MMPG: The FourCast
1. Philadelphia at New Orleans (Monday)
Of note: Elton Brand returned to the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday after missing the previous 16 games with a dislocated right shoulder -- and the 76ers didn't lose. Brand came off the bench and scored six points in 13 minutes of a win against the New York Knicks. Philadelphia has won eight of its past nine games to get back to .500 (21-21), and it may be able to go over the hump for the first time since a Nov. 23 win over Golden State. The Hornets have won two of their past three games despite injuries to starters Tyson Chandler (sprained left ankle) and David West (back spasms), who both should be out on Monday.
2. Cleveland at Orlando (Thursday)
Of note: For the second week in a row, the Orlando Magic hosts another Eastern Conference contender at Amway Arena in a game that could play a huge role in homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Orlando and Cleveland both have better records against Western Conference teams than Eastern Conference teams. The Magic has impressive sweeps against the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs this season, but they have no wins against Boston (two losses) or Cleveland, which it will face for the first time on TNT. The Cavaliers have lost four consecutive road games against teams from the East -- Atlanta, Miami, Washington and Chicago.
3. San Antonio at Phoenix (Thursday)
Of note: The San Antonio Spurs return to Phoenix for first time since they pulled out an impressive 91-90 win on Christmas, when Roger Mason Jr. drilled a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the left corner. The Suns haven't been right since the teams met, going 8-6 as they still try to establish their identity. The Spurs, on the other hand, have gone 10-4 and stand as the closest challenger to the Los Angeles Lakers through the first half of the season. The Suns are in seventh in the West, but trail the Spurs by just 4 ½ games. The teams are 1-1 against each other this season, with each team winning on the road.
4. Dallas at Miami (Saturday)
Of note: It's been less than three years since the Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, but neither team looks familiar. The Heat is having a (relatively successful) rebuilding year with only three players -- Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright -- remaining from that championship team. The core of Dallas's roster has changed little since it won the Western Conference -- Jason Kidd has replaced Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop is in Charlotte -- but the team no longer resembles a championship contender. They have identical records, but the Heat is considered a surprise, while the Mavericks are sputtering. Just imagine where the franchises would be if the Mavericks hadn't flamed out in Games 3 and 5.
Others in consideration: Atlanta at Miami (Monday); Philadelphia at New Orleans (Monday); San Antonio at Utah (Tuesday); Boston at Detroit (Friday); Los Angeles Clippers at Washington (Saturday); New Orleans at San Antonio (Saturday); Utah at Portland (Saturday); Orlando at Toronto (Sunday); Cleveland at Detroit (Sunday).
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