MMPG: The FourCast
1. Phoenix at Cleveland (Wednesday)
Of note: The Cleveland Cavaliers have been on a bad run since LeBron James took over Madison Square Garden with a 52-point performance last Wednesday. But the next day, Commissioner David Stern picked Ray Allen over Mo Williams as an all-star replacement. Then, the league office stripped James of his triple-double in New York, giving a rebound back to Ben Wallace. And finally, James had a feeble 5-for-20 performance in his much-hyped matchup against Kobe Bryant on Sunday, and the Cavaliers (39-10) lost at Quicken Loans Arena for the first time all season. But those problems pale in comparison to the drama in Phoenix, where the Suns are the most unhappy winning team in the NBA. Now all-star forward Amare Stoudemire is the most coveted name on the trade market with the deadline approaching on Feb. 19. Stoudemire has failed to score at least 20 points in four of his past five games, but the Suns (28-21) have won their past two.
2. Denver at Orlando (Wednesday)
Of note: The day after the New Jersey Nets beat the Denver Nuggets by 44 points, the Orlando Magic beat the Nets by 17. So, should the Magic beat the Nuggets by 61? Of course not. The Nuggets (34-17) have no excuse for laying a brontosaurus egg on Saturday, but they still are off to their best start since joining the NBA in 1976. The Magic likely lost first-time all-star point guard Jameer Nelson for the season with a torn labrum in his right arm, but it has gone 2-1 in its first three games without him. Orlando traded for Tyronn Lue but rely more on the playmaking ability of Hedo Turkoglu (18.3 points, 8.3 assists since Nelson went down) down the stretch. The Magic (38-12) has won 15 of its past 17 at Amway Arena.
3. Boston at New Orleans (Wednesday)
Of note: The Boston Celtics have lost two of their past three games after winning 12 in a row, but they will attempt to avoid the same rough patch that followed their first loss to the Lakers on Dec. 25. The Celtics (42-11) will play their next six games on the road beginning Wednesday in New Orleans, where the Hornets (30-18) are discovering what they already knew: Life without Chris Paul is no fun. Paul injured his groin last week against Portland and the Hornets immediately squandered a 17-point lead in a loss to the Trail Blazers. Chicago hammered them by 14 points in the Hornets' next game. New Orleans has won its past two games against lowly Toronto and Minnesota, with backup and former Wizard Antonio Daniels leading or tying for the lead in assists.
4. Los Angeles Lakers at Utah (Wednesday)
Of note: The Lakers will try to win their eighth consecutive road game at Utah, where the Jazz is tied for the third-best home record in Western Conference at 20-6. The Lakers (41-9) have the best record in the NBA, and are a league-best 18-5 away from Staples Center. Point guard Deron Williams is auditioning to be injury replacement if his good friend and rival Chris Paul is unable to participate in the all-star game. Williams, a Team USA member yet to make an all-star appearance, has scored more than 30 points in his past four games, averaging 33.5 points and 7.8 assists. The Jazz (29-23) is currently ½ game behind Phoenix for the eighth spot in the West, but they are also just three games behind New Orleans for fourth.
Others in consideration: Phoenix at Philadelphia (Monday); Denver at Miami (Tuesday); New York at Golden State (Tuesday); Atlanta at Detroit (Wednesday); New York at Los Angeles Clippers (Wednesday); Miami at Chicago (Thursday); Boston at Dallas (Thursday).
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