NBA viewing guide: Wolves-Celtics open Monday schedule, Spurs-Clippers close it

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The biggest game of the NBA schedule on Monday comes last.

Eight games on Monday close out with a stellar Western Conference showdown between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. But first, NBA TV will air the game between the Boston Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Here's what else is going down in the NBA on Monday night.

The appetizers: Pistons vs. Pacers

7 p.m. ET, League Pass

The Pistons are losers in four of their last five, but they showed quite a bit of fight Sunday in an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. A matchup against the large frontline of the Indiana Pacers should be fun so long as Roy Hibbert is good to go.

Will Detroit find any sort of efficiency? In the first meeting of the year between the two squads, Detroit shot 14 percent worse from the floor yet only lost by eight. The two bigs on each side were relatively limited offensively, but the small forward battle between Paul George and Josh Smith went in the Pacers favor. So did the backcourt battle. Bad shots against the Pacers are as good as turnovers, and the Pistons can't afford to take them.

Reading material: Matt Watson reviews a painful loss to the Blazers over at Detroit Bad Boys, and Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows takes note of how well the Pacers close out wins when they have a lead heading to the fourth quarter.

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Lakers vs. Hawks

7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

Considering the other games on the Monday schedule, we'll certainly take a game between two teams at or a game away from .500.

Can Los Angeles take away post touches? Al Horford and Paul Millsap have been a fine tandem in the paint this year and should have their opportunities against the small ball Lakers. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill will need to be locked in, but going the other way, Atlanta has to fix up some sloppiness. The Hawks are coming off a 111-106 loss to the Knicks where they shot 60.6 percent from the field but recorded a horrid 27 turnovers and allowed New York to hit 50.6 percent of its buckets.

Reading material: Silver Screen and Roll examines the Lakers' frontcourt glut and how the team can trim the fat. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague must get back on track, Peach Tree Hoops' Kris Willis writes in his game preview.

The main course: Timberwolves vs. Celtics

7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV

The T-Wolves have won three of their last four games and will hope they can speed up the Celtics at T.D. Garden.

Has Minnesota found its shooting touch? The talented Timberwolves might finally be getting on track. Their competition hasn't been astounding, and a ratcheted up offense will be tested by a Boston team that likes to grind games out. The Celtics are the best three-point defensive team in the NBA, allowing just 32.5 percent to opponents. Though the longball has been falling for it recently, Minnesota takes the sixth-most threes but is only 20th in accuracy.

Reading material: Celtics Blog asks the question: Should Boston be a buyer or a seller? Scary looking shot charts and Star Wars references included, Canis Hoopus dives into the T-Wolves' defensive issues.

Side dishes: Wizards vs. Knicks

7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

Get excited for a matchup of a Washington team that's lost four straight and the New York Knicks, who needed 27 turnovers from the Hawks just to get a win in their last game.

How does New York stop John Wall? Carmelo Anthony is of course a problem, but the Wizards can turn to Trevor Ariza to at least give him some trouble. Without Raymond Felton or with him, the Knicks will have trouble with Wall, who scored 31 points on 10-for-18 shooting in the teams' first meeting this year back on Nov. 23. Pablo Prigioni's effort won't be enough to keep up. If Bradley Beal is back, that box score might be ugly for the Knicks. Right, Bradley?

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Reading material: Beal could return Monday against the Knicks, reports Mike Prada at Bullets Forever.

76ers vs. Nets

7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

Misery loves company, and the two teams floundering near the bottom of the Eastern Conference will make us join them in such a state if we watch this. Then again ...

Who can make a few stops? We don't want to ask too much from two of the bottom three teams in terms of defensive ratings. Brooklyn is last in the NBA by allowing 110.1 points per 100 possessions, and Philly isn't far behind by allowing 108.6. This actually could be fun to watch from an offensive perspective -- unless the spry 76ers run the elderly Nets off their home court -- but the winner could very well come down to the team that makes a couple key defensive series.

Reading material: Reed Wallach of Nets Daily has a video analysis of Brook Lopez in the pick-and-roll.

Magic vs. Bulls

8 p.m. ET, League Pass

Who would have thought this would be a game so involved in the tanking race?

Where do the Bulls go from here? The wheels are coming off the wagon in Chicago. Following Derrick Rose's knee injury, the Bulls have lost four of five and are coming off a 99-77 blowout to the Toronto Raptors. The waiving of veteran point guard Mike James to open the opportunities for Marquis Teague and D.J. Augustin says it all. Meanwhile, Orlando has some youngsters desperate to get on the winning track.

Reading material: Orlando Pinstriped Post's Evan Dunlap discusses Maurice Harkless' diminished role.

Jazz vs. Heat

7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

The Miami Heat are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and the second-best NBA team in terms of offensive ratings. The Utah Jazz are the worst team in the Western Conference and the league's second-worst team in terms of defensive ratings. Yikes.

Is Utah's size enough to put a few blows on the Heat? On paper, this is a no-brainer. Matchup-wise, the Jazz could present one of the tougher challenges for a small Miami squad that's had its issues on the rebounding front. Miami is dead last in the league with a 18.1 percent offensive rebounding rate, and Utah ranks 10th at 26.9 percent. So we're saying there's a chance.

Remember, it's not like the Heat haven't lost to a bad team this season.

Reading material: SLC Dunk previews the Jazz's entire five-game road trip that kicks off Monday against Miami. Hot Hot Hoops wonders if the Heat will stop playing down to their competition.

The dessert: Spurs vs. Clippers

10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

The Clippers have lost 34 of 39 games to the Spurs. Read that again.

Can Los Angeles slow Timmy? Tim Duncan is coming on strong after a quiet start to the year, and he'll provide Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan a chance to make a statement about their growth as defensive-minded players. Los Angeles has beaten some very good teams like Oklahoma City and Houston, and it's hung with Miami and Indiana. Beating the Spurs would be a signature victory. This should be a good one.

Reading material: Steve Perrin of Clips Nation writes that the Clippers have been struggling to shoot of late.

More from SB Nation NBA:

Sunday Shootaround: The Knicks are a disaster in 3 acts

NBA power rankings: Perfection not good enough for Portland

NBA trade rumors | Celtics want Omer Asik?

Z-Bo on trade rumors: 'There's no loyalty in the NBA'

"What the f--k is this?": An oral history of Kurtis Blow's "Basketball"

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