Thursday's NBA Guide: Shaq Back in Primetime

FanHouse's NBA Guide gives you a daily look at all the games that matter ... and some that don't.

After several weeks off, the NBA on TNT is back on Thursday. Of course, we're missing a key character: Charles Barkley. Chuck's on the bench due to a DUI; Mike Fratello and Chris Webber will invade Atlanta's Turner studios in his stead.

For their trouble, the lig will offer one solid match-up. Read all about it after the jump.

Phoenix at Denver, 10:30PM ET

The Suns have either figured out how to work together, or some confluence of circumstance has Phoenix looking better than it is of late. Phoenix has won six of seven, the only loss a heartbreak at the hands of Danny Granger. The defense is improving, Shaquille O'Neal has continued his improbable Renaissance and Steve Nash has remained healthy (keeping a lid on the always burgeoning disaster that is point guard depth).

Denver, of course, has been just as good of late with one loss in its past seven. Given the injury absence of Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have played extremely well, knocking off the Mavericks this week despite a huge night from Dirk Nowitzki and being within a possession of a hot Pistons team last Friday.

These two sit right in the middle of the Western playoff picture. Assuming L.A. cinches the top seed, Phoenix and Denver figure to tangle with San Antonio and New Orleans for home-court advantage in the first round; Portland's not far behind and the Jazz expect to rise as time goes on. Wins over teams on the same path remain vital; just a few games could seperate No. 2 through No. 8. The regular season matters, and this one could go either way.

Chicago at Cleveland, 8PM ET

The Cavaliers should destroy the Bulls, but Lucullus should have destroyed Mithradates, you know what I'm saying? You would think Chicago's only gasp would come in the form of a joint Tyrus Thomas/Joakim Noah explosion, but stranger things have happened in the presence of Larry Hughes before.

Portland at New Jersey, 7:30PM ET

The Blazers were pounded by Philadelphia Wednesday night, and the Nets have a certain speedster guard, the type of which has given PDX trouble all season. You can imagine a slowed shoot-out with little defense, but since both squads had discouragement last night you could also see some flagging effort and cold shooting. Or you could see an Albanian dragon cry jellybeans ... why am I predicting which version of New Jersey is going to arrive? It's hopeless.

Thursday's NBA Guide: Shaq Back in Primetime originally appeared on NBA Main on Thu, 15 Jan 2009 16:45:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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