There are three games Tuesday night, and all of them are intriguing in some way: we have a matchup between two teams battling for one playoff spot, two of the Eastern Conference's best teams squaring off with an eye on the postseason, and, well, okay, Chicago-Washington isn't the most appealing of the three, but it's kind of a fascinating game between a resurgent Wizards team and a Bulls team forced to scrap for every win with almost all their star players out.
Let's take a closer look at all three games - all times are Eastern:
7 p.m.: Chicago Bulls (40-32) vs. Washington Wizards (27-46)
Is it possible the Wizards are the favorites here? They've won seven straight at home, and while the Bulls have won four out of five - including the big streak-snapper against the Miami Heat - without Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton, Joakim Noah, and Marco Belinelli, that means they're playing without Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton, Joakim Noah, and Marco Belinelli. Noah and Belinelli are supposedly day-to-day, but are probably out Tuesday. Meanwhile, Bradley Beal is back in the lineup for the Wizards, and John Wall has continued lighting it up after his 47-point outing against the Grizzlies last week - he had 35 against Orlando and 18 points and 10 assists in a win against the Raptors. The Bulls are a half-game back of the Atlanta Hawks and 1.5 back of the Brooklyn Nets, so every game is important for them.
8 p.m.: New York Knicks (46-26) vs. Miami Heat (58-15)
With the Heat's 27-game win streak extinguished, the hottest team in the league is the New York Knicks, who have reeled off eight straight, most of them by healthy margins. After a dismal West Coast stretch where the once-proud Knicks seemed beaten by injuries, they've regrouped behind Carmelo Anthony, back to his days of scoring 20 points a night, every single night, J.R. Smith, who has eschewed some of his famed low percentage shots and focused on forays into the paint - earning himself Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week for three 30-point outings off the bench - and Kenyon Martin, who's apparently still got enough spring in his legs to power an extremely shorthanded Knicks' frontcourt.
Whether Miami wants to take this seriously is entirely up to them. They've clinched the top seed in the playoffs, and as such have taken to resting their stars, sitting LeBron James and Dwyane Wade against the San Antonio Spurs. But that doesn't mean they're less liable to win -- they won that game against a potential finals opponent on Chris Bosh's three -- and that doesn't mean they'll do it against the Knicks. After manhandling New York in the playoffs last year, the Knicks tried to show they were on par with the reigning champions with a pair of 20-point wins in the first matchups between these squads this year, bombarding Miami from deep, and had a 16-point lead on the Heat in the third game. But Miami stormed back for the 99-93 win, and would like to assert their dominance again.
10:30 p.m.: Dallas Mavericks (36-37) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (38-36)
It's a Western Conference Playoff Play-in Game! -- or at least some semblance of it. The Lakers sit half a game behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Mavs are 1.5 games back of them. With fewer than 10 games to go, a loss here would be near-fatal for Dirk Nowitzki's resurrected squad, while it would tie Los Angeles up with Utah. A Mavs win, though, would drop the Lakers to a game behind the Jazz and bring Dallas just 1.5 back. So buckle up.
As noted, Nowitzki has been doing everything for Dallas -- he had 35 points and the game-winner in their last game against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday, 33 points against the Clippers two games before that, etc. Meanwhile, the Lakers are shorthanded without Metta World Peace, could lose Steve Nash to a hamstring injury, and Kobe Bryant continues to play despite his swollen foot. They've fought through it to win five of their last ten with Bryant also forced to carry the weight - whether it be scoring or assisting. We'll see which aging star manages to will their team to the win Tuesday night.