Each day Contest General offers you the opportunity to pick head-to-head NBA matchups from some of the league’s top games.
Thursday night offers just a four-game set, but TNT’s doubleheader featuring Cleveland visiting Toronto and the Lakers entertaining the Spurs will give fans a pair of interesting matchups to consider. Meanwhile, NBA TV will have a matinee with the Celtics taking on the 76ers.
Below is a guide on which teams to pick.
Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers
If Joel Embiid doesn’t play, then this game is far less intriguing. He continues to say that he’ll be a go, but with how cautious the 76ers are about their star center, I’ll believe it when I see him in the lineup.
If nothing else, this game will be entertaining.
Philadelphia is hot, winning four straight entering this game. Philly has been solid at home this season with wins over the Spurs, Pistons, Wizards and Trail Blazers.
These teams have already met twice, both Boston wins, and they’ll meet two more times in the next two weeks. Boston rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to win in the first meeting. The second, in which Embiid didn’t play, was an 11-point Boston win.
This is a tough matchup for the 76ers for one glaring reason: style of play.
Boston is methodical, yes, but the Celtics have the best defense in the NBA with opponents scoring a shade under 98 points per game. Boston also ranks ninth in fewest turnovers per contest.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia likes to play fast, averaging the second-most possessions per 48 minutes in the league. However, that pace is also the reason Philly leads the NBA in turnovers.
This could be a make or break stretch for Philadelphia, with seven of the team’s next nine games coming against current playoff teams such as Boston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee.
What better way to start off that stretch than with a win over rival Boston at home?
Kyrie Irving, however, has scored 57 points in two games against an apathetic Philly defense. Boston has won six straight games and five of its last seven at home. The Celtics take care of business here as Irving gets back on track after a slow start to the New Year.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors
LeBron James. LeBron James. LeBron James.
He’s the King for a reason, and he’s basically owned Toronto since his return to the Cavaliers, posting a 15-5 record against the Raptors. James has averaged 27.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists in those 20 meetings, shooting 56 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.
Cleveland has won five straight in Toronto and nine of the last 10 meetings overall (including postseason).
However, it’s not all about the Cavs as Toronto currently holds the second-best record in the East behind top-five numbers in offensive rating (No. 3 in NBA) and defensive rating (No. 6 in NBA).
Entering Tuesday’s game with the Heat, Toronto had won 15 of its last 18 games and posted an NBA-best 14-1 record at home. But, this will be Toronto’s third game in four days, a fact amplified by All-Star guard Kyle Lowry nursing a lower back injury.
Six teams in the NBA have .650 or better winning percentages, including the Raptors. But, they’re just 1-3 against those other five teams. All of those matchups happened before Thanksgiving, suggesting that the Raptors have beat up on bad teams to help inflate their record.
It’s difficult to pick against Cleveland in this one.
San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers
I’ll keep this short and sweet.
The Lakers are 29th in scoring defense, 29th in turnovers and have the youngest roster in the NBA by a wide margin. Magic Johnson and company have lost 16 of their last 20 regular-season contests against the Spurs, being outscored by 11 points per game.
It gets worse, too. The Spurs have not lost to the Lakers in Los Angeles since April 2013.
Kobe Bryant isn’t walking through that door anytime soon. Spurs take care of business.