NBA Takes Over Sundays

New York’s Jeremy Lin is all the rage in the media right now, and the point guard from Harvard will go before a national TV audience on Friday night when the NBA gets its weekend tipped off with a Knicks-Lakers game from Madison Square Garden (8 PM ET, ESPN).

You’re going to have to put me in the skeptic category on Lin, if only for the fact that I can’t imagine a point guard with a few good games under his belt would get his kind of media affection if he played in, say, Milwaukee, or Memphis or Minnesota. But for the sake of argument, if he really is that good, it’s a game-changer in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Right now the Knicks have no playmaker to consistently set up Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire down low. If Lin fills that role, New York quickly elevates above Milwaukee & Cleveland, its fellow competitors for the eight-spot. As for tonight, Anthony’s still out with a groin injury, Stoudamire will miss the weekend with an ankle sprain and the Lakers are flying in off an overtime win in Boston. Call me crazy, but somehow I think we’re going to see a subpar basketball game from MSG.

Oklahoma City’s on its second straight road game on the opposite side of the country, going to Utah after a tough loss in Sacramento last night. Thunder-Jazz is the nightcap of the ESPN doubleheader at 10:30 PM ET. And Friday in the NBA means a slate of good games, so if you’ve got the League Pass package, you can check out fare like the LA Clippers-Philadelphia, a matchup of some great forwards with Blake Griffin/Caron Butler against Andre Iguodola/Elton Brand, and the Clips looking to prove they can win in tough spots like this without Chauncey Billups, lost for the season. Kevin Love makes his return to the lineup in Minnesota as Dallas comes to the Twin Cities, while Dwight Howard looks to build off his monster 25 points/24 rebounds night in a win over Miami when Orlando hosts Atlanta. At perhaps the biggest game as far as playoff implications is Milwaukee-Cleveland, with the Bucks currently holding the 8-spot in the East, but the Cavs are hot on their heels. Cleveland will likely be without Kyrie Irving tonight as he deals with a concussion.

It’s a mostly quiet card on Saturday as the league defers to college basketball. Denver-Indiana is the top game (7 PM ET, NBA). Frontline injuries have hurt the Nuggets and they’ve dropped from second to seventh in the Western Conference, a league where your fate can change at the snap of a finger even faster than it did for Danny Kaye in Court Jester. Philadelphia goes to Cleveland in another decent game.

Then it’s time for Sunday and with the NFL over, it’s time for ABC/ESPN to load up this day with marquee NBA coverage. It starts at 3:30 PM ET on ABC when Chicago goes to Boston. The Celtics’ hot streak came to an end on Thursday night against Los Angeles, and this is now a critical time for seeing if the C’s can compete with the best in the East. Speaking of the best in the East, it’s Miami-Atlanta at 7 PM ET on ESPN. On paper, the Heat are vastly more talented, especially with Al Horford out for the Hawks. But in a one-game shot on his home floor, Joe Johnson can carry a team, and we don’t know how much focus a team like Miami, whose playoff position is secure, can bring every night on the road amidst a compressed schedule. Then the week ends on Sunday night with an interesting Utah-Memphis game (9:30 PM ET, ESPN), with the Jazz overachieving and the Grizzlies underachieving and most of us waiting for these ships to pass each other in the night.