NBA on MLK Day: A Pair of Contender Showdowns

Today, the NBA celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. with an exciting 12-game slate.

On this 19th day of January 2015, we celebrate a birthday -- an 86th birthday. But, are we really just celebrating a birthday? No, it's so much more. Today is a day to celebrate the life and legacy of a chief spokesman in the civil rights movement, and a man -- equal to all, but better than many in his accomplishments -- that had a dream.

The legacy of Dr. King lives on to this day. It's very easily found in the lives of many former and current NBA players and coaches. Without him and what he stood for, those players and coaches may have never gotten the opportunity to live their dreams. So, today, we as NBA fans will celebrate and remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we enjoy the excitement of a day full of NBA action.

Let's take a look at two of the biggest contests of the day, analyzing, in true numberFire fashion, the metrics.

Mavericks at Grizzlies

This looks to be a great matchup between the number-two and number-nine teams according to our metrics. The Mavericks come into this matchup with a record of 28-13 -- fifth in the West. Dallas also boasts the third-best offense in the league with an offensive efficiency rating of 112.8 and has been an offensive juggernaut, putting up 108.5 points per game (second in the league). However, Dallas is in the bottom half of the league in terms of defensive numbers. They are 23rd in the league in opponent points per game (102.5).

That could prove to be a problem for the Mavs as the Grizzlies are a much more balanced team. The Grizzlies have improved offensively this year with an offensive efficiency of 108.4 -- good enough for ninth in the league. But they are again a solid defensive team. The Grizz are tied for 10th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.1 while giving up just under 98 points per game to its opponents.

Matchup to Watch: Chandler vs. Gasol

We all kind of figured that the addition of Tyson Chandler would help the Mavs defensively. And as bad as the numbers look for Dallas defensively, as mentioned above, he has. But, what we may not have seen coming was Chandler's effect on the offensive end of the floor. Tyson Chandler is averaging 10.8 points per game -- his highest average since 2011 where he averaged more than two minutes more per game. Chandler is also posting his second-highest field goal percentage of his career, which comes as no surprise. Over 46% of his field goal attempts are dunks. That's the definition of high-percentage.

But, will he be able to do this on a stingy Memphis defense, anchored by big man Marc Gasol? Gasol's defensive rating of 101 is 3.1 points better than his team as a whole. He's been playing some good defense, but even better offense. Gasol is scoring a career-high 19.2 points per contest on 50% shooting. And he's been doing so very efficiently while taking a career-high 14 field goal attempts per game. Gasol possesses the league's thirteenth-best nERD of 8.7. He's a big reason why Memphis has enjoyed such great success so far this year. But will he get the best of Chandler in this matchup of two-way centers?

Bulls at Cavaliers

Here are the two teams we expected to be number one and number two in the East at this point in the season. But, surprisingly (to most) they're not. The Bulls and Cavs are currently fourth and sixth in the East, and they're number 10 and 16 in our power rankings. However, this is sure to be a high-intensity matchup between two playoff-bound teams. Both teams have underachieved in a very similar way. They've both played really well offensively but pretty poorly defensively.

Chicago's offense is much-improved from just a year ago, but have seen a decline on the defensive end (I talked about this in my most recent article). A lot of the offensive success is due to the efforts of Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol. The two have a combined nERD of 22.3. However, the Bulls are 13th in the league in defensive efficiency (105.5) and 15th in opponents points per game (99.5). But, though similar to the Cavs, the Bulls have been notably better on the defensive end.

The Cavaliers are seventh in offensive efficiency with 109.1 points per 100 possessions. They're also 26th in the league with a defensive rating of 109.1. So that's a net rating of 0, or essentially a tie over the entire season on average. The Cavs will have to do better than their average of 100.7 points allowed to opponents this year if they want to edge out the high-powered Bulls. This could be a high-scoring one tonight.

Matchup to Watch: Rose vs. Irving

Inconsistency. Injuries. Those two words have defined the years thus far for both Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving. Both have seen injuries disrupt the offensive and defensive flow of their games. But, even when healthy, both point guards have been inconsistent. They have shown some flashes of All-Star quality while they've also struggled for points of time.

Derrick Rose, as we all know, has been in and out of the Bulls lineup for the majority of the year with multiple injuries, but now he feels great. He should be feeling great. Though his Bulls are on a little skid, Rose has played 30-plus minutes in each of his last four games while averaging 25.5 points, on 40/77 (52%) shooting, and 8 assists per game.

As for Kyrie, he has been a great scorer this year, averaging 21.2 points per game on 46% shooting from the floor. In his last two games, he's averaged 29.5 points on an outstanding 61.7% shooting. But, he has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor after starting out the season on a high note. He's letting up 111 points per 100 possessions and has only managed 0.7 defensive win shares so far this season. So, we'll have to see if he can contain the new-version of the old D-Rose.