The New Orleans Pelicans don't play Saturday night, but they might become a pretty decent bet going forward. The Pels have been very competitive whenever starting point guard Jrue Holiday has been in the lineup, which hasn't been all that often yet due to some personal leave and minor injuries. And on Thursday, the team welcomed back its third-best player in swingman Tyreke Evans. It was his first game in nine months. I wouldn't expect too much from him for a couple of weeks as Evans underwent three right knee surgeries in the span of nine months. He will clearly be on a minutes limit for a while and won't play on back-to-back nights. Evans played 11 minutes and had seven points in a win over Indiana. But a fully healthy threesome of Anthony Davis, Holiday and Evans can be a solid team. Even better if rookie Buddy Hield starts to live up to expectations, and he played great vs. the Pacers. The Pels probably started the season too slowly to make the playoffs, but I can see them playing a bit better than .500 ball the rest of the year to potentially save Coach Alvin Gentry's job. Again, that's if healthy. And this being New Orleans, it has lost guard Tim Frazier for 7-10 days after he suffered a bone bruise on his right wrist Tuesday.
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Suns at Thunder (TBA)
Looking forward to this matchup as Eric Bledsoe is fine defender and he should be on Russell Westbrook most of the night. You know, assuming both play because this is the NBA. Phoenix lost 107-92 at home to San Antonio on Thursday. The Suns actually led briefly in the fourth. Center Alex Len missed a second straight game with a hip bruise. Oklahoma City dropped a second straight Wednesday, 109-89 in Utah. Russell Westbrook had 27 points, six rebounds and five assists but was just 7-for-25 shooting. Guard Victor Oladipo missed a second in a row with a wrist sprain. The Thunder have won five straight vs. Phoenix, including the first of four meetings this season. It was 113-110 in OT on Oct. 28 with Westbrook scoring 51 points on a Suns opponent record 44 field goal attempts. He also had 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Hey, 44 shots to make 51 points is actually pretty good defense.
Key trends: The underdog is 8-3 against the spread in the past 11 meetings. The "over/under" is 9-2 in OKC's past 11 vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Wait on Oladipo and to a lesser extent Len.
Pacers at Pistons (-6.5, 202)
Detroit was in Washington on Friday. Indiana is 0-2 on its three-game trip after a 102-95 defeat in New Orleans on Thursday. Myles Turner had 26 points and Jeff Teague 21 and 10 assists, but the Pacers had a four-minute scoring drought late in the fourth quarter. Guards Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey both sat again and they won't play here. Indiana won three of four meetings last year vs. the Pistons and has taken six of the past eight in Detroit.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 5-1 in the previous six in Detroit.
Early lean: Pistons and under.
Hornets at Hawks (TBA)
Atlanta was in Toronto on Friday and Charlotte in Boston. The Hornets were without star point guard Kemba Walker in Beantown because of a personal situation, but he's expected to be back for this game. Charlotte has dropped its past four in Atlanta. But the Hornets won the first meeting this season, 100-96 on Nov. 18. The Hawks led 85-75 with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter, but the Hornets would outscore Atlanta 23-11 from that point, with Walker scoring 10 points. Nic Batum had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Charlotte.
Key trends: The Hornets are 1-4 ATS in their past five in Atlanta. The under is 6-0 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Oddsmakers clearly want 100 percent assurance Walker will be back.
Lakers at Cavaliers (-15.5, 217.5)
Los Angeles was in Philadelphia on Friday. Cleveland's five-game winning streak predictably ended in Memphis on Wednesday when Cavs coach Tyronn Lue sat LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. They'll all be in there Saturday. Cleveland was 2-0 vs. Los Angeles last year in the final LeBron vs. Kobe matchups, with the Cavs scoring 120 points in each.
Key trends: The Lakers are 1-4 ATS in their past five in the second of a back-to-back. The over is 6-0 in the Cavs' past six vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Cavs and over.
Rockets at Timberwolves (+5.5, 222)
Houston hosted New Orleans on Friday looking to extend its winning streak to nine. Minnesota ended a four-game skid and rallied from an early 21-point hole in Chicago on Tuesday to win 99-94 in what must have been sweet for Tom Thibodeau, the ex-Bulls coach. Zach LaVine had 24 points and Andrew Wiggins 23. A big win like that can really spur a team for a while. First meeting of the season between the teams. Houston has won seven straight in the series and the past three in Minneapolis.
Key trends: The road team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The over is 9-0 in the previous nine.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Knicks at Nuggets (TBA)
Carmelo Anthony probably faces his former team -- Denver did win that trade in the long run even though it gave up the best player. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are still with the Nuggets and they also got some draft picks out of that. I say probably because will Melo play? He missed Thursday's 103-90 loss at Golden State with a sore right shoulder, which somewhat came out of nowhere. Derrick Rose also sat with a back problem, which was expected. Rose, at least, says he's hopeful of playing here. Denver beat visiting Portland 132-120 on Thursday. Gallinari had 27 points and Gary Harris 18 in his first game since Nov. 12 due to a foot injury. Denver swept New York last year and has won the past eight meetings at home.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 6-0 in the previous six.
Early lean: Wait on Melo & Rose, although I like Nuggets regardless.
Trail Blazers at Warriors (-13.5, 232)
Portland has dropped five of six following a 132-120 defeat in Denver on Thursday. Damian Lillard had 40 points and 10 assists -- he's from Oakland so expect big numbers here too. Forward Al-Farouq Aminu missed his second straight game with a back injury. Golden State won its third straight, 103-90 over the visiting Knicks on Thursday. Amazingly, the Warriors had 36 assists on their first 36 baskets. Just beautiful basketball. Golden State had its third game this season with 40 or more assists, the first team to do that since the Chicago Bulls in 1996-97. Center Zaza Pachulia missed a fourth straight game with a wrist injury and David West hurt his hip in the fourth and left. Portland is 3-17 in its past 20 games against the Warriors at Oracle Arena and has lost the past five. These teams met in the Pacific Northwest on Nov. 1 and Golden State rolled 127-104.
Key trends: The favorite is 9-3 ATS in the past 12 meetings. The over is 5-1 in the previous six in Golden State.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
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