NBA Odds and Predictions: Friday, December 26 Opening Line Report and Handicapping
by Alan Matthews - 12/25/2014
The Houston Rockets should send Detroit Pistons boss Stan Van Gundy a Christmas card. Van Gundy shockingly cut Josh Smith earlier this week. Yes, Smith is a maddening, overpaid player but he's still talented if harnessed. No team claimed him on waivers, which is no shock as that club would be on the hook for the $40 million or so left on his contract. Smith thus became a free agent and chose to sign with Houston and play alongside good buddy Dwight Howard. That's a huge free addition for Houston. The Western Conference gets more and more ridiculous every week it seems. Smith should make his Rockets debut Friday. Here's a look at every game on the schedule.
Nets at Celtics (TBA)
The only matinee on the schedule with a 1 p.m. start. Brooklyn brings a two-game winning streak into Boston, winning both without starting point guard Deron Williams. He's questionable for this one with a calf injury. The Nets won't rush him back and risk serious injury because they want to trade him. Jarrett Jack would start again for the Nets, who are 11-2 against teams with a losing record. Boston has lost two straight, both on the road. The C's were held to just 30 first-half point in Tuesday's loss in Orlando. Boston opened its season with a 121-105 home win over the Nets behind 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds from Rajon Rondo, who of course is in Dallas now.
Key trends: The home team has covered four of the past five meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in nine of Brooklyn's past 10 on the road.
Early lean: Williams or not, Nets should win outright.
Cavaliers at Magic (+6, 198)
This would seem to be a huge trap game for LeBron James in particular after his likely emotional return to Miami on Christmas. Orlando ended a four-game losing streak with Tuesday's 100-95 home win over the Celtics. The Magic led by as many as 27 in that one and never trailed. Nikola Vucevic had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Orlando was slaughtered in Cleveland on Nov. 24, 106-74, easily the Magic's worst loss of the year. The Cavs were on a season-high four-game skid entering that one. The Cavaliers have won eight consecutive games against Orlando.
Key trends: Orlando is 10-3 ATS in its past 13 vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-0 in the past four meetings in Orlando.
Early lean: I was hoping this line was a bit higher, and I was going to take Orlando. At 6 I have to lean Cleveland. If it climbs to 8, I'd go Magic.
Bucks at Hawks (-9, 206)
I really can't take Atlanta as a serious Eastern Conference contender even though the Hawks have won five straight -- all against very good teams -- and 14 of 15. During the current winning streak, the Hawks have vanquished the Bulls, Cavaliers, Rockets, Mavericks and Clippers, all title contenders. That's impressive. Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague returned from a three-game injury absence in Tuesday's win over L.A. Milwaukee has lost two straight and has allowed at least 104 points in four straight games. The Bucks host the Hawks on Saturday night.
Key trends: The road team has covered five straight in this series. The under is 6-1 in Atlanta's past seven at home vs. teams with a losing road record.
Early lean: Hawks and over.
Pacers at Pistons (+3, 187.5)
Detroit will play its first game since Smith was waived. Fittingly, he missed two key late free throws the last time he had the ball in a Pistons uniform. Clearly Van Gundy had to do something as many thought this team would battle for a playoff spot but is 5-23 and on a four-game losing streak. The Pistons have allowed at least 110 points in each of those losses. Indiana has won back-to-back games for only the third time this season. In Tuesday's 96-84 win over New Orleans, starting point guard George Hill made his season debut and had 15 points in 21 minutes.
Key trends: The Pacers have covered four straight in Detroit. The over is 4-0 in the past four meetings.
Early lean: Smith's release gets the Pistons' attention. They win here and start playing better.
Rockets at Grizzlies (TBA)
I'm presuming Smith will be in the lineup here. He can only help a team that has played the last 23 games without starting power forward Terrence Jones. The Rockets promised Smith he would start so Jones will come off the bench whenever he returns. Smith is averaging 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in 28 games. Houston ended a two-game losing streak with Monday's 110-95 win over Portland. James Harden had a season-high 44 points. He has to be in the MVP conversation. It was Harden's NBA-leading third 40-point game this season, with all of them coming this month. Memphis is on a season-high three-game skid and was shocked at home by Utah on Monday, 97-91. It was the first time this season Memphis lost to a team that entered the game with a sub-.500 record. The Grizzlies are hoping to get back starters Tony Allen and Zach Randolph from injury for this game but both are questionable.
Key trends: Houston has covered just one of its past eight in Memphis. The under is 5-2 in the past seven meetings overall.
Early lean: Wait on Randolph and Allen. Rockets win if they are out.
Spurs at Pelicans (TBA)
Second of a back-to-back for San Antonio as it hosted Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon. There was some talk that Kawhi Leonard would return from a hand injury for that one, but that didn't happen so I highly doubt it does here. Again, be wary of Gregg Popovich here. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are on sit alert. In their first meeting of the season, New Orleans erased a five-game losing streak against the Spurs and a seven-game losing streak in San Antonio with a 100-99 win. Anthony Davis hit the go-ahead shot, a driving layup with 6.6 seconds left.
Key trends: The Spurs have covered just one of their past seven in New Orleans. The over is 10-1 in the Pelicans' past 11 on Friday.
Early lean: Pelicans win outright.
Hornets at Thunder (TBA)
Second of a back-to-back for OKC as it was in San Antonio on Thursday. Kevin Durant missed his fourth straight game with a sprained ankle, and thus he's doubtful to play here. For sure out again for Charlotte is Lance Stephenson because of a hip injury. The Hornets are playing way better without Stephenson and are on a season-high four-game winning streak. None were against good teams, but it's a start. Oklahoma City won both meetings last season; the Thunder have won six in a row at home in the series.
Key trends: Charlotte has covered four straight on the road. The under is 6-1 in OKC's past seven vs. the East. The home team has covered five of the past six meetings.
Early lean: Wait on Durant.
Lakers at Mavericks (TBA)
Los Angeles played in Chicago on Thursday night. Kobe Bryant played in that one, but could he sit in the second of a back-to-back? The team already has said his minutes will be cut the rest of the way. The Lakers want to get Kobe down to 32 a night. He's around 35.4 now and shooting a career-low 37.2 percent. Coach Byron Scott said he will run fewer plays for Kobe as well. Like that will matter. The Mavericks also were hoping to land Smith but now may have to settle for Jermaine O'Neal. Dallas has lost two straight to drop to 1-2 since acquiring Rajon Rondo. Dallas scorched the visiting Lakers 140-106 on Nov. 21. It's a season high in points for the Mavericks, who have won four straight vs. L.A.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 5-2 in the past seven.
Early lean: Mavericks in a rout and over whatever the number.
Timberwolves at Nuggets (-10, 211)
Here are two teams decimated by injuries. The Nuggets have lost two straight, but those were both on the road. The club is hoping to get back Darrell Arthur from injury in this one but won't have Randy Foye or JaVale McGee again. Minnesota, which is without three injured starters, has lost six straight, allowing at least 100 points in all of them as one of the NBA's worst defensive teams. This is the first meeting of the season between these teams.
Key trends: Denver has covered four of the past five meetings. The over is 7-1 in Minnesota's past eight vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Like over more than the side.
76ers at Trail Blazers (-15, 197)
Portland begins a seven-game homestand off a thrilling 115-111 overtime win in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Damian Lillard had a season-high 40 points and hit the tying 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation. Then he had seven points in the OT. LaMarcus Aldridge played through an upper respiratory illness to score 25 points and grab nine rebounds. The Sixers, meanwhile, have won back-to-back games for the first time all season, and both were in Florida. They rallied from 23 down to stun Miami on Tuesday. All four of Philadelphia's wins this season have come when Michael Carter-Williams scores at least 20 points (4-2 record). The 76ers are 0-21 in games this season when Carter-Williams either doesn't play or fails to score 20.
Key trends: Philly has covered six straight against the West. The under is 6-2 in Portland's past eight after scoring at least 100 points in its previous game.
Early lean: I'll always take the points when above two touchdowns.
Suns at Kings (pick'em, 215)
Phoenix has won four straight, the last two impressively at Washington and home against Dallas on Tuesday. Eric Bledsoe had 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Mavericks for his first triple-double of the season and second career. The Kings, who were also in on Smith, lost 128-108 in Golden State on Monday. Sacramento has lost 11 of 14 games, a skid that began when DeMarcus Cousins came down with viral meningitis and missed 10 games. The Kings won 114-112 in double overtime at Phoenix on Nov. 7. Cousins fouled out late in regulation.
Key trends: The over has hit in six of the past eight meetings. The Suns are 5-1 ATS in the past six in Sacramento.
Early lean: Kings and over.
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