NBA viewing guide: Clippers visit Miami, Howard and Rockets host Lakers

Mike Ehrmann

Thursday's TNT doubleheader has all of your narratives.

The NBA's Thursday night schedule is made for TV: the NBA champion Miami Heat host the Los Angeles Clippers, then Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets host the Los Angeles Lakers.

There's an intriguing League Pass matchup on the side, too.

The main course: Heat vs. Clippers

7 p.m. ET, TNT

Aside from the Clippers' 98-90 loss in Orlando on Wednesday, their offense has looked nothing short of terrifying. Chris Paul won't maintain his insane PER of 33.8 over the course of the season, but if he keeps looking to attack like he's been doing over the first week, Los Angeles will be almost impossible to slow down.

The question, though, is whether the Clippers can stop anybody. And the defending champs aren't just anybody. If Doc Rivers is going to have this group commit to running, they are also going to have to commit to improving their transition defense. While LeBron James and the Miami Heat are ridiculously good at just about everything, letting them get out on the break spells certain doom.

This could be a potential NBA Finals preview, but Paul and Blake Griffin's Clippers have a long way to go to become as cohesive as the Heat. Facing Miami this early should be a good test to see where they are.

Reading material: Holly MacKenzie's Q&A with Mario ChalmersClips Nation: Clippers/Heat: The Questionable Blogger with Kevin Kraczkowski of Hot Hot Hoops

The dessert: Rockets vs. Lakers

9:30 p.m. ET, TNT

You already know the big storyline: Dwight Howard versus his former team. The Houston Rockets center has discussed his L.A. departure to death, and he doesn't want to do it anymore. That's fair, but it won't stop everyone else from talking about it.

The runnin' and gunnin', :07 seconds or less, ragtag Lakers have already beaten the Clippers and given the San Antonio Spurs a scare, so wouldn't it be fun to see them pile up some points against Houston? Much like the Clippers, this Rockets team is trying to jell and that generally takes a bit longer on the defensive end. Can Pau Gasol have his first offensive explosion of the season against Howard?

Reading material: Silver Screen and Roll: Time to get over it: The Conundrum of Dwight Howard's departure; The Dream Shake predicts that Houston will win by 1,988 points

The side dish: Nuggets vs. Hawks

9 p.m. ET

Let's just forget about the fact that the Denver Nuggets won 57 games last year. This is not that team. While there is plenty of time for Brian Shaw's Nuggets to turn it around, it has seemed since the start of the preseason that this group would not play the same style or have the same success. They enter this game against Atlanta winless and without an identity, hungry to establish some sort of momentum.

The Hawks, meanwhile, knows what they're doing offensively. They're still learning with Paul Millsap in Josh Smith's old spot, but head coach Mike Budenholzer has borrowed from the Spurs' system and has his Hawks moving the ball well. The best part of this game might be the point guard matchup – most would say Ty Lawson is the superior player to Jeff Teague, but Teague looks more comfortable in his new offense at this extremely early juncture.

Reading material: Denver Stiffs' Nate Timmons on Jordan Hamilton getting a chancePeachtree Hoops' Jason Walker on Kyle Korver's three-pointer streak

More from SB Nation NBA:

Flannery: Life in the NBA's cellar

Ziller: Barnes, not Klay, is the Warriors' money problem

MacKenzie: Mario Chalmers is Miami's little brother

The Hook: Knicks' frontcourt is a tire fire

Garrison: A new way to understand rebounding

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