Five things to watch in the NBA on Martin Luther King Day

Get ready for a big Knicks-Nets game on MLK Day. (Getty Images)

On a historic Jan. 21 on which we have both the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, we also get a day's worth of NBA action. MLK Day has often been celebrated by the NBA with games spread throughout the day. There will be in-arena celebrations, special colorways for sneakers, and nearly 12 hours of NBA action.

With everything that's going on, Matt Moore and Zach Harper have a guide for you of the five most important things to watch Monday with the NBA games.

1. The fourth and final (?) game between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets in a battle for New York City basketball supremacy, 3:30 p.m. ET.

The big question when these two teams face off is how do the Nets either stop or keep up with the Knicks' 3-point shooting. The Nets do an incredible job of defending the corner 3-point ball, which is a shot the Knicks love. The Knicks ranked 10th in the NBA in corner 3-point percentage with 39.9 percent. The Nets manage to defend that shot at the seventh best rate, allowing just 35.1 percent.

However, the Nets are the worst team in the NBA at defending the above the break 3-point shot (38.9 percent). The Knicks are the best team at shooting that shot (39.8 percent). So how do the Nets chase the Knicks off the line? When the Knicks get dribble penetration off the pick-and-roll or a Carmelo Anthony isolation play, they love to kick to the corner 3-point shooter. If he's open, the Knicks will take the shot, but they're not opposed to swinging the ball around the perimeter. 

This is where Deron Williams, MarShon Brooks, C.J. Watson, and Joe Johnson have to be on their game defensively. They're going to need to chase down those swing passes and anticipate rotations. If they don't get a hand up in the face of the Knicks' shooters, they could be looking at a long day of defending. 

2. Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies kick off the day of basketball, 1 p.m. ET.

This thing is going to be uglier than a Quentin Tarantino flick. It's going to be gruesome. These two teams have excellent defenses that swarm, repel, and grind opponents down physically. Memphis attacks with trap and constant gambling in the passing lanes to force turnovers, the Pacers' help defensive scheme is as good as it gets. But the other half of this is that neither team can score on their opponent, at all. They simply can't score. They shoot poorly, they have problems creating spacing, they shoot poorly, their centers aren't having great offensive years, and did I mention they can't shoot?
Still, this should be entertaining, as it was the last time these two teams met this season in an ugly affair. Paul George vs. Rudy Gay is a fascinating contrast in length and skill sets, while David West vs. Zach Randolph is a killer matchup of two of the toughest power forwards in the league. Roy Hibbert's length matches Marc Gasol's raw size, and Mike Conley vs. George Hill is a similar model as well. 
From there, you've got Tony Allen vs. the suddenly valuable Lance Stephenson, and two fairly ridiculous benches. If you like the 90s style of basketball, and games in the 80s, this one's for you. 

3. The Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors play their fourth and final (?) game of the season in what could help decide the Pacific Division winner ... seriously, 4 p.m. ET.

It's weird to accept that the Los Angeles Lakers will have nothing to do with the Pacific Division title this season, but that's absolutely the case. As the Lakers have struggled, the Warriors and Clippers have played above even lofty preseason expectations. The Clippers have distanced themselves from the Warriors throughout the season with a seven-game lead in the Pacific, but the Warriors are still dangerous enough to make a run at it by season's end. A win Monday would be a must if they even want to think about winning the division.

So how do they do that? It all could reside on who defends the pick-and-roll ball handler better. Both teams are quite skilled at running it, with guards like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, and Jarrett Jack knowing how to navigate the defense when they give different defensive looks. The key though is the Warriors are really bad at defending that pick-and-roll initiator (29th in the NBA, 0.88 PPP) and the Clippers are great at defending it (second in the NBA, 0.69 PPP).

Having Chris Paul flanked by athletic wings and high-flying big inside certainly helps him remain aggressive, but CP3 and Bledsoe are two of the best point guards in the league at getting through and around screens on the perimeter. Curry and Klay Thompson still need to work on this plenty, especially when they're on the floor with David Lee hedging the pick. If the Warriors can't stop the pick-and-roll today, they can kiss the Pacific Division goodbye and just be happy with being better than the Lakers. Oh speaking of ...

4. Los Angeles Lakers at the Chicago Bulls to see just how hilariously bad the Lakers are right now, 9:30 p.m. ET

This one has two separate stories that can come out of it. It's either "The Lakers pull themselves back from the blink of oblivion" or "another chance on national television to embarass themselves against a good team." The Lakers lost to the Raptors on Sunday -- the Raptors -- and now have to go 24-18 just to go .500. JUST TO GO .500. 
Meanwhile, Chicago is rolling along, losing games it would win if Derrick Rose were back, winning games because of their toughness and defense. But this is an interesting clash, styistically. The Bulls feature a tough, hard-nosed defense, but there are times when their offense simply stalls out. That's unlikely to happen against the giant, bleeding sieve that is the Lakers' defense. There was a play Sunday where a Raptor went 1-on-4 against the Lakers in transition -- and scored. The Bulls' offense struggles because of a lack of elite talent to create opportunities, but thrives on execution and punishing teams for mistakes. 
The Lakers make a ton of mistakes. Every second of every game. 
Sound like a blowout? Well, you just can never count on the Lakers to do what you expect. 
Dwight Howard was ejected Sunday following his second technical, and Monday goes against Joakim Noah, a worthy opponent. Will he respond with strength or aggression, or let Noah get behind him to rack up points?
Speaking of which, Thibodeau has been benching Noah late in games, something else to keep an eye on. Mostly, this is the Lakers' high-powered offense, which can still rack up points, vs. Chicago's anacondalike defense. You have to put the advantage with the Bulls, because, well, the Lakers have been terrible. But we're all still waiting for the Lakers, with all that talent, all that payroll, all that shine, to put it together.
Is Chicago the game things come together? After all, according to Mike D'Antoni, if they win Monday, they'll be 3-2 on this "new season." But if they wanted an easy one to get back on track, this ain't it. 

5. Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers to end the day, 10 p.m. ET.

I know what you're thinking: WHY would anybody want to watch Wizards-Blazers? 

This could be a much more entertaining game than you'd imagine. The Wizards were the worst team in basketball to start the season but have received a much-needed boost from the return of John Wall. Washington is 3-2 since Wall returned and have looked a lot more competent. There is a reason for pick-and-roll big men to dive hard to the basket, and Bradley Beal looks like a very good scoring option when he has a good point guard setting him up.

On the other side, Damian Lillard is just too good as a rookie not to want to watch every game of his. He's running away with the Rookie of the Year award, and that's with Anthony Davis being healthy for an extended stretch. People love rookie guards who can score and Lillard fits that bill, while also helping lead a Portland team to the playoffs at the moment.

Throw these two in front of each other and you're going to get a pretty fun matchup of young point guards. That's not a bad way to end a day of hoops.

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