I remember briefly when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came back from his shoulder injury surprisingly early and the Hornets were playing well. I wrote that Charlotte might be a solid longer-shot bet to win the Eastern Conference. I jumped off that bandwagon when MKG, a great defender, went down for the season with an injury to that same shoulder. Perhaps I was a bit too hasty. The Hornets have changed their offensive style to a more up-tempo team and are using big man Al Jefferson off the bench. Jeremy Lin has become a very good player again. And Charlotte has the East's best record since the All-Star break at 14-4. The Hornets could finish as high as third in the East or as low as sixth. Clearly getting home court as long as possible is crucial for this club as it's 27-11 at home but just 14-19 on the road. Not ready to pick Charlotte to unseat Cleveland, but it wouldn't shock me if the Hornets reached the conference finals if they are in the opposite side of the bracket. And then you never know what could happen in one series with injuries, etc.
Timberwolves at Wizards (-7.5, 218.5)
Minnesota ended a two-game losing streak with a 113-104 win over Sacramento on Wednesday. Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, taking advantage of fellow former Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins' absence. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins each added 23 points. Washington's five-game winning streak ended in the back end of a home-and-home with the Hawks on Wednesday, 122-101 in D.C. John Wall had just 13 points on 6-for-17 shooting. The Wiz were attempting to get over .500 for the first time since late November. Minnesota beat visiting Washington 104-98 on March 2. The home team has won 10 of the past 12 meetings.
Key trends: The Wolves are 1-9 against the spread in their past 10 in Washington. The "over/under" has gone under in seven of the past 10 meetings.
Early lean: Wizards and under.
Hornets at Pistons (TBA)
Lone national TV game, on NBA TV, opposite the NCAA Tournament. Charlotte nearly fell into a trap on Tuesday in Brooklyn after beating San Antonio on Monday night, but the Hornets held on for a 105-100 win over the Nets. Nic Batum had 23 points and Lin 21. Marvin Williams sat out with a sprained left ankle but thinks he will play here. Detroit won a fourth straight Wednesday, 118-102 over Orlando. Andre Drummond had 30 points and 14 rebounds, and the Pistons never trailed. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed the game with an illness. Probably back here. Charlotte is 2-0 vs. Detroit this season, winning each by at least 15 points. But those were both at home.
Key trends: The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four. The over has hit in 11 of the past 15 meetings.
Early lean: Like Pistons whether KCP and/or Williams plays or not.
Magic at Heat (-7, 210.5)
Orlando dropped a fifth in a row Wednesday, 118-102 in Detroit. Elfrid Payton had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The Magic were again without Nik Vucevic, and it doesn't seem likely he plays here. Miami was clobbered on Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back, losing 112-88 in San Antonio. Luol Deng sat out for the Heat with a sore left quad but plans on playing here. Miami won the first meeting 108-101 in Orlando on Dec. 26 and has taken 12 of the past 13 overall against their Sunshine State neighbors.
Key trends: The Heat have covered seven of the past 11 meetings. The under is 7-3 in the past 10 in Miami.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Bucks at Hawks (-8.5, 206.5)
Milwaukee lost a third straight Wednesday, 113-104 in Cleveland. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 points with six rebounds and six helpers. Atlanta avoided that home-and-home sweep to Washington on Wednesday -- as I said it would -- with a 122-101 road win. Reserve guard Dennis Schroder wasn't a lock to even play after tweaking his ankle on Monday but did and had 23 points. The Hawks attempted a season-high 42 3-pointers and made 17 of them, also a season best. Perhaps expect overtime here as the Bucks are 2-0 vs. the Hawks this season, one in OT at home and one in double OT in Atlanta.
Key trends: The Bucks are 4-1 ATS in their past five in Atlanta. The under is 6-2 in the Hawks' past eight at home overall.
Early lean: Hawks and under.
Raptors at Rockets (TBA)
Toronto's four-game winning streak ended in a 91-79 loss in Boston on Wednesday. Not shocked that happened since All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry surprisingly sat with a sore right elbow. Patrick Patterson missed a second straight game with a sore ankle. The Raptors had won 33 straight games when holding a team under 100 points. Houston lost a third in a row Wednesday, 89-87 at home to Utah. The Rockets led by as many as 18 in the second half. James Harden had 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and a career-high eight steals. He was the first Rocket with at least 20/7/7/7 since Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler 20 years ago. Toronto lost 113-107 at home to Houston on March 6 to end a franchise-record 12-game home winning streak. The Raptors have dropped eight straight in Houston.
Key trends: Toronto has covered only two of its past eight in Houston. The over is 16-5 in Houston's past 21 after a loss.
Early lean: Wait on Lowry.
Grizzlies at Spurs (TBA)
Memphis lost 107-100 at the Lakers on Tuesday to end a two-game winning streak. Tony Allen had the offensive game of his life considering he's a terrible shooter (but great defender), going 12-for-12 for 27 points in the loss. It was his final matchup against Kobe Bryant, who called Allen the toughest defender he ever faced. Allen was the first player on a losing team to go at least 12-for-12 since December 1978. San Antonio bounced back from Monday's loss in Charlotte with a 24-point blowout of Miami on Wednesday to stay unbeaten at home. Kawhi Leonard tied his career high with 32 points but left in the third quarter with a bruised right quad, so I somewhat doubt you see him here. San Antonio leads the season series vs. Memphis 2-0, both very low scoring.
Key trends: The Spurs are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings at home. The under is 11-4 in San Antonio's past 15 overall.
Early lean: Spurs don't need Leonard to win this game easily. Go way under any total.
Suns at Kings (TBA)
Phoenix won for the third time in five games Wednesday, 119-107 over the Lakers. Devin Booker led Phoenix with 28 points as he was jacked up to play Kobe Bryant for the first time in his career. Kobe had missed the previous three meetings with the Suns this season. He gave Booker some autographed shoes after the game. Suns center Tyson Chandler was out with back spasms. Sacramento lost 113-104 in Minnesota on Wednesday without DeMarcus Cousins due to a bruised right knee. Rajon Rondo had 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds playing through his own injury. The teams have split two meetings, with Sacramento scoring a series record 142 points in the last meeting on Jan. 2 at home.
Key trends: The Kings are 0-7 ATS in their past seven at home. The over has hit in nine of the past 12 meetings.
Early lean: Wait on Cousins.
Mavericks at Warriors (-15, 226.5)
Dallas lost 109-103 in Portland on Wednesday. Salah Mejri, making his fourth start of the season, added 14 points and 12 rebounds. The Mavs were again without the injured Chandler Parsons, who won't play here. Golden State completed the season sweep of the Clippers with a 114-98 win on Wednesday, the Warriors' 51st straight home victory. Steph Curry had 33 points and Klay Thompson 32. Andrew Bogut returned from a minor injury and played 20 minutes. For the first time since Dec. 28, the Warriors did not have a lead after the first quarter at home. That's amazing. Golden State is 2-1 vs. Dallas this season, averaging 128.5 points in those wins. The Warriors have won six straight at home vs. the Mavs.
Key trends: The Mavs are 0-4 ATS in their past four at Golden State. The over is 7-1-1 in the Warriors' past nine at home vs. teams with a losing road record.
Early lean: Warriors and over.
Nuggets at Lakers (+3, 214.5)
Denver beat Philadelphia 104-103 on Wednesday on a 35-foot off-balance buzzer-beater from rookie Emmanuel Mudiay. Total luck. He had 27 points and 11 rebounds. Kenneth Faried missed a fourth consecutive game because of a back injury. The Lakers lost by 12 in Phoenix on Wednesday in Kobe Bryant's final game there. He had 17 points. Bryant's 2,330 career points against the Suns are No. 2 all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I'm thinking Kobe might sit here since he has played back-to-back games. Denver leads the season series 2-1 and has won five straight in Los Angeles.
Key trends: The Nuggets are 5-0 ATS in their past five in L.A. The over is 13-3-1 in the past 17 meetings.
Early lean: Lakers (if Kobe goes) and over.
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