In my opinion, the best trade by any team in the NBA this past offseason was by Charlotte last June when it acquired swingman Nic Batum from Portland for guard Gerald Henderson and young power forward Noah Vonleh (close second: Dallas getting Zaza Pachulia from Milwaukee for peanuts). From the Blazers' thinking, they were dealing a guy who had dealt with some injuries and was entering the final year of his contract. Vonleh, meanwhile, still had upside as the No. 9 overall pick in 2014 and Henderson provided serviceable depth and maybe could be flipped down the line. The Hornets have won that deal big time as Batum returns to Portland for the first time on Friday. Batum has battled injuries again but has been Charlotte's best all-around player and is in line for a max extension this offseason. Henderson and Vonleh have done little with each playing around 16 minutes a night.
Magic at Celtics (-8, 204)
Orlando has the NBA's longest losing streak at seven games following a seven-point loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday. I expect Scott Skiles to either make a lineup change or for his head to explode. The Magic, who also have lost 11 of 12, led by as many as 16 against the Bucks. Boston won a fourth straight on Wednesday, 111-103 at home vs. Denver. The Celtics have forced at least 20 turnovers in all four of the winning streak. Orlando won the first meeting 110-91 at home on Nov. 29 behind 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists from Victor Oladipo. The Magic outrebounded Boston by 20. The Celtics have won nine straight in series at home.
Key trends: The home team is 8-0 against the spread in the past eight meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in five of the past seven.
Early lean: Celtics and under.
Cavaliers at Pistons (+4.5, 205.5)
Cleveland won a second in a row, both at home, with a 115-93 victory over Phoenix on Wednesday. Kevin Love had his best game in a while with 21 points and 11 rebounds. The Cavs also learned that Tyronn Lue, he of three career games as an NBA head coach, will coach the East in the All-Star Game. In this one, LeBron James needs only 15 points to become the 17th player in league history with 26,000. Five other active players have reached that mark. Can you name them? Detroit won a second straight Wednesday, 110-97 over Philadelphia. Andre Drummond had 25 points and 18 rebounds while actually making 7-for-12 from the free-throw line. He would be unstoppable if he shot that way every game. Detroit won the first meeting 104-99 on Nov. 17. Cavs have still won four of their past five there in Motown.
Key trends: The underdog is 7-3 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five in Detroit.
Early lean: Cavaliers and under.
Suns at Knicks (TBA)
New York was in Toronto on Thursday and Carmelo Anthony was iffy. Phoenix lost a second straight and 17th in 19 on Wednesday in Cleveland, 115-93. It was the Suns' 12th straight loss on the road. Starting point guard Brandon Knight missed a fourth straight game with a groin injury, and he's not playing here. This is the first meeting between these teams this season. The Suns swept the Knicks in 2014-15 and have won three straight vs. New York. The all-time series is now tied 60-60, and the Suns haven't led it since winning the first-ever matchup in October 1968.
Key trends: The Suns are 7-0-1 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 5-0 in the past five.
Early lean: Knicks should handle Suns, Melo or not.
Rockets at Thunder (-8.5, 222.5)
First of an NBA TV doubleheader and thus should have live betting at sportsbooks. Houston's three-game winning streak was ended in a big way on Wednesday, 130-99 in San Antonio. The only bright spot was Dwight Howard returning from a three-game absence. He had 13 points in 23 minutes. Oklahoma City won a second straight extremely high-scoring game Wednesday, 126-123 in Minnesota. Kevin Durant had 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He now has 33 straight 20-point games. Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds. Houston won the first meeting, 110-105 at home on Nov. 2 behind 37 points from James Harden. OKC has lost two straight at home in the series as well.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 6-1 in the past seven on OKC.
Early lean: Rockets and under that huge total.
Heat at Bucks (TBA)
Miami won a second straight on the road Tuesday, 102-98 at Brooklyn in the second of a back-to-back. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each had 27 points. Goran Dragic missed an eighth straight game for the Heat and Hassan Whiteside a third in a row, but he was optimistic about returning Friday. Milwaukee was in Memphis on Thursday. The Bucks won the first meeting with the Heat, 91-79 in south Florida on Jan. 19 despite Whiteside's 23 points and 18 rebounds. Milwaukee has won five straight in the series.
Key trends: The Bucks are 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 6-0-1 in the past seven in Milwaukee.
Early lean: Under regardless of number.
Nets at Mavericks (-9.5, 202)
Brooklyn lost by four vs. Miami on Tuesday. Andrea Bargnani was in question with an illness but had his best game in a while with 20 points. Dallas lost by 20 at Golden State on Wednesday. The Mavs had handed the Warriors one of their four losses earlier in the year. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle essentially conceded this one by giving Dirk Nowitzki the night off. Center Zaza Pachulia missed a third in a row with an Achilles' injury. Brooklyn has won four straight in Dallas. The Nets have never won five in a row on the road against a Western Conference opponent.
Key trends: The road team is 7-1 ATS in the past eight meetings. The over is 4-0-1 in Dallas' past five at home.
Early lean: Mavericks and under.
Timberwolves at Jazz (-8, 196)
Minnesota lost 126-123 at home to OKC on Wednesday. Zach LaVine had 35 points to lead the Wolves, which was the most by a reserve in franchise history and most in the NBA by a bench player this season. Minnesota shot 55.6 percent from the field. Utah clobbered visiting Charlotte 102-73 on Wednesday. Gordon Hayward finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Utah won three of four vs. Minnesota last year but lost the first this season, 90-84 in the Twin Cities on Dec. 13.
Key trends: Minnesota is 5-0 ATS in the past five in Utah. The over is 12-3 in the past 15 meetings there.
Early lean: Wolves and under.
Hornets at Trail Blazers (-4, 205.5)
Following a two-OT game on Monday in Sacramento, the Hornets had nothing left in the tank on Wednesday in losing by 29 in Utah. Batum returned from a three-game absence and had six point and 10 rebounds. Cody Zeller missed his fourth straight game with a right shoulder strain and Jeremy Lamb a third in a row right toe sprain. Then Jeremy Lin left in the third with a sprained ankle. Portland won a second straight at home Tuesday, 112-97 vs. Sacramento. Charlotte defeated visiting Portland 106-94 on Nov. 15. Batum scored 33 points to lead the Hornets. Portland has won seven straight at home in the series. A win for Charlotte would mark its first season sweep over Portland since 2007-08.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 6-1 in the past seven.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
Lakers at Clippers (TBA)
Second game on NBA TV. The Lakers hosted Chicago on Thursday but at least don't have to travel. Kobe Bryant was questionable to play with his shoulder injury. Julius Randle has a sore left leg but was likely to play after an MRI was clean. The Clippers return home from an interesting road trip -- cough, cough, Blake Griffin. L.A. closed it out at 3-2 with an 85-83 win in Atlanta on Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back. The Hawks resorted to hacking DeAndre Jordan in the fourth quarter, but he made 6-for-8 and they stopped. He had 13 points and 19 rebounds. The Clippers have won eight straight against the Lakers.
Key trends: The home team is 7-3 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The under is 4-0 in the previous four.
Early lean: Clippers in rout.
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