Did the Phoenix Suns make a mistake by selecting Croatian teenager Dragan Bender at No. 4 overall in the 2016 draft? It's too early to say that, but the early returns aren't great. Bender was always going to be a long-term project, but his season could be over following ankle surgery on Wednesday. The 7-foot-1 Bender, whom the Suns hope can be Dirk Nowitzki-lite someday, averaged just 12.7 minutes in 38 games and put up 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds when he did get off the bench. Bender won't even be 20 until November and just physically wasn't ready for the NBA, although he does have great range like a young Dirk. Back before the season, if you are wondering, Bender was +3500 to win Rookie of the Year at 5Dimes. The entire 2016 rookie class has been very underwhelming with No. 1 overall selection Ben Simmons yet to play for Philadelphia. That's why 2014 Philly first-rounder Joel Embiid is such a lock to win ROY after missing two seasons and despite sitting several games this year either as a precaution or due to knee troubles.
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Heat at Nets ( +5, 215.5)
I absolutely can't believe that Miami has won 12 in a row with that talent. The Heat had no trouble extending their streak Wednesday in a 106-88 victory in Milwaukee. Hassan Whiteside had 23 points and 16 rebounds for Miami, which was without Dion Waiters due to an ankle injury. It's not a serious injury and he could play here. The Nets were beaten by Washington 114-110 in OT on Wednesday and have dropped lost 13 straight home games, the longest home losing streak to begin a calendar year in NBA history. Brook Lopez, who finished with 20 points, fouled out with 1:20 left in regulation. Final game between Brooklyn and Miami, which has won the first two in close games. The Heat have won nine of the past 10 in the series.
Key trends: The Heat are 6-0 against the spread in their past six in Brooklyn. The "over/under" has gone under in five of the Nets' past six at home.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Nuggets at Knicks (-2.5, 227)
Denver lost in Atlanta 117-106 on Wednesday thanks to allowing 72 first-half points. Nikola Jokic had 18 points and 15 rebounds. However, Kenneth Faried left after spraining his ankle and was on crutches after. So he obviously won't play here. Danilo Gallinari (left groin strain) missed his fourth straight game and guard Emmanuel Mudiay (lower back pain) missed his second straight. The Nuggets simply can't keep everyone healthy. The circus surrounding the Knicks continued Wednesday as the team lost its third straight, 119-115 to the Clippers, and saw mega-popular ex-Knick Charles Oakley forcibly removed from the stands and arrested due to a scuffle with security right behind team owner James Dolan during the game. Still not clear what that was all about, but Oakley doesn't like Dolan at all so he might have been saying things. Denver won its fourth straight against New York, 127-114 on Dec. 17. Carmelo Anthony had 29 points against his former team but remained winless in five trips to Denver since he was traded to New York in 2011.
Key trends: The Nuggets are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 6-1 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Wait on those Nuggets.
Spurs at Pistons (+4.5, 210.5)
San Antonio won in Philadelphia 111-103 Wednesday as Kawhi Leonard returned from a one-game absence and had 32 points. Leonard has now scored in double figures in 81 straight games -- the longest such streak by a Spurs player since Tim Duncan's 91 straight in 2002-03.Detroit beat the Lakers 121-102 on Wednesday for its fourth victory in five games. Andre Drummond had 24 points and 17 rebounds. San Antonio beat Detroit 96-86 on Nov. 11. The Pistons also have lost the past two meetings at home.
Key trends: The Spurs are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The over is 8-2 in the Pistons' past 10 overall.
Early lean: Pistons and over.
Lakers at Bucks (TBA)
Los Angeles played its final game at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Wednesday - the team had a couple of NBA Finals appearances there and of course the brawl with fans by current Laker Metta World Peace when he was named Ron Artest with the Pacers - and lost 121-102. D'Angelo Russell was held to just two points. Milwaukee continued its struggles with a 106-88 home loss to Miami on Wednesday. Even worse, rising star Jabari Parker left in the third quarter to what is for now being called a sprained knee, but the team is awaiting MRI results. Parker tore the ACL in the knee two seasons ago and missed most of the year. That ruined the good news of Khris Middleton making his season debut off injury. He had five points in 15 minutes. First meeting of the season between Los Angeles and Milwaukee. The Bucks have won the past five at home in the series.
Key trends: The Lakers are 6-0 ATS in their past six after a loss. The over is 5-1 in the Bucks' past six at home.
Early lean: Wait on Parker.
Warriors at Grizzlies (+7.5, 217)
Golden State again avoided back-to-back losses with a 123-92 win over short-handed Chicago on Wednesday. Kevin Durant responded from his worst game since joining the Warriors with 22 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. It was the team's 138th straight regular-season game without consecutive defeats. Memphis won a third straight Wednesday, 110-91 over Phoenix. Mike Conley scored 23 points, and Marc Gasol added 19. Vince Carter (rest) and Zach Randolph (foot) sat out. This could be a look-ahead game for Durant. That's because KD returns to Oklahoma City on Saturday night. It won't be for the rest of the Warriors, though, as Memphis has won the first two meetings of the season.
Key trends: The Warriors are 5-0 ATS in their past five vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 9-3 in the past 12 meetings.
Early lean: Warriors and under.
Pelicans at Timberwolves (-4, 210.5)
New Orleans lost for the fifth time in six games Wednesday, 127-94 to Utah. Anthony Davis struggled against Rudy Gobert with just 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Tyreke Evans sat out with a sprained ankle. Minnesota ended a four-game losing streak with a 112-109 home upset of Toronto on Wednesday. Andrew Wiggins had 31 points and Karl-Anthony Towns 29 points and 14 rebounds. Just-signed Lance Stephenson had six points in 20 minutes.Davis vs. Towns always is worth watching on the NBA League Pass. New Orleans won the first meeting 117-96 on Nov. 23. Davis had 45 points and 10 rebounds.
Key trends: The Pelicans are 2-6 ATS in their past eight in Minnesota. The over is 5-0 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: Timberwolves and over.
Pacers at Wizards (-5, 217.5)
First ESPN game. Indiana's seven-game winning streak ended in a 132-117 home loss to Cleveland on Wednesday. The Pacers led by 15 at one point. Jeff Teague had 22 points and 14 assists and Paul George finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists. I thought Washington would struggle in Brooklyn on Wednesday off its epic Monday loss to Cleveland and the Wizards did, escaping with a 114-110 OT win but not coming close to covering. Bradley Beal scored 31 points, John Wall added 23 points and 12 assists, and Otto Porter Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Ian Mahinmi, one of the Wizards' big offseason free-agent acquisitions, played in only his second game of the season due to injury and scored his first points. Indiana had won three straight in D.C. before a 111-105 loss there on Dec. 28 in the most recent meeting.
Key trends: The Pacers are 7-1 ATS in their past eight in D.C. The over is 8-1 in the previous nine meetings overall.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Hawks at Kings (+1, 210.5)
Atlanta concluded a three-game homestand at 2-1 with a 117-106 win over Denver on Wednesday. The Hawks never trailed and scored a season-high 72 points in the first half. Dennis Schroder had 24 points and 10 assists. Sacramento pulled a major surprise Wednesday in upsetting the Celtics 108-92 despite DeMarcus Cousins sitting out with a one-game suspension. Darren Collison had 25 points. Fellow point guard Ty Lawson strained his left hamstring and didn't play in the second half. He seems likely to miss a while. Sacramento dropped its 10th game in row in Atlanta on Halloween, 106-95. The Kings did beat visiting Atlanta last year.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 6-0 in the Kings' past six after a win.
Early lean: Kings and over.
Bulls at Suns (TBA)
Second ESPN game. Chicago was without Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade on Wednesday and predictably was routed at Golden State, 123-92. Then Paul Zipser, who started for Wade, suffered a left ankle injury in the first quarter and didn't return. Phoenix lost its third in a row Wednesday, 110-91 in Memphis. Devin Booker led the Suns with 20 points and Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight each finished with 16 as Phoenix lost its eighth in the last nine. First meeting between Chicago and Phoenix as the Cubs are set to begin spring training in the greater Phoenix area. So, yeah, expect plenty of Bulls fans in attendance Friday. These teams have split each of the past two years.
Key trends: The underdog is 7-0 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 11-5 in the Suns' past 16.
Early lean: Wait on Butler & Wade.
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