The Los Angeles Lakers chose Ohio State freshman guard D'Angelo Russell with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. He has been pretty solid, averaging 11.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He's no Kristaps Porzingis, but that's another story. Coach Byron Scott has been bringing him Russell the bench. But the most impressive rookie on the Lakers of late has been Larry Nance Jr., the son of the former All-Star Dunk Contest winner. L.A. might have gotten a steal in Nance Jr. Scott said he should have been a lottery pick -- Nance went No. 27 overall -- and that's starting to look accurate. Nance is averaging 10.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in his past five games and appears to have passed 2014 No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle on the depth chart. Nance is starting now and Randle is also coming off the bench.
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Hawks at 76ers (+9, 207)
Break up Philly! Ish Smith for (team) MVP! The 76ers are off a 109-99 home win over Minnesota on Monday. That's the Sixers' third win in six games since acquiring the journeyman Smith from New Orleans on Christmas Eve for basically nothing. Smith had 21 points and 11 assists in the win over the Wolves and is averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 assists in the six games in Philly, leading the club in assists in five of those. The Sixers also signed veteran forward Elton Brand on Monday. That won't have any impact on the team on the court, but Brand is basically being hired as a mentor/babysitter for rookie Jahlil Okafor as well as fellow young big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. And that's smart. Brand is a pro's pro all the way. Atlanta was swept in the second of a home-and-home vs. the Knicks on Tuesday, 107-101. Dennis Schroder returned to the rotation for Atlanta after two straight DNP-CD and had seven points and eight assists. The Hawks defeated the visiting Sixers 127-106 on Dec. 16. Paul Millsap led Atlanta with 21 points. The Hawks never trailed. Isaiah Canaan had a season-high 24 points for Philly and Okafor added 19. Noel missed the game but is back now.
Key trends: Atlanta is 7-3 against the spread in its past 10 after a loss. The "over/under" is 9-1 in the Hawks' past 10. The under is 5-1 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: 76ers and under.
Celtics at Bulls (-4.5, 203.5)
This is the first game of the TNT doubleheader and will have live betting at sportsbooks. Boston hosted Detroit on Wednesday. Chicago won a season-high fifth straight Tuesday, 117-106 over Milwaukee. Jimmy Butler continued his hot streak with 32 points as the Bulls led wire-to-wire. Derrick Rose had an MRI on Monday, but it came back clear and he did play after missing the previous three games. Rose was quite aggressive in getting to the basket for once and had 16 points. The Celtics beat the visiting Bulls 105-100 on Dec. 9. Isaiah Thomas scored nine of his 20 points in the final three minutes. Boston had eight players in double figures. Butler had 36 points for Chicago and Pau Gasol 16 points and 15 boards. Rose had 12 points. Boston was without Marcus Smart, who is back now.
Key trends: The Bulls have covered seven of the past 11 meetings in Chicago. The over is 5-0 in the past five.
Early lean: Bulls and over.
Jazz at Rockets (-9, 197)
Utah was in San Antonio on Wednesday against without starting forward Derrick Favors. He's dealing with back spasms and won't play here, either. Houston has been off since ending a season-high four-game losing streak with a 93-91 win over these Jazz in Salt Lake City on Monday. James Harden had 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds. His layup with 1:55 remaining gave the Rockets an 89-87 lead they never relinquished. Dwight Howard had 16 points and 13 rebounds for Houston in a season-high 41 minutes. He has four straight double-doubles. Ty Lawson did not dress (left ankle sprain), and Donatas Montiejunas (sore back) and Marcus Thornton (personal reasons) were not with the team. While Lawson and Thornton could play here, Montiejunas is going to be out a while. He had missed eight months following surgery to repair a herniated disk and debuted on Dec. 5. He won't play again until he's pain-free.
Key trends: The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 13-6 in the past 10.
Early lean: The Rockets have won nine of the past 11 in the series and five straight at home. They shouldn't have much trouble extending that to six.
Lakers at Kings (TBA)
Your TNT nightcap. Not exactly the most exciting national TV game of the season. Los Angeles' season-best three-game winning streak ended in a 109-88 home loss to Golden State on Tuesday. Russell sat out with a sore throat (really?) and Kobe Bryant missed a third in a row with a sore right shoulder. Nance had nine points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Randle was just 1-for-8 also in 20 minutes. Sacramento's two-game winning streak ended in tough fashion on Tuesday in Dallas, 117-116 in double OT on Deron Williams' 3-point buzzer-beater. DeMarcus Cousins had 35 points, including the game-tying layup at the end of regulation. Rajon Rondo sat with back spasms, thus avoiding boos raining down on him in his return to Dallas. Rondo in fact snuck to the bench during Dallas introductions so the crowd wouldn't see him. That's weak. The Kings won the final three vs. L.A. last season and the first this, 132-114 at home on Oct. 30. Rondo and Cousins each scored a team-high 21 points as the Kings destroyed the Lakers in the paint, scoring a Sacramento-era high 80 points there. Sacramento opened on a 16-4 run and never looked back. Kobe had 13 points.
Key trends: The Kings have covered five straight meetings. The over is 8-3 in the Lakers' past 11 following a double-digit loss.
Early lean: Russell expects to play but Kobe is questionable. Rondo is 50-50. Kings should take care of business here. Go over regardless.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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