Here's a statistic for Oklahoma City going into its game on Friday night: the team doesn't control its playoff destiny for the first time this late in the year since moving from Seattle. When it secured the eighth seed during the 2009-10 season, OKC clinched the postseason berth on April 3. OKC hasn't finished lower than fourth since. Of the Thunder's entire 15-man roster, only center Enes Kanter has still been in a playoff race this late into a season (with Utah in 2011-12). Obviously the Thunder want to make the playoffs, but are they really going to beat Golden State in the first round? No chance. So perhaps getting into the draft lottery and having a shot to win it is better for the franchise. The Pelicans, meanwhile, are desperate to get back to the playoffs and have to give their 2015 first-round pick to Houston (protected if 1-3 or 20-30). Here's a look at Friday's schedule.
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Raptors at Magic (+6, 204.5)
Toronto still has something to play for: potentially the No. 3 seed in the East. It can't finish lower than fourth as a division champion. The Raptors ended a two-game losing streak with Wednesday's 92-74 win in Charlotte. Amir Johnson (right ankle sprain) and Kyle Lowry (back spasms) sat out. Johnson was close to playing. I would think the team would get Lowry back soon to get him ready for the playoffs. Orlando upset the Bulls 105-103 on Wednesday for its third straight win, rallying from a 15-point deficit. Victor Oladipo had 23 points and the game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds left. Toronto leads the season series 3-0 and has won 10 straight overall against Orlando.
Key trends: Toronto is 6-1-1 against the spread in the past eight meetings. The "over/under" has gone over in eight of Orlando's past 10 at home.
Early lean: Like the way the Magic are playing. They end the losing streak vs. Toronto.
Hornets at Hawks (-10.5, 194.5)
Atlanta won a third straight Wednesday, 114-111 in Brooklyn. The Hawks' Pero Antic and Thabo Sefolosha were arrested early Wednesday morning at a New York club and didn't play. Not clear if they will here. All-Star Paul Millsap missed a third straight game and is questionable. Charlotte's season is essentially over as the Hornets likely will be eliminated in this game. The Hornets lost a second straight Wednesday, 92-74 at home to Toronto in a game that wasn't that close. Al Jefferson (sore right new), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (left ankle sprain), Cody Zeller (sore right shoulder) and Lance Stephenson (right toe sprain) all sat out. You may not see any of them the rest of the way. Charlotte holds a surprising 2-1 series lead. The Hornets defeated the Hawks 122-119 in double overtime on Nov. 7 at Time Warner Cable Arena and 105-100 on Mar. 28 in Charlotte. The Hawks beat the Hornets 105-75 on Nov. 29 in Atlanta.
Key trends: The home team has covered the past four meetings. The over is 9-2 in Atlanta's past 11 vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Hornets have essentially given up, so go Atlanta even with nothing to play for. Over.
Wizards at Nets (TBA)
Washington won 119-90 in Philadelphia on Wednesday for its fourth straight win, holding all foes to 93 points or fewer. The Wizards rested John Wall against the 76ers -- he had played 208 straight games -- yet still set a franchise record by shooting 65.3 percent. Nene missed a third straight game, but Paul Pierce returned after missing three straight. The Nets enter tied with Boston for the No. 7 and 8 spots in the East. Brooklyn lost a tough one at home to the Hawks on Wednesday, 114-111. That ended the Nets' five-game home winning streak. Washington leads the season series 2-1 and has won two straight in Brooklyn.
Key trends: Washington is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 4-0 in the past four.
Early lean: Assuming the TBA for Wall and to a lesser extent Nene. Don't think it matters if they play or not. Nets have to have this one.
Celtics at Cavaliers (TBA)
Don't look for LeBron James in this game or maybe the next. He already has said he's going to get some rest down the stretch, the Cavs have clinched the No. 2 seed and have nothing to play for. That's obviously a huge break for Boston as it fights for a playoff spot -- these two could meet up in the first round. Cleveland brings a four-game winning streak into this one. Boston won in Detroit 113-103 on Wednesday behind a season-high 34 points from Isaiah Thomas. Cleveland leads the season series, blowing out the Celtics in Ohio and winning a 122-121 thriller in Boston. The teams play again Sunday in Boston.
Key trends: Boston has covered 12 of its past 15 vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 6-2 in Cleveland's past eight at home.
Early lean: Wait and see who the Cavs play, but I'd take Boston getting anything over probably six points because the Celtics have all the motivation.
Pacers at Pistons (+4.5, 195)
Indiana's Chris Copeland was stabbed early Wednesday morning at a New York club and obviously won't play for a while, but he didn't get many minutes as it was. Indiana won a third straight Wednesday, 102-86 at the Knicks. In his second game of the season, Paul George had 10 points in 15:31 of playing time. Detroit was officially eliminated from the playoffs with a 113-103 home loss to Boston on Wednesday. It's the first time as a head coach Stan Van Gundy will miss the postseason. Greg Monroe did return after missing 11 games and had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Detroit leads the season series 2-1 but has still lost seven of the past 10 vs. Indiana.
Key trends: The road team is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings. The over has hit in six of those.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Bucks at Knicks (+9.5, 187.5)
Milwaukee lost 104-99 to Cleveland on Wednesday, and for some reason Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't play a second due to coach's decision. Coach Jason Kidd hasn't said why. The "Greek Freak" is a big part of this team's future, so that's interesting. Kidd said before the game that Antetokounmpo wouldn't start, saying only, "Just making a change." I assume he plays in this one. New York lost by 16 at home to Indiana on Wednesday and needs to keep losing to stay ahead of Minnesota for the worst record in the NBA. Milwaukee leads the season series 3-0 and goes for its first sweep since the 2009-10 season.
Key trends: The Bucks are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 6-1 in the past seven in New York.
Early lean: Bucks will win but won't cover. Big on under.
Spurs at Rockets (+3, 206.5)
Second of a home-and-home as on Wednesday in San Antonio the Spurs won their ninth straight (all by double digits) 110-98 over Houston, which had won three in a row. Tony Parker had 27 points -- despite being listed as questionable -- as the Spurs moved within a half-game of the Southwest Division lead shared by Houston and Memphis. James Harden was held to 16 points and only three after the first quarter. However, Houston has won four in a row at home this series, including beating the Spurs by 17 very early in the season.
Key trends: The home team is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 4-0 in the past four in Houston.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
Suns at Pelicans (-7.5, 195)
Phoenix lost 107-104 in Dallas on Wednesday to be officially eliminated from the playoffs. The Suns can finish no better than a tie with New Orleans and Oklahoma City for the final spot in the Western Conference, and the Pelicans would win that tiebreaker. The Suns were going for their first season sweep of Dallas since 1997-98, the year before Dirk Nowitzki arrived. I worried about a letdown game for New Orleans on Wednesday after beating Golden State on Tuesday, and that indeed happened. The Pelicans were crushed 110-74 by the Grizzlies, their biggest loss of the year. New Orleans still gets the No. 8 seed if it wins out. These teams have split two meetings. In the last one March 19, the Suns tied a franchise record for fewest points in a win, beating the visiting Pelicans 74-72.
Key trends: The home team is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 4-0 in New Orleans' past four.
Early lean: Probably my favorite line of night -- Pelicans and under.
Kings at Thunder (-14.5, 216.5)
Sacramento lost 103-91 in Utah on Wednesday. Rudy Gay sat out again with a concussion, and DeMarcus Cousins missed a second straight. You hear talk he might just be shut down. Gay could play here. The big news from that loss was the two points scored by 7-foot-5 Kings center Sim Bhullar. That was the first bucket of his career. Bhullar is the first player from India to play in the NBA. The injury-ravaged Thunder appear to be running out of gas, having dropped four straight. They were bombed by the Spurs on Tuesday. About the only positive from that was guard Andre Roberson returned after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle. The Thunder probably have to win out to get into the playoffs. OKC had won 12 straight vs. the Kings before a 104-83 loss in Sacramento on Jan. 7.
Key trends: The Kings have covered just one of the past six meetings. The under is 8-1 in the past nine.
Early lean: If Cousins plays, take the points. Don't if he doesn't. Over regardless.
Mavericks at Nuggets (TBA)
Dallas ended a two-game losing streak with a 107-104 win over Phoenix on Wednesday. Tyson Chandler had 12 points and 23 rebounds, two off his season high. Rajon Rondo had 12 points and seven assists for Dallas after leaving the last game against Golden State early with a hyperextended left knee. The Mavericks were without Chandler Parsons for the second straight game because of right knee soreness. Rondo might be rested for a few games, while Parsons isn't a sure thing to return by the end of the regular season. Dallas is locked into the No. 7 seed, so don't be surprised if Dirk Nowitzki gets this game off. The Nuggets ended a three-game skid with Wednesday's rout of the Lakers. These teams have split two meetings. Denver has won four straight at home vs. the Mavs.
Key trends: The Mavs are 6-2 ATS in the past eight in Denver. The over is also 6-2 in those eight.
Early lean: Denver wins because the Mavs simply don't care.
Grizzlies at Jazz (+2.5, 178.5)
Memphis beat the visiting Pelicans by 36 on Wednesday. Forward Jeff Green did play after leaving Saturday's loss with back issues. He had 15 points and four rebounds. The 40-point lead in the fourth marked the second time in team history the Grizzlies led by at least 40 points. Utah won for the fifth time in six games, 103-91 against the Kings on Wednesday. Derrick Favors scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots. Gordon Hayward had just four points and will play limited minutes the rest of the way. Utah leads the season series 2-1 after getting swept last year.
Key trends: The road team is 4-1 in the past five meetings and the under is 4-1 in those.
Early lean: That's the lowest total I've seen in a while. Still go under with two fantastic defensive teams.
Timberwolves at Lakers (+6.5, 202.5)
Minnesota lost an eighth straight on Wednesday, 116-91 in Portland and it needs to lose out to have any shot at the most ping-pong balls in the lottery (it probably won't happen). Half the Wolves roster sat out against the Blazers due to injury, but Kevin Garnett did return after missing 15 games. Andrew Wiggins had 29 points, his fourth straight with at least 20. The Lakers lost a fifth straight Wednesday, 119-101 in Denver. L.A. leads the season series 2-1, winning the last on March 25 in Minnesota on two Jordan Clarkson free throws with 0.3 seconds left in overtime.
Key trends: The Wolves are 3-8 ATS in their past 11 vs. the West. The under is 5-2 in the past seven meetings.
Early lean: Lakers and over between two horrific defenses.
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