I don't know about you, but when LeBron James and Kevin Durant faced off in the 2012 NBA Finals, I figured that was just the first of many Finals matchup between them and that James vs. Durant would be this decade's signature Finals rivalry just like Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson was in the 1980s. And maybe it still will be, but James and Durant haven't met in the Finals since, and with how good Golden State looks, it might be a while for Durant gets back there -- that's if even stays in the Western Conference this summer when he becomes a free agent. Just think, if Durant does sign with hometown Washington; we will never see him and LeBron in the NBA Finals again.
Raptors at Hornets (pick'em, 197)
Charlotte was in Orlando on Wednesday. Toronto has been off since a 106-90 loss in Indiana on Monday that ended the Raptors' four-game winning streak. The Eastern Conference's highest-scoring backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan each finished with 20 points. Toronto led 26-5 at one point. Forward DeMarre Carroll was out with a right knee contusion for the fifth straight game, and he's not expected to play Thursday. Toronto is 3-0 this season when it has two days in between games as it does here, with wins vs. Cleveland (Nov. 25), at Washington (Nov. 28) and at Atlanta (Dec. 2). This is the first meeting of the season with Charlotte and the only one in North Carolina. Six of the Raptors' last seven games at Charlotte have been decided by six points or less. The Raptors and Hornets split the season series last year.
Key trends: Toronto is 1-4 against the spread in its past five trips to Charlotte. The "over/under" has gone under in six of the Hornets' past seven at home. The over is 9-3 in the past 12 meetings in Charlotte.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
Thunder at Cavaliers (-3, 206.5)
Great matchup to open the TNT doubleheader, which means it will have live betting at sportsbooks. This was my NBA Finals predicted matchup when the season began, and I'm still not off this despite how amazing the Warriors have been. It's the second of a back-to-back for OKC as it hosted Portland on Wednesday. I know Durant will be motivated here as he admitted he was spurred on last summer as he rehabbed his broken foot by all the success LeBron and Steph Curry were having and that they faced off in the Finals. For a while there, at least in his MVP year, Durant perhaps had made an argument as the NBA's best player. Now he's probably third behind James and Curry in most people's estimation.
Cleveland won a third straight Tuesday, 89-77 in Boston. LeBron had 24 points and Kevin Love 20 and eight boards. However, the Cavs lost guard Iman Shumpert during the game to a groin injury. He had only made his season debut last Friday off wrist surgery. Shumpert will sit this one out. These teams split last year. James missed the Cavs' 103-94 loss in Oklahoma City. The Cavs won at home 108-98 behind 34 from LeBron. Kyrie Irving did play in both games for Cleveland. There's a chance he makes his season debut Thursday. Irving reportedly has been physically cleared for a week off knee surgery but the team has been extra cautious. You know Irving wants to go up against Westbrook. ESPN reported that Irving was planning on playing but then on Wednesday he tweeted he wasn't going to debut. Could be a smokescreen.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 7-2 in Cleveland's past nine at home.
Early lean: Cavaliers and over.
Rockets at Lakers (+5.5, 212.5)
Your TNT nightcap. And here we go again with the petulant child that is Dwight Howard. Reports are that Howard is extremely unhappy in Houston as the second fiddle and wants out. What a clown. Howard is nowhere near the dominant force he once was. The guy already whined his way out of Orlando and Los Angeles. NBA reporter Chris Sheridan mentions a possible trade to Miami in a package that has Hassan Whiteside coming back. Whiteside will be a free agent after this season. I'd rather have him than Howard at this point.
Houston lost a second straight Tuesday, 107-97 in Sacramento. James Harden had 33 points, but Howard had all of four points and four rebounds in 28 minutes due to foul trouble and maybe a bout of the sniffles. Los Angeles ended a six-game skid with a 113-95 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday -- Bucks were clearly flat off their huge win over the Warriors on Saturday. Kobe Bryant had 22 points and six assists. The Lakers had seven double-digit scorers for the first time this season. Guard Jordan Clarkson was one of them and returned from a two-game absence. The Rockets beat the visiting Lakers 126-97 last Saturday. Harden had 30 points, and the Rockets shot 52.2 percent (47 for 90) from the field and 15-for-33 from 3-point range. Howard had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Bryant had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Lakers. Houston also has won four straight at the Lakers, tied for the Rockets' longest ever in the series. The Lakers have scored below 100 points in seven of the past nine meetings, including four straight.
Key trends: The Rockets are 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 13-6 in the past 19.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
How about $60 worth of member's picks absolutely free? No obligation, no sales people, no credit card. You can use you $60 credit on any of our top NBA handicappers. Get your free daily NBA predictions today!
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
Most Recent NBA Handicapping
- LA Lakers Could be in Real Trouble with LeBron and AD Injuries
- Free NBA Picks Wednesday 1/20/2021 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Friday 1/15/2021 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Wednesday 1/13/2021 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Friday 1/8/2021 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Wednesday 1/6/2021 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Friday 1/1/2021 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Wednesday 12/30/2020 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Friday 12/25/2020 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Wednesday 12/23/2020 and Opening Line Report