With all due respect to the San Antonio Spurs, I believe just one team is talented enough to win the Western Conference this season over Golden State and that's the Los Angeles Clippers (not that I'm predicting that). Their Big 3 of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is as almost as good as Golden State's Big 3. And this year, the Clippers might actually have a better bench after the Warriors had to dump some guys this offseason after adding Kevin Durant's big salary. Believe it or not, the Clippers' five-man reserve unit of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Marreese Speights (a former Warrior), Raymond Felton and Wesley Johnson, statistically, is the second-best defensive group in the NBA. Opponents have scored only 91.1 points per 100 possessions against that lineup. Thus I'm very much looking forward to Wednesday night's national TV game where the Warriors visit the Clippers for the first time this season. The last team to knock the Warriors out of the playoffs before the NBA Finals? That would be the Clippers in a seven-game first-round series in 2014.
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Pistons at Hornets (-3.5, 201)
Detroit hosted Chicago on Tuesday. Will Reggie Jackson play both ends of a back-to-back just three games into his return from knee troubles? Definitely monitor that. Charlotte won in Dallas 109-101 on Monday. Kemba Walker scored 19 points, Nicolas Batum had 14 points and 15 rebounds, and the Hornets came back from an 11-point, third-quarter deficit. Detroit snapped a three-game losing streak to the Hornets on the road with its 112-89 win on Nov. 29.
Key trends: The favorite is 6-1 against the spread in the past seven meetings. The "over/under" is 6-2 in the Hornets' past eight.
Early lean: Hornets and over.
Celtics at Magic (+5, 197.5)
Orlando was in Washington on Tuesday. Boston's last two games have seen a final score of 107-106. It won by that count on Saturday in Philly but lost on Monday in Houston. Al Horford missed a potential winning shot in the lane at the buzzer. He finished with 21 points. Avery Bradley had 16 points and 10 rebounds. These teams split four meetings last year. Orlando has won seven of the last 12 meetings at home.
Key trends: The Celtics are 0-5 ATS in the past five at Orlando. The under is 11-1 in the Magic's past 12 in the second of a back-to-back.
Early lean: Magic and under.
Nuggets at Nets (+6.5, 218.5)
Denver ended a three-game losing streak with a 106-86 victory in Philadelphia on Monday. Danilo Gallinari had 24 points and rookie Jamal Murray 22. Nikola Jokic (wrist) missed his third straight game and Gary Harris (foot) sat out his 12th in a row. Brooklyn lost a third in a row Monday, 118-113 at home to Washington, blowing a 15-point halftime lead. Brook Lopez scored 25 and Sean Kilpatrick had 21 for the Nets. Brooklyn won both games vs. Denver last year by one point. The Nets have taken the past five in the series overall.
Key trends: The favorite is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Nets and under.
Heat at Hawks (-6.5, 200)
Miami hosted New York on Tuesday with a handful of guys either out or questionable. Atlanta dropped a seventh in a row Monday, 102-99 at home to Oklahoma City. Paul Millsap returned after missing three games with an injury and had 24 points, but it's Atlanta's longest losing streak since February 2014. Coach Mike Budenholzer also tried starting Thabo Sefolosha, a good defender, over 3-point shooter Kyle Korver. Atlanta leads the season series vs. Miami 1-0, winning in south Florida 93-90 on Nov. 15.
Key trends: The Heat are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 4-0 in the Hawks' past four vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Hawks and under.
Trail Blazers at Bucks (-2, 219.5)
Portland won a third consecutive game Monday, 112-110 in Chicago. Damian Lillard had 30 points and seven assists, and CJ McCollum scored 24. Al-Farouq Aminu returned from a long injury absence and had three points in 17 minutes. Milwaukee had a four-game winning streak end in a 97-96 home loss to San Antonio on Monday. Giannis Antetokounmpo was whistled for goaltending on what would prove the Spurs' go-ahead basket. Mirza Teletovic missed an open 3-pointer from the right corner with 3.9 seconds left. The Bucks went the final 2:25 without a bucket. Antetokounmpo finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Portland and Milwaukee have split the season series each of the past two seasons. The Trail Blazers are 1-4 against the Bucks in Milwaukee over the past five seasons.
Key trends: The Blazers are 2-8 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The under is 4-0 in the past four.
Early lean: Bucks and under.
Lakers at Rockets (-10.5, 222)
Los Angeles is on a three-game skid after falling 107-101 at home to Utah on Monday. Lou Williams had 38 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the loss for L.A., which had a handful of guys out injured. Williams became the first Lakers player to score at least 38 points in successive games since Kobe Bryant in March 2013. Houston won its third in a row Monday, 107-106 over Boston. James Harden scored 13 of his 37 points in the fourth. It was the ninth 30-point game this season for Harden, who also had eight assists and seven rebounds and was 18-for-18 from the free-throw line. Los Angeles ended a five-game losing streak in this series with a 120-114 home victory on opening night. Houston has won the past two at home vs. L.A.
Key trends: The Lakers are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 4-1 in the previous five.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
Cavaliers at Knicks (+5, 216)
First ESPN game. New York was in Miami on Tuesday. Cleveland ended a three-game losing streak and improved to 3-0 vs. Toronto this season with a 116-112 win north of the border on Monday. LeBron James had a season-high 34 points. However, J.R. Smith left with a knee injury, and it looks like he'll miss at least a little while. Mike Dunleavy returned after missing the last two games with concussion-like symptoms. New York opened the season in Cleveland and was steamrolled 117-88. LeBron scored 19 points and added 11 rebounds and 14 assists as the Cavs unveiled their NBA championship banner. Kyrie Irving had 29 points.
Key trends: The road team is 7-3 ATS in the past 10. The under is 8-0 in the previous eight.
Early lean: Cavs and under.
Kings at Mavericks (+3.5, 198)
Sacramento lost a third straight Sunday, 106-98 at the Knicks. DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings but shot just 9-for-30. And then after the game, Matt Barnes got into some potential trouble at a New York club. As if the awful, injury-ravaged Mavericks needed any more bad news, Andrew Bogut hurt his knee in Monday's 109-101 home loss to Charlotte. The team doesn't think it's season-ending, but don't expect to see him for probably a month. Harrison Barnes had 29 in the loss. Sacramento won three of four meetings last year against Dallas. The Kings snapped a 22-game road losing streak against the Mavericks with a 104-101 win at Dallas on March 3.
Key trends: The Kings are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five in Dallas.
Early lean: Kings and under.
Pacers at Suns (+3, 218)
Phoenix was in Utah on Tuesday. Indiana was crushed in Golden State on Monday, 142-106. Paul George had 21 points and 10 rebounds as Indiana fell to 2-7 on the road. The Suns earned their largest victory and only win by 10 or more points this season with a 116-96 win at Indiana's Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Nov. 18. The Pacers ended a two-game road losing streak with a 97-94 win at Phoenix last season.
Key trends: The Pacers are 1-11 ATS in the past 12 meetings. The over is 4-0 in Phoenix's past four in the second of a back-to-back.
Early lean: Pacers and over.
Warriors at Clippers (+2.5, 222)
Second ESPN game. Golden State beat Indiana 142-106 on Monday behind an incredible 60-point game from Klay Thompson, a career high for him and the first Warrior to reach 60 points since Hall of Famer Rick Barry in March 1974. Thompson had 40 first-half points and hit 60 in just 29 minutes. But Steve Kerr didn't want to leave him out there in a blowout and risk injury. In his 100-point game, Wilt Chamberlain scored 2.08 points per minute. Thompson averaged 2.07 points per minute in his 29 minutes. Los Angeles returned from a long road trip with a flat 111-102 loss to the Pacers on Sunday. Blake Griffin had 24 points and 16 rebounds for the Clippers, who led by as many as 15. Golden State won four high-scoring matchups last year vs. the Clips and has taken six in a row in the series overall and three straight in L.A.
Key trends: The home team is 15-7 ATS in the past 22 meetings. The under is 5-2 in the past seven.
Early lean: Clippers and under.
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