Brooklyn Nets (36-26) vs. Atlanta Hawks (34-27)
The Eastern Conference suddenly has really tightened up. OK, no one is challenging Miami for the top spot in the East. And mots would probably say no one is challenging Miami for the Eastern Conference title. However, things have tightened up just about everywhere else.
New York and Indiana are neck and neck for the second seed. Spots three through seven are all within about two games of each other.
The intrigue for home court advantage is going to be incredible these last weeks of the season. It should make tonight's meeting in Atlanta all the more important. Especially considering Boston once again showed it is a force to be reckoned with in an overtime win over Atlanta last night at TD Garden.
The Hawks could be in danger of falling behind then with a loss tonight against the Nets. Every game, it seems, matters more and more with each passing day. And Atlanta, currently sits in seventh after that loss last night, but is only a game and a half away from Brooklyn's spot in fourth and the home-court advantage that comes with that.
There is a lot to play for and this game is critical really for both teams.
The teams have split the two previous meetings and they will play each other twice in the next 10 days. A win tonight in Atlanta is a must for the Hawks to get the inside track to winning the season series and an important leg up on a team so close in the standings.
Considering how hot Deron Williams was last night, winning will not be easy. Brooklyn should be just as hungry.
Other Storylines to Watch
-Josh Smith might be among the most coveted free agents this summer. That is one of the reasons many thought Atlanta would trade him before the deadline and there were a ton of possibilities from Milwaukee to even Brooklyn. However, Smith is still a Hawk at least for the next few months. That has Smith saying the right things including saying he will play hard the rest of the season. A near triple double last night against Boston is a sure sign he is hoping to be Playoff ready.
-The best performance of the night Friday probably came from Deron Williams. He scored 42 points and made 11 3-pointers, including an NBA record nine 3-pointers in the first half.
Tonight's Other Games
Utah Jazz (32-30) vs. New York Knicks (37-22)
The Jazz are slipping down the standings and are holding tenuously on to that final Playoff spot in the West. The Lakers storm is brewing and the Jazz are in the crosshairs. One of the reasons Utah did not make a move at the deadline was to ensure the team made the Playoffs with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson as the core of the team. There were some deals on the table and some very close. Utah may regret not doing them if the team ends up missing the Playoffs.
Charlotte Bobcats (13-49) vs. Washington Wizards (19-41)
Good luck if you want to watch this one. The Wizards have been playing much better of late, but Bradley Beal's injury has changed some things for this team. In other words, Deron Williams simply beat the Wizards on his own, ending some of that good feeling. A game against Charlotte should be the good kind of bounce back that this team needs.
New Orleans Hornets (21-41) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (41-19)
How do you recover from a tough week if you are the Hornets? New Orleans blew a 17-point lead at home to the Magic on Monday and then lost a 25-point lead to the Lakers at home on Wednesday. Both losses were extremely crushing and deflating for a young team still trying to find its way. Now Austin Rivers is likely done for the year. That should only make the task harder heading into Memphis.
Minnesota Timberwolves (21-37) vs. Denver Nuggets (41-22)
The Nuggets are probably talked about too much now to be called "flying under the radar." The Nuggets though are still not quite considered "championship material." But they might be. Tonight will not be a game that tests out that championship mettle. But these are also the games you have to win to get to that level.
Houston Rockets (34-29) vs. Phoenix Suns (21-41)
The Rockets are still scheming their future. Houston has turned things around with the James Harden trade and have a great balanced team with lots of great floor spacing and lots of offensive options. However, the team continues to think big. Reports have Houston going after Dwight Howard again but then also considering Josh Smith and Andrew Bynum to give soem size to match the guards.
Milwaukee Bucks (30-29) vs. Golden State Warriors (35-28)
The Bucks will have free agent decisions to make this summer. Monta Ellis is rumored to be considering not exercising his early termination clause and playing the final year in Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings will hit restricted free agency and J.J. Redick becomes an unrestricted free agent. OK, so how does Milwaukee complete its intention to keep Samuel Dalembert around? There is going to be a lot of money spent in Milwaukee.