Two things happened around the NBA Tuesday that now make me think the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't quite such a sure thing to win the Eastern Conference for a third straight season. The first was that Cavs All-Star forward Kevin Love has been ruled out six weeks following knee surgery. Love, who is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds this season, first experienced the pain during Cleveland's 125-109 win over the Nuggets on Saturday. A six-week timetable means Love would return with a couple of weeks left in the regular season. What if there's a setback? What if Love can't play heavy minutes the rest of this season because of the knee? Love might not be as important to that team as LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but he's important. The Cavaliers don't have the salary-cap space nor assets for a trade to replace Love. (Would the Cavs now consider dealing an injured Love to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony? Would the Knicks even say yes?) Don't rule out Boston passing Cleveland for the East's top seed now, especially if the Celtics make a big move by the Feb. 23 trade deadline. The Love news might make Celtics GM Danny Ainge more aggressive because the East is potentially up for grabs. Also keep in mind that the Cavs have to start cutting back on LeBron's minutes at some point, so this team could struggle a bit after the break -- relatively speaking.
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The Toronto Raptors are going all-in for this season as they traded swingman Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick (the lesser of theirs or the Clippers') to Orlando for forward Serge Ibaka - the second big thing Tuesday. The Raptors were in great shape at every position but at the power forward spot, and Ibaka fills that nicely. He's an excellent defender and can step out and hit the 3-pointer. Ibaka was averaging 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game for the Magic this season. I absolutely love that deal for the Dinos. Not so much for Orlando, which gave up Victor Oladipo and 2016 No. 11 overall pick Domantas Sabonis to the Thunder on draft night last year for Ibaka. The Magic weren't convinced they could re-sign the free-agent-to-be Ibaka this summer so they at least got something in return - that original trade was widely considered theft by the Thunder. The Raptors think Ibaka would re-sign, and that city's very international flavor likely will appeal to him. I'm not sure Toronto can catch Boston for the Atlantic Division title, and the Raptors probably will finish no better than third in the East. But right now, with the Love injury and pre-Celtics move, I like their starting five better than any in the conference. Cleveland is currently -305 at 5Dimes to win the East, with Boston at +800 and Toronto at +1465.
This is the last Opening Line Report for a week with the NBA hitting the All-Star break.
Wizards at Pacers (+1, 217)
Washington brings a three-game winning streak into this one after beating the visiting Thunder 120-98 on Monday. The Wiz were up by as many as 34 after OKC missed 24 straight shots. John Wall had 15 points and 14 assists and Bradley Beal 22 points. Beal already has set a season career high for 3-pointers made. Indiana was in Cleveland on Wednesday. It's the last meeting of the season between Washington and Indiana. The Wizards lead 2-1, winning both at home. Wall is averaging 27.0 points, 11.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds in the three. Paul George is averaging 30.7 points vs. the Wizards in 2016-17.
Key trends: The Wizards are 7-0 against the spread in their past seven at Indiana. The "over/under" is 9-1 in the past 10 meetings.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Celtics at Bulls (TBA)
Just the one TNT game this Thursday. Boston hosted Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Chicago upset visiting Toronto 105-94 on Tuesday to end a three-game skid and extend its winning streak over the Raptors to 11. Dwayne Wade and Nikola Mirotic were out again, and you probably won't see them here. Jimmy Butler was back and had 19 points and 12 assists. Might this be Butler's last game in a Bulls uniform? Taj Gibson's? Doug McDermott's? Robin Lopez's? The Bulls are definitely open for business and they don't play again until the day after the trade deadline. Rumors are they will have acquired Philly's Jahlil Okafor by then. Boston and Chicago split two early-season meetings, each winning at home.
Key trends: The favorite is 6-0 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 7-1 in the Celtics' past eight in the second of a back-to-back. The under is 6-2 in the Bulls' past eight at home.
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