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Reply To: NBA • Monday Service Plays • 12/28/15

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Bledsoe injury and personnel changes could make things ugly for the Suns

Now that we’re past the Christmas Day games, the next big event on the NBA docket is the All-Star Game in February. It will be held north of the border this season, and Kobe Bryant leads all players with 719,235 votes in the initial returns. I am as sentimental as the next guy, but Kobe wouldn’t get my vote.

Instead, I would tab Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook as the West backcourt starters, with Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green in the frontcourt. For the Eastern Conference, I like Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt, with Andre Drummond, LeBron James and Paul Millsap representing the frontcourt.

Let’s take a look at some of the other goings-on around the league.

Spread Watch

The Phoenix Suns were in the news on Sunday, but not for anything good. First, its star point guard, Eric Bledsoe, will have surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus. Bledsoe ranks 29th (of 326) in PER and 30th (of 424) in RPM this season. Though Phoenix still has Brandon Knight to run its offense, Bledsoe is a much better on-ball defender. And Phoenix allows more than 7 ppp with Knight on the court, and Bledsoe off.

The other news on Sunday involved personnel. Suns management fired two assistant coaches, Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi, and promoted Earl Watson and Nate Bjorkgren to the bench, to work with head coach Jeff Hornacek. All of this was opposed by Hornacek, but he didn’t have any choice in the matter. And, should Phoenix not break out of its slump (it’s lost four in a row SU/ATS, and is 12-20 SU and 13-19 ATS this season), then Hornacek will be handed his walking papers, as well.

However, I’m not sure how Phoenix will get back on track. After all, its first three opponents this week are Cleveland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. And 10 of its next 13 games are against teams currently over .500. With the Cavaliers coming into Monday night’s game off a 29-point loss at Portland, I expect things to get much worse for Phoenix, before they get better.

Total Watch

The Atlanta Hawks have gone ‘Over’ the total in six-straight games (6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS). In those games, the Hawks have averaged 111.5 points on 51.2 percent shooting (255-of-498).

One of the keys to the Hawks’ offensive resurgence has been Kent Bazemore, who coach Mike Budenholzer inserted into the starting lineup on December 14. It was basically an “offense-for-defense” move by coach Bud, as Bazemore replaced defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha.

This week, Atlanta will play road games at Indiana, Houston and New York. The Hawks/Pacers series has seen its last three games go ‘Over’ the total. Atlanta and Houston’s two games last season both went ‘Over’ (along with eight of their last 12). Finally, Atlanta and New York have gone ‘Over’ in three straight, and six of seven.

Injury Watch

The Los Angeles Clippers rank among the most disappointing teams this season. They’re 18-13 SU and 11-16-4 ATS. But the worst metric for the Clippers is their scoring margin.

This season, Los Angeles is outscoring its foes by just 1.65 ppg, which ranks 12th in the league. In contrast, the Clippers’ chief Western Conference rivals (Warriors (13.28), Spurs (13.09) and Thunder (8.20)) reside as the Top 3 teams.

On Christmas, the Clippers got a lump of coal, as their best player, Blake Griffin, tore a tendon in his left quad. Griffin is averaging 23.2 ppg and 8.7 rpg, and will be sidelined for at least two weeks. Los Angeles did win (and cover) its first game without Griffin, as it won 109-104, as a 2-point favorite on Saturday. But given that the Clippers have not covered any of their last nine games off a pointspread win, Monday’s game against Washington seems to be a great spot to fade the Griffin-less Clippers. And, should Los Angeles upset both the Wizards and Hornets in its next two games, then its game on New Year’s Eve at New Orleans could be a landmine, as it would be its 5th game in seven nights.

Schedule Watch

After giving fans a great Christmas Day slate of games, the NBA schedule maker clearly felt it wasn’t important to have the league’s best teams square off the following week. For the next seven days, there are hardly any “must-see” games. But the Houston Rockets will be involved in two of them.

On Thursday, Houston will host Golden State for the second time this season. The Rockets’ first chance to avenge last season’s playoff defeat didn’t go very well, as the Warriors won, 112-92, back on October 30. But the Rockets are playing MUCH better now than they did earlier this season (11-6 SU and 10-7 ATS since Thanksgiving), and Golden State will be playing its third game in four nights.

Then, on January 2nd, the Rockets will travel the Alamo City to face San Antonio. The Spurs will surely be in an ornery mood, as they’ll be looking for some payback, after losing, 88-84, on Christmas to the Rockets. San Antonio is 9-0-1 ATS its last 10 home games (and 13-3-1 ATS its last 17, overall) when playing with revenge from a loss earlier in the season.