Washington Wizards vs. Indiana Pacers – Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 2/16
Nothing screams Top Five Live like a potential playoff match up.
The Wizards are thriving right now as the NBA season nears the All-Star Break. The team was seemingly in a free-fall that started at the beginning of last season. Since the beginning of December, they have been one of the best teams in the league. From battling for a playoff spot to a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards are now the three seed.
Bradley Beal and John Wall have returned to their All-Star form, and that is when the Wizards are at their best. Wall is averaging 23 points and 11 assists, and is doing a superb job of leading the Wizards on and off the court.
Indiana is currently entrenched in the six seed in the Eastern Conference. A crop of new faces are responsible for the Pacers’ resurgence this season. Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young are new to the team, but fitting right in with the rising stars the Pacers had in place.
Paul George has been one of the most impressive players in the league since a gruesome leg injury almost ended his career. With George leading the team, the Pacers are bound for the playoffs. Additionally, a win against the Wizards could point them in the right direction heading in to the second half of the season.
Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls – United Center, 2/16
Basketball royalty is also an easy choice for Top Five Live. Two of the most storied franchises in the history of the NBA will be playing in the final game before the All-Star break.
The Bulls let go of their hometown kid Derrick Rose, but welcomed back Dwyane Wade, another Chicago native. He has teamed up with veteran Rajon Rondo and All-Star Jimmy Butler. Chicago has been inconsistent to say the least. Their 27-29 record and locker room controversies are evidence of this, but they are still such a talented team. The weaker Eastern Conference is easier to stay afloat in, and the Bulls are hanging on to a playoff spot.
Boston is the little engine that could, led by that exact same thing. The 5′ 8″ Isaiah Thomas is one of the NBA’s smallest players, but he has the biggest heart. He is averaging 29 points per game, good enough for second in the league. The rest of the squad is gritty, defensive-minded, and will do whatever it takes to win.
The Celtics have immense talent but have yet to prove they belong in the postseason. Al Horford was added to the roster in the off season to add some postseason experience. Chicago has a plethora of playoff experience between their three stars, so if these two teams meet in the playoffs it will be interesting to see how much of a factor experience truly is.
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Baylor Bears – Ferrell Center, 2/18
A top five tilt is another welcome addition to Top Five Live. The Baylor Bears and Kansas Jayhawks are set for Round 2 this season. Kansas protected their home court, squeaking out a 73-68 win just over two weeks ago. Baylor has lost three of their last five, but started the season 20-1. This match up will go a long way in deciding who wins the regular season Big 12 title, making it must-see.
Baylor needs this win to stabilize its season. They started the season off on fire, and reached the No. 1 spot in the country for the first time in the school’s history. Expectations skyrocketed and pressure mounted. They lost Kansas and Texas Tech on the road, and in between that they fell to Kansas State as well. Notching a win against Kansas on their home floor will turn the season around as it reaches the home stretch.
Baylor is are two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 Title race, and will rely on their big man to have a big game. Johnathan Motley is the best player on their roster, and is averaging 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. He disappeared in the second half of the first meeting between these two teams, aiding in the Kansas comeback.
The Jayhawks have been here before. The program has won 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles, and are on pace for number 12. The back court is led by Frank Mason III (Big 12 Player of the Year candidate) and Devonte’ Graham, a three-point specialist that rarely makes a mistake on the floor. Josh Jackson’s emergence throughout his freshman season has been vital for Kansas. They can be really good without him, but exceptional when he shows up to play.
I’m expecting another close game, as Baylor is ready to step out of the Kansas’ shadow and claim the Big 12 title.
Virginia Cavaliers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels – Dean E. Smith Center, 2/18
The always competitive Atlantic Coast Conference could likely be decided this weekend as well. North Carolina is currently in the pole position, but has a host of challengers on their heels. One of those that could steal the title from the Tar Heels is Virginia.
Virginia reached the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament last season, and it was easily one of the most successful in the school’s history. Under Head Coach Tony Bennett, Virginia has mastered offensive efficiency and become relevant in the college basketball world. London Perrantes and Marial Shayok are the two pillars leftover from last season, and have assumed the leadership roles.
Perrantes is one of the best point guards in the nation, but if he doesn’t come to play, Virginia often struggles.
North Carolina has strength in numbers. Their depth and pace are their biggest weapons, and they are on the short list of teams that could cut down the nets this season. They have four players averaging double figures on the season, and can attack with perimeter or post players. Justin Jackson is becoming a star in Chapel Hill, and Kennedy Meeks has been a force in the paint all season.
Home floor should help the Tar Heels in this contest, but this one should be close throughout.
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers – Madison Square Garden, 2/21
The finale of this week’s Top Five Live features two NHL teams jockeying for playoff position. Eastern Conference foes currently seeded in the 4th and 5th position will take the ice at Madison Square Garden.
The New York Rangers are currently the 4th seed with Montreal hot on their heels. A win for the Montreal Candiens in this contest would bring Montreal within two points of the Rangers. With just over 20 games left in the regular season, every game counts.
Michael Grabner and Chris Kreider are the team’s most lethal scorers. Both in the 20-goal club, they will be the catalyst for the Rangers’ offense if they wish to make a deep playoff run. J.T. Miller is the team’s leader in points, hinting at the fact that his well-rounded game is another key to their success.
Montreal has the perfect weapon to try and shut down the Rangers and secure a crucial road win. Their stingy defense is led by defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Carey Price.
Max Pacioretty is the team’s leading scorer, and will need to score or set up a few goals while his defense tries to contain the Rangers.
Expect both teams to bring it on Tuesday night. This game is on track to be a first round playoff preview in the Eastern Conference.
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