The worst game on the schedule in terms of current quality of teams Friday night has to be Heat at Lakers. It feels like forever ago, but it really hasn't been that long since it would have been one of the marquee regular-season games of the year with LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant. It's still such a shame those two never squared off in the NBA Finals as Kobe's career was trending downward when LeBron's was blowing up. But while both franchises are lottery-bound this season, both are also likely to be major players in free agency this summer. If you ask any NBA player about his two top destinations to play in or visit, it would be Los Angeles and Miami in whatever order (New York third). On top of the great weather, you have terrific party scenes chock full of celebrities. Neither franchise will thus be down very long, although the new CBA helps other teams keep their best players instead of bailing in free agency for L.A. (Shaq) or South Beach (LeBron).
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Timberwolves at Wizards (-6, 210)
Minnesota dropped a second straight Tuesday, 93-91 at Philadelphia on a Sixers buzzer-beater. Minnesota had rallied from a 26-point deficit to tie on a Ricky Rubio 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and 15 rebounds in the loss. Washington lost its second in a row Tuesday, 113-105 in Dallas. John Wall, December's Eastern Conference Player of the Month, led Washington with 27 points and Bradley Beal added 25 for the Wizards, who fell to 1-6 on the second half of back-to-back games. First meeting of the season between Minnesota and Washington. The teams have alternated victories over their last 14 meetings.
Key trends: The Wizards are 8-0 against the spread in their past eight at home. The "over/under" is 13-5 in their past 18 overall. Minnesota is 2-9 ATS in its past 11 in Washington.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Rockets at Magic (+6, 222)
Houston hosted Oklahoma City on Thursday with Patrick Beverley expected to return from a two-game injury absence. Orlando lost 111-92 at home to Atlanta on Wednesday. Magic coach Frank Vogel decided to move Elfrid Payton back into the starting lineup after coming off the bench for weeks. Payton had 15 points and six assists but was minus-8. Magic leading scorer Evan Fournier returned after missing five games but came off the bench. First meeting between Houston and Orlando. The Rockets have dropped their past two in Florida.
Key trends: The Rockets are 2-11 ATS in the past 13 meetings. The over is 7-3 in the Magic's past 10 at home.
Early lean: Magic and under.
76ers at Celtics (-12.5, 210)
Philadelphia won a second straight Tuesday, 93-91 over Minnesota on Robert Covington's shot off an inbounds play with 0.2 seconds left. The Sixers used Joel Embiid as a decoy and he set the screen to free Covington. Embiid finished with 25 points. Boston won its second in a row Tuesday, 115-104 over Utah. Isaiah Thomas had 29 points and a career-high 15 assists with just one turnover. Avery Bradley was back after missing a game due to illness. Boston has won the past nine meetings vs. Philadelphia. It was 107-106 in Philly on Dec. 3.
Key trends: The favorite is 7-2 ATS in the past nine meetings. The over is 4-1 in the past five in Boston.
Early lean: 76ers and under.
Cavaliers at Nets (TBA)
Brooklyn was in Indiana on Thursday. Cleveland's three-game winning streak ended in a 106-94 home loss to Chicago on Wednesday. Kyrie Irving was out again with a hamstring problem that's clearly fairly serious and Kevin Love was out as he's recovering from food poisoning. LeBron James had the flu but played and had 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. This one starts a season-high six-game road trip. Cleveland won the first meeting with Brooklyn 119-99 in Ohio. The Cavs were 1-1 at the Nets last year.
Key trends: The Cavs are 1-4-1 ATS in the past six in Brooklyn. The under is 6-0 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Wait on Irving and Love.
Knicks at Bucks (TBA)
First ESPN game. These teams played in New York on Wednesday and the Knicks lost their sixth in a row, 105-104. If Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn't already a superstar, he had his signature NBA moment by hitting the winning shot at the buzzer, the first of his pro career. The Greek Freak had 27 points and 13 rebounds and set up his winning shot with a steal off Derrick Rose. It was Milwaukee's third win in a row. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Knicks, who were without Kristaps Porzingis for a third consecutive game (Achilles). Joakim Noah might be in question here after hurting his shoulder late. These teams split last season in Milwaukee. New York has tied or defeated the Bucks in four of the last five season series.
Key trends: The Knicks are 1-4 ATS in the past five in Milwaukee. The over is 5-1 in the past six there.
Early lean: Wait on Porzingis.
Heat at Lakers (TBA)
Los Angeles was in Portland on Thursday night. Miami, which has learned it will be without Justise Winslow the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery, ended a six-game losing streak with a 107-102 victory at Sacramento on Wednesday. Tyler Johnson scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth. Hassan Whiteside (bruised right eye) was one of four injured players who were back in Miami, which included Winslow. But Dion Waiters played for the first time in a month and had four points in 10 minutes. Whiteside (eye) has a chance to join the team and play in this one. Miami beat the visiting Lakers 115-107 on Dec. 22. The Heat are 8-20 all-time at L.A.
Key trends: The Lakers are 2-5 ATS in their past seven in the second of a back-to-back. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Wait on Whiteside.
Grizzlies at Warriors (-14.5, 214)
Second ESPN game. Memphis lost a second in a row Wednesday, 115-106 at the Clippers. The Grizz led by 12 in the third quarter. Marc Gasol scored 23 points and Mike Conley had 17 points and a season-high 12 assists. Chandler Parsons sat out the second of a back-to-back. Golden State won its fourth straight Wednesday, 125-117 over Portland. Steph Curry had 35 points and Kevin Durant 30. Curry and Durant scored at least 25 points in the same game for the 10th time. Golden State lost at Memphis 110-89 on Dec. 10 but has taken the past four in the series at home.
Key trends: The Grizzlies are 2-6 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 9-2 in the past 11.
Early lean: Warriors and under.
Clippers at Kings (TBA)
L.A. won its second straight Wednesday, 115-106 over Memphis despite playing again without Chris Paul (hamstring), although Coach Doc Rivers says there's a good chance Paul could play here. Austin Rivers had a season-high 28 points in leading the rally vs. the Grizzlies. DeAndre Jordan had 18 points and 20 rebounds. Sacramento continues to be maddening, coming off a nice win in Denver on Tuesday and then starting a seven-game homestand Wednesday with a 107-102 loss to a Miami team largely full of reserves due to injury. DeMarcus Cousins basically took the night off with 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting. He should have dominated that game. Los Angeles won the first meeting 121-115 in Sacramento on Nov. 18 and has won eight in a row there.
Key trends: The Clippers are 5-2 ATS in their past seven in Sacramento. The over is 7-1 in the past eight meetings.
Early lean: Kings end home skid in series, Paul or not.
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