Now that we are into the NBA's final month of the regular season and with just a couple of weeks left, this is a time to make a killing on wagers in my opinion . You should be able to easily identify which teams at this point are in Operation Shutdown to improve their draft lottery chances - OK, it's tough to handicap when those clubs play each other -- and which are still playing for something. There are five games on Saturday opposite the Final Four and only four teams in action still care: LA Clippers, Atlanta, Chicago and Portland. The Brooklyn Nets are somewhat stuck in the middle because losing does them no good as their first-round pick will be going to Boston. The key race to watch is for the second- and third-worst records in the league between the Lakers and Suns. They are both in full-out quit mode and in action Saturday. Ditto Orlando, which probably cleans house in the front office this offseason. The Magic won't catch the Suns or Lakers but need to stay put with the fourth-worst record. The Knicks, 76ers and Kings are right on their tail for that. I think the four-worst teams should play a mini-tournament for the No. 1 pick. The winner gets it.
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Lakers at Clippers (-14, 222.5)
A 3:30 p.m. ET tip. The Lakers were blown out for a third straight game Thursday, 119-104 in Minnesota. Jordan Clarkson scored 18 points and D'Angelo Russell had 14 points and seven assists for the Lakers, who have lost 17 of their last 19 games. Brandon Ingram missed his third straight game with patellar tendinitis in his right knee, and I'd be surprised if he's not shut down at this point. The Clippers won a second straight Thursday, 124-118 in Phoenix. Blake Griffin scored 31 points, and Chris Paul added 29 points and 10 assists. The Lakers won the first meeting this season on Christmas to end an 11-game skid in the rivalry, but the Clippers have easily won the past two.
Key trends: The "home" team is 4-1 against the spread in the past five meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of the past 10.
Early lean: Lakers and over.
Hawks at Bulls ( -3.5, 198)
Atlanta won a second straight Wednesday, 99-92 in Philadelphia. Dwight Howard, who has had a nice season, had 22 points and 20 rebounds. Paul Millsap was out again and won't play here, but Kent Bazemore returned from injury and had 19 points in 20 minutes. I was dead wrong on the Bulls' 18-game home winning streak on TNT Thursdays ending as they upset the Cavaliers 99-93. Nikola Mirotic tied season highs with 28 points and six 3-pointers, and Jimmy Butler scored 25. Chicago finished 4-0 vs. Cleveland this year, although they could meet in the first round of the playoffs. Atlanta goes for the four-game season sweep of Chicago and has taken seven straight in the series.
Key trends: The Hawks are 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 10-2 in the past 12 in Chicago.
Early lean: Bulls and under.
Magic at Nets (-3, 219.5)
Orlando was in Boston on Friday to start a three-game road trip. Brooklyn lost a second straight Thursday, 90-89 in Detroit. Brook Lopez missed a 3-pointer late. The Nets led by four with 1:40 to go. Sean Kilpatrick scored 15 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jeremy Lin each had 14 points for the Nets. Still, it was a solid March for the Nets as they were 7-10 and never lost more than two in a row. Orlando won the first meeting with Brooklyn 118-111 on Dec. 16 and swept last year.
Key trends: The Magic are 4-1 ATS in the past five in Brooklyn. The under is 7-1 in the previous eight meetings there.
Early lean: Magic and under.
Kings at Timberwolves (-11, 210.5)
Sacramento was in New Orleans on Friday. Minnesota won a second straight Thursday, 119-104 at the Lakers. Ricky Rubio had a career-high 33 points to go with 10 assists and five rebounds and Karl-Anthony Towns added 32 points. The Wolves surpassed last year's win total, but it has still been a disappointing season. Sacramento leads the season series with Minnesota 2-1, but those were both largely due to DeMarcus Cousins. Nine of the teams' last 15 meetings have been decided by five points or fewer.
Key trends: The Kings are 2-7 ATS in the past nine meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Wolves and under.
Suns at Trail Blazers (-12, 221.5)
Phoenix dropped its 10th consecutive on Thursday, 124-119 against the Clippers. Devin Booker was back from a one-game absence and had 33 points and a career-high nine assists. He passed Dwight Howard for the fifth-most points by an NBA player before age 21. Tyler Ulis had 16 points and matched his career best with 12 assists. Phoenix is 0-9 since deciding to sit Eric Bledsoe for the rest of the season. Portland won its fifth straight Thursday, 117-107 over Houston. Damian Lillard had 31 points and 11 assists, becoming the first player in franchise history to score 30 points eight times in a calendar month. A win here gets Portland to .500 for the first time since early December. Portland leads Phoenix 2-1 this season; the Suns won on aBledsoe three-pointer at the overtime buzzer on Nov. 2. Lillard is averaging 34.7 points against the Suns.
Key trends: The Suns are 6-2 ATS in their past eight in Portland. The under is 5-1 in the past six there.
Early lean: Suns and over.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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