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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 20, 2012 at 9:22 AM

We're taking a break in our series of college basketball breakdowns to get caught up in the NBA. Friday is the perfect time to do that for a few reasons. First, it's a VERY quiet night in the colleges, with only two games from the Horizon League on the card. Second, it's a HUGE night in the NBA with 11 games and an ESPN doubleheader that features some big names and new faces.

LA Lakers at Orlando, 8:05 p.m. on ESPN
Kobe Bryant and company finish off a killer back-to-back in Florida against the Magic. The team hasn't played much on the road this year. Are they ready for this challenge against Dwight Howard and the Magic. Will Howard have a big game in a rare national TV outing as he tries to push forward plans to be traded?

Minnesota at the LA Clippers, 10: 35 p.m. on ESPN
Who would have thought this game would ever be a TV showcase? It surely is now with Blake Griffin on one side of the floor, and Ricky Rubio on the other. The most talked about newcomer of last year is facing the most talked about newcomer of this year! Kevin Love would love to have a big game in his return to California (he played college ball at UCLA remember). Chris Paul's health isn't up to speed...but this has a chance to be a very entertaining game anyway.

To help you pick winners in those games and the rest of the card, we've put together some quick stat notes from the advanced pages at ESPN's website. Stats may matter more in the NBA than in any other sport....yet many handicappers continue to just pick games based on who they think is "clutch" or who they think is a "choker." If you're SERIOUS about winning money, you're need to be serious about how you pick games.

Some things you should know...

FASTEST TEAMS IN THE NBA: Denver, Miami, New York, Cleveland, Portland.

You've heard all season that Miami is trying to run people out of the gym this year. That's basically true. But, Denver is still playing at a faster pace heading into tonight. New York isn't posting high point totals, but they're still running. They're just shooting poorly when they run. Cleveland has had some good results in spots, keyed by the energy of a young lineup. Portland is thought of as a plodder in many circles, yet they're the fifth fastest team in the NBA at the moment.

SLOWEST TEAMS IN THE NBA: Detroit, New Orleans, Boston, Toronto, New Jersey

Don't skim over that line too fast. TORONTO?! They used to run and gun like the Knicks. What happened? Toronto hired the guy who turned around the Dallas defense to be their head coach. Toronto is now playing a much smarter game geared toward defense and working for good shots. They've slowed way down. More handicappers should have noticed this.

BEST DEFENSES IN THE NBA: Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Indiana, LA Lakers

We use defensive efficiency, which is points allowed adjusted for possessions. This prevents slow teams from vulturing high rankings just because there are low point totals in their games. Who's really playing the best defense? Philadelphia has the edge for now. But, we'll admit that some of that is due to a weak schedule. Doug Collins has them hustling for 48 minutes per night, and it's showing up everywhere against a weak schedule. You know Chicago runs a defensive clinic every night. How about Dallas sitting in third place? Smart team folks. And, the Lakers are in fifth under defensive minded new head coach Mike Brown.

WORST DEFENSES IN THE NBA: New Jersey, Detroit, Charlotte, Sacramento, Golden State

Well, no surprises that the doormats aren't defending. Mark Jackson hasn't done much to help the Warriors defense yet this season. That's surely a disappointment. If you want to know about "real" teams on this side of the ball. The Clippers have been a disappointment, ranking worst of the non-patsies in defensive efficiency (25th in the league overall). Neighbors from respected teams include San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Orlando. Something to watch down the road. Insiders are noting that Dwight Howard isn't his usual beastly self on defense this year as he awaits a trade.

BEST REBOUNDERS IN THE NBA: Chicago, New Orleans, LA Lakers, Cleveland, Houston

Hey, defense and rebounding wins championships! You know we're going to emphasize those categories. Chicago is a serious championship threat because of their defense and rebounding. Will Derrick Rose be healthy enough in the playoffs to get points on the scoreboard for them? The Lakers really have responded to their new head coach. Though, the early schedule hasn't been tough in terms of travel, as they've played a lot more home games than road games. Don't sleep on Cleveland. This team plays with energy...and that's going to be a prized commodity in this grind of a season.

BEST OFFENSES IN THE NBA: Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Miami, Denver, Orlando

This again is scoring adjusted for tempo rather than just pure scoring. Posting points in a run-and-gun game can provide an illusion of offense. Adjust it per-possession, and you see the real deal. Philadelphia has just crushed its weak schedule. Miami is making a faster tempo work on the scoreboard, though it could tear up the bodies of their stars. Denver is a threat in the West because they wear down opponents AND convert. Nobody wants to see OKC in the halfcourt.

WORST OFFENSES IN THE NBA: Washington, Detroit, Sacramento, Toronto, Charlotte.

Doormats. Worth noting that Toronto's big improvement on defense has seen a corresponding fall from grace on offense. The team won't get any BETTER until they can do both things at the same time. That generally has been happening when their star Bargnani has been healthy. Without him, it gets pretty ugly.

We'll be able to spend a lot more time on the NBA in the coming days now that pro football is winding down. But, the NBA is about to jump into the mix with both feet in the coming days...and we hope you're ready for the pool party.

Is Philadelphia for real? Can anyone in the East really compete with Miami and Chicago? What's wrong with the Knicks, who are 3-11 ATS so far? What's right with Denver, who's 11-4 ATS so far? Hmm...wonder who won THAT trade?! Are the Lakers and Celtics too old to win? Did Dallas spend too much of the offseason partying? If so, how come they're 10-5 ATS so far?!

We'll try to address those issues and many others as the season unfolds.

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