The NBA slate on Tuesday night isn't much to write home about, but the league has been giving us some unexpected nuggets on a nightly basis. And now that we've entered the stretch run of the season, every game means more and more. So don't worry — we're here to point out what could be the gems of the evening.
Appetizer: Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
7 p.m. ET, League Pass
The Raptors just continue to hold on to that No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, even with those pesky, relentless Chicago Bulls hot on their heels. Toronto has won five of their last six games as general manager Masai Ujiri's decision to stand pat at the deadline — other than the minor acquisition of Nando De Colo — is justified in the team's winning ways. Kyle Lowry's wonderful season is no joke, and DeMar DeRozan's All-Star campaign is solidifying a perimeter group that's become very difficult to handle. And while their opponent on Tuesday has thus far fallen wildly short of expectations, desperation can make for weird outcomes.
Cleveland was on a nice run heading into All-Star weekend, but two games against two of the tougher teams out East have yielded less than desirable results. The Cavs have dropped consecutive games to these Raptors and the Washington Wizards, but there has been subtle progress. There's a slightly different look here with Spencer Hawes in tow, yet the situation grows a bit more dire by the day for a team with playoff aspirations. Cleveland has 25 games remaining to make something happen, and Tuesday night wouldn't be a bad time to turn things around for the better.
Main Course: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Phoenix Suns
9 p.m. ET, League Pass
Speaking of desperation, the Timberwolves' season has officially entered that discussion. They've won three of their last four games but remain a full seven games back in the loss column of the eighth seed with just 26 games remaining on their schedule. Kevin Love is doing all he can to will this team into the discussion, but time is running out on a group that came into the season with playoff expectations. Their offensive- and defensive-efficiency numbers make the Wolves look like a postseason team on paper, but that has yet to pan out. Perhaps a matchup that's as close to must-win as it gets at this point in the season, against a team holding one of the lower playoff positions, could serve to kickstart what has to be a big stretch run.
Phoenix just continues to amaze. The Suns throttled the Spurs on Friday night before just barely falling short against the Rockets, but they're holding on to that eighth seed, regardless. Goran Dragic has been unreal even in the absence of Eric Bledsoe, but can this group fend off the teams that will be pushing them relentlessly down the stretch? This will be a great test in what should be a very entertaining, high-speed affair in the desert.
Dessert: Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings
10 p.m. ET, League Pass
The Rockets have been on a roll and now find themselves alone as the Western Conference's third seed, up two games in the loss column on the Clippers. Dwight Howard has been a monster of late, and things are really starting to click between him, James Harden and the rest of the Houston attack. They're keeping the Thunder and Spurs no more than an arm's length away with plenty of time to make up more ground in the standings; but with a major ESPN battle looming on Wednesday against the Clips, is there potential for a letdown on Tuesday?
Enter the Sacramento Kings. Their 20-36 record is awful, but the talent they possess gives them a chance to win on many nights. They're currently on a two-game winning streak, and the three-headed monster of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas is anything but easy to handle. They can score in bunches if you're not ready, which makes this one a potentially juicy nightcap, especially if the Rockets make the mistake of looking ahead.
The rest of the schedule
Orlando Magic vs. Washington Wizards, 7 p.m. ET
Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET