On Monday, January 17, the NBA will have a full day of action for a special cause. The league will celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with 12 games, four of which will be aired nationally between TNT and NBA TV.
As is tradition, Atlanta and Memphis will host two of the games; the former is MLK’s birthplace and childhood home, and the latter the site of his death. Though as a whole, basketball fans across the country will get to enjoy games during a day of remembrance and reflection.
Preferably, big-time hoops fans would sit and watch all four games with an equal amount of attention and interest. But in case you want to prioritize, we’ve taken the liberty of ranking all four games in terms of watchability, storylines, stars, and everything else that goes into the makings of a must-see matchup.
4. Charlotte Hornets at New York Knicks
When LaMelo Ball bringing his showtime-style playmaking to Madison Square Garden is the least-watchable game on the national MLK Day slate, you know you’re in for a fun day of basketball.
The first nationally-televised showdown will see Ball and his 23-20 Charlotte Hornets against the 22-21 New York Knicks. Both clubs are playing good basketball, winning four of their last five matchups. But this will ultimately be a clash of two contrasting styles of play.
Charlotte has had a high-flying, high-scoring offense all season. With Ball, Miles Bridges, Terry Rozier, and more, the Hornets are the second-highest scoring team in the league who also play at the second-fastest pace. Meanwhile, the Knicks have started to look a lot more like last year’s defensive juggernauts, ranking sixth in points allowed while also slugging along at the league’s slowest pace.
Of course, that’s not to say the Knicks don’t have play-makers of their own. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are two such players who could give Charlotte’s 29th-ranked defense plenty of trouble. Regardless, it will be fascinating to see whether the Hornets force the game to speed up or if the Knicks can get it to slow down.
3. Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers
Based on how the 21-22 Los Angeles Lakers are playing, many fans of the Purple and Gold may not be interested in watching. But there’s still the chance for a great game between LA and the 28-14 Utah Jazz.
LeBron James alone is worth the price of admission. The 37-year-old is in the MVP conversation as he attempts to carry a Lakers squad bogged down by injuries to Anthony Davis and bricks from Russell Westbrook. Now, he and the Lakers will welcome a Jazz team that’s in the conversation as the best in the league.
While no one on Utah’s roster carries the star power someone like James does, the fourth seed in the West still has a pair of tremendous players in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gobert dominate LA in the paint, an area it’s been thoroughly outplayed in since Davis went down.
The Jazz are the top-scoring team in the NBA while the Lakers are allowing the fourth-most points. This could very well be a game where LeBron tries to do everything to will his team to victory, which more often than not makes for entertaining viewing. And with Utah on a four-game skid, it might be a nail-biting Hollywood finish.
2. Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks
It took a while, but the 27-18 Milwaukee Bucks are finally starting to look like the defending champions again. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company will aim to keep it rolling when they visit the 17-25 Atlanta Hawks in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Very quietly, Antetokounmpo has played himself back into the MVP race. And the Bucks are backing up his case on the court, entering Monday with top-10 ranks in offensive and defensive rating. Even if they trail teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat in the East, Milwaukee can continue its climb up the standings with a win in Atlanta.
Speaking of, this Hawks season hasn’t gone anything like how they expected. Not only is Trae Young trying to single-handedly carry Atlanta into the play-in round at minimum, but he’s also the only player on the team who’s played in more than 37 games. Fortunately, the Hawks are expected to roster a team Monday that looks far more similar to the one they started the year with.
These are two high-scoring teams with Giannis and Trae providing the star power. And there is some reason to think an upset is possible, especially if the Hawks, the fourth-best 3-point shooting team, get hot from deep. But these clubs provided plenty of entertainment last year in the playoffs and they should be able to do it again on MLK Day.
1. Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies
Simply put, the must-see game of the day is in Memphis. And perhaps it’s an NBA Finals preview.
Despite a couple of humiliating losses in recent days, the 27-14 Chicago Bulls still hold the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But their next road game has them playing the 30-15 Memphis Grizzlies, arguably the hottest team in the league.
There is star power on both sides. For Chicago it’s DeMar DeRozan, as the veteran has become an MVP candidate in his first season with the Bulls. He’ll have extra responsibilities leading the eighth-highest-scoring offense with fellow All-Star Zach LaVine unlikely to play due to a knee injury.
Meanwhile, Ja Morant has broken out and become a true superstar. But the third-year point guard is one of many young, exciting Grizzlies on the floor. With Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. also in the mix, Memphis is eighth in offensive and defensive rating after recently compiling an 11-game winning streak.
The Bulls and Grizzlies will be meeting for the first time Monday afternoon and both contenders will be hard-pressed to make a major statement with a victory. If there is one game to tune in to, it’s this one.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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