even flipped to November is less than ideal, but it’s given the Celtics’ brass a chance to truly evaluate some of the young assets they have. So far, they’ve passed with flying colors.
The rematch with Milwaukee, who beat Boston in Beantown on November 18, gives this team a better gauge of where it’s at. The first meeting was the team’s first full game without Hayward and served as an emotional home opener. Since then, Boston is 2-0 despite playing those games without Marcus Smart or Marcus Morris.
The Bucks will be favored at home, and they should be; Giannis Antetokounmpo is the runaway MVP favorite at this point. Milwaukee also has a top-10 offensive rating, largely because Antetokounmpo is the only guy in the last three decades not named Michael Jordan to average 35 points and shoot 65 percent from the field in his first four games.
But in addition to Antetokounmpo’s 37 points and 13 rebounds, the Bucks placed five guys in double figures in the first meeting, including Matthew Dellavedova and Greg Monroe off the bench.
Since then, Boston has held the 76ers and Knicks to 92 and 89 points respectively.
Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have all averaged double figures in their last two games. Those three guys are all former first-round picks and have responded admirably to taking on roles that nobody saw them in 10 days ago.
The other key is Kyrie Irving.
By all accounts, he has struggled this season, shooting under 38 percent for the season with zero 25-point games. Irving averaged 25.2 points per game last year in Cleveland. Irving shot 7-for-25 in the first game against Milwaukee. He’s simply too talented to continue to struggle shooting for too long.
Boston needs this win. The young guys and Kyrie get it done on the road.
New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings
If history is any indication, New Orleans should win this one.
The Pelicans have won eight of the last 11 games in the series, including a 117-89 beat down last March. But this isn’t quite your dad’s Sacramento Kings, and the influx of young talent with seasoned vets has made them convincingly competitive.
Aside from the road loss to Denver in which the Kings shot an uncharacteristic 37 percent from the field and turned the ball over 26 times, their losses to Houston and Phoenix came by a combined seven points. The Kings also picked up a win in Dallas.
De’Aaron Fox has been everything advertised and more, averaging 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Fellow former Kentucky lottery picks Skal Labissiere (12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Willie Cauley-Stein (11 points, 8.3 rebounds) have also been extremely productive.
Sacramento’s offense has been anemic, but returning home for the first time in more than a week against a New Orleans team that has allowed at least 100 points in its four games is exactly what it needs.
The Pelicans are currently allowing opponents shoot 45 percent from the field while averaging more than 18 turnovers a night themselves.
It seems like Jameer Nelson has been a bit of a stabilizing force on a backcourt that isn’t very good; he has an even +/- in 55 minutes since joining the team. But, depending on how debilitating Anthony Davis’ knee injury is, it may not matter for this game.
DeMarcus Cousins will certainly give his former team problems. He hit them up for 37 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in the one game he played against them since last year’s trade. However, this will be his first game in Sacramento as an opposing player after spending the first five and a half seasons of his career in purple and black.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying the Kings pick up a home win, Cousins has a monster game and Kentucky fans get the chance to root for two teams that have a combined seven former Wildcats on its roster.