There are six games in the NBA on Thursday and the clear highlight is the showdown between Eastern Conference leaders Boston Celtics and their closest challengers Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The Celtics boast a league-best 30-12 overall record and have rediscovered their form after a bit of a rough patch.
Boston head into the game seeking a fifth straight win, while the Nets are the form team in the NBA and they have the best record across the league over the last 20 games with 18 wins and just two defeats.
This is a key game in the battle for supremacy in the East and with these two teams currently holding the top two seeds this may well be a conference finals preview.
This may also be a match-up between the best teams across the entire NBA at present and Boston are rated at +350 in the To Win Outright market for the NBA championship, with Brooklyn available at +650.
|What||Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets|
|Where||Barclays Center, Brooklyn|
|When||19:30, Thursday January 12th, 2023|
|How to watch||NBA League Pass, TNT|
|Odds (Money Line)||Boston Celtics -155, Brooklyn Nets +135|
Boston started the season with a new coach in place as Joe Mazzulla stepped in for the suspended Ime Udoka.
The Celtics improved massively last season and reached the Finals Series, losing out in six games to the Golden State Warriors, but Mazzulla has arguably taken them a step further.
He hasn't implemented major changes but they do look a bit more fluid in offense, while offseason recruit Malcolm Brogdon has proven to be an excellent addition and has made a key contribution from the bench.
Jacque Vaughn replaced Steve Nash as Brooklyn coach earlier in the season and he has overseen a huge turnaround. Under Nash, Brooklyn were a team of talented individuals but Vaughn has instilled a sense of cohesion and they have made huge strides forward - particularly in terms of defense.
Ben Simmons has enjoyed a revival under Vaughn's guidance and Nic Claxton has established himself as a vital member of the Brooklyn team at the defensive end. The Nets now look a balanced unit who could finally fulfil their clear championship potential after a few years of disappointment.
Jayson Tatum is enjoying a fantastic season for the Celtics and in the early part of the campaign he was a clear frontrunner for the MVP award.
The forward has perhaps dropped behind Luka Doncic of Dallas Mavericks, reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic of Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 2019 and 2020 MVP, in the battle for the individual honor but Tatum - who is +400 to be Regular Season MVP - is still very much in the mix.
The 24-year-old may not put up the same kind of raw stats as his rivals - Tatum is averaging 30.8 points-per-game and 8.1 rebounds, putting him fourth and 30th in the NBA respectively for those stats - but his contribution to the team is clear.
When Tatum is on court, opposition teams are forced to focus almost solely on defending him and that allows Boston's other star men the freedom to attack. The fact Tatum is fourth in the NBA for scoring despite being defended by two or three players every night also shows his talent, and he will be key to the Celtics' hopes of beating the Nets in Brooklyn on Thursday.
The Nets won't be able to rely on their own superstar forward on Thursday as Kevin Durant has been ruled out with a knee issue sustained in the one-point win over Miami Heat at the weekend.
Durant has only missed one game all season, a win over Indiana Pacers in December, and Brooklyn may struggle against the Celtics without their leading scorer.
Guard Kyrie Irving should shoulder a bit more of the scoring burden over the next two weeks but with Durant missing it perhaps takes a bit of the edge away from this game, and it isn't necessarily a true preview of the potential playoff series between these two teams further down the line.
Vaughn may opt to move Simmons into the frontcourt in order to start veteran guard Seth Curry in Durant's absence, while Yuta Watanabe is another option and a more natural replacement.
Boston also have a few injury issues as Marcus Smart seems set to miss a third straight game with a knee injury of his own, while Danilo Gallinari is out and Robert Williams is rated as questionable with a knee issue that has seen him miss two of the last four games.