5 things to watch in the NBA's MLK Jr. holiday slate

The NBA rolls out one of its best schedules of the year Monday for the MLK Jr. holiday.

There are several intriguing matchups, with five games nationally televised on either NBA-TV or TNT.

Here are 5 things to watch in the NBA’s MLK Jr. holiday slate:

1. Can the Lakers hang on until LeBron James returns? Can the Warriors hang onto first place?

The Warriors (32-14) at the Lakers (25-22) would have been a much more interesting matchup with LeBron James in the lineup. But the Lakers star injured his groin the last time these two teams played, on Christmas Day. While he’s expected to return to practice this week, he’ll be a spectator for this game, as will Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, who sprained his ankle Saturday night and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

The challenge for the Lakers, currently ninth in the Western Conference, is to keep the ship afloat until first James and then Ball return. The Lakers are 5-8 since James went down but have played much better the past few games. They led the Rockets by 18 in Houston on Saturday night before losing in overtime. Can they give the loaded Warriors lineup, now with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins, a good game Monday night?

The Warriors will not take the Lakers lightly; they need a win to keep pace with the idle Nuggets, who are only a half-game behind Golden State in the Western Conference. Game time is 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT).

2. Will James Harden score only 30-something points?

It’s one of the first things many NBA fans check each day now: How many points did Rockets star James Harden score?

The guard has been on an historic scoring tear since late December, averaging 44.4 points in nine games this month; he’s averaged 53.3 points his last three games.

Harden needs to keep firing away, with Houston center Clint Capela sidelined at least another month after undergoing thumb surgery last week. Can Harden keep it going against Philadelphia Monday night? The 76ers (30-17) host the Rockets (26-19) at 8 p.m. ET (TNT).

3. The ‘Greek Freak’ vs. “El Matador”: Established star meets rookie sensation

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a great nickname (“Greek Freak”) and provides 14.7 incredible, highlight-worthy plays every night (that’s a made-up stat; the true figure is probably higher).

Mavericks rookie forward Luka Doncic is putting up plenty of highlights of his own and big numbers (20 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists per game). His nickname, “El Matador,” isn’t as well-known as Antetokounmpo’s, but the Mavericks recently filed for trademark protection on that name. The Bucks (33-12) host the Mavs (20-25) at 2 p.m. ET.

4. Which Celtics team will show up?

The Celtics were picked by many to win the Eastern Conference this season. Halfway through the season, they are 28-18 and fifth in the East. They’ve won three in a row, but dropped three in a row before that to the Nets, Magic and Heat.

Which Boston team will show up in The Garden against the visiting Heat (22-22)? Game time is 6 p.m. ET.

5. Can Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers keep exceeding expectations?

The Trail Blazers are a surprising 28-19 and fourth in the Western Conference. Portland guard Damian Lillard (26.1 points per game) would be a far bigger star if he played on the East Coast or in a bigger market. The Trail Blazers face the Jazz (26-21) in Salt Lake City at 9 p.m. ET.