Game Guide: Tatum vs. Young headlines this week’s matchups

Published January 24, 2022, 9:00 PMRenee Ticzon

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics visit the surging Hawks this weekend as the race to the playoffs gets tighter less than a month before the All-Star break.

All-veteran cast

Lakers vs. Nets: Jan. 26, 8:30 AM on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app

If there’s one thing the Los Angeles Lakers are good at, it’s matching up talent. The Lakers have struggled all season to battle against young teams that are always on the run, as their brand of basketball often revolves around isolation plays.

What better team to match up with than the Brooklyn Nets who run a similar system? Picture this, James Harden versus LeBron James (both scored over 35 points in their last meeting), an off-the-bench scoring competition between Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldrige, and an X-factor face-off between Russell Westbrook and Patty Mills.

What a treat!

Young All-Star guards

Jazz vs. Suns: Jan. 27, 11:00 AM on NBA League Pass

Devin Booker (No. 5) and Donovan Mitchell (No. 8) are two of the top 10 guards in the West based on the latest All-Star voting results. Booker is averaging 24.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Mitchell has 25.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game.

Both guards are leading their respective teams in scoring. They have also led their teams to the top 4 in the competitive Western Conference. And yet, both guys seem to be underappreciated this season. They are often sitting in the shadows of the 3-point king, Stephen Curry, and the walking highlight reel, Ja Morant.

Despite all the silence around these two guards, both of them continue to work day in and day out. The Suns have a six-game winning streak, while the Jazz have the highest offensive rating across the league. Booker and Mitchell are also surrounded by an extremely talented group of guys. They may not be the flashiest nor the most popular, but they are definitely among the best guards in the league.

Mitchell will not be available in the first Jazz-Suns matchup Tuesday, but hopefully, he’ll back for the rematch on Thursday.

Fighting for positions

Bucks vs. Cavaliers: Jan 29, 8:00 AM on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app

Who would have thought that halfway through the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers would be sitting at the No. 5 position? Plus, they are doing all that without their main point guard. If it weren’t for Darius Garland, the Cavaliers would have been knocked out of contention the moment Collin Sexton went down. Garland is having an incredible year in just his third season in the NBA, putting up 19.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game.

The Milwaukee Bucks are also performing well as expected. The reigning champions are currently enjoying a three-game winning streak, thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP-worthy season. 

However, it’s not Antetokounmpo’s achievements that are making headlines as of late. Grayson Allen is under a lot of heat after his flagrant foul on Alex Caruso. Allen has been slapped with a one-game ban for the excessive contact that resulted in a wrist injury for Caruso. 

Allen will serve his suspension against the Cavaliers. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was quick to defend his player, saying the intentions were not to hurt. "Competition is tough and there's things that happen in the games that are unfortunate. I know that Caruso is gonna miss some time, and I feel for him. I don't want that for any of our opponents, for anybody. But there's nothing that was done intentional," said Budenholzer.

Depleted Bulls

Bulls vs. Raptors: Jan. 27, 9:00 AM on NBA League Pass

It’s like the Chicago Bulls can never get a breather. First, they get hit by a COVID-19 outbreak. After that, they lost Zach LaVine for a week due to a knee injury. Then, Lonzo Ball was diagnosed with a meniscus tear that will keep him out for 6-8 weeks. Now, Alex Caruso is also out for the next 6-8 weeks with a wrist injury. When will it end?

The Bulls have already fallen to the No. 2 seed after a painful 3-7 record in their last 10 games. While this shouldn’t be a reason to hit the panic button, it’s the rest of the season that they should be worried about. The effect of not having Ball and Caruso will hit them down the stretch. They might get away against lower-seeded teams, but what will they do against stronger postseason contenders?

DeMar DeRozan and Lavine may see longer time on the floor as they try to put together a rotation that will work while the two are recovering. But it’s just painful to see such a quick rise and decline for such a promising team.

Who’s getting in?

Celtics vs. Hawks: Jan. 29, 8:30 AM on NBA League Pass

The Boston Celtics are holding on to No. 8 spot but they are far from securing it. They have a loose grip on their position as they’re just half a game ahead of the New York Knicks who are at the 11th spot. Consistency is still a problem for Boston. They have a string of shocking wins like their late-game push against Chicago but have also suffered upsets against lower-ranked teams like the Portland Trail Blazers.

Some would blame Jayson Tatum’s shaky performance, but that shouldn’t be the case. He still leads the Celtics in scoring with 25.8 points per game. When he’s in a shooting slump, he makes an effort to work harder in different ways. In their loss to the Trail Blazers, Tatum went 0-of-6 from long range. He recognized his shots weren’t going in, so he crashed the boards and ended with a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds, along with seven assists. He then made a huge comeback by dropping 51 against the Washington Wizards.

This isn’t to say that Tatum doesn’t need to work on his consistency. Of course, he does. If he wants to take Boston to the postseason, he needs to get his shots to land to keep teams like the Atlanta Hawks from catching up.

The inconsistency leaves a window of opportunity for the Hawks who aren’t so far behind. Their four-game winning streak could not come at a better time as the Hawks can use this momentum to overtake Boston, who’s just two games ahead of them. It helps that their star player, Trae Young, has been consistent on the offensive end. He is averaging 28.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 9.3 assists. With numbers like this, it’s clear why he has the second-most votes in the East’s All-Star guards.

This game is crucial for both teams. If the Celtics win, then they can have a better hold of their postseason position. If Atlanta wins, then they can continue their rise up the standings and potentially barge into the top 10.