LeBron James could sit out Thursday's nationally-televised game in Los Angeles because it's the second of a back-to-back for his Cleveland Cavaliers. Kobe Bryant could sit out because, well, he's like 90 and has a bum shoulder that essentially makes him questionable for the rest of the regular season. But would the two best players of this generation really deny themselves one last chance to square off on the basketball court? Let's hope not as LeBron's Cavs and Kobe's Lakers play for the final time this season. James has said that a need for rest wouldn't override facing Kobe. Coach Tyronn Lue has made it clear he will rest his key guys over the final month to prepare for the playoffs, but I'm pretty confident that if James says he's playing, he will play.
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Hawks at Raptors (-3.5, 198.5)
Atlanta won a third straight Tuesday, 91-84 in Utah. Jeff Teague led the way with 24 points. The Hawks point guards outscored Utah's 31-9; Atlanta traded one of its point guards, Shelvin Mack, to Utah at the deadline. This concludes a five-game road trip for the Hawks. Toronto beat visiting Brooklyn 104-99 on Tuesday. The Raptors were a bit flat off their 12-game home winning streak being snapped Sunday and were down 16 at the half vs. the sad Nets. The Raptors gave Luis Scola the night off for rest. These clubs have met once this season, a 96-86 Toronto win in Atlanta on Dec. 2. The Raptors rallied from a 17-point hole in the third quarter. They scored 39 fourth-quarter points, a franchise record. Kyle Lowry had 22 of his 31 points in that quarter.
Key trends: The Hawks are 5-0 against the spread in their past five road games. The Raptors are 1-7 ATS in their past eight Thursday games. The road team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The "over/under" is 6-1 in Toronto's past seven after a win.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
Bulls at Spurs (TBA)
First game of the TNT doubleheader and will have live betting at sportsbooks. Chicago beat Milwaukee on Monday but got bad news beforehand when Jimmy Butler's knee swelled up, forcing him to sit out. He had just returned from missing 11 games with issues in that knee, so I'd be shocked if he plays again anytime soon. He is ruled out here. Chicago also isn't sure if either guard Aaron Brooks or forward Bobby Portis will go with their injuries. I warned you the Spurs might rest some guys in the second of a back-to-back on Tuesday in Minnesota, and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all got the night off. San Antonio still won 116-91. It was also the second straight game Coach Gregg Popovich was away from the team, but he's also expected back here. Chicago won the first meeting 92-89 at home on Nov. 30. The Spurs scored only 19 fourth-quarter points, shooting 28.6 percent. Pau Gasol had 18 points and 13 points for the Bulls, while Kawhi Leonard had 25 points and eight rebounds.
Key trends: Chicago is 1-6 ATS in its past seven road games. San Antonio is 2-5 ATS in its past seven vs. the East. The under is 7-1 in the Spurs' past eight games.
Early lean: Spurs by at least 12.
Suns at Nuggets (-8, 213.5)
Phoenix hosted New York on Wednesday night with the Suns on a rare two-game winning streak. There was actually a chance that Brandon Knight was going to return from injury for that game. If not maybe this one. He will certainly be very limited when he does. Denver won a second straight Tuesday, 110-94 over those Knicks. Kenneth Faried had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Phoenix leads the season series 2-1 and is trying for its third straight season series win. But Denver won the most recent meeting, 104-96 in Phoenix.
Key trends: The Suns are 8-2 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The over is 17-5-1 in the Nuggets' past 23 at home.
Early lean: Nuggets and over.
Cavaliers at Lakers (TBA)
Your second TNT game. Cleveland was in Sacramento on Wednesday. Los Angeles won a second in a row Tuesday, 107-98 against Orlando. D'Angelo Russell scored 27 points and Jordan Clarkson added 24. Kobe sat out. Bryant has skipped four of the last five home games, and Coach Byron Scott calls him 50-50 for this game. The Lakers lost in Cleveland 120-111 on Feb. 10. Kyrie Irving scored a season-high 35 points and James added 29 for the Cavs, who didn't have an injured Kevin Love in the second half. Kobe had 17 points. The Cavs saluted Bryant during pregame introductions with a video presentation of some of his best moments.
Key trends: The Cavs have covered just two of their past 16 road games vs. teams with a losing home record. The under is 5-0 in the Lakers' past five at home. The over is 5-0 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: Take the points if James is out.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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