Thursday Night NBA Preview: East vs. West

Two games make up tonight's slate in the NBA, but each one consists of high-powered teams.

It's not all too often we, as NBA fans, are lucky enough to see such great matchups on national television so early in the season. But I expect tonight to be one of those few times. With the Clippers in Miami to take on the Heat, and the Bulls in Sacramento to take on the Kings, we should be in for quite the treat. What more can you ask for than two of the top teams in the West meeting up against two of the top teams in East?

Without further introduction, let's breakdown the games like we only do here at numberFire - numbers style.

Clippers at Heat

RecordnERDOffensive Eff.Defensive Eff.

As is evident from each team's respective nERD, the Clippers and Heat are pretty evenly matched. They are separated by fewer than two points within the metric. But that's not the only thing these teams have in common. Both have been good offensively but not so good defensively so far this season. The Clippers are our 10th-worst team in defensive efficiency, while the Heat are 15th worst. On the other hand, both rank in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency.

What you can't see in this table is tonight's matchup between two potential playoff teams. Our projections like each team to make the postseason in their respective conferences. We give the Clippers a 84.5% chance of making the playoffs, while we have the Heat slightly lower at 81.2%. It's never too early for a good matchup between playoff contenders.

Matchup to Watch: Jordan vs. Bosh

I'll be keeping an eye on the matchup at center in this game. Chris Bosh should be the focal point of the Heat offense with Dwyane Wade doubtful for tonight's contest. Bosh is leading Miami in scoring with 19.9 points on over 15 shots per game. It'll be up to the Clippers defensive anchor, DeAndre Jordan, to make sure Bosh doesn't get hot and lead his team to a victory. Jordan is averaging a steal and nearly three blocks per game while posting a defensive rating of 99 so far this season. We'll have to wait and see if Jordan is up to the task.

Bulls at Kings

RecordnERDOffensive Eff.Defensive Eff.

This is a great matchup between our 7th-ranked Bulls and the 11th-ranked Kings, but the Bulls have the clear advantage in record, team nERD, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. By the looks of it, this shouldn't be a close game, but it should be, as the Bulls will be without the services of both Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol for tonight's matchup in Sactown, which changes the whole dynamic of the game.

This could've been a great game to gauge expectations of the Kings going forward. However, it will now be skewed by two missing cogs from the Bulls' powerful lineup. Still, we've seen Bulls win games they shouldn't without the likes of D-Rose and Gasol just a year ago. So this could still be a very competitive game in which the Kings could only increase their chances (26.0%) of making the playoffs with their seventh win of this young season. I look for them to do exactly that later tonight.

Matchup to Watch: Noah vs. Cousins

I feel like there is one matchup that could tell the story for this game when all is said and done. When I look at the box score tomorrow morning, I'll be looking at which center - Joakim Noah or DeMarcus Cousins - put his stamp on the game. Boogie Cousins comes into tonight's matchup averaging 22 points on 50% shooting from the floor while posting a nERD of 9.9. He's also grabbing over 11 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal in his 30 minutes per night.

Cousins has been a dominant force for the Kings, but Noah is one of the best defensive centers in the league. For his career, the Bulls center has an average defensive rating of 99! However, the Bulls will need Noah to do more on the offensive side of the floor tonight. He's proven that he's capable. In his last outing, Noah tallied 11 points, 6 assists and 3 offensive rebounds (16 total rebounds). If he can put up a stat line like that, even without Rose and Gasol, I could see the Bulls coming out of Sacramento with their ninth win. It'll be fun to watch these fierce competitors go at it down low.