Remember how good Lance Stephenson was with the Indiana Pacers two seasons ago? He was the league leader in triple-doubles and averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in a breakout season. The Pacers have to be so glad that Stephenson took less money to leave in free agency after that season for Charlotte. Stephenson wasn't a fit at all with the Hornets, seeing his numbers drop to 8.2/4.5/3.9. He also was a locker-room cancer. Yet I loved the Clippers' low-risk/high-reward deal this past offseason that landed Stephenson for the low price of Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes. Thought Stephenson would be closer to the 2013-14 player than 2014-15 version and perhaps the final piece to a championship roster. But it was yet another swing-and-miss by Clippers coach/GM Doc Rivers. Stephenson is a total non-factor, playing just 16.6 minutes per game and averaging 4.2 points. Rivers doesn't bother even using him most games these days. Guy is making $9 million to do what I could do. Have to love guaranteed contracts. I mention Stephenson because the Hornets and Clippers play for the final time this season on Saturday, and Charlotte is better without the guy.
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Hornets at Clippers (TBA)
Charlotte lost a fifth in a row Wednesday, 111-102 in Phoenix. The Hornets played without their best guy, swingman Nic Batum, due to a toe injury. He's questionable here. Jeremy Lamb was limited to seven minutes because he's banged up. Los Angeles brings a seven-game winning streak into this one, winning by 11 in Portland on Wednesday. Chris Paul had 21 points and a season-high 19 assists. DeAndre Jordan had a sixth straight double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Stephenson got a DNP-CD. Los Angeles has won five straight at home in this series and three in a row overall. The Clippers won in Charlotte 122-117 on Dec. 30, leading wire-to-wire. J.J. Redick had 26 points and Austin Rivers (Austin Rivers!?) had 22. Kemba Walker had 29 for Charlotte.
Key trends: Clippers are 9-3 against the spread in the past 12 meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in seven of Charlotte's past 10 vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: TBA for Batum; Clippers should roll here.
Bulls at Hawks (-2.5, 204.5)
Chicago looks like the East's second-best team right now as it won a season-high sixth consecutive game Thursday, 101-92 over Boston. Derrick Rose was good again with 18 points and Jimmy Butler added 19 points and 10 assists. Chicago remains without Joakim Noah but hasn't missed him at all. Atlanta won 126-98 in Philly on Thursday to end a two-game slide. It was the Hawks' biggest win of the year. They had assists on 36 of 49 baskets. First meeting of the season between these two. The Hawks took two of three last year, winning by seven in the lone home game.
Key trends: The Bulls are 7-2 ATS in the past nine meetings. The over is 10-1 in Atlanta's past 11 games.
Early lean: Bulls and over.
Wizards at Magic (-3.5, 202.5)
Washington hosted Toronto on Friday and Orlando was in Brooklyn. The Magic weren't sure if they would have point guard Elfrid Payton after he missed the previous two. The Wizards are going to be without Bradley Beal for both games. The Wizards are 3-0 vs. the Magic this year and have won 11 straight overall in the series. They last played New Year's Day in D.C. and the Wiz won by 12. It was tied entering the fourth quarter.
Key trends: The home team is 5-0 ATS in the past five. The under is 5-1 in the past six.
Early lean: Magic finally solve Wizards. Go under.
Nets at Pistons (-10, 198)
Brooklyn was home to Orlando on Friday. Detroit won a second straight Wednesday, 99-94 in Boston. Reggie Jackson had 24 points. Andre Drummond dealt with some early fouls and had 13 points and a season-low five rebounds. Pistons won't win often when he puts up those types of numbers. Brooklyn won the first meeting 87-83 at home on Nov. 29. Thaddeus Young had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets, who scored the final six points of the game. Drummond had 20 points and 18 rebounds. Brooklyn has won eight of the past 12 meetings overall.
Key trends: The Nets are 5-1 ATS in the past six in Detroit. The over is 7-2 in the Pistons' past nine vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Nets stink, but not sure Pistons should be double-digits favorites over anyone yet. Go Brooklyn.
Raptors at 76ers (+9.5, 199)
Toronto was in Washington on Friday. Philadelphia lost by 28 at home to Atlanta on Thursday. The Sixers turned it over 22 times, which helped lead to 33 Hawks fast-break points. Jahlil Okafor led the 76ers with 21 points. Elton Brand, who was signed earlier this week to provide Philly with some leadership, did not make his season debut but could here. Not that it will affect the result. Toronto has blown out Philadelphia twice this season. The Raptors have won 10 straight overall in the series and five in a row in the City of Brotherly Love.
Key trends: The favorite is 10-3 ATS in the past 13 meetings. The over is 5-2 in the past seven in Philly.
Early lean: 76ers and over.
Heat at Jazz (TBA)
Miami was in Phoenix on Friday. Utah got some great, surprising news on Thursday as difference-making center Rudy Gobert returned from an 18-game injury absence. Utah still lost 103-94 in Houston for its third straight defeat, but this team is much better with Gobert in the lineup. He likely will be on a minutes restriction for a while and played only 15 vs. Houston with six points and three rebounds. Once he's playing more, start betting under on those Jazz games. Derrick Favors sat out again for Utah vs. Houston, but there's a shot he plays here. Miami won first meeting 92-91 at home on Dec. 12. Favors had 25 points, 12 boards and seven blocks. The Heat were without Dwyane Wade.
Key trends: The underdog is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 9-1 in Utah's past 10 playing on one day of rest.
Early lean: TBA for Favors. Go under this total no matter the number. Think Jazz also win this regardless.
Warriors at Kings (TBA)
Golden State visited Portland on Friday. This really smells like one of those games where Coach Luke Walton might rest a guy or two in the second of a back-to-back. Like Steph Curry maybe? He was expected to start vs. the Blazers despite a shin injury. Sacramento blew a 27-point second-half lead at home to the Lakers on Thursday but managed to win 118-115. DeMarcus Cousins had 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Monitor his status here as Cousins appeared to hurt his ankle late but stayed in. Omri Casspi missed his third straight game with back problems, and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein (finger laceration) missed his second straight. This is the final meeting between the teams. Warriors have won all three easily and have won 11 straight overall in the series.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 4-0 in the past four in Sacramento.
Early lean: I believe Kings can pull this upset, seriously, if Curry sits. Only if Cousins is playing, however.
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