- Nearly one month after the rush to watch NBA games on Christmas Day, the league is back without another holiday slate full of action. The Crossover presents five storylines to watch on MLK Day.
Almost one month after the real NBA season began on Christmas, another hoops-filled extravaganza will take place on Monday as the league celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A total of 11 games will fill the NBA calendar, beginning with Thunder vs. Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The evening will conclude in Los Angeles, as the Warriors take on the LeBron-less Lakers, capping a day-long excuse to shirk your work responsibilities.
So what games can you look forward to as the NBA celebrates one of the greatest leaders in our nation’s history? We at The Crossover break down the marquee matchups.
Rookie of the Year Favorite Take on Giannis
The Mavericks are dreadful away from home, just 4–18 outside of the American Airlines Center. But don’t let Dallas’ road woes take your eyes away from the matchup at 2 p.m. ET. Luka Doncic will take on Giannis Antetokounmpo in his first battle with the Bucks, pitting two of the league’s brightest young stars against one another at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Doncic is in rare air midway through his rookie season. He’s the only rookie to 20 points, six rebounds and five assists per game since Michael Jordan did it in 1984-85. Not exactly bad company. Doncic may not drive Dallas to the playoffs, but watching him against the Greek Freak should be a treat.
Don’t Miss the Buddy Hield Show
We noted Hield’s strong season in mid-December, but the Oklahoma product’s performance since Jan. 1 has been worthy of a second look. Hield has made 56.1% of threes over his last 10 outings, making 4.6 triples per game. He beat the Pistons at the buzzer from beyond the arc on Saturday. He’s averaging a career-high 20.5 points per game while trailing only Steph Curry and James Harden in made threes. Hield his having the best year of his career, proving to be a significant asset for Sacramento in the DeMarcus Cousins deal.
The Beard Heads to Philly
James Harden is lighting up scoreboards to an alarming degree as he distances himself from the field in the MVP race. The Beard’s current tear is historic. Harden enters Monday night with 19-straight games of 30-plus points. Wilt Chamberlain is the only player with a longer streak. He’s tallied 163 points in his last three games—including a 57-point effort against Memphis followed by 58 points vs. Brooklyn—a feat matched only by Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, per Elias.
Harden has made each Houston game a must-watch event. He’s operating on an offensive plane above the rest of the league right now, carrying the Rockets from also-ran to contender in the West. Catch this historic season while you have the chance.
Can Kyrie Keep Cooking?
After a week of losses and bickering, the Celtics are grooving once again as they enter Monday night. And you don’t have to look hard to find the force behind Boston’s recent success. Kyrie Irving has averaged 32.3 points per game in his last three outings, shooting an outrageous 61% from the field. The 2016 Finals hero is taking complete control of Boston’s attack, adding an identity to the previously-meandering group. If Irving continues his current tear through the next three months, Boston could rocket to the top of the East by season’s end. He’ll have another chance to carry the Celtics offense on Monday as Boston battles Miami.
Golden State Faces the LeBron-Less Lakers
The young Lakers have acquitted themselves decently well in their recent stretch without LeBron James, winning four of their last seven including an overtime victory at Oklahoma City on Jan. 17. And each performance has provided an interesting window into Los Angeles’ future. Kyle Kuzma has spent the stretch establishing himself as the Lakers’ primary scorer, while Brandon Ingram attempts to bounce back from a subpar first half. The Lakers will be without Lonzo Ball on Monday as he nurses an ankle sprain. Outside on any potential trade implications, the development of the Lakers’ youngsters will be crucial to their goal of title contention in the coming seasons.
Los Angeles competed well with Oklahoma City and Houston in its last two contests, but are unlikely to find such success against the Warriors. Golden State has won seven straight, obliterating opposing defenses behind a downpour of threes from Stephen Curry. The two-time MVP has averaged seven made threes per game since Jan. 5 and shot 47.6% from beyond the arc. Add in the now-healthy DeMarcus Cousins, and Golden State will likely cruise past Los Angeles. Still, with the Warriors’ star power and the intrigue of Los Angeles’s youth, MLK Day will conclude with one of the week’s most exciting matchups.