Thunder, Hornets highlight NBA slate

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NBA playoff races are getting interesting, and we haven’t even hit the All-Star break yet. Here’s a quick look at some of this week’s more relevant Association action, and some futures bettors might want to consider.

Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder, riding a nice collection of young talent toward a playoff berth, visit the New Orleans Hornets (8 pm Eastern). The OKC, as of Tuesday morning, is tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. The Hornets, meanwhile, have won 13 of their last 19 games, and trail the Thunder and Grizz by a half-game in the West standings. But New Orleans is now playing without its great point guard Chris Paul, who hurt his knee last week, and is not expected back for at least a month. Rookie Darren Collison takes over at the point for the Hornets.

In Boston, the Celtics, who just snapped a three-game losing streak, host the Miami Heat (8 E, ESPN). Miami has lost four of its last five games, and while they own the eight spot in the East at the moment, they’re only two games up on Milwaukee. Boston, meanwhile, is looking a bit long in the tooth, and has seen its lead in the Atlantic Division dwindle to five games over second-place Toronto. And the Celts have dropped into a tie for the three spot in the Eastern Conference standings, 6.5 games behind top-seeded Cleveland.

Also Wednesday the non-stop nightly battle for the final four Western Conference playoff slots continues when the Utah Jazz, recent winners of 10 of 11 games, host the Portland Trail Blazers (9 E). And the Phoenix Suns visit the Denver Nuggets, winners of 12 of their last 14 games (10:30 E, ESPN).

And in an interesting coaching matchup, Larry Brown’s Charlotte Hornets visit Phil Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 E).

Thursday’s TNT-TV doubleheader features a couple of good intra-conference matchups. First, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lead the Lakers by one game in the race for the best record in the league, host Miami (8 E). After that, Portland hosts the San Antonio Spurs in a meeting of two teams tied for the five spot in the West (10:30 E).

Friday night the Chicago Bulls, who have played their way into a tie for the six spot in the East by winning nine of their last 11 games, visit Atlanta (8 E, ESPN). Also, the Houston Rockets, who trail Memphis and OKC by a game in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot, visit the Grizz (8 E). And in a rematch of the West Finals of last season, the Lakers host the Nuggets (10:30 E, ESPN).

As of Tuesday is listing the Lakers as -150 favorites to win the NBA championship this season. The defending champs are followed on that board by, among others, Cleveland at +100, Orlando at +300, Boston at +400, Denver at +500, the Dallas Mavericks at +800, San Antonio at +1,500, Atlanta at +2,500, Phoenix at +3,000, Chicago and Portland at +4,000, Utah and New Orleans at +7,500, Houston and Oklahoma City at +10,000, Miami at +12,000, and Memphis at +15,000.

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