It’s NBA Sundays again and basketball fans will be treated to a double-header of exciting games that are scheduled for early tip-off on Kwesé Sports. The Boston Celtics host the Orlando Magic, while the New York Knicks visit the Los Angeles Lakers.
The All-Star Weekend is approaching and the players, along with what they bring to the table for their teams, remain the focus of conversations. And with the reserve list for the All-Star Game about to be announced, here are the likely game changers in both games:
Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic
The Boston Celtics have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but that didn’t prevent the New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia Sixers from handing them defeats, the last with Kyrie Irving out injured. The All-Star point guard is expected back and may just be the spark the Celtics need.
Irving has led the Celtics brilliantly this season, averaging 24.1 points per game. His usage percentage of 31.5, as per basketball-reference.com, and his offensive box plus/minus of 5.8 are both fifth among all players in the league. The box plus/minus is also the highest of his career. Irving’s ball-handling and finishing was missing against the Sixers, and it will give Boston a huge lift against Orlando.
Al Horford is not your typical big man. The Dominican Republic-born center is a part of the new breed of bigs whose evolving soft-shooting touch means his range has increased over the last three years. Horford took only five 3-point shots in his first season (2007-08), making none. Over the next seven seasons (2008-15), he attempted a total of 60 and made 21. Then, three years ago, in his final season at Atlanta (2015-16), Horford was 88-168 from range; this season he is already 60-80. But while perimeter shooting might be an advantage, it may also lead to the interior being ceded to opponents.
That is why Bismack Biyombo, the Orlando center who has recently rediscovered his form, may be the game changer for the Magic. While Horford typifies the new forward, Biyombo is an old-fashioned paint scrapper who feeds off body-banging under the rim. Biyombo is averaging a double-double over the past 10 games, and has scored a career high in the same time frame as he enjoys a new lease of life at Orlando. Should the Celtics cede the paint, Orlando will have the chance at second-chance points off Biyombo’s rebounds.
That would enable Algerian-French guard Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon to take pot-shots from range. Gordon is averaging a team-high 18.6 points per game, while Fournier is second with 17.9 points per game. If they both get going early, the Celtics would need to dig deep, to escape suffering the same fate as Minnesota, who had a five-game run ended by the Magic.
Los Angeles Lakers vs New York Knicks
The Los Angeles Lakers is a team filled with young talent and, as it is with youth, the inconsistencies of their play make it normal that new heroes emerge almost weekly: from Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers; biggest points contributors switch from game to game. With Ingram and Ball out injured and Kuzma limited with a strained left hand, Jordan Clarkson has emerged as the latest game changer at Staples Center. Clarkson failed to score in double figures only once when the Lakers endured a 10-game slide in December and he came out of a two-game slump to score 33 points in the defeat of Indiana.
Julius Randle is another player whose play can change the course of the game for the Lakers. The 23-year-old is averaging just 18.4 minutes per game, but enjoys 24.9-percent usage rate, the third most in the team.
Fans of the New York Knicks need look no further than The Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, for their game changer. Porzingis is a player with a career 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but he scored 37.0 points and snagged 11.0 rebounds against the Lakers last time they met, and you can expect to see another huge effort from him.
Both games are live on Kwesé Free Sports and Kwesé Sports 1. The first game tips off at 19:30 CAT (18:30 WAT), followed by the second contest at 22:00 CAT (21:00 WAT).
By Akinbode Oguntuyi
@booday10 on Twitter