All eyes on Rockets, Clippers and Spurs

The 2016 NBA Finals opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, emerged as the two best teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences at the end of November. With the second month of the 2016-17 season ready for the tip-off, Akshay Manwani looks at some of the marquee clashes ahead.

In the first week of November, the Clippers had handed the Spurs a 24-point walloping. The high points of the game were, Blake Griffin (in pic) dropping 28 points on Spurs and Jamal Crawford and Marreese Speights combining for 31 points while coming off the bench for the Clippers.   -  AP

When Houston Rockets won their first outing against San Antonio Spurs in November, James Harden (in pic) had a triple-double. Two days later, the visiting Spurs came out victorious 106-100. When Rockets take on Spurs again in Houston, the chances of the latter winning are high since they have been excellent on the road this season. But wouldn't James Harden and the Rockets love to prove everybody wrong in a match-up that should be as exciting as the earlier two encounters?   -  AFP

What a terrific opening month of NBA action! Russell Westbrook’s relentless triple-doubles, Stephen Curry’s historic 13 three-pointers in a single game and Kevin Love’s record 34-point first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers, have awed and delighted fans in equal measure. The 2016 NBA Finals opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, emerged as the two best teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences at the end of November. With the second month of the 2016-17 season upon us, we look at some of the marquee clashes ahead of us.

December 10: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder

James Harden meets Russell Westbrook. Former team-mates meet as foes. The beard meets the triple-double machine. Yes, while Harden leads the League in assists, Westbrook was averaging a triple double at the end of November. The two teams already met once earlier this season when the Thunder edged the Rockets 105-103 on the back of a sensational left-handed dunk by Westbrook to seal the game. Westbrook tallied 30 points and nine assists in that game, while Harden had 13 points and six turnovers. The pressure seems to be on Harden now to respond with a similar performance in this game. The two teams are scheduled to meet two more times in the regular season after this outing.

December 13: Portland Trail Blazers at LA Clippers

The Trail Blazers lost both their previous encounters of the season to the Clippers. But that was then, and this is now. This is the one opportunity the Blazers have to make a statement since this is the final regular season outing between the two teams. Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum have been solid for Portland, but their other players need to step up if the Blazers are to make a match of this. Also, with Portland struggling to make it to the top eight teams in the Western Conference, all wins would be of great value. This will be the final outing of a five-game road trip for Portland, while the Clippers will be playing their last game at Staples Center before setting out on a three-game road trip.

 

December 16: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors

Despite some solid individual performances by Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are still struggling to make it to the top half of the Eastern Conference. They made a lot of changes in the off-season, including bringing Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and new head coach Jeff Hornacek to Madison Square Garden, but the changes are yet to work their magic. Hornacek and Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr also go back in time when both found themselves on opposing teams in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals. Hornacek played for the Utah Jazz then while Kerr played for the Chicago Bulls. What should be interesting to see in this match-up, though, will be the many great shooters on both teams, what with Anthony, Porzingis, Durant, Curry and Thompson suiting up on both sides. Expect the stars to shine brightest when the arc lights come on at the Oracle Center.

December 21: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets

These two teams have already played two delectable games in early November, with the road team coming out victorious. In the first outing, James Harden had a triple-double in a two-point win for the Rockets. Two days later, the visiting Spurs came out victorious as their frontcourt of Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge facilitated a 106-100 win. Since this game is being played at Houston, and San Antonio have been excellent on the road this season (unbeaten through November), the chances of the Spurs coming away with the win are high. But wouldn’t James Harden and the Rockets love to prove us all wrong in a match-up that should be as exciting as the earlier two encounters?

December 22: San Antonio Spurs at LA Clippers

Two days after they play the Rockets, the Spurs take on the Clippers as part of a three-game road trip. In the first week of November, the Clippers had handed the Spurs a 24-point walloping. Blake Griffin had dropped 28 points on San Antonio, while Jamal Crawford and Marreese Speights combined for 31 points while coming off the bench for the Clippers. This is the second of a four-game regular season contest between two teams, who could well be battling it out against each other at the deep end of the 2017 Playoffs.

The author is the editor of NBA.com, India edition.