For once, NBA fans and bettors aren’t force fed LeBron James and the Cavs on one of the TNT games on a Thursday night, but we do get the two other best players in the league facing off in Kobe Bryant vs. Dwyane Wade. As for the nightcap … unfortunately, the Suns’ improbable 18-game losing streak on TNT was ended back in late January, but they and the Jazz continue to jockey for playoff position and very well could meet in the first round.
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Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat, 8 p.m.
The line: Lakers -5 (189)
How they enter: This is the start of a three-game road trip for L.A. -- all against playoff contenders -- and the front end of a back-to-back. The Lakers enter on a three-game winning streak (1-1-1 ATS), all coming at Staples Center. Miami ended a four-game slide by beating the visiting Warriors on Tuesday night. But even that went down to the final seconds, and the Warriors are the second-worst road team in the NBA and had only eight available players.
Scouting report: These two played one of the best games of the season back on Dec. 4 when Kobe Bryant hit a bank shot three-pointer at the buzzer over Dwyane Wade to give L.A. a 108-107 victory (Lakers were 12.5-point home favorites). The Lakers had trailed by four with five seconds remaining. Even Kobe called it the “luckiest shot I’ve ever taken by far.” He had 33 points, while Wade had 26. Miami has lost five of six in this series and four of the past five at home. Kobe is struggling right now, shooting just 24-of-70 in the past four games. Heat center Jermaine O'Neal missed practice Wednesday with nagging injuries but should start tonight. L.A. is just 9-8 in its past 17 road games.
Key trends: The Lakers are just 1-5-1 ATS in their past seven games.
The Heat are 4-1 ATS in their past five as a dog.
The ‘under’ is 7-1 in L.A.’s past eight as a favorite and in Miami’s past eight home games.
The pick: Love the ‘under,’ as it’s 5-0 in the past five in Miami. With Kobe struggling and Ron Artest excelling on the defensive end of late (he just shut down the Pacers’ Danny Granger), it should be fairly low scoring. I also think the Heat play well because it will be a rare sellout, so they cover.
Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns, 10:30 p.m.
The line: Suns -1.5 (213)
How they enter: Utah came out of the All-Star Break with four road wins in a row to increase its roll to 13 wins in 14 games, but the Jazz are just 2-3 since then (and ATS), including losses at the bottom-feeding Kings and Clippers. The Suns have won seven of eight – the lone loss in San Antonio on Sunday – including Wednesday night’s 127-101 win at the Clippers behind Amare Stoudemire’s 30 points and 14 rebounds.
Scouting report: Utah star point guard Deron Williams still appears to be feeling the effects of an injured right wrist. He went a combined 9-for-31 in the losses to the Clips and Kings and is hitting just 42.2 percent from the field since the break. This is the start of a long homestand for Phoenix, which has won five in a row at home (5-0 ATS). These two played on Jan. 25 in Salt Lake City with Utah rallying to a 124-115 victory. That happened despite Phoenix hitting 17-of-30 from the three-point line, but the Suns were destroyed on the boards (Utah’s Carlos Boozer had 20 rebounds).
Key trends: The Suns are a tremendous 14-2 ATS in their past 16 games.
Utah is 7-1 ATS in its past eight in Phoenix.
The ‘over’ is 5-0 ATS in Utah’s past five and 5-1 in Phoenix’s past six against teams with a winning record. The ‘over’ is 5-1 ATS in the past six in this series.
The pick: The ‘over’ seems like a good bet considering the Jazz have allowed 103, 110 and 108 points in their last three games and the Suns average an NBA-best 109 points per game. Also hard to pick against Phoenix at home with such a low spread despite the fact they are on the second of a back-to-back. Plus, Utah is only .500 on the road.