What To Watch For: The Top Matchup In Every Game Tonight

By: 11.16.12
Carmelo Anthony

Until Thanksgiving eve, Friday night’s nine-game schedule is the most NBA action you’ll see. With all the options, however, even the biggest NBA fan has to be selective. Here’s 10 matchups to focus on on tonight.

Last June’s No. 1 pick meets the NBA’s best shot-blocker in a matchup at power forward that could be just as interesting for the time spent out near the wing as it does in the post. Ibaka has been conspicuously working to extend his shooting range this season and averages 0.9 three-point attempts per game (he’s never averaged anything higher than, uh, 0.0 before) and 4.7 from 16-to-23 feet, per Hoopdata.com. With Thunder coach Scott Brooks saying today he’s looking into toying with the Thunder’s rotations, having Ibaka become a credible threat to shoot jump shots could give Brooks more confidence in a few small-ball sets. Though New Orleans’ Robin Lopez will still be inside at center playing around the rim, look to see if Ibaka can draw Davis out of the key, keeping the rookie’s own shot-blocking prowess out of play for OKC’s slashing guards.

This is a meeting of players going opposite directions. I wouldn’t often bet against Pistons point guard Rodney Stuckey, who’s made a career out of playing a kind of hard-nosed style at that positions that the Bad Boys would appreciate. Now that he’s playing primarily at the two for Detroit, he’s bottomed out with career lows in shooting, points per game and PER at 7.24, the fifth-worst such rating among point guards averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Stuckey is getting more than 30 minutes per game, which goes to show how thin this Pistons roster is to give him this much of a leash. Redick, meanwhile, is averaging a career-best 14.7 points per game as Orlando retools. He has succeeded not by shooting the three more often or more accurately, but by driving to the hoop, where he’s never shot more free throws per game. Both players need to get to the rim to succeed (Stuckey is superior in this matchup), but who can do it early and often tonight?

The most interesting thing about watching about the Sixers this season has been Andrew Bynum‘s changing hair. Philly isn’t wildly entertaining this season or even surprisingly fun as they were last year in the early stages of the season. What we have instead is a solid defense that has kept the team afloat despite an unbalanced, lead-footed offense. The defense is ranked fifth in defensive rating thanks in part to the turnovers it forces (fifth-best in the league). Utah shoots the seventh-best percentage at the rim this season, so if Thad Young and his frontcourt mates can keep Utah’s Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Paul Millsap and more away from the short shots, Philly has the upper hand.

OK, this isn’t exactly a straight-across matchup but it could be a key to a win or a loss from either side. For O.J. Mayo, the recent story has been how humbled he’s been by Rick Carlisle‘s defensive demands. Still, there’s this part of his season, too: He’s shooting .585 from three and it’s not because he’s chosen quality over quantity, averaging 5.9 triples per game. If he gets hot there, it’s lights out. Conversely Roy Hibbert will be the biggest player on the floor but might be playing with the least amount of confidence right now. It all centers around free throws. Normally a good shooter there (he’s shot above 71 percent three of his previous four seasons), he’s converting just 40 percent of his meager 1.7 attempts per game. He has to fix his foul-line woes by going right at Chris Kaman tonight.

The Timberwolves are so thin at both guard positions due to injuries that Thompson could have a field day on the road. Brandon Roy is questionable tonight, which means the 6-6 Shved could be the next best thing to stop a sophomore player who’s found his rhythm to the tune of 15.5 points per game. I should rephrase: Roy, even if he plays, will see his minutes minimized, so the only question around this matchup is how much Shved and Thompson face off, not if. If J.J. Barea, another game-time decision, doesn’t play, Thompson and point guard Steph Curry could have full run at a depleted guard rotation for Minnesota.

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