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NBA • Wednesday Service Plays • 12/23/15

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    NBA Bettors can stuff their stocking fading the Sixers this week

    Christmas Day has long marked the unofficial start of the NBA’s calendar. It’s been an annual tradition since the league’s second season, in 1947. And it’s a day that the league has tried to showcase its best players and teams.

    This year, five games are scheduled, and the marquee game is an NBA Finals rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. A lot of other things are happening around the Association, so let’s take a look.

    Spread watch

    The Philadelphia 76ers might do for losing this season what the Golden State Warriors are doing for winning. That is, the 76ers might break the NBA’s all-time futility mark set by their own franchise, in 1973, when they went 9-73.

    Indeed, I believe Philadelphia has a better shot at breaking that record than Golden State does of topping Chicago’s record of 72 wins, set in the 1995-96 season. Currently, Philadelphia is 1-28 SU and 11-17-1 ATS and it has gone 0-9-1 ATS its last 10 games.

    This week, Philadelphia will play at home vs. Memphis Tuesday before hitting the road to take on Milwaukee Wednesday and Phoenix Saturday. The game Wednesday will be particularly tough for the Sixers, as they’ll be playing without rest, while Milwaukee will have had the previous two days off. Philadelphia has lost seven straight to the Bucks (1-6 ATS) since December 2013, while Milwaukee is a perfect 4-0 SU/ATS this season versus unrested opponents.

    Total watch

    The San Antonio Spurs are playing at an historic level on defense. The Spurs’ defensive efficiency rating is the best since the NBA/ABA merger 39 years ago. And the Spurs’ defense is a whopping 9.2 percent better than league average. In comparison, the Warriors’ historic offense is 10.3 percent better than league average.

    But it seems the oddsmakers have finally caught up to how well the Spurs’ defense is performing. After starting the seasons 5-12-1 Over/Under, the Spurs have now gone Over in seven of their last nine, including all three games last week.

    This week, the Spurs will welcome the Indiana Pacers to the Alamo City Monday, before traveling to Minnesota and Houston for games Wednesday and Christmas night. The Spurs and T-Wolves played all four games Over the total last season, while Minnesota has gone Over in 18 of 30 as a home underdog. So, that game could be relatively high-scoring.

    Injury watch

    Kyrie Irving finally returned to the court Sunday and Cleveland responded with a 108-86 blowout win over the 76ers. Irving had 12 points, four assists and two steals in 17 minutes. For the near term, Irving will have his playing time restricted, so his full impact won’t be felt. But given that the Cavaliers are 34-3 their last 37 games when Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love are in the lineup, his presence can’t be understated, either.

    This week, Cleveland will play the Knicks at home Wednesday before facing Golden State Christmas Day. With revenge from last year’s NBA Finals defeat on their minds, the Cavs surely will be motivated to hand the Warriors their first home loss this season – especially since Cleveland feels it got a raw deal last season due to the injuries sustained in the playoffs by Irving and Love.

    Schedule watch

    One of the more interesting storylines this NBA season has been the emergence of the Eastern Conference. For 15 of the past 16 seasons (the 2008-09 season being the exception), the Western Conference has had a better win percentage in all inter-conference games played.

    Over that time span, the Western Conference’s record was 3,999-2,961 (57.45 percent) vs. the Eastern Conference (and 3,500-3,298-122 – 51.48 percent ATS). The disparity reached a pinnacle two seasons ago, when the Western Conference won 288 of the 455 non-conference games played (63.29 percent), going 240-208-7 ATS. Last year, the Western Conference won 58.55 percent (267-189).

    This season, though, the Eastern Conference is 79-79 SU and 86-67-5 ATS in non-conference games, including 37-14-1 ATS as road underdogs (and 11-0 ATS as road underdogs versus foes off an upset win).

    With that in mind, both Charlotte and Indiana bear watching Monday night, as they’ll be road underdogs at Houston and San Antonio, respectively. And Charlotte would fall into our 11-0 subset, as Houston is off an upset win Saturday versus the Clippers. Then, on Christmas Day, the Bulls (at the Thunder) and the Cavaliers (at Golden State) will be road underdogs.


    NBA Odds: Wednesday, December 23 2015 Opening Line Report and Handicapping
    by Alan Matthews

    Maybe it’s a good thing that the Chicago Bulls have three days off ahead of their Christmas Day game in Oklahoma City. Things aren’t right with that team right now as Chicago is on a three-game losing streak — no excuse for losing at home to Brooklyn on Monday — and Jimmy Butler is already calling out rookie head coach Fred Hoiberg for not being hard enough on the guys. So basically calling him out for not being Tom Thibodeau, who was roundly criticized for riding his guys too hard. I have a feeling that if Hoiberg was given the chance over again, he would have stayed at Iowa State this year, a national title contender, and waited for a different NBA gig. With Derrick Rose a shell of his former All-Star self, the Bulls aren’t a threat in the East. Hoiberg isn’t in any trouble as he was handpicked by the front office and given a five-year deal. And Butler’s not going anywhere, either, but the Bulls might have to trade a Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah to get things right and open up more playing time for rookie Bobby Portis.

    Celtics at Hornets (-2.5, 202.5)

    Boston ended a three-game slide with a 113-99 win over Minnesota on Monday. David Lee had 13 points and eight boards off the bench. I mention Lee because he hasn’t been used all that much and reports are that the Celtics have put him on the trade block. Forwards Amir Johnson (plantar fasciitis) and Jared Sullinger (back spasms) were sidelined. Thus, Lee got a rare start. Charlotte lost in Houston on Monday 102-95 for its second straight defeat. The Hornets shot only 34.9 percent. Al Jefferson remained out due to suspension. He won’t play here. Boston won in Charlotte 98-93 on Dec. 12. Avery Bradley had 23 points and Isaiah Thomas 21 points and 13 assists. The Celtics have now won three straight in the series.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Celtics are 5-2 against the spread in the past seven meetings. The “over/under” has gone under in six of the past seven meetings in Charlotte.

    ‘Early lean’
    Celtics and under.

    Knicks at Cavaliers (TBA)

    New York’s four-game winning streak was snapped in a 107-99 home loss to Orlando on Monday as the Knicks blew a chance to get over .500. Lance Thomas was 9-for-9 for a career-high 24 points. Carmelo Anthony added 23 but tweaked his ankle in the second half, and there’s a chance he won’t play here, although you know he wants to go against LeBron James. The Cavaliers finally have their three All-Stars all on the court together after Kyrie Irving debuted Sunday in a destruction of Philadelphia. He had 12 points in 17 minutes. He will obviously be on a minutes restriction for a while off knee surgery. The Cavs have won three straight in this series, including 90-84 in New York on Nov. 13.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Knicks are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 5-0 in those five.

    ‘Early lean’
    Obviously TBA for Melo. If Knicks get double-digit points here, I’d probably take them. Cavs might be looking ahead to big showdown with Warriors.

    Kings at Pacers (-7, 211.5)

    Sacramento lost in Washington 113-99 on Monday. DeMarcus Cousins was vastly outplayed by Marcin Gortat. That was the second of a back-to-back for the Kings, and they are now 0-7 in those situations. Indiana lost in San Antonio by 14 on Monday for its second straight loss. Paul George was held to a season-low seven points by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. The Kings swept the Pacers last year.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Kings have covered five of the past eight in Indiana. The over is 5-1 in the past six overall.

    ‘Early lean’
    Kings and over.

    Rockets at Magic (-2.5, 208.5)

    First of an NBA TV doubleheader and thus should have live betting at sportsbooks. Houston won a third straight Monday, 102-95 against Charlotte. James Harden had 36 points. The team played a second straight game without suspended guard Ty Lawson. He will be back here but has fallen out of favor and Houston is trying to deal him. Orlando won by eight in New York on Monday for its fourth win in the past five. However, point guard Elfrid Payton didn’t play in the second half with an ankle injury so monitor his status here. Expect plenty of jeers for Dwight Howard as he returns to central Florida. Just another city he made hate him for whining his way out. Houston beat Orlando 119-114 in OT on Nov. 4. Howard was good then with 23 points and 14 rebounds. The Rockets have won six of the past seven meetings.

    ‘Key trends’
    Houston is 2-10 ATS in the past 12 meetings. The over is 5-1 in Orlando’s past six following a win.

    ‘Early lean’
    Magic and under.

    Grizzlies at Wizards (TBA)

    Memphis was in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Washington won a second straight Monday, 113-99 over the Kings. John Wall had a career-high 19 assists — he did get hit on the ribs late — and Marcin Gortat went off with 27 points and 16 rebounds. Garrett Temple added a career-high 23 points. The Wizards were without six injured players, including Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Nene. Maybe Porter plays here. Washington lost in Memphis 112-95 on Dec. 14. Marc Gasol had 24 points and 12 rebounds. Wall had only six points. Beal missed that one too.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Grizzlies are 4-0 ATS in their past four in the second of a back-to-back. The over is 5-1 in Washington’s past six.

    ‘Early lean’
    As long as Wall is in there, Wiz will win this.

    Mavericks at Nets (+3, 200)

    Dallas was in Toronto on Tuesday. This will be the return of Mavs point guard Deron Williams to Brooklyn. The Nets were so eager to dump Williams this offseason they gave him a buyout worth around $27.5 million. Once he cleared waivers, he quickly signed with the hometown Mavs and actually is having a decent season. Brooklyn ended a five-game skid with a three-point win in Chicago on Monday. Brook Lopez had 21 points and 12 rebounds. These teams split last year, each winning on the road.

    ‘Key trends’
    The road team has covered the past seven meetings. The under is 10-3 in Brooklyn’s past 13 vs. the West.

    ‘Early lean’
    Nets and over.

    Pistons at Hawks (-6, 202)

    Detroit was in Miami on Tuesday. The Hawks won a third in a row Monday, 106-97 over Portland. Interesting moment from that game as Atlanta backup guard Dennis Schroeder lost a tooth after a collision but calmly put it in his sock and kept playing. Paul Millsap returned after tweaking his left ankle and leaving the game. The Pistons have lost seven of the past 11 meetings in this series but won in Atlanta 106-94 on opening night.

    ‘Key trends’
    Atlanta is 1-7 ATS in its past eight vs. the Central Division. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings in Atlanta.

    ‘Early lean’
    Atlanta and under.

    76ers at Bucks (-11, 196)

    Philly hosted Memphis on Tuesday. Milwaukee begins life without Coach Jason Kidd as he will be out indefinitely following hip surgery. What is it with injured coaches this year? Kidd likely won’t be back on the bench until February. Veteran assistant coach Joe Prunty, who filled in as Milwaukee’s head coach when Kidd was suspended for the Bucks’ loss at Orlando in late November, will take over. Milwaukee has won seven straight vs. the Sixers, its longest active winning streak against any team. The Bucks won 91-87 at home over Philly on Nov. 4.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Sixers are 1-6 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 9-3 in the past 12 in Milwaukee.

    ‘Early lean’
    Bucks and under.

    Spurs at Timberwolves (+9, 197)

    San Antonio won a sixth straight Monday, 106-92 over Indiana to close a four-game homestand. Kawhi Leonard had 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. It was the Spurs’ 21st win this season by double digits. San Antonio is off to the second-best start in franchise history, trailing only the 25-4 record in 2011. Minnesota’s two-game winning streak ended in Boston on Monday, 113-99. Celtics fans kept chanting for the Wolves to put Kevin Garnett in the game in perhaps his final trip to Boston, but he didn’t play in the second of a back-to-back. Minnesota has lost its last 10 games in Boston. First meeting of the season between these teams, and the Spurs won all four in 2014-15.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Spurs are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The over is 4-0 in those four.

    ‘Early lean’
    Spurs and over.

    Trail Blazers at Pelicans (TBA)

    Portland is sinking fast and lost a fourth in a row Monday in Atlanta, 106-97. No shock there as the Blazers’ starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both sat out with injuries. It was the first game Lillard has missed in his career. Someone named Tim Frazier started at point guard and played nearly the full 48 minutes. I doubt you see Lillard or McCollum here. New Orleans won in Denver 130-125 on Sunday. Anthony Davis played through an illness, needed several IVs and had 27 points. Portland has won both meetings this season and now seven straight in the series.

    ‘Key trends’
    Portland is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 6-0 in the previous six.

    ‘Early lean’
    New Orleans in a rout.

    Nuggets at Suns (TBA)

    Denver hosted the Lakers on Tuesday with Emmanuel Mudiay out and Danilo Gallinari and Darrell Arthur both questionable. Phoenix lost a second straight Monday, 110-89 in Utah. The Suns’ starters had just 30 points. Brandon Knight had 26 off the bench. The Suns are 0-11 when scoring fewer than 100 points. The Suns have won three straight and eight of nine against the Nuggets. Phoenix led 60-28 at halftime of the first meeting on Nov. 14, the fourth-largest halftime lead in team history and third-fewest points allowed before halftime.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Nuggets are 1-8 ATS in the past nine meetings. The over is 5-2 in the previous seven.

    ‘Early lean’
    Suns will win easily.

    Jazz at Warriors (-14, 207.5)

    Utah easily handled Phoenix on Monday for its first winning streak since late November. Gordon Hayward scored 24 points as the Jazz had their second wire-to-wire win of the year. It was the first time in six games Utah scored at least 100 points. Golden State has oddly not played since Friday when it beat Milwaukee 121-112 to avenge its only loss. It was the Warriors’ 30th straight regular-season home win. Center Andrew Bogut tweaked a back injury and isn’t looking great to play in this one. Starting forward Harrison Barnes remains out. I thought the Warriors would lose in Salt Lake City on Nov. 30, but they escaped 106-103. That remains Golden State’s closest win. The Warriors also have won four straight at home in the series.

    ‘Key trends’
    The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past seven. The over is 9-1 in Golden State’s past nine following a win.

    ‘Early lean’
    Jazz — Warriors will be looking ahead to Cavs.

    Thunder at Lakers (+11, 208.5)

    Los Angeles was in Denver on Tuesday. Oklahoma City won at the Clippers on Monday 100-99. Kevin Durant hit the go-ahead shot with 5.8 seconds left and then partially blocked Chris Paul’s 12-footer at the other end to win it. Durant finished with a healthy line of 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. The Thunder hosted the Lakers on Saturday and destroyed them by 40. Kobe Bryant didn’t play then. I would think he would here in a home game even in the second of a back-to-back. OKC has won five straight in the series.

    ‘Key trends’
    The Thunder are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 4-1 in those four.

    ‘Early lean’
    Thunder and over.


    NBA Handicapping: Best and Worst Betting Teams after a Loss
    by George Monroy

    The NBA season can turn into a grind, particularly in the dog days of December and January when all eyes are focused on the football world. However, finding teams that display a bit of grit in the face of adversity can be a great way to make a profit before the season picks up steam in February and March. Let’s take a closer look at the best and worst NBA ATS teams after a loss and figure out the smartest way to wager on each squad.

    San Antonio Spurs : 5-0 ATS after a SU loss

    Margin of victory: +20.8

    San Antonio is on pace for a 67-win season, yet the team can hardly get mentioned around the NBA world. Coach Gregg Popovich, however, has his squad clicking on all cylinders and dominating the NBA in the most under-the-radar fashion possible. San Antonio currently has a 5-0 ATS record after suffering a straight up loss and manages to win those games by a whopping 20 points per game. Popovich is notorious for his attention to detail and his obsession with playing perfect basketball, which allows San Antonio to come back hard after a loss. Expect this trend to continue.

    Dallas Mavericks : 9-3 ATS

    MOV: +3.2

    Dallas is barely staying above the .500 mark with a 15-12 SU record at the moment, but where the veteran team continues to excel is after a loss. Overall, the Mavericks are only 7-8 ATS in other situations, but they cover lines after a loss at a 75-percent rate, which is a spectacular number for bettors. Similar to San Antonio, Dallas is a well-coached veteran squad that can learn from a loss and execute the next time the group steps on the court. The Mavericks haven’t dominated games by any stretch, but they are good enough to win by an average of 3.2 points per game. This is another trend that could continue.

    Utah Jazz : 9-4 ATS

    MOV: -0.6

    Utah isn’t the typical team that a bettor would expect to excel in this situation-the squad is 11-14 SU-but for some reason they do. I am not going to pretend to understand all the reasons behind this trend–even though the team is loaded with young talent that may mature into something solid over the next few years-but the first thing that comes to mind is defense. The Jazz give up the second-fewest total points in the NBA and they play with a sense of urgency on the defensive end. Keep an eye on this trend, because Utah might just be a solid betting option.

    The Worst

    Oklahoma City : 2-7 ATS

    MOV: +5.9

    Oklahoma City being on the bottom side of this list is a bit shocking. The Thunder still employ one of the best one-two punches in the entire NBA, but they are barely on pace to win 50 games this season, which for that team is quite low. OKC has been a disappointing ATS team in just about every category, and the Western Conference contender has managed to cover only 44 percent of its game this season. In general, Kevin Durant and company win games SU after a loss but simply do not cover the spread (which has averaged 6.6 points in those situations). Stay away from OKC after a loss because this trend will probably continue.

    Minnesota Timberwolves : 4-11-1 ATS

    MOV: -3.3

    Minnesota has a roster loaded with talent, and it should probably be much better than its 11-16 SU record, but that is the reality for a young and inexperienced team. Andrew Wiggins might turn into an NBA star, and Ricky Rubio is always fun to watch, but the team just does not cover many spreads. The Timberwolves are still young, inexperienced and do not have a coach to counteract those deficiencies. Skip the Timberwolves after a loss because things may only get worse as the year wears on.


    Preview: Boston At Charlotte

    When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, North Carolina

    The Charlotte Hornets have enjoyed a solid season but find themselves in the midst of a slump when they host the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. Charlotte has lost four of its last five games but hopes to begin turning things around in the opener of a four-game homestand.

    The Hornets’ troubles continued with a 102-95 loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday as they shot 34.9 percent from the field. Center Cody Zeller had 10 points for his second straight outing in double digits and he will see a lot of older brother Tyler, who had 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in Boston’s 113-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. Tyler Zeller could receive increased minutes with starting center Jared Sullinger (back) and power forward Amir Johnson (foot) both battling injures that threaten to sidelined them for a second consecutive game. Boston snapped a three-game slide with the win, in which it made 12-of-25 3-point attempts and held a 50-36 rebounding advantage.

    TV: 7 p.m. ET, CSN New England (Boston), FSN Southeast (Charlotte)

    ABOUT THE CELTICS (15-13): Veteran power forward David Lee moved into the starting lineup with Johnson out and produced 13 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes against Minnesota. Lee had scored in single digits in each of the previous three games and coach Brad Stevens insists he’s a valuable commodity. “I think David’s been solid,” Stevens told reporters. “If you look at what David does well, if you look at what he’s done well the last few years, he’s been solid. I thought he was a good, solid player. And he’s done a lot of good things.”

    ABOUT THE HORNETS (15-12): The starting backcourt of Kemba Walker (14 points) and Nicolas Batum (nine points) were a combined 6-of-21 shooting in the loss against Houston. Walker has slumped through Charlotte’s five-game rough stretch by shooting 35.4 percent from the field and reaching 20 points just once, while Batum is averaging 9.7 points on 33.3 percent shooting over his past three contests. Backup guard Jeremy Lin has averaged 21 points during Batum’s three-game funk – most of it coming in a season-best 35-point outing against Toronto last Thursday.


    1. The Celtics have won the last three meetings, including a 98-93 victory on Dec. 12.

    2. Boston SF Jae Crowder is averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds over the past two contests.

    3. Charlotte C Al Jefferson will sit out the final contest of a five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy.

    PREDICTION: Hornets 103, Celtics 99


    Preview: New York At Cleveland

    When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

    The rich got a little bit richer over the weekend, when Kyrie Irving made his season debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving will once again play limited minutes in his return from a fractured kneecap when the Cavaliers host the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

    Irving got the start on Sunday against Philadelphia and delivered 12 points and four assists in 17 minutes. “Obviously, the first game back we weren’t trying to push it too hard and I just wanted to go out there and see how it felt,” Irving told reporters. “Staying on the bike until my number was called and then just being ready to play. That is where I am right now and hopefully every game I continue to progress and feel better.” The Knicks had a four-game winning streak come to an end with a 107-99 home loss to the Orlando Magic on Monday as rookie Kristaps Porzingis struggled from the field. The 7-3 Latvian went 3-of-12, including 1-of-6 from 3-point range, in the loss and is shooting 28 percent from the field over the last five contests.

    TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG (New York), FSN Ohio (Cleveland)

    ABOUT THE KNICKS (14-15): Porzingis’ shooting struggles are opening up more minutes for Lance Thomas, who is on the opposite end of the shooting spectrum at the moment. Thomas went 9-of-9 off the bench, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, in Monday’s game and is shooting 75.8 percent from the field in the last five contests. The 27-year-old Duke product is 8-of-9 from 3-point range and 18-of-19 from the free-throw line in those five contests while averaging 15.2 points.

    ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (18-7): Cleveland has been waiting for a fully healthy backcourt and got two-thirds of the injured crew back with Irving and Iman Shumpert on the floor on Saturday. “We are almost there,” LeBron James told reporters. “It was great because before the game we were in the hallway and I saw so many familiar faces. Having (Irving) back after the six-month layoff was great because I know he was excited. (Shumpert) being back and having almost a full group back once Mo (Williams) returns just feels good.” James has not seemed to need much help lately and is averaging 27.6 points on 54.4 percent shooting during the five-game winning streak.


    1. The Cavaliers took a pair of early November meetings while holding the Knicks to an average of 85 points.

    2. Knicks F Carmelo Anthony sprained his right ankle on Monday and is day-to-day.

    3. Williams (finger) sat out the last two games but is probable to return on Wednesday.

    PREDICTION: Cavaliers 101, Knicks 90


    Preview: Sacramento At Indiana

    When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

    The Indiana Pacers’ struggles of late have mostly come on the road, and the team should be happy to return home after a rough two-game trip. The Pacers attempt to avoid a third straight setback when they host the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

    Indiana is 5-6 in December but only one of those losses came at home, and that was to the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 8. The Pacers averaged 105.7 points in sweeping through a three-game homestand from Dec. 14-18, but had the offense go into a funk and put up an average of 88 points in losses at Memphis and San Antonio in the last two contests. The Kings are trying to earn a .500 road trip after dropping to 1-2 on the four-game trip with a 113-99 loss at Washington on Monday. Sacramento went into the fourth quarter tied with the Wizards but ran out of gas on the second night of a back-to-back.

    TV: 7 p.m. ET, CSN California (Sacramento), FSN Indiana

    ABOUT THE KINGS (11-17): Sacramento point guard Rajon Rondo rarely gets overshadowed by the opposing point guard when it comes to assists, but the league leader in that category could not keep pace with Washington’s John Wall on Monday. While Wall handed out a career-high 19 assists, Rondo managed just nine while scoring two points on 1-of-7 shooting in the loss. Rondo posted a points-assists double-double in each of the first two games of the road trip and is tied for the league lead with Golden State’s Draymond Green at four triple-doubles.

    ABOUT THE PACERS (16-11): Indiana shot 39 percent from the field in a 96-84 loss at Memphis on Saturday and watched star Paul George get shut down in a 106-92 setback at San Antonio on Monday. The Pacers thrived in November when C.J. Miles and Paul George were both going strong from 3-point range but both have cooled off of late. George slumped to 1-of-5 from beyond the arc (and 1-of-14 from the field overall) in Monday’s loss while Miles went 1-of-10 from 3-point range at Memphis and San Antonio.


    1. Kings C DeMarcus Cousins is shooting 37.9 percent from the field in nine games this month.

    2. Indiana C Jordan Hill recorded a double-double in three of the last five games.

    3. Sacramento took the two meetings last season by a total of six points.

    PREDICTION: Pacers 112, Kings 103


    Preview: Houston At Orlando

    When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Amway Center, Orlando, Florida

    The Houston Rockets moved above .500 with a win on Monday and appear to be turning things around on both ends of the floor. The Rockets will look to post their fourth consecutive win when they visit the red-hot Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

    Houston is coming together amidst reports of dysfunction, specifically centered around center Dwight Howard. The former All-Star is averaging 15.7 points and 12.7 rebounds during the three-game winning streak and will get a battle from the player that replaced him in Orlando, Magic center Nikola Vucevic, on Wednesday. Vucevic posted 26 points on 13-of-19 shooting in his third straight 20-plus scoring game during a 107-99 victory at the New York Knicks on Monday. The Magic are averaging 105.4 points while winning four of the last five games and held the opposition under 100 points in each of those four victories.

    TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBATV, ROOT (Houston), FSN Florida (Orlando)

    ABOUT THE ROCKETS (15-14): James Harden’s level of play has steadily risen after a slow start, and the superstar put it all together with 36 points, seven assists and five rebounds on Monday. Harden is at his best when he attacks the paint, and he went 16-of-19 from the free-throw line in the win for his fourth straight game with 10 or more attempts. Houston finished November with eight losses in its last 11 games but turned that around completely with eight wins in the first 11 games this month.

    ABOUT THE MAGIC (16-12): Vucevic serves as a rock in the middle of Orlando’s drive-and-kick offense and shot 50 percent or better from the field in each of the last eight games. “(Vucevic) was unstoppable down there,” Magic guard Evan Fournier told reporters. “I mean, he’s so gifted for a guy his size. Left hand, right hand … Vooch put on a show (against the Knicks).” Vucevic was limited to six points in 17 minutes before leaving with a knee injury that forced him to miss the next three games in a 119-114 overtime loss at Houston on Nov. 5.


    1. Rockets G Ty Lawson is expected to return Wednesday after serving a two-game suspension.

    2. Magic G Elfrid Payton left Monday’s game with an ankle injury and is questionable for Wednesday.

    3. Houston has taken six of the last seven in the series, with the lone loss in that span coming at Orlando 120-113 last season.

    PREDICTION: Magic 101, Rockets 95


    Preview: Memphis At Washington

    When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia

    The Washington Wizards are showing plenty of heart while facing their most adversity of the season and look to complete a perfect three-game homestand when the Memphis Grizzlies visit on Wednesday. The injury-plagued Wizards averaged 111 points in knocking off Charlotte and Sacramento the past two games with a short bench.

    “As I told them Saturday and before and after the game (Monday), who knows, we may be down to seven or eight guys on Wednesday,” Washington coach Randy Wittman told reporters. “But whoever those guys are, they’re good enough if we come out and lay it on the line.” Otto Porter Jr. (thigh) missed the last two games and Gary Neal (back) missed Monday’s contest for the Wizards to add their names to an injury list that includes guard Bradley Beal (leg) and forward Nene (calf) among others. Memphis goes for its third straight victory after forcing 28 turnovers in a 104-90 victory at Philadelphia on Tuesday. Center Marc Gasol had 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Grizzlies beat Washington 112-95 on Dec. 14.

    TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Southeast (Memphis), CSN Mid-Atlantic (Washington)

    ABOUT THE GRIZZLIES (16-14): Memphis got even healthier as guard Tony Allen (knee) returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the previous five contests. The Grizzlies have played better defense of late while holding their last five opponents to an average of 92.8 points and nine different players had at least one steal against Philadelphia. Gasol (16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds) leads the offense inside and point guard Mike Conley (six assists per game) is averaging almost 20 points the last three contests while forward Matt Barnes has recorded two consecutive double-doubles.

    ABOUT THE WIZARDS (12-14): Wittman had nine healthy bodies for the 113-99 win over Sacramento on Monday and only seven of them played more than one minute. Point guard John Wall (19.6 points, 9.4 assists), who is second to Beal (19.8, out last six games) on the team in scoring, also left the game late with a rib injury Monday and vowed he would be ready for Memphis. Center Marcin Gortat is averaging 21.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and three blocks over a strong three-game run while guard Garrett Temple scored 44 combined the last two contests.


    1. Washington waived C Ryan Hollins on Tuesday and signed 6-7 F Jarell Eddie to help on the perimeter.

    2. Memphis, which has won six of the last nine meetings with the Wizards, leads the NBA in free-throw shooting accuracy at almost 82 percent.

    3. Washington G Jared Dudley made 12-of-18 shots (6-of-10 from 3-point range) while averaging 16 points and 3.5 assists the last two games.

    PREDICTION: Wizards 103, Grizzlies 96


    Preview: Dallas At Brooklyn

    When: 7:30 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

    It appears Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be sitting out in his return to Brooklyn when the Mavericks visit the Nets on Wednesday. Williams strained his left hamstring during a 103-99 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and is unlikely to play against his former club.

    Williams was disappointed with the timing of the injury as he wanted to play in front of the fans that routinely booed him during his four-plus season stint with the Nets. “The last thing I want to do is miss the game,” Williams told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “It’s definitely frustrating.” Williams and Brooklyn parted ways in the offseason after injuries combined with poor play made him the scapegoat for the franchise’s underachievement. The Nets aren’t doing so hot this season either but ended a five-game losing streak with a 105-102 road win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday.

    TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Southwest (Dallas), YES (Brooklyn)

    ABOUT THE MAVERICKS (15-13): Backup point guard Devin Harris (hamstring) has missed the past two games so the timing of Williams’ injury is less than ideal. Veteran guard J.J. Barea had a season-high 21-point effort against the Washington Wizards on Dec. 12 but that outing marks the lone time he has scored more than eight points over the past six contests. Barea hasn’t played as many as 30 minutes all season so coach Rick Carlisle may have to get creative with his matchups if both Williams and Harris are unavailable.

    ABOUT THE NETS (8-20): The play of center Brook Lopez has been a consistent highlight during the poor season and he had 21 points and 12 rebounds in the win over the Bulls for his second straight double-double. Lopez is averaging 21 points on 58.3 percent shooting over the past four games and is averaging 19.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and two blocked shots overall. Power forward Thaddeus Young is also thriving and he has seven double-doubles in the past 10 games after recording 16 points and 13 rebounds against Chicago.


    1. The road team has won seven of the past eight matchups.

    2. Slumping Brooklyn SF Joe Johnson is averaging eight points on 15-of-53 shooting over the last five contests.

    3. Dallas PF Dirk Nowitzki had 20 points in Tuesday’s 103-99 road loss at Toronto – his second straight 20-point outing.

    PREDICTION: Mavericks 109, Nets 104


    Preview: Detroit At Atlanta

    When: 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia

    The Atlanta Hawks knew their path back to the Eastern Conference finals would not be easy, but after struggling at times throughout November the defending Central Division champions are rolling again. The Hawks bring a four-game winning streak into Wednesday’s home game with the Detroit Pistons, after winning just seven of their previous 18 games.

    “It’s been a while since we have been streaking,” Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore told reporters after Monday’s 106-97 victory over Portland. “We had a little rough patch there.” Detroit comes in on a three-game winning streak, rallying from 18 points down to edge Miami 93-92 on Tuesday in its fourth consecutive game decided by three points or fewer – including Saturday’s epic 147-144 four-overtime victory over Chicago. Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Reggie Jackson scored a team-high 18 points Tuesday and is averaging 22.5 points in December. The Pistons have won nine of their past 12 after an 8-9 start.

    TV: 8 p.m. ET, FSN Detroit, FSN Southeast (Atlanta)

    ABOUT THE PISTONS (17-12): The Pistons lead the league in offensive rebounding (13.6 per game) and are third in total rebounding – sparked by center Andre Drummond’s league-leading 16.4 per contest – and are 15-3 when outrebounding the opposition. Jackson is conference Player of the Week for the second time in a three-week span and leads Detroit in scoring at 20.4 points per game, while guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 14.2 points in his third season (16.3 points in December) and hit the go-ahead jumper Tuesday. Detroit hit a season-high 15 3-pointers Tuesday and are 34-of-79 from beyond the arc in the past three games.

    ABOUT THE HAWKS (18-12): Atlanta has been solid offensively during its winning streak, shooting 51.4 percent from the field and averaging 111.3 points per contest. Forward Paul Millsap leads the way with 17.8 points and nine rebounds per game – and is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists (3.4), one steal (1.8) and one block (1.2). Backup point guard Dennis Schroder is averaging 15 points and 4.5 assists per game during Atlanta’s winning streak, shooting 55 percent from the field, while forward Mike Scott has scored 28 points off the bench in the past two contests.


    1. Detroit opened the season by beating the Hawks 106-94 in Atlanta on Oct. 27, getting double-doubles from Drummond (18 points, 19 rebounds) and F Marcus Morris (18, 10).

    2. Atlanta leads the NBA with 20.1 points per game off opponents turnovers and are third in the league in average assists per contest (25).

    3. Pistons G Brandon Jennings, out since Jan. 24 with a ruptured Achilles tendon, is expected to make his return next week.

    PREDICTION: Atlanta 105, Detroit 101


    Preview: Philadelphia At Milwaukee

    When: 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    The Milwaukee Bucks must begin their climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race without head coach Jason Kidd at the helm. The Bucks announced Kidd will undergo hip surgery and miss the next four to six weeks as they prepared to host the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.

    “Our system is our system,” Milwaukee assistant Joe Prunty, who takes over for Kidd in the interim, told reporters. “There’s not an intent to make any changes at all.” The Bucks would like to match their last effort when they beat Phoenix 101-95 on Sunday to salvage the finale of a four-game road trip, and go after their eighth straight victory over the 76ers. Philadelphia has lost 11 consecutive games since its lone triumph after turning the ball over 28 times in a 104-90 loss to Memphis on Tuesday. Rookie Jahlil Okafor has scored at least 18 points in seven of the last eight games for the 76ers, who are winless on the road (0-17).

    TV: 8 p.m. ET, CSN Philadelphia, FSN Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

    ABOUT THE 76ERS (1-29): Okafor continues his progress, averaging 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 49.6 percent from the field over the last eight contests. Point guard Kendall Marshall (4.8 points, 4.4 assists), who is not playing back-to-back nights while he slowly recovers from offseason knee surgery, should return to the lineup after sitting out on Tuesday. Forward Robert Covington has struggled of late (6-of-23 shooting the last three games) and guard Isaiah Canaan is averaging 14.8 points the last four contests.

    ABOUT THE BUCKS (11-18): Guards Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams may be finding their best form and that could help carry the Bucks back into contention. Middleton averaged 18.3 points on the four-game road trip and Carter-Williams scored 19.4 and handed out 5.4 assists per contest in the past five. Greg Monroe leads the team in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (9.7) and second-leading point producer Giannis Antetokounmpo (15.6) is questionable after missing the Phoenix game with a knee injury.


    1. The Bucks have won four of their last five at home and stand 8-5 overall in Milwaukee while losing 13 of 16 on the road.

    2. Philadelphia F Jerami Grant has blocked at least two shots in 17 games this season and averages a team-best 1.73 per outing.

    3. Milwaukee has had seven double-figure scorers in a game four times this season – more than any other team in the league.

    PREDICTION: Bucks 101, 76ers 88


    Preview: San Antonio At Minnesota

    When: 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    The red-hot San Antonio Spurs are racking up the victories and look for their seventh in a row when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. San Antonio posted a 106-92 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday to raise its record to 24-5, second best in franchise history behind the 25-4 opening stretch in 2010-11.

    The Spurs have routinely dominated the opposition and the win over Indiana was their 21st by double digits. Small forward Kawhi Leonard has starred on both ends of the court and had 24 points against the Pacers while holding Indiana star Paul George to seven points on 1-of-14 shooting. “I’m not surprised at the way Kawhi is playing,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili told reporters. “Each game is more of confirmation of what he brings to the team.” Minnesota has dropped nine of its last 12 games, including Monday’s 113-99 road loss against the Boston Celtics.

    TV: 8 p.m. ET, FSN Southwest (San Antonio), FSN North (Minnesota)

    ABOUT THE SPURS (24-5): Point guard Tony Parker had 15 points against the Pacers and is averaging 16 points on 55.1 percent shooting over the past four games. Parker isn’t looking to score as much he did earlier in his career and felt San Antonio wasn’t clicking on all cylinders in the first half against Indiana. “Felt like the first half was a little bit low energy,” Parker told reporters. “A little bit of a hangover from the last game, but in the second half we played a lot better. Offensively, the ball movement was great and defensively we created a lot of stuff after that.”

    ABOUT THE TIMBERWOLVES (11-17): The young trio of shooting guard Andrew Wiggins (26), center Karl-Anthony Towns (25) and backup guard Zach LaVine (17) combined for 68 points against Boston but Minnesota still suffered its fifth double-digit loss of the campaign. Towns also collected a season-high 16 rebounds and has at least 24 points and 10 boards in three of the past four games. Shooting guard Kevin Martin had just three points on 1-of-6 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench as speculation swirls that the club would like to deal him to open up more playing time for LaVine.


    1. The Spurs swept last season’s four meetings by an average of 23 points.

    2. Minnesota is a porous 4-10 at home.

    3. San Antonio SG Danny Green had three points on 1-of-7 shooting against Indiana while scoring in single digits for the 12th time in 15 games.

    PREDICTION: Spurs 104, Timberwolves 91


    Preview: Portland At New Orleans

    When: 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana

    Portland standout guard Damian Lillard missed the first game of his career earlier this week and hopes not to make it two straight absences when the Trail Blazers visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. Lillard’s streak of playing in 275 consecutive regular-season contests ended Monday due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

    Lillard took a lot of pride in his streak but felt he needed to make sure the foot injury doesn’t turn into a persistent malady. “It’s more about not trying to be extra tough, worried about the streak or anything like that,” Lillard told reporters. “It’s something I can take care of now and try to just handle it now as opposed to it lingering on for the rest of the season.” Shooting guard C.J. McCollum (both ankles) also sat out with Lillard as Portland lost 106-97 to the Atlanta Hawks for its fourth consecutive defeat. New Orleans posted a season best for points in Sunday’s 130-125 win over the Denver Nuggets but has dropped seven straight games against the Trail Blazers.

    TV: 8 p.m. ET, KGW (Portland), FSN New Orleans

    ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (11-19): With Portland’s backcourt is disarray, reserve guard Tim Frazier made his fourth career start and played all but 25 seconds of Monday’s game. Frazier had 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and coach Terry Stotts said afterward he regretted not playing the 25-year-old for all 48 minutes. “I was actually kind of disappointed I took him out that one possession,” Stotts told reporters. “I would have liked to have had him (go) 48. But he had three fouls.”

    ABOUT THE PELICANS (8-19): Power forward Anthony Davis is expected back at full strength after struggling with an illness while scoring 27 points in just 20 minutes against Denver. Davis departed after the first quarter to receive two IVs and then returned in the fourth quarter and gave quite a stirring performance. “Anthony was great and I didn’t think he would even play because he is really sick,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said afterward. “The boost that he gave us in the first quarter was really great and then he came on strong in the fourth with four blocks for us as well.”


    1. McCollum is averaging 26.5 points – including a career-high 37 points – in two victories over the Pelicans this season.

    2. New Orleans G Tyreke Evans had 21 points and matched a season best of 10 assists against the Nuggets and has scored in double digits in nine of his 10 games this season.

    3. Portland PF Meyers Leonard is 14-of-45 shooting over the past seven games.

    PREDICTION: Pelicans 114, Trail Blazers 101


    Preview: Denver At Phoenix

    When: 9:00 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona

    The Phoenix Suns look to defeat Denver for the third time this season and the ninth time in the last 10 meetings when they host the Nuggets on Wednesday. Phoenix sped out to a 32-point halftime while posting a 24-point home win Nov. 14 and also won in Denver six days later.

    The Suns are hoping the sight of the Nuggets will shake them out of the doldrums that has seen them lose four of their last five games. “It’s one of those things when you’re losing, everyone gets down,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters. “Somehow you just have to battle your way through it.” Denver has lost three consecutive games, including a demoralizing 111-107 home loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. “Defensively, we weren’t there at all,” Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson said afterward in reference to his team allowing 60 second-half points. “They got pretty much whatever they wanted.”

    TV: 9 p.m. ET, Altitude (Denver), FSN Arizona (Phoenix)

    ABOUT THE NUGGETS (11-17): Small forward Danilo Gallinari (ankle) missed the loss to the Lakers and Denver hopes to have its leading scorer (17.3) back for the opener of the three-game road trip. Backup small forward Will Barton was the beneficiary of Gallinari’s absence with 25 points and eight rebounds in 38 minutes and he is averaging 28.5 points and nine rebounds in the past two games. The shorthanded Nuggets continue to be without starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle), who is expected to miss his sixth straight game.

    ABOUT THE SUNS (12-18): Phoenix was aiming to close in on the .500 mark but instead has spiraled in the wrong direction and has lost games by 25 points to Golden State and 21 to Utah during the recent rough patch. Hornacek had decided to shake things up prior to the loss to the Jazz by inserting second-year small forward T.J. Warren and rookie shooting guard Devin Booker into the starting lineup and moving point guard Brandon Knight and small forward P.J. Tucker to the bench. “When you’re doing the same thing game-in and game-out and you’re not winning, we all felt it was time for a little bit of a change,” Hornacek said. “We thought with Devin and T.J. that with their young enthusiasm and emotion it might get us off to a decent start. We thought with Brandon and P.J. coming off the second group it would balance both of our teams — our bench team and our starters.”


    1. The Suns have won 17 of their past 20 home games against the Nuggets.

    2. Knight scored a career-best 38 points against the Nuggets in the win Nov. 20.

    3. Denver C Nikola Jokic had 15 points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers for his third double-double of the campaign.

    PREDICTION: Suns 118, Nuggets 113


    Preview: Utah At Golden State

    When: 10:30 PM ET, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, California

    The Golden State Warriors have been seriously challenged by only a handful of opponents this season, and the Utah Jazz are among that select group. The Jazz will try to become the first team to win a regular season game at Golden State since Jan. 27 when they visit the Warriors on Wednesday.

    It took 10 points in the final six-plus minutes of the fourth quarter from Stephen Curry to spark Golden State to a 106-103 victory at Utah on Nov. 30 and marked one of the lowest scoring games for the team this season. The Warriors will need to work not to overlook the Jazz again this time with a Christmas Day NBA Finals rematch coming up on Friday against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers. Utah is pulling out of a funk with a return to strong defense and picked up back-to-back wins to snap a four-game slide. “We went on a four-game losing streak, and that was difficult to go through,” Jazz forward Trevor Booker told the Salt Lake Tribune after a 110-89 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday. “We didn’t get down on ourselves. We stayed focused and we stayed working hard. But it was still difficult to go through it. So we’re fortunate we could have a win like this.”

    TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, ROOT (Utah), CSN Bay Area (Golden State)

    ABOUT THE JAZZ (12-14): Utah did not allow a Phoenix starter to score in double figures and held the Suns to 39.2 percent from the field on Monday. “I thought we had a lot of focus defensively tonight,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters. “That’s where it was for the most part. When we’re precise and committed like that, usually good things can happen.” Utah held each of its last two opponents under 40 percent from the field despite still operating without defensive anchor Rudy Gobert (knee), who is not expected back until mid-January.

    ABOUT THE WARRIORS (26-1): Golden State has won 30 straight home games, including a 12-0 start to this season that matches the franchise record set in 1975-76. The Warriors needed to overcome a 15-point deficit to reach victory No. 30 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and got six straight points, a steal and an assist from Curry down the stretch to cap the comeback. “They were making him work, but he just turned it on,” interim coach Luke Walton told reporters. “He took over and showed why he’s the reigning MVP and just made incredible plays.”


    1. The Warriors have taken eight of the last nine in the series.

    2. Utah G/F Gordon Hayward scored 20 or more points in eight of the last 11 games.

    3. Golden State C Andrew Bogut (back spasms) left the last game and is questionable for Wednesday.

    PREDICTION: Warriors 110, Jazz 95

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