Have we seen the last of the Los Angeles Clippers as Western Conference contenders? As currently constructed, I believe we have. I really would have liked to have seen what this team could do in the playoffs with everyone healthy at once, but it never seemed to work out that way. The latest injury to hit the team was All-Star point guard Chris Paul, in the midst of one of his best seasons, undergoing thumb surgery on Wednesday following a Monday injury. He's going to miss 6-8 weeks. Of course the team is already without All-Star forward Blake Griffin. The Clips have been very good with Paul and without Griffin over the years but not the other way around -- and then terrible sans both. During Paul's six-year tenure in L.A., the Clippers are 264-120 (.688) when he suits up and 27-26 (.509) when he doesn't. Griffin, who should be back in a week or two, and Paul certainly should be healthy for the playoffs (knock on wood), but the problem now is the Clips have no shot at the West's No. 2 or No. 3 seed and the chance to avoid Golden State until the conference finals. Now they could slide down to No. 7 and have to open at San Antonio. The Clippers aren't winning that series. Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick all are free agents next summer. Coach Doc Rivers decided to keep the band together for one last run. I don't think it's going to work out. L.A. is now a +2000 long shot to win its first Western Conference title.
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Trail Blazers at 76ers (+1, 210)
Portland dropped a third in a row Wednesday, 107-85 in Charlotte. The Blazers were down seven entering the fourth. Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum had 18 for Portland, which got only 22 bench points. Philadelphia won for the seventh time in nine games Wednesday, a 94-89 upset of Toronto. Joel Embiid continues to amaze with 26 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes. Jahlil Okafor never got off the bench; the Blazers have been rumored as a trade partner for him. First meeting of the season between Portland and Philadelphia. They split last year, each winning at home.
Key trends: The Blazers are 1-4 against the spread in the past five meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in six of Philly's past seven at home.
Early lean: 76ers and under.
Raptors at Hornets ( -1.5, 216)
Toronto had a four-game winning streak end Wednesday, losing by five in Philadelphia in the second of a back-to-back. DeMar DeRozan scored 25 and Kyle Lowry had 24 points. I actually took the Sixers and the points as I thought one of those two might sit, and Coach Dwane Casey did consider doing so on DeRozan. Forward DeMarre Carroll left with a neck injury in the third quarter, but fellow forward Jared Sullinger made his season debut off foot surgery. Charlotte returned home from a winless five-game road trip and beat Portland by 22 on Wednesday. Kemba Walker had 23 points and Roy Hibbert, who sometimes doesn't even play, had a season-high 16 points. Charlotte lost the first meeting with Toronto 113-111 at home on Nov. 11. The Hornets led by five with four minutes left.
Key trends: The Raptors are 3-8 ATS in their past 11 in Charlotte. The over is 7-3 in the past 10 meetings.
Early lean: Hornets and over.
Bucks at Magic (+2, 209.5)
Milwaukee dropped a third in a row with a 111-92 loss in Houston on Wednesday. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. However, the Bucks scored just 39 first-half points. Orlando is also on a three-game skid following a 118-98 loss in New Orleans on Wednesday to complete a six-game trip. The Magic played their third straight game without leading scorer Evan Fournier, who is out with a bruised right heel. Jodie Meeks, who started in place of Fournier, left with a dislocated right thumb in the second half. Milwaukee is 2-0 vs. Orlando this season, but the Magic have won 19 of the last 21 meetings at home.
Key trends: The Bucks are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 in Orlando. The Magic are just 1-6-1 ATS in their past eight at home vs. teams with a losing road record. The under is 7-2 in the Magic's past nine on Friday.
Early lean: Magic and under.
Kings at Grizzlies (-6.5, 200.5)
Sacramento completed a seven-game homestand at 1-6 with a 106-100 loss to Indiana on Wednesday and lost Rudy Gay to a season-ending injury. I'll talk more about that in Saturday's Opening Line Report. The Kings led the Pacers by 22 in the first half. DeMarcus Cousins had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his fifth career triple-double. Memphis lost a second consecutive game Wednesday, 104-101 in Washington. Marc Gasol led Memphis with 28 points. This begins an eight-game trip for Sacramento. The Kings ended a 12-game losing streak at Memphis with a 96-92 victory there on Dec. 16.
Key trends: The Kings are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 10-3 in the past 13.
Early lean: Grizzlies and under.
Nets at Pelicans (TBA)
Brooklyn lost its 11th in a row Tuesday, 119-109 at home vs. Toronto. Brook Lopez had 28 points for the Nets. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 apiece. Jeremy Lin was out again with his hamstring injury, and you won't see him here. New Orleans ended a two-game losing streak with a 118-98 home win over Orlando on Wednesday. Anthony Davis was questionable, left for a little bit after hurting his hand but came back and finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds. It's now clear that guy is never going to play even 70 regular-season games in his career. Too brittle but so talented. New Orleans won the first meeting with Brooklyn 105-103 on Jan. 12 despite Davis missing the game.
Key trends: The Nets are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 8-2 in the Pelicans' past 10.
Early lean: Make sure Davis is playing.
Warriors at Rockets (TBA)
First of an ESPN doubleheader. Golden State won its fifth in a row Wednesday, 121-100 over Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant had a season-high 40 points to go with 12 rebounds as he was clearly fired up to face Russell Westbrook again. Klay Thompson was iffy due to a personal matter but played and had 14 points. Zaza Pachulia was called for a flagrant foul on Westbrook but shouldn't be facing suspension. Houston played terribly in Miami on Tuesday but bounced back with a 19-point home win over Milwaukee on Wednesday behind 38 points, eight assists and six rebounds from James Harden. Ryan Anderson missed his second in a row due to an illness. Houston won the first meeting with Golden State 132-127 in double OT on Dec. 1 in one of the season's best games. The Warriors have won four in a row in Houston, though.
Key trends: The Warriors are 6-2 ATS in their past eight in Houston. The over is 7-1 in the Rockets' past eight vs. the West.
Early lean: Like Houston here as it's been an emotional week thus far for the Dubs with games vs. the Cavs and OKC so they could be flat.
Bulls at Hawks (-4.5, 202.5)
Chicago had a two-game winning streak end in a 99-98 home loss to Dallas on Tuesday. The Bulls gave up a late 3-pointer and then Dwyane Wade, not Jimmy Butler, took the final shot for Chicago and missed on his 35th birthday. Butler finished with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. Taj Gibson was out with a sore ankle. Atlanta had its two-game winning streak end Wednesday in a 118-95 loss in Detroit. The Hawks were down 42-18 after a quarter and that was that. Atlanta won the first meeting with Chicago 115-107 and has taken five in a row in the series.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 5-1 in Chicago's past six overall.
Early lean: Hawks and under.
Jazz at Mavericks (TBA)
Utah has been off since extending its winning streak to four on Monday with a 106-101 victory in Phoenix. Joe Johnson scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 49.8 seconds to play. Utah scored the game's final seven points. Rudy Gobert had 18 points and 17 rebounds. Rodney Hood was out with a knee injury and unlikely here. Dallas was in Miami on Thursday night most likely without Andrew Bogut again. He certainly wouldn't play both back-to-backs even if in there vs. the Heat. Dirk Nowitzki also might sit one of the two. Utah is 2-0 vs. Dallas this season, with both in Salt Lake City.
Key trends: The Jazz are 1-3-1 ATS in their past five in Dallas. The under is 5-2 in the Mavs' past seven at home.
Early lean: Jazz and under regardless.
Pacers at Lakers (+3.5 220)
Second ESPN game. Indiana won a second straight Wednesday, 106-100 in Sacramento, outscoring the Kings 65-40 in the second half. Jeff Teague had 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in Nate McMillan's 500th career win as a head coach. Only three other active coaches -- Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle -- have 500 or more victories. L.A. has lost five in a row following a 127-121 defeat at home vs. Denver on Tuesday. The Lakers did nearly rally from a 17-point fourth-quarter hole. Luol Deng missed the game with a sprained right wrist and is out indefinitely. Indiana beat the Lakers 115-108 on Nov. 1 and has taken the past three in the series.
Key trends: The Pacers are 0-3-1 ATS in the past four meetings. The over is 5-2 in the Lakers' past seven after a loss.
Early lean: Lakers and over.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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