Los Angeles Clippers: Christmas week preview

Sitting with a record of 19-8, the Los Angeles Clippers are about to begin a week which will determine their position in the Western Conference. Christmas week brings the Clippers four games in just six days all against teams that play basketball at a near elite to elite level. Let’s preview each of these games one by one:
Dec 22nd at San Antonio:
Oddly enough, despite playing the defending champion Spurs in San Antonio, this match-up may prove to be the Clippers most winnable game the week. The San Antonio Spurs right now are a basketball team that just need a collective week off. Star players Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard will both likely be out with injuries, and having played two different triple overtimes games last week (both games being early candidates for best of the season) it’s unlikely that Coach Gregg Popovich will want to play Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili too many minutes. A game against San Antonio is NEVER easy, but the Spurs are wounded right now, and The Clippers should be able to take

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Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics Preview: Heat Aim to Avoid Sixth Straight Loss at Home

(Miami, FL) — On Sunday night the Miami Heat (12-15) host the Boston Celtics (10-14) at American Airlines Arena.
The Heat are coming off a narrow loss to the formidable Washington Wizards at home. It was the team’s first loss this season when they entered the fourth quarter with a lead.
Unfortunately, one critical turnover cost them the win, and Miami was handed their fifth-straight home loss.
Although the Heat couldn’t pull out a win, they played admirably with Dwyane Wade scoring 28 points to go along with eight assists and Luol Deng contributing 19 points and five rebounds. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem scored 14 and 11 points respectively.
Wizards point guard John Wall was impressed by Miami’s performance and gave them credit where it was due:
“They did a good job of not letting me get into the open court. I only made six shots all game. When you are taking the ball out (after Miami field goals), it’s hard to get into a flow.”
The Heat will once again be without their star Ch…

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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Memphis Grizzlies Game Preview: Cavs Face Big Test Against Elite Grizzlies

(Cleveland, OH) – On Sunday afternoon, the Cleveland Cavaliers (15-10) will play host to one of the NBA’s elite teams in the Memphis Grizzlies (21-5), who currently hold the second seed in the Western Conference.
The Cavs will look to build upon a very strong defensive performance Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets (10-15) in which the Cavs won 95-91.
The Grizzlies are coming off only their second home loss of the season, when the Chicago Bulls defeated them by a score of 103-97 Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph is coming off one of his worst offensive games of the season with eight points, only the second time all season he hasn’t scored in double figures. Holding averages of 16.1 points and 11.4 rebounds, don’t expect the same Z-Bo to show up against the Cavaliers.
On Wednesday night, the Cavs received a ton of help from an unlikely hero who happened to be returning from injury: Mike Miller. Making his first start of the sea…

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Duke Basketball: Preview and Prediction for Clash with UConn

A date with the defending national champions is not supposed to be like this.

The Duke basketball team plays Connecticut Thursday in what was expected to be a marquee nonconference showdown. Instead, it could be more of a warm-up game for the Blue Devils with conference play only two weeks away.

The Huskies are reeling at 4-3, but the record doesn’t even tell the whole story. Connecticut lost both of its games against Power Five conference opponents of note (Texas and West Virginia) and even inexplicably dropped a game against Yale. Safe to say, it’s not defending the college basketball throne effectively in the early going. 

This is still a clash between two of the most accomplished programs in college basketball history and is bound to make headlines. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the important storylines and matchups to watch for Thursday’s game.

 

Big Man Battle

Even casual college basketball fans know about Duke’s Jahlil Okafor at this point.

He is the freshman who is already patrolling the scene in the paint by grabbing every rebound in sight and carving out space for himself with NBA-ready post moves. He will likely be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft if he elects to turn pro and is the most dominant force in college basketball this side of Lexington.

Okafor is also fresh off an incredible performance against Elon, when he poured in 25 points and grabbed an astounding 20 rebounds.

However, he is not the only big man who made headlines leading up to this game. Connecticut’s Amida Brimah posted a head-turning performance against Coppin State by scoring 40 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and swatting three shots. What’s more, he made all 13 of his shots from the field and 14 of his 16 free throws.

Before that outburst, Brimah had yet to score more than 14 points or grab more than five rebounds in a single game.

The question now is whether that was an anomaly or a sophomore turning the corner. The only realistic chance Connecticut has in this game is if Brimah can at least keep the individual matchup with Okafor respectable. Nobody expects another 40-point performance, but he needs to at least contain Okafor and score in double figures himself. 

That is much easier said than done against a potential future NBA star.

 

Crisis of Confidence

Connecticut may be the defending champ, but it looks like a shell of the version fans saw in March.

The Huskies lost three in a row to West Virginia, Texas and Yale earlier in the season and probably didn’t feel great about giving up 85 points to Coppin State in the last game even though it was a win. It would be understandable if there was a lack of confidence in the UConn locker room heading into the showdown with Duke.

Head coach Kevin Ollie recognized the need for a marquee win, via Dom Amore of CTNow.com.

“It really gets you ready for March and April when you play at neutral sites against formidable foes,” said Ollie. “We need signature wins for the NCAA, too. … It’s about ‘now’ for us.” 

If a Duke team that has already impressed against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Stanford and Temple jumps out to an early lead, it could put some doubt in the minds of the Huskies players. Beating the Blue Devils is hard enough on its own, and Connecticut doesn’t need any self-doubt.

 

Three-Point Shooting

Three-point shooting is a key in almost any college game considering the amount of times teams launch it from deep with a shorter line than the NBA, but the difference between these two teams from deep really stands out.

UConn is shooting an abysmal 29.5 percent from three-point range this season while Duke is hitting 38.2 percent of its threes.

Given the Huskies’ struggles from deep, Duke can pack the lane on defense and help on Brimah if needed. Having more Blue Devils in the lane will also lead to more rebounding and fewer second-chance points for the overmatched Huskies. On the other side, UConn may have to double Okafor if Brimah cannot handle the superstar on his own. 

That will open up the likes of Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones from deep.

A barrage of three-pointers from Duke would make victory nearly impossible for the Huskies considering how much of a problem Okafor already represents down low. Connecticut may have to pick its poison and cross its fingers that the Blue Devils have an off-day from downtown.

 

The Veteran vs. the Freshman

Ryan Boatright is the senior leader for Connecticut and brings a championship pedigree to the table. He will be tasked with going up against Duke’s superstar freshman point guard in Jones, who already torched Traevon Jackson and Wisconsin for 22 points, six rebounds and four assists and won’t back down from the moment.

Boatright is a star in his own right, though, and has been one of the few bright spots for the Huskies in the early going. He is averaging 18.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals a game and will pose a problem for Jones on both sides of the ball. The Huskies won the national championship last season on the back of its pressure defense, and Boatright will apply that in spades against the young Jones in this one.

It should be mentioned that for as impressive as Jones was against Wisconsin, Jackson scored 25 points on the other end. Boatright will have opportunities to score and impact the game as an offensive player as well against Jones.

The luxury Mike Krzyzewski has for this matchup, though, is Winslow. If Boatright starts to go off, Coach K could switch Winslow onto him in an effort to swallow the smaller point guard up and limit Connecticut’s ability to set anything up in the half court.

Ultimately, Duke just has too much talent on both ends of the floor for the Huskies. It is impossible to overlook Connecticut’s early struggles that stand in stark contrast to Duke’s perfect start when projecting this game. For every problem Connecticut brings to the table in Boatright or Brimah, the Blue Devils have at least one answer with Okafor, Jones and Winslow.

Look for the Blue Devils to gradually pull away in the second half. 

Prediction: Duke 81, Connecticut 67

 

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North Carolina-Kentucky Preview (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In this March 15, 2014, file photo, Kentucky head coach John Calipari and forward Alex Poythress (22) watch play against Georgia during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinal round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament in Atlanta. Poythress will miss the rest of the season after tearing a knee ligament during practice the school said Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection has taken a major hit ahead of another tough test on the top-ranked Wildcats’ nonconference schedule.


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UNC vs. Kentucky: Preview and Prediction for Top-25 Showdown

Two of the most successful—and popular—college basketball teams renew their rivalry on Saturday when No. 21 North Carolina (6-2) visits top-ranked Kentucky (10-0) in one of the more anticipated nonconference games of the season.

This is the tail end of a home-and-home series, with UNC knocking off Kentucky in Chapel Hill last December. The schools have met 36 times in their history, with the Tar Heels owning a 23-13 edge that includes a 2-1 advantage in NCAA tournament contests.

It is the first of three straight games away from home for Carolina, which plays at UNC-Greensboro on Tuesday and then faces UCLA in Chicago on Dec. 20 in the inaugural CBS Sports Classic. Kentucky will be at that event as well, playing Ohio State in its next game after Saturday’s clash.

Click through the slideshow for our detailed breakdown of this battle of ranked teams that sit first (Kentucky) and third (UNC) all time in college basketball victories.

Begin Slideshow

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Ohio State Basketball: Preview and Prediction for Showdown with Louisville

If the 2014-15 Ohio State basketball team wants to add a marquee nonconference road victory to its resume, it only has one chance—Tuesday against Louisville.

Clearly, winning at Louisville is not a make-or-break situation for the Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament hopes, but it is critical when you start talking about Ohio State finding itself in a possible top-three seed range on Selection Sunday.

It’s not like Dwyane Wade was still lacing it up for that very pedestrian Marquette team the Buckeyes beat in Columbus, and the showdown with North Carolina is at a neutral site. Beating the Tar Heels would also be a massive win, but true road victories are what really catch the eyes of the selection committee.

What’s more, conference bragging rights will be on the line in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which could come into play in March if Ohio State is battling with ACC squads for the same seed.

There is a chance that a defensive slugfest will break out Tuesday.

Louisville is the top team in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, largely because Montrezl Harrell is a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. The versatile big guy checks in at 6’8” and is a monster on the boards. And he flies around the court with athleticism and speed that help him cover almost the entire baseline down low.

Bottom line is that Harrell is one of the best players in the entire country, and it will be up to the Buckeyes’ trio of Amir Williams, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee to deal with him down low.

Ohio State also has to worry about Harrell’s offense considering he leads Louisville in scoring with 17.4 points a game and can find the basket from mid-range or down on the low blocks. He may be the best big guy Ohio State faces all season as a future first-round NBA draft pick, which will at least be a great source of experience before physically grueling Big Ten play starts.

Louisville may also be the best rebounding team in the country (it is second in the nation in rebounds per game) because of the trio of Harrell, Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang, who are all averaging more than 7.5 rebounds a game.

By contrast, nobody on Ohio State even averages six boards a night, which is critical because who controls the glass will go a long way toward determining the winner.

The Cardinals can get the crowd going with a few easy putbacks, but the Buckeyes can counter by stringing together consecutive defensive stops if they grab the rebounds. Louisville is only shooting 43.7 percent from the field, so there will be misses to grab.

The Buckeyes love to run with Shannon Scott and his 10.4 assists per game leading the way and D’Angelo Russell and Sam Thompson filling the wings, but they need to grab those long rebounds that bounce off the rim if Louisville misses first.

Pushing the tempo would prevent Louisville from setting up its devastating half-court defense and bolster Ohio State’s chances at pulling off the upset.

The Cardinals aren’t the only team that can play effective defense in this game. The Buckeyes are 17th in Pomeroy’s rankings and should be able to contain a Louisville squad that only scored 45 points in its last win against Cleveland State.

Scott, Russell and Thompson will be critical on the perimeter as they try to pressure Chris Jones and Terry Rozier and prevent the guards from setting up Harrell and the big guys in an ideal position to score. 

On the other end, look for Russell to establish his offense from the opening tip. He is a Louisville native and will be ready to show his hometown Cardinals what they missed out on. Ohio State’s associate athletics director for communications, Dan Wallenberg, pointed out just how effective Russell has been in the early going:

Russell is a major reason why the Buckeyes have played so well this season, but that is also largely a factor of a weak schedule. They are yet to leave the friendly confines of Value City Arena, let alone play one of the best teams in the country in their place.

The crowd will be rocking from the start, especially because Louisville is a stranger to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. These are the type of marquee games that the Cardinals switched to the ACC for, and the crowd will respond accordingly.

The reason the Buckeyes will suffer their first loss of the season is not just the crowd, though. Louisville’s defense is simply suffocating and held its last two opponents to a combined 59 points in 87-26 and 45-33 victories.

It doesn’t really matter if those games were against Savannah State and Cleveland State because it is ridiculous to hold a Division I college basketball team to a measly 26 points. You could put together a group of former high school players who are playing in local recreation leagues and get to 26 points in a 40-minute game against most opponents.

Ohio State will stay close behind a motivated Russell and a strong defense of its own, but the combination of the crowd, the fact that it is the Buckeyes’ first major test and the Louisville defense will ultimately prove too much. 

Prediction: Louisville 62, Ohio State 57

 

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Duke Basketball: Preview and Prediction for Showdown with Wisconsin

The Madness may have to wait until March, but one of the best games in the entire 2014-15 college basketball season takes place Wednesday when the red-hot Duke Blue Devils travel to the Kohl Center in Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers.

Not only is it a matchup between two Top Five teams, but it is the anchor game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Don’t underestimate the importance of conference pride in this one either, as the Big Ten and ACC are two of the best leagues in the country. Whichever conference wins the Challenge will have bragging rights and a solid boost on Selection Sunday.

Duke may have the best roster in the country this side of Lexington, but this will be a major test.

One thing to watch is how the young Blue Devils handle the noise at the Kohl Center. There are few stadiums in the entire country as loud and daunting as this for almost any opponent, and it is sure to be rocking when Duke comes to town.

For as talented as players like Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow are, they have not played in a true road game in front of a raucous crowd like this in their young college careers. Don’t be surprised if the youngsters press in a few tight moments and commit untimely turnovers. 

Former Duke player and current ESPN broadcaster Jay Williams seemed to be leaning toward the Badgers when deciding who would win this game, largely because of the incredible home-court advantage that the Kohl Center will create against the Blue Devils:

As an extension of that youth theme, this will be a test between experience and freshmen. Wisconsin brought back Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig from its Final Four run. They are six major contributors who have battled in Big Ten play and postseason tournaments throughout their careers.

The Blue Devils certainly have some experience in Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Quinn Cook, but the freshmen play the most important role.

Again, don’t be surprised if the freshmen make a few mistakes against the experienced Badgers in a hostile environment.

In terms of individual matchups, it doesn’t get much better than Okafor vs. Kaminsky. The two big men could compete for All-American status later in the season, and a head-to-head win for either could help his case. The big-man battle will also go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game. 

Okafor is arguably the best low-post scorer in the country and is a beast to handle down low, while Kaminsky stretches the defense with a solid three-point stroke. Kaminsky is also a capable scorer and rebounder on the blocks, but he can neutralize some of Okafor’s effectiveness if he forces the Duke center away from the basket with his outside shot.

If Kaminsky is draining threes, Okafor will have to venture outside of the paint, which will open up offensive rebounding for the Badgers.

Another critical individual matchup to watch is the one between Dekker and Winslow. Both small forwards are future NBA players, but Winslow’s tenacious defense could be the difference in who plays better.

Winslow’s lateral speed, athleticism, shot-blocking prowess and ability to force turnovers and convert them into transition opportunities on the other end should give Dekker problems all game.

Kaminsky may generate most of the headlines from Wisconsin, and rightfully so, but Dekker is a critical part of the offense as someone who can score from anywhere on the floor and attack the rim off the dribble. If Winslow can slow him down, it would go a long way toward disrupting Wisconsin’s attack.

Interestingly, Duke already played one game that may give us an insight into how this one will ultimately unfold.

While it may be simplifying things a bit to point to Duke’s early-season battle with Michigan State as a primer for the Wisconsin game simply because the Spartans and Badgers are both in the Big Ten, there is something to be learned from that contest.

Although the Blue Devils controlled the pace for 40 minutes and the outcome was never really in doubt, Michigan State battled down low and actually outrebounded Duke by a 35-25 margin. What’s more, the Spartans grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which is something Duke cannot afford to let happen in the Kohl Center.

While the rebounding, or potential lack thereof, from Duke is something of a concern based on that Michigan State game, the Blue Devils’ perimeter defense was very encouraging.

The Spartans shot an abysmal 25 percent from three-point range, largely because Duke was suffocating on the outside. Almost every time a Michigan State player looked to launch a long-range shot, there was an outstretched Blue Devils hand right in their face.

If Duke brings that same type of defensive intensity Wednesday but mixes in a few more rebounds, it could win on the back of its defense alone.

However, the fact that this one is in Madison will be the ultimate deciding factor. The crowd will inspire a few extended Badgers’ runs that will prove to be the difference in an otherwise tightly contested game. 

Prediction: Wisconsin 78, Duke 71

 

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UNC vs. UCLA: TV Schedule, Live Stream and Battle 4 Atlantis 2014 Preview

Thursday will mark a pivotal matchup for both North Carolina and UCLA. However, the game doesn’t have quite the same meaning for both programs.

Losses for the Tar Heels and Bruins on Wednesday means the Thanksgiving Day battle in Atlantis is in the consolation round. While both teams are still two of the best in the country, Thursday’s game is in the loser’s round after shocking upsets.

Not only will both teams be looking to rebound, but some of the top players hope to turn things around. Norman Powell and Marcus Paige were productive on Wednesday, but neither struggled more than fans have come to expect.

Before the two illustrious programs tip off in the Battle 4 Atlantis, here’s a look at the game information and preview.

 

Game Information

WhereImperial Arena, Paradise IslandNassau, Bahamas

When: Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. ET

TV: AXS TV

Live Stream: GoHeels TV/Pac-12.com

 

Preview

One loss for both programs is already too much, but one will be departing from paradise with a pair.

That daunting idea is hard for each fanbase but might be even tougher to take for UNC. The Tar Heels came into the season heralded as one of the best teams in the country, but they were whittled down by a Butler team that is far from the power it was under Brad Stevens.

With as much talent as the Heels have on the court, Roy Williams put much of the blame on himself due to preparation. Williams spoke about the loss following the game, per Andrew Carter of The News & Observer:

We have wonderful kids and I did a poor job with them getting them ready to play with the aggressiveness that Butler played (with). Butler’s coaching staff did a much better job of getting them ready to play. …

It’s a bad day today. I’m going to be ticked off all night until we start playing better. But they’ll get better.

One of the biggest issues for Carolina throughout the game was its inability to rebound. Butler, a team that ranks 216th in the nation in rebounding, hauled in 57 total rebounds, with 29 coming on the offensive end.

Carolina can’t allow that issue to continue against an athletic UCLA team that features a powerful inside presence in Kevon Looney. Kennedy Meeks will likely be tasked with that duty, but Looney has outmuscled several opponents already this season.

Looney‘s rebounding ability was noted by Jonathan Givony of Draft Express and Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

Having high-energy players down low will be crucial for both teams. The biggest component, however, will be the guard play on Thursday evening.

Bryce Alford, Steve Alford’s son, has been one of the best floor generals all season with 20 points and 9.8 assists per game. However, Alford took a step back against Oklahoma, as he finished with just as many assists (two) as turnovers (two).

Sharing the backcourt is Norman Powell, the team’s leading scorer, who never took a three-point shot and went just 4-of-10 from the floor. Part of the issue for Powell was getting into foul trouble early, as Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times notes:

If any player needs to rebound more than Powell, it’s Paige, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year. The junior was able to finish with a season-high 18 points, but he started the game at 1-of-10 from the field and missed four free throws.

Both teams will need their guards to step up or they’ll head home with two losses. With each looking to compete for a title in their respective conferences, that would be a tough pill to swallow this early in the season.

 

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Green Bay vs. FGCU: Preview for 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase Championship

When the Green Bay Phoenix (3-1) square off against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (5-0) in the final of the 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase tournament, college basketball fans will be treated to a marquee matchup.

While both Green Bay and Florida Gulf Coast don’t get the mainstream attention they deserve, each program has the opportunity to put its team on the map and build momentum heading into the heart of the regular season.

Here is the full preview for the 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase championship.

 

Where: Germain Arena, Estero, Florida

When: Wednesday, November 26

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Live Stream: AmericaOneSports.com

 

Breaking Down the 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase Championship

There are other tournament finals and Wednesday matchups getting more attention from casual basketball fans, but the battle between Green Bay and Florida Gulf Coast should be the game of the night.

The Phoenix lost the second game of the season against the No. 3-ranked Wisconsin Badgers but managed to blow out East Carolina before pulling out a thrilling 64-62 victory over Evansville on Tuesday night.

Senior guard Keifer Sykes scored 20 points against Evansville, including several crucial points in the waning stages of the game, and Green Bay will depend on the locker room leader to help guide his team to a win Wednesday.

Phoenix coach Brian Wardle spoke to Carl Bleich and RJ Roan of The News-Press about his team’s close call in the semifinals, saying: “This was a great test for us. We kept trying to get it to a three-possession game (in the second half) and we couldn’t do it…Overall, (I’m) very proud of our team this early in the year to just will themselves to a win.”

As well as Green Bay has played in this tournament, the stage has been set for the Eagles to walk away with the tournament title as long as the program doesn’t underestimate their opponents heading into the championship.

Florida Gulf Coast won the first five games of the season, including four lopsided victories and a thrilling overtime win over the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. While the Eagles aren’t the most efficient scoring team in the nation, they have a talented group of big men who can rebound with the top teams. FGCU is currently ranked 29th with an average of 43 rebounds per game.

Add in the fact that the Eagles are also ranked 47th in the nation with an average of 16.4 assists per game, and it is clear that Florida Gulf Coast plays a team-first style of basketball. Against Green Bay, FGCU should have the decisive edge.

If the Eagles can get senior guard and leading scorer Bernard Thompson (17 points per game) involved early and often, Florida Gulf Coast will pull out the victory and win the 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase championship.

Predicted Final Score: Florida Gulf Coast 80, Green Bay 70

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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