Los Angeles Lakers @ Detroit Pistons, 730 PMLaker Scouting Report: Tonight is the beginning of the gauntlet for the Lakers. They play 9 straight games on the road before the All-Star Break hits. Included in the trip are games at Orlando, Toronto and Washington, but the toughest game is tonight. The Lakers are only 3-4 since Andrew Bynum got injured, and any more slippage could put their playoff spot in serious jeopardy. We all know that Kobe is going to show up every night, they key is whether the Lakers role players, who have been so good so far this season, can be consistent enough to get some wins on this trip. If guys like Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar can play well, the Lakers may survive the trip and grow up a lot in the process.
Piston Scouting Report: After losing 3 out of 4 games to teams such as the Kings and Knicks, the Pistons have now won three in a row. Now they have 6 of 7 games at home before the All-Star break, which means they could be in position to snatch the 1st seed from the Celtics by the end of that stretch if Boston continues to struggle. Detroit still has one of the best starting fives in the entire league, but now they are developing a youthful and athletic bench to compliment all-star caliber plays like Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. The Pistons are consistent as always, and their low turnover rates and solid shooting percentages show us that they aren't going to beat themselves.
Prediction time: Despite the brutal schedule of games, Young Swole thinks the Lakers are going to survive this trip. The tough opponents are spread between crappy teams like the Heat and the Nets, and if they steal one of the tough games a 5-4 is not out of the question. Tonight though is a different story. The Pistons have the big guys to neutralize Lamar Odom and the defense and experience to shut down the other Laker role players. While Kobe will probably have a huge game, there are simply too many weapons in Detroit for him to singlehandedly overcome. Pistons win 106-87
Dallas Mavericks @ Boston Celtics, 8pm, TNT
Mavs scouting report: Not only is this an important game for the Mavs, but it comes at an important juncture in their season. We've all heard the Jason Kidd rumors, which will no doubt affect how the Mavs play (Look at what trade rumors did to the Bulls). Dallas has also lost emerging point guard Devin Harris for a few weeks. With all this extra drama, its easy to forget that the Mavs are 11-2 so far in January and seem to be coming together as a team. Tonight will be a good test to see how they match up against a league powerhouse. The team may not look the same the next time these two play, but a win tonight will give the Mavs lots of confidence that they can handle the Celtics.
Celtics scouting report: We all knew the Celtics were going to cool off eventually. Most of us outside of the City of Delusion, aka Boston, also knew that a team that relies so much on veterans were bound to fall off because they could not maintain the intensity and health for a full 82 games. So while the Celtics have looked ordinary the past two weeks, don't act like its a surprise. There's no need for them to play every game like their last, because they are pretty much guaranteed a top-2 spot in the east, and they have already proven they can win in Detroit. Tonight they won't have Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen will probably not be 100 percent. Their bench played incredible in Miami last night, but the old saying is if they could play that good every night, they wouldn't be coming off the bench.
Prediction time: One of the tougher games on the card to forecast. The Mavs come in with a lot of confidence, but they have injury issues and the Celtics have been great at home. The key to the game will be the Josh Howard and Paul Pierce matchup. Pierce will have to wild out tonight to get a Celtics victory. If Howard can slow him down, or force Pierce to defer to his teammates the Mavs will win. This one will probably be close, but the lack of KG will hurt down the stretch and the Mavs will pull away late. Mavs win 98-92
Indiana University @ University of Wisconsin, 9pm, ESPN
Hoosier scouting report: The Hoosiers were outhustled badly against an undermanned UConn team on Saturday. You can pretty much bank on a Kelvin Sampson team not being outhustled two games in a row. Sampson was probably giving the entire team the Neil Reed treatment this week, and Young Swole expects the Hoosiers to come onto the court like a pack of wild dogs. The Hoosiers have a great chance to win this game if they can get consistent play from their guards. We all know the talent level, what we don't know is whether they can make the right decisions on the road for 40 minutes. Guys like Crawford and E Gordon are so good, that if they just play smart and run the offense through DJ White in the post, they will both score in double digits even if its in a complimentary role.
Badger scouting report: For years Bo Ryan has been the most underrated coach in America. He doesn't get the recruits that teams like North Carolina or Arizona get, and yet every year the Badgers are not only a ranked team, but also a team that constantly upsets more talented squads. Additionally, the Badgers hardly ever lose at home. Young Swole remembers how big a deal it was when Illinois went into Madison and got a victory 3 years ago. That game told the country how good the Illini were because if they could win in the Kohl Center they could win anywhere. The Badgers are not as explosive as they were last year, and probably not as talented either, but they still have solid big men who can control the glass, and good guards like Michael Flowers who can hit the big buckets. Plus, while Sampson is a good coach, he won't outcoach Bo Ryan.
Prediction time: This is an such an intriguing game. You have the young and talented Hoosiers with the freshmen phenoms rolling into one of the best home courts in the country. No one doubts the Hoosiers have the talent to win tonight, but if their guards are not more careful with the ball, they will not get that win. Wisconsin plays at a different level at home, and that crowd is going to be rowdy. Its a lot to ask for freshman guards to go on the road and win this game, and based on their recent decision-making, His Swoleness thinks their inexperience combined with the Badger efficiency will give the Badgers the win in a Big 10 slugfest, 65-57
San Antonio Spurs @ Phoenix Suns, 1030pm, TNT
Spurs scouting report: We haven't seen the Spurs look this vulnerable in years. Their annual rodeo trip started out consecutive losses in Utah (understandable) and Seattle (disgraceful). On top of that, Tony Parker is now out injured with foot issues, placing even more pressure on Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to carry and older team without many other consistent options. Now they limp into the valley of the sun to face a Phoenix team that you can guarantee has not forgotten about how their season ended last year. Ginobili usually has huge games in Phoenix, but without Parker to break down the defense, he is going to have to be the orchestrator. This means that a Spurs wing player like Michael Finley or Bruce Bowen is going to have to step up to provide an effective offensive option.
Suns scouting report: While the Spurs seem to be falling apart, the Suns appear to be coming together in the way we thought they could. Grant Hill has returned from appendix removal and mainstays like Amare Stoudemire, Raja Bell and Shawn Marion are playing at their highest level all season. A good sign for the Suns is how they defeated the Hawks the other night. For all their talent, the Suns tend to let bad teams hang around, rarely blowing them out. But with every reason to look ahead to tonight's game and overlook the Hawks, Phoenix came out and promptly blew the Hawks out by 33. Now they get the game they've been looking for all season, the chance to play the wounded Spurs, at home, for the first time since last year's playoffs.
Prediction time: This sure does seem to a one-sided game. The Spurs are reeling, and the Suns are going to be more angry and focused on this game than any other so far this season. Even more than usual, the Spurs will have to control the tempo of this game. Without Parker, they simply do not have the firepower to run with the Suns. If Steve Nash can open the game up of offense, and if the Suns can force Ginobili to give the ball up on offense, this one may not be close. Sweezy thinks the Spurs will play better tonight, they have too much pride to get destroyed, but overall they just aren't bringing enough firepower with them tonight. Maybe if they play from ahead the game will be interesting in the 4th quarter, but if they get behind early, its over. Suns win 107-92.