This week’s edition of Top Five Live takes a break from football. As the hockey, basketball and soccer seasons heat up, there are plenty of big games to discuss. From Los Angeles, CA to Manchester, England there are is a variety of sports that will be played at a high level. Pack your bags…here we go.
Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks – 1/20 @ TD Garden
“The Original Six” is an exclusive club when it comes to the NHL. The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks were two of the six teams that entered the league when it began in 1942. Since then, both franchises have been staples of the league and continue to be wildly successful to this day.
The Blackhawks are in the midst of a dynasty while the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Although the Bruins missed out on the playoffs last season, they have rebounded nicely and are in the playoff hunt. As for the Blackhawks, their reign as one of the best teams in the league is far from over. They currently have a hold on the two seed in the Western Conference, but will be looking to take over the top spot by season’s end.
A historic match up that has the potential to be a playoff preview definitely gets this game on Top Five Live.
The Bruins have experienced a lot of changes to their championship roster from 2011. They have managed to hold on to the key pieces and added David Backes, a veteran at the center position who has played the game the right way for numerous years. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are also key pieces for the Bruins. Especially with home ice on their side, the Bruins will be ready for the showdown.
However, the Blackhawks have a potent trio of their own. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have been wreaking havoc in the NHL for the past seven seasons. They are continuing that trend this season and will be looking to impose their will against the Bruins.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors – 1/20 @ Toyota Center
First one to 120 points wins? That will likely be the case in a classic Western Conference shootout. The Rockets and Warriors are two of the most prolific offenses the league has ever seen.
James Harden is ascending in Houston. The Rockets are having one of their best seasons in recent memory, and James Harden has one hand firmly grasped on the MVP (Russell Westbrook the other). Averaging 28.4 PPG, 11.7 APG and 8.2 RPG, Harden is orchestrating a fast-paced offense that doesn’t see a shot they don’t like.
With James Harden attracting the most attention, there are plenty of opportunities for wide-open threes (i.e. Eric Gordon) and alley-oop dunks (Montrezl Harrell). Harden is third in the league points and first in assists. Don’t blink when Houston has the ball or you might miss the entire possession.
Golden State has regained their hold as the best team in the NBA after thrashing the Cavs this week. However, the statement win was much needed after five previous lackluster performances against the league’s elite. The Warriors have gotten past the questions and criticisms and have gone back to just playing basketball. Kevin Durant is the team’s go-to player now, with Curry embracing a facilitator role. Additionally, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are executing at a high level.
Houston is far from intimidated when going up one of the best NBA teams ever assembled. Rather than shying away from the challenge, the Rockets have embraced it. In an epic game in December, the Rockets won in overtime, 132-127 at Oakland. This will definitely be one to watch as these Western Conference rivals square off in Houston.
Manchester City vs. Tottenham – 1/21 @ City of Manchester Stadium
The marquee match up in the English Premier League is between Manchester City and Tottenham. Two offenses in the top five in scoring in the Premier League will square off in a pivotal game.
Tottenham’s hot streak has vaulted them into second place in the Premier League standings, and they have the talent to win the title.
Man City started off the season as one of the title contenders, but have recently slipped to fifth place. Only three points separate these two teams, which will add to the intensity of the soccer match.
For Tottenham, the future couldn’t be brighter. The team has steadily improved over the past couple of season and this year they are realizing their full potential. Soccer gets a reputation of being boring at times, but when it is played the right way it is beautiful to watch. Midfielder Dele Alli and forward Harry Kane are perfect examples of playing the game the right way.
The duo has combined for 23 goals this season, and their ability to confound defenses with their technical ability and physical attributes is hard to match.
Man City is a much different story. They have a mixture of young and old players, and finding time for all of them to play has led to a bit of dysfunction. However, two of the best young talents in the EPL can resurrect the season for Man City. A big performance from creative midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling could tilt the match and Man City’s favor.
All eyes will be on these two offensive juggernauts this weekend. Win or lose, both sides will see a massive shift in their quest for a title after this match.
UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona Wildcats – 1/21 @ Pauley Pavilion
One of the most historic venues for college basketball is the place to be this weekend. Pauley Pavilion is home to the UCLA Bruins, one of the most prolific basketball programs of all time. Thanks to legendary coach John Wooden, UCLA will always hold its own in college basketball.
After a few sub par years for the team, the past couple of recruiting classes have turned the team around. Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu are all freshmen, but are all supremely talented.
They have led the Bruins to an 18-1 start this season, and they currently ranked third in the country. Each with a unique skill set, UCLA has quickly become a well rounded team. With only one blemish on their record thus far they have proven to be a tough team to beat. UCLA will be looking to cut down the nets for the first time since 1995, but there is a long way to go.
Arizona restocked this season and were well on their way to another deep run in the NCAA tournament. However, two players with the most promise heading in to this season have both been sidelined for the first half of the season. Allonzo Trier is in a “unique situation” as described by coach Sean Miller, and his potential has no limit if he could just get on the floor. Freshman Ray Smith was an athletic wing hoping to join Trier, but his numerous ACL tears forced him to retire from the game he loves before he could establish himself at Arizona.
The adversity the team has faced has only made them stronger. Arizona is off to a 16-2 start and have been consistently ranked inside the Top 20 throughout the season. All the injuries have cleared a spot for a rising star. Lauri Markkanen, a Finnish-born player, is legit stretch four that has become the focal point of the Arizona offense. Averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds this season, Markkanen will be tough to stop for UCLA.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs – 1/21 @ Quicken Loans Arena
There is no question that the defending champions have hit a rut. After the injury to J.R. Smith the Cavs made a seemingly great deal to acquire sharpshooter Kyle Korver. However, the results have been mixed. The Cavaliers are 6-4 in their last ten ball games, and as a result their grasp on the No. 1 seed in the East is slipping. The Cavaliers are finishing up a road trip and can’t wait to get home.
The road trip was grueling and filled with nagging injuries, a few illnesses and an interesting flight. Rather than make excuses, the Cavs have kept on plugging. A statement win against a dominant San Antonio team will right the ship for Cleveland. Above all, LeBron James will have to re-focus this young team as they face adversity for the first time this season.
In contrast, San Antonio continues to be a well-oiled machine even after losing its Hall of Fame center Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard has stepped in for Tim Duncan, and the cast surrounding him continues to gel. The Spurs are extremely talented, but beyond that they are also extremely efficient.
Head Coach Gregg Popovich employs a style of basketball that is team oriented and hard to defend. Top ten in the league in both points per game and points allowed, the consistent approach seems to work every year. With Leonard, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, San Antonio has a bunch of smooth operators on the roster. Many seemed to write them off this season but they are in position to make yet another run at an NBA title.