I felt pretty confident that the plummeting Phoenix Suns were going to fire coach Jeff Hornacek during the All-Star break, but ownership decided to do so ahead of schedule as Hornacek was dumped on Monday. The Suns have lost 19 of their past 21 games and are 14-35 (.286), which is on pace to be the franchise's worst season since the inaugural team went 16-66 (.195). The team has lost 14 straight road games. Only five players remain from Hornacek's rookie head coaching season, when the Suns were a surprising 48-34 and Hornacek was the NBA Coach of the Year runner-up. That whole franchise needs an overhaul right now. The Suns were hoping to lure back the all-time face of the franchise, former two-time league MVP Steve Nash, to replace Hornacek, but Nash has no interest in that as of now. So one of the assistants will be promoted to interim head coach to finish out the season.
Celtics at Knicks (+2, 207)
Boston had a five-game winning streak end in Orlando on Sunday, 119-114, blowing a 14-point lead. Marcus Smart matched his career high by scoring 26 points for the Celtics. It was their 12th straight game scoring at least 100 points. It's not clear if the team will have Jae Crowder for this game. He suffered an injury at practice on Monday. Evan Turner would start if he's out. New York lost for the fifth time in six games on Sunday, 116-95 to Golden State. Carmelo Anthony had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks. Starting point guard Jose Calderon missed his third straight game with a sore right groin but could play Tuesday. The Knicks and Celtics have split two meetings this season, each winning at home.
Key trends: The home team is 4-0 against the spread in the past four meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in five of New York's past six overall.
Early lean: Celtics and under.
Heat at Rockets (-5.5, 204)
Miami won a season-high fourth in a row on Sunday, 105-87 over Atlanta. Chris Bosh had 18 points and Amare Stoudemire 13 points and 12 rebounds. Stoudemire has been really good filling in for injured center Hassan Whiteside, who doesn't have a timetable to return from a hip injury but is officially questionable here. Backup point guard Tyler Johnson will have rotator cuff surgery on Wednesday and he's potentially out for the season. Houston dropped a third straight Saturday, 123-122 at home to Washington. James Harden had 40 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Dwight Howard was ejected for the second straight game. Houston has won two straight at home vs. Miami but lost 109-89 in south Florida on Nov. 1. Whiteside had 25 points and 15 rebounds. The Heat were down 21 points in the second half yet still won by 20.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 4-1 in the past five in Houston.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
Raptors at Suns (+9.5, 201)
Toronto started a six-game road trip on Monday in Denver on an 11-game winning streak. Phoenix dropped a fourth in a row, all by double digits, on Sunday, 91-78 in Dallas. Phoenix was held to nine fourth-quarter points and that apparently was the last straw for Hornacek's job status. Rookie guard Devin Booker led the Suns in scoring for the third straight game with 19 points. Starting guard Brandon Knight was out again with a left groin strain and may not return until after the All-Star break. Phoenix won in Toronto 107-102 on Nov. 29. The Suns' bench outscored the Raptors' 51-25. Phoenix has won nine of the past 11 at home in the series.
Key trends: Toronto is 0-5 ATS in the past five meetings. The over has hit in four of those.
Early lean: Suns and over.
Bucks at Trail Blazers (-6.5, 204.5)
Milwaukee was in Sacramento on Monday night to start a three-game trip. Portland won a fourth consecutive game on Sunday, 96-93 over Minnesota. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scored 21 points apiece. It was the Blazers' first win of the season by three points or fewer. The Blazers lost in Milwaukee 90-88 on Dec. 7. The Bucks were down four late but scored six points in the final 22.0 seconds. Portland has won two straight home games against Milwaukee and is 7-2 against the Bucks at the Moda Center since the start of the 2006-07 season.
Key trends: The Bucks have covered four straight in Portland. The under is 5-1 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Bucks and under.
Timberwolves at Lakers (+4, 202.5)
Minnesota lost a fourth in a row on Sunday, 96-93 in Portland. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Timberwolves, his rookie-best 25th double-double of the season. The Wolves have dropped 11 straight on the road. Kevin Garnett and Kevin Martin both missed their fourth game in a row. Neither is likely here. The Lakers dropped their 10th straight Sunday, 101-82 at home to Charlotte. That ties the longest losing streak in team history. Kobe Bryant had 23 points in 23 minutes. Minnesota has won two high-scoring games vs. the Lakers this season, taking each by one point.
Key trends: The Wolves are 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 5-2 in the past seven.
Early lean: Lakers and over.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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