NBA preps for All-Star break

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The unofficial first half of the NBA regular season comes to a close this week as the league heads into the All-Star break, so teams will want to finish strong before they take a few days off. Here’s a quick look at some of this week’s Association action.

Wednesday’s sheet includes several matchups of playoff-bounds or playoff-hopefuls.

The Orlando Magic, who have recently re-taken the lead in the Southeast Division from the Atlanta Hawks, visit the Chicago Bulls (8 pm Eastern). Orlando also owns the two seed in the Eastern Conference standings, while the Bulls are tied for the six spot in the East with the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Magic are also 22-30 on the NBA totals this season, while Chicago is 19-29 on the OVER/UNDER.

The Boston Celtics, who are only 9-12 since Christmas, visit a hung-over New Orleans to take on the Hornets (8 E, NBA TV). Boston leads the Atlantic Division by five games over the second-place Toronto Raptors, and they own the three spot in the East. But the Celtics are just 19-29 vs. the pointspreads this season.

The Hornets, meanwhile, have lost four of their last five game and have fallen into last place in the Southwest Division. Also, they’re tied for 10th place in the Western Conference standings, 2.5 games back of the eighth-place Portland Trail Blazers

Speaking of Portland, losers of five of their last eight games, they visit the Phoenix Suns (9 E) Wednesday. Phoenix has won five straight games, and owns the five seed in the West.

And also out West those defending league champion Lakers trek to Utah to tangle with the Jazz (9 E). L.A. leads the Pacific Division by 8.5 games over second-place Phoenix, they’re five games up on Denver in the race for the best record in the West, and they’re a game and a half back of Cleveland in the battle for the best record in the league.

The Jazz, meanwhile, have won eight straight games to jump into the four spot in the West, and they’re a profitable 29-17 vs. the pointspreads this season, the second-best ATS mark in the league.

The Lakers have also managed to win their last two games, over Portland and San Antonio, without Kobe Bryant, who’s dealing with a sprained ankle. His status for Wednesday night is uncertain.

Thursday night’s TNT TV doubleheader, the last night of action going into the All-Star break, consists of a couple of possible playoff series previews. In the East, Orlando visits Cleveland (8 E). And in the West, Denver hosts San Antonio (10:30 E).

Through Monday the Cavs have won 11 in a row, and lead the East by six games over the Magic.

San Antonio trails first-place Dallas by 2.5 games in the Southwest Division, and is tied with Oklahoma City for the six spot in the West.

Denver, meanwhile, which is just 3-3 over its last six games, leads the Northwest Division by two games over second-place Utah.

Almost everybody then takes a long weekend off, while a couple dozen of the best players in the league congregate down in Arlington, Texas for Sunday’s All-Star Game (8 E, TNT).

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