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What is it going to take for the Suns to get some respect? Or is the injury to Devin Booker the reason why they are getting seven points tonight at Golden State against the Warriors?

Whatever the case, we have a situation on our hands as we look at tonight’s NBA schedule. The No. 1 team in the league has a chance to make it 19 straight wins but is playing on the second half of a back-to-back, and the Suns are missing their best offensive player. But let’s not forget that Golden State remains without Klay Thompson and James Wiseman, and injuries, COVID issues and last-minute scratches continue to plague the NBA.

The Suns are 19-3 and the Warriors are 18-3, holding the top two records in the league heading into the nightcap of an ESPN doubleheader. Those are the two best records in the league, but Booker injured his hamstring Tuesday night when these teams played each other for the first time this season, and he remains sidelined as Phoenix errs on the side of caution.

Might he play tonight? You have to assume “no,” but as we learned last night with Giannis Antetokoumpo being a late scratch against the Raptors, it always pays to wait and see as these games get closer to tipoff.

The Suns are coming off an 11-point home victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons in which Landry Shamet (31 minutes as a starter) and Cameron Payne (21 minutes as a reserve) combined for 33 points to more than make up for the 23.3 per game that Booker has been contributing. Shamet is in his fifth season in the NBA and is playing for his fourth team, and whether he has put together a series of good games is a key to whether the Suns can get their winning streak into the 20s.

Tonight’s other big game is the first matchup of the season between the Clippers and the Lakers, with LeBron James making his return after something fishy happened, as he tweeted, and he returned a positive COVID test. He was cleared Thursday night and should be on the court for what will be just his 12th game of the season. The Lakers are favored by two points at the arena we can still call the Staples Center for a couple more weeks, and they have the NBA’s best record on over/unders (14-9-0) with tonight’s number just 218.5.

The last time they had James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook playing together, the Lakers and Pistons totaled 216. But in the previous two games with that superstar trio in action, the Lakers and Kings reached 278 points, and the Lakers and Pistons reached 237. James' points over/under for Friday night is 23.5, and we suggest you jump on the "over". The NBA’s only player who defies biology by refusing to get worse and he gets older, James has gone for 33, 30 and 39 in his last three games.

LeBron has missed too many games to qualify for the league leaders in statistical categories, but his 25.8 average is only 2.8 points behind Kevin Durant’s league-leading 28.6, and because we would never put anything beyond his capabilities, we will point out that he is +8000 to lead the league in scoring. Those of you who like fliers may want to look into that.

Aside from the Suns, no team has a longer winning streak than four games, and that one belongs to the jigsaw puzzle known as the Houston Rockets, who are last in the West and have the second-worst record in the league. But at least they do not have the stigma currently being carried by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost by an NBA record 73 points last night at Memphis. Fair to say the Grizzlies covered. And props to those who took the Memphis -72 teaser.

That result illustrates the unpredictability of this particular NBA season, but making sense out of chaos is what we do here. So let’s begin by taking another look at the Sixth Man of the Year award market, where Tyler Herro remains a -140 prohibitive favorite but has recently moved into the starting lineup as Jimmy Butler has been sidelined. If Herro, who has five starts and 14 bench appearances, plays more games as a starter than he does as a reserve, he becomes ineligible to win the award.

Montrezl Harrell, who had 10 dunks among his 11 buckets while scoring 27 points Wednesday night against Minnesota, is on the board at +1400 in that category and is a good hedge if you took our advice earlier this season and played Herro for Sixth Man. Harrell does not have any player props on the board for tonight’s home game against Washington, which is strange. But it also is strange to see Jarrett Allen of the Cavs with a 3-pointers made over/under of 0.5. Since he has made only one all season and has attempted only four, that “under” looks extremely safe tonight.

That’s the thing about gambling on nightly NBA games: The deeper of a dive you take, the more you can find those golden nuggets. Which brings us back to the Rockets.

They are 2.5-point favorites in a matchup with the 5-18 Orlando Magic. This is only the fourth time this year they have been favored, and they are 2-1 in those previous three games. Both the Magic and the Rockets go under a whole lot more than they go over, but we would counsel staying away from the 216 point total. This season has been too unpredictable to make a pick there with any degree of confidence.

Instead, go with the hot hand of Jae’Sean Tate, who had a monster line of 32 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks in a victory Wednesday over Oklahoma State. Tate’s is worth watching as a late bloomer on Most Improved Player markets, especially with last week’s favorite, Ja Morant, out until January with a left knee sprain. (We will look more closely at that market next week). His individual over/unders were not posted as of 11am ET, but Tate has gone for 20 assists combined in the past three games after taking 14 games to get his previous 20 dimes. His assists over/under is set at 3.5, and we like the over.

When it comes to cold hands, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers is working himself back into shape after a bout with COVID-19 and has shot 4-for-16 and 3-for-17 in his last two games. The Sixers are inn Atlanta tonight for the first half of the ESPN doubleheader, and Embiid’s point total over/under seems high at 22.5. The flip side of that coin is that he has played well against the Hawks, averaging 30.4 points per game in last season’s playoff series against the Hawks. "I would never use it as an excuse but obviously I think it's going to take me awhile to get back, especially legs and cardio and all that stuff," Embiid said after a loss to the Celtics.

Despite the slump, we would counsel staying away from Embiid’s point total and focus instead on his rebounding. The center from Cameroon has grabbed 18, 14, 13 and 16 in his past four games and averaged 12.7 against the Hawks in their seven-game series last June. His rebound over/under is 10.5, which seems a bit low. So we like the over on that one, along with Tobias Harris being under 18.5 points. He has failed to reach 18 points in five of his past six games.

In the Suns-Warriors game, Steph Curry is due for a bounce-back game after going just 4-for-21 from the field Tuesday night in Phoenix. Golden State has not played since and will be well-rested and playing at home in San Francisco, and Betway is offering +900 odds on Curry scoring 35 or more points and having eight or more assists. He has done that only twice this season, so we would not advise making that wager with your Christmas money. But he is the prohibitive MVP favorite (+130) for a reason, and three of his four 40-or-more-point performances have come at home. We like the over on his point total over/under of 28.5.

Curry and the Warriors also have a home game Saturday night against the Spurs, and since Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have a friendly rivalry that dates back to Kerr playing for Pop, expect the coach to unleash the MVP frontrunner with a little extra gusto. Also keep an eye on the triple-double prop line for Dejounte Murray, who has had three of them this season after having four all of last season.

Also, one other piece of advice for the weekend: Stay away from anything involving the Oklahoma City Thunder. When a team loses by 73, they should be treated as utterly off limits in terms of predictability.


LeBron James over 23.5 points (-115)

Jarrett Allen under 0.5 3-pointers (-6400)

Jae’Sean Tate over 3.5 assists (-125)

Joel Embiid over 10.5 rebounds (-110)

Steph Curry over 28.5 points (+100)