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.
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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.
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