I guess we can put those rumors of the Sacramento Kings trading franchise player DeMarcus Cousins to bed. Cousins is signed through next season, and if he told the Kings he was leaving then, they probably would have no recourse but to trade Cousins. However, Cousins is eligible to sign an extension this summer, and the Kings are going to give him the max offer possible, a nice five-year, $207 million extension (dollars could change slightly depending on where the official cap number lands). As an eligible designated player, Cousins can take home up to 35 percent of the team's salary cap, which is set at roughly $102 million for next season. That designated player exception is an addition to the CBA and it allows smaller-market teams a better opportunity to hang onto their stars. Cousins does plan to sign the deal because it will be worth about $35 million more over the life of it than any other club could offer. I know for a fact the Lakers and Celtics covet Cousins and have the assets to get something done, but it's going to be a moot point. Maybe the Kings will actually reach the playoffs once in Cousins' career.
Hornets at 76ers (TBA)
Charlotte lost its third in a row Tuesday, 121-114 in Houston. Kemba Walker had 25 points. Big man Cody Zeller was out with an illness and swingman Nic Batum sat a second in a row with a hyperextended knee, but Batum returned to practice on Thursday so there's a chance he returns sooner than expected. Philadelphia tries for its first three-game winning streak of the season. It comes off a 98-97 win over the Knicks in which T.J. McConnell hit a buzzer-beater. The 76ers were down 10 with 2:29 left. Joel Embiid had 21 points and 14 rebounds. Charlotte beat Philadelphia 109-93 on Nov. 2, has won six straight in the series and the past two in Philly.
Key trends: The Hornets are 4-1 against the spread in the past five meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in Philly's past five at home.
Early lean: Philly plays again Saturday, so wait and see what Sixers do with Embiid.
Nets at Raptors ( -14.5, 222.5)
Brooklyn hosted the Pelicans on Thursday, so you could see the Nets sit their best player, center Brook Lopez, in the second of a back-to-back. They have at times this season. Toronto ended a two-game losing streak with a 114-106 win over Boston on Tuesday. DeMar DeRozan had a season-high 41 points and the Raptors closed the game on a 19-4 run. Jonas Valanciunas added a career-high 23 rebounds and 18 points in his best game of the season. Toronto beat Brooklyn 116-104 on Dec. 20 and has taken five straight in the series.
Key trends: The road team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 4-1 in those.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
Heat at Bucks (TBA)
Miami lost 107-95 in Golden State on Tuesday, its third straight defeat. Hassan Whiteside had 28 points and 20 rebounds for the Heat, who were outscored 26-14 in the third quarter after leading 54-53 at halftime. This concludes a six game cross-country road trip, so I love the Bucks even though it could be a bit of a letdown game for them off a 109-107 upset in San Antonio on Tuesday. Michael Beasley scored a season-high 28 points largely in place of an ill Giannis Antetokounmpo, who did play but lasted only nine minutes and was scoreless. Miami beat visiting Milwaukee 96-73 on Nov. 17.
Key trends: The Heat are 2-6 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 6-2-1 in the previous nine in Milwaukee.
Early lean: Wait on Greek Freak, but if he plays like Bucks and under.
Grizzlies at Rockets (TBA)
Memphis saw its two-game winning streak end in a 103-95 defeat at Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Marc Gasol, the team's leading scorer at nearly 20 points per game, finished with nine on 4-for-12 shooting. Houston's nine-game winning streak was snapped Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back, 119-105 in Minnesota. James Harden had 33 points and 12 assists as he tried to become the first player in league history with three straight 40-point triple-doubles. He was six rebounds shy of a triple-double. Eric Gordon sat out again. Houston lost the first meeting in Memphis 115-109 on Dec. 23. The Rockets led 78-77 to start the fourth but the Grizz pulled away on a 21-5 run. Harden had 16 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds and nine turnovers.
Key trends: The Rockets are 9-0 ATS in their past nine after a loss. The over is 7-2 in the previous nine meetings.
Early lean: Wait on Gordon.
Thunder at Timberwolves (TBA)
Oklahoma City won its third consecutive Wednesday, 103-95 over Memphis. Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for his 18th triple-double, matching his total for all of last season. OKC is now 15-3 when he has one this year. This starts a six-game trip for the Thunder. Minnesota is on a two-game winning streak after a 119-105 upset of Houston on Wednesday. Andrew Wiggins scored 28 points, Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and 18 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio tied his own team record with 17 assists. Zach LaVine missed the game with a left hip contusion. OKC is 2-0 vs. Minnesota this season, with the Thunder scoring 112 points and winning by at least 12 in each. Both of those were home, though.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 10-3 in OKC's past 13 vs. teams with a losing home record.
Early lean: Wait on LaVine.
Celtics at Hawks (TBA)
First of an ESPN doubleheader. Boston bounced back from a loss in Toronto on Tuesday with a 117-108 win over Washington on Wednesday. Isaiah Thomas had 38 points, 20 in the fourth quarter. There were nearly a couple of fights in the game. Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller were among the Celtics out injured. Atlanta won its seventh in a row Tuesday, 117-97 in Brooklyn. Dennis Schroder had 19 points and 10 assists, and Dwight Howard added 14 points and 16 rebounds. First meeting of the season between these clubs and of course Al Horford's return to Atlanta, where he had spent his entire career and became an occasional All-Star before leaving last offseason in free agency.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 5-1 in the previous six.
Early lean: Wait on those Celtics.
Magic at Trail Blazers (TBA)
Orlando dropped its fourth straight Wednesday, 105-96 at the Clippers. Aaron Gordon had 28 points and Nikola Vucevic 16 points and 12 rebounds for his team-high 18th double-double. Serge Ibaka missed the game with a sprained right shoulder. Portland won a second straight Wednesday with a 102-86 home upset of Cleveland. C.J. McCollum had 27 points and Allen Crabbe 24 off the bench. First meeting of the season between Orlando and Portland. They split last year, each winning at home.
Key trends: The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 6-1 in Portland's past seven after a win.
Early lean: TBA for Ibaka but like Blazers and over regardless.
Cavaliers at Kings (+6, 211)
Cleveland followed a loss in Utah on Tuesday with a 102-86 defeat in Portland on Wednesday. LeBron James had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who didn't get into Portland until early morning due to weather delays. Kevin Love left briefly after a collision but returned and thus should be fine. Sacramento ended a three-game losing streak with a 100-94 win over Detroit on Tuesday. Cousins had 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to help lead a comeback from an 18-point hole. First meeting between Cleveland and Sacramento. The Cavs swept last year and scored 120 points in each game.
Key trends: The Cavs are 0-6 ATS in their past six. The under is 6-1 in the Kings' past seven vs. the East.
Early lean: Like the Kings in an upset as the Cavs could be looking forward to Monday's trip to Golden State.
Pistons at Jazz (-8, 191)
Second ESPN game. Detroit was in Golden State on Thursday so I don't expect much from the Pistons here. Utah beat Cleveland 100-92 on Tuesday. Gordon Hayward had 28 points and led a decisive 16-0 run in the third quarter. Rudy Gobert posted his franchise-best 25th consecutive game with 10-plus rebounds (14). Watching Gobert battle Andre Drummond will be good TV here. First meeting between Detroit and Utah. The Pistons swept two low-scoring games last season.
Key trends: The Pistons are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 6-2 in the past eight.
Early lean: Love the under even as small as it is. Go Jazz.
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