MMPG: The FourCast
1. Denver at Atlanta (Monday)
Of note: Carmelo Anthony came back from a sore elbow to drop 32 points on the New York Knicks on Sunday, but the Northwest Division-leading Denver Nuggets have a more difficult challenge in the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks -- surprise, surprise -- have the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference at 19-10, a record that is bolstered by a 13-2 record at Philips Arena, the fourth-best home record in the NBA. Joe Johnson has been pretty impressive his past two games, scoring 41 points against Chicago on Saturday and getting a triple-double (20 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) against Oklahoma City last Monday.
2. Orlando at Detroit (Monday)
Of note: In the past two postseasons, the Orlando Magic hasn't faced a bigger bully than the Detroit Pistons, who swept them in the first round two years ago, then beat them 4-1 in the second round last May. The Magic comes to the Palace of Auburn Hills trying to match the franchise's longest winning streak in three seasons (eight games) and with point guard Jameer Nelson playing the best basketball of his career. Nelson scored 12 of his 20 points during a 32-10 run that helped the Magic avoid an embarrassing loss in Minnesota on Saturday. Chauncey Billups used to torment Nelson, but he's in Denver and Allen Iverson is already talking as if the Pistons are the underdog. Richard Hamilton might not play with a groin injury.
3. Cleveland at Miami (Tuesday)
Of note: You again? LeBron James and Dwyane Wade play each other for the second time in three days. James got the best of Wade on Sunday, outscoring the league's leading scorer 33-29 and helping the Cleveland Cavaliers rally from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit for another comeback victory at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland snapped Miami's four-game win streak, and now Miami can end the Cavaliers' six-game streak. The game will be special for James because he will celebrate his 24th birthday on Tuesday. NBA-TV is dedicating 24 hours to James worship, which makes you wonder what the network will do when he turns 25 -- or if he ever wins an NBA championship. Not enough hours in a day.
4. Boston at Portland (Tuesday)
Of note: The Celtics' final game of 2008 will give them a great reminder of what might have been had they been lucky enough to win the NBA draft lottery in 2007. The Blazers appeared to get the prize by landing Greg Oden, but the Celtics rebounded pretty well later that summer by trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and won the NBA title in June. What would've happened if Paul Pierce had to play with a front line of Al Jefferson and a developing Greg Oden? Banner No. 17 would have been put on layaway.
Others in consideration: Chicago at New Jersey (Monday); Memphis at Minnesota (Monday); Washington at New Orleans (Tuesday); Philadelphia at Los Angeles Clippers (Wednesday); New Orleans at Portland (Friday); Utah at Los Angeles Lakers (Friday); New Orleans at Denver (Saturday); Cleveland at Washington (Sunday); Portland at Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday).
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