The most interesting game the rest of the 2016-17 NBA regular season arrives Saturday as Kevin Durant makes his long-awaited return to Oklahoma City after jettisoning the title-contending Thunder for the Golden State Warriors in free agency. I'm still shocked he did that. There's no doubt in my mind that Durant will be booed heavily in introductions and every time he touches the ball despite all he did for that franchise. The folks in OKC justifiably, in my opinion, feel that Durant left their small-town talented team for a bigger-city championship near-lock. If you can't beat them, join them type of thing. That's also Durant's prerogative. I don't think things will be as bad in terms of the fans as when LeBron James first returned to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat, because James is from the Cleveland area and Durant had no previous ties to Oklahoma City. It won't be pretty, though. I do expect Durant to have a huge game and his Warriors teammates will keep feeding him. Also believe Durant's former sidekick, Russell Westbrook, will have a huge statistical night as he'll want to singlehandedly defend his home court in this one.
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Clippers at Hornets (-2, 216.5)
Los Angeles ended a three-game skid by winning at the Knicks in the "Charles Oakley Game" 119-115 on Wednesday. Blake Griffin had a season-high 32 points and DeAndre Jordan 28 points and 15 boards. L.A. was down 10 in the fourth. Charlotte lost for the eighth time in nine games Thursday, 107-95 at home to Houston. Kemba Walker was held to 14 points and a had season-high six turnovers. Cody Zeller returned after missing seven games with a quad injury but then left with the same problem. First meeting of the season between L.A. and Charlotte. The Hornets have lost the past four in the series (two at home).
Key trends: The Clippers are 5-11 against the spread in their past 16 road games. They are 10-3 ATS in the past 13 vs. Charlotte. The "over/under" has gone under in seven of the Hornets' past eight at home.
Early lean: Hornets and under.
Bucks at Pacers (-6, 212)
Milwaukee hosted the Lakers on Friday,and the Bucks got terrible news Thursday in that Jabari Parker has torn his ACL for a second time. I will go more in-depth on that in Tuesday's Opening Line Report, but it's devastating to the young, rising team and Parker. Indiana was in Washington on Friday. Will be fun to watch Paul George try to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo in a matchup of All-Stars. The Bucks and Pacers have met once this season and that was way back on Nov. 3, a 125-107 Milwaukee home win. The Greek Freak and Parker each had 27 points. George had 23. The two teams combined for 43 turnovers.
Key trends: The Bucks are 4-1 ATS in the past five in Indiana. The over is 5-2 in the past seven meetings.
Early lean: Pacers - I wouldn't touch the Bucks for a while now - and under.
Heat at 76ers (+4.5, 206.5)
Miami was in Brooklyn on Friday looking for a 13th straight win and likely to get it. Philadelphia ended a five-game skid with a 112-111 win in Orlando on Thursday. T.J. McConnell hit the winning jumper with 5.8 seconds left. Rookie Dario Saric had 24 points. Joel Embiid missed a seventh straight game with knee issues and won't play here. The Sixers are 14-18 with Embiid in the lineup and 6-16 without him.Miami and Philadelphia have split two meetings, each winning at home. The Heat's win was last Saturday, 125-102.
Key trends: The Heat are 4-1 ATS in the past five in Philly. The over is 10-2 in the Sixers' past 12 overall.
Early lean: Heat and over.
Nuggets at Cavaliers (-12.5, 228.5)
Denver was at the Knicks on Friday with Emmanuel Mudiay, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried all out. So I'm sure they sit here. The Cavs brought a four-game winning streak into Oklahoma City on Thursday and Coach Tyronn Lue seemed to indicate he was going to rest his Big 3 in that one - but they all played. Perhaps they shouldn't have as Cleveland lost 118-109. Kyrie Irving had 28 points, LeBron James 18 and Kevin Love 15 points and 12 rebounds. I watched most of that, and LeBron looked a bit sluggish in playing 40 minutes. I don't think he will sit in a home game, but I'm not ruling it out. First meeting between Denver and Cleveland. The Cavs swept last season. LeBron has scored 20 points or more in 16 straight games against Denver.
Key trends: The Nuggets are 1-4-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 5-0 in the Cavs' past five.
Early lean: Cavs (if everyone plays) and over.
Warriors at Thunder (+6.5, 226)
This is the ABC Saturday night game. Golden State was in Memphis on Friday. How funny would it be if Coach Steve Kerr gave Durant the second of a back-to-back off here? The Thunder folks might riot if that happened. What a giant middle finger that would be to them if Durant asked for it. Oklahoma City won for the third time in four games Thursday in upsetting the Cavaliers 118-109 behind 29 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists from Westbrook in his 26th triple-double of the season. He looked really fired up to play that game - Westbrook's head might explode for this one. Golden State has hammered Oklahoma City twice in Oakland this season. Durant had 79 combined points in them. Zaza Pachulia laid a big hit on Westbrook in the most recent meeting, and Westbrook vowed payback. Alas, it's not likely to happen here as Pachulia hasn't played since Jan. 29 due to a shoulder injury.
Key trends: The Warriors are 1-7 ATS in their past eight in the second of a back-to-back. They are 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 4-0 in the previous four.
Early lean: Thunder and under.
Suns at Rockets (-13.5, 231.5)
Phoenix hosted Chicago on Friday. Houston won its third straight Thursday, 107-95 in Charlotte. James Harden had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Eric Gordon (back soreness) and Nene (shoulder) did not play for the Rockets. I expect both to play here as it was a pseudo-rest night, but they are listed as questionable (Nene doesn't much matter). Houston has won two very high-scoring games vs. Phoenix this season.
Key trends: The Suns are 3-8 ATS in the past 11 meetings. The over is 4-0 in the past four.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
Magic at Mavericks ( -6, 204.5)
Orlando is on a three-game skid following an unacceptable 112-111 home loss to the Joel Embiid-less 76ers on Thursday. I truly don't understand how the Magic are so bad. They have some nice talent. Ersan Ilyasova was the only starter in double figures with 16 points. Aaron Gordon sat out with an ankle injury, and he's doubtful here. The Mavs beat visiting Utah 112-105 in OT on Thursday despite trailing by 21 in the third quarter. Dirk Nowitzki sent the game to OT on a rebound putback with 3 seconds left. Harrison Barnes had 31 points. Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams both sat again and aren't expected here. Orlando beat Dallas 95-87 on Nov. 19, but the Magic have lost the past four in Big D. The Mavericks have not lost a season series with the Magic since 1997-98.
Key trends: The Mavericks are 8-0 ATS in their past eight at home. The over is 8-1 in the Magic's past nine on the road.
Early lean: Mavericks and over.
Celtics at Jazz (-5.5, 203.5)
Boston bounced back from a puzzling loss in Sacramento on Wednesday with a 120-111 win in Portland on Thursday. Isaiah Thomas had 34 points, 15 in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder missed the game for a family issue but should be back here. Utah had a four-game winning streak end Thursday in a 112-105 OT loss in Dallas, blowing a 21-point lead. Rudy Gobert had career highs of 27 points and 25 rebounds but fouled out late in regulation. Gordon Hayward had a season-high 36 points but missed a 3 at the end of regulation. George Hill sat out with a toe injury that has had him bouncing in and out of the lineup all year. Boston beat Utah 115-104 on Jan. 3 but lost in Salt Lake City last year. The Jazz are looking to win back-to-back home games in the series for the first time this decade.
Key trends: The home team is 3-0-1 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 4-1 in the Celtics' past five vs. the West.
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