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Welcome to the unofficial start of the second half of the NBA season. Props to those of you that had Obi Toppin in the dunk contest, Karl-Anthony Towns in the 3-point shootout and Steph Curry going over 15.5 on made 3-pointers in the All-Star game.

This is going to be an interesting trip to the finish line in the Association with the Brooklyn Nets reloaded with Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic, neither of whom are ready to play yet, the Los Angeles Lakers trying to read whether LeBron James was trolling Rob Pelinka when he kept praising other general managers, and the New York Knicks deciding it is time to move on from Kemba Walker.

James Harden has said he wanted to go to Philadelphia all along and vows to do whatever it takes to get the Sixers a championship, while the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers remain the season’s biggest overachievers in terms of surpassing preseason win total expectations.

The Nets (+450) are no longer favorites to win it all despite the thumb injury to Chris Paul that was one of the many surprises that came last Sunday and will keep him out for 6-8 weeks. The Phoenix Suns are +380, just ahead of the +450 Golden State Warriors. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers are +700, the Miami Heat are +750, the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks are +750, the Miami Heat are +1000, and nobody is giving the Chicago Bulls respect at +3000.

In the individual awards races, we have a bunch of worthy favorites: Joel Embiid at +130 for MVP, Evan Mobley at -750 for Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant at -550 for Most Improved Player, Tyler Herro at -1400 for the Sixth Man Award, Monty Williams at -330 for Coach of the Year and Rudy Gobert at +120 for Defensive Player of the Year. Those first and last individual awards seem the most competitive, but keep in mind that an injury can change the complexion of any race at any moment.

In the United States, New Yorkers are gambling up a storm and breaking all sorts of national records for amounts of money wagered. The trend we are seeing in the gambling community is player props being parlayed, sometimes with game props, so that is where we are taking this column today. If all goes well, we use tonight’s winnings to load up for the weekend. We will have another NBA column for you tomorrow, and by Saturday all 30 NBA teams will have been in action.

So let’s have at it! There are seven games on the schedule tonight, and a TNT doubleheader of Celtics-Nets and Warriors-Trail Blazers will be notable for the players who are missing. That will be the case elsewhere, too.

But let’s look at all seven and try to build a parlay card (round-robined, of course) that fattens our wallets and PayPal and Venmo accounts.

Cleveland (-6) at Detroit: In the surprising injuries to All-Stars department, Paul is not alone. Darius Garland of the Cavs (back) and teammate Caris LeVert (foot) will be sidelined tonight, which means there are two veterans who conceivably would defend Cade Cunningham who will be sidelined. The Pistons are 13-45 and are two games ahead of the Orlando Magic in the loss column for worst record in the league but are coming off a victory over the Boston Celtics. Detroit is just 3-9-0 against the spread after a win, but Cleveland’s injuries mean we should ignore that stat. The play in this game is Saddiq Bey, who has scored 20 or more in three straight, to go over both 16.5 points (-120) and 2.5 assists (-170).

Boston (-7) at Brooklyn: With Simmons, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant all sidelined, Brooklyn will be far from full strength amid hopes that New York City mayor Eric Adams will lift the vaccine mandate prior to the end of the regular season, allowing Irving to play in home games. Hizzoner has come out recently saying it is unfair to New York’s pro athletes that the vaccination mandate does not apply to visiting players. The Nets are home underdogs for only the sixth time. The play is both Patty Mills (-180) and Seth Curry (-105) of the Nets going over 2.5 3-pointers made.

Atlanta (+4) at Chicago: The Bulls come out of the break with the second-longest winning streak in the league at five games and will be facing a Hawks team that would be running away with the underachiever award if not for the Knicks. The Bulls are a mighty 17-7-0 as a home favorite, so giving the points is one pick, and the player prop we like is DeMar DeRozan, coming off a 38-point game, to go over 28.5 points (-120) (he has done it in eight straight games). And if Embiid gets hurt, as he so often does, please remember that we have been touting DeRozan as MVP worthy for a while. The Bulls being tied for first place in the East is no small thing.

Memphis (-3) at Minnesota: No team has done better against the spread as a road favorite than the Grizzlies, who are 9-2 in such situations and now have a chance to try to leapfrog the Warriors for the second seed in the West, assuming the Suns (with a seven-game lead in the loss column) can maintain the top spot. Yes, they are young and inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs, but this Memphis team is the real deal. Give the points against a Wolves team that is not all that bad, and player prop Jaren Jackson getting a double-double at +500.

Phoenix (-9.5) at Oklahoma City: That broken thumb news from the Suns was quite the surprise last Sunday, and now we get to see whether getting Aaron Holiday from the Wizards was a wise move as he is likely to step in as the new starter. Keep this wager separate from your parlay card: Devin Booker is overdue for a 40-point game and is averaging 34 points against the Thunder. He is +800 to reach 40, and he will be locked in knowing his team will need a lot more from him while Paul is out. Stay away from the spread and the over/under because we still do not know how Phoenix will fare without its leader.

Golden State (-9.5) at Portland: The Blazers just announced that they will be without Jusuf Nurkic (foot) for at least six weeks, which means their season of mostly misery is not abating. “Mostly” because Chauncey Billups’ team is carrying a season-high tying four-game winning streak into this almost certain loss. Take Steph Curry over 4.5 3-pointers (+115) and Anfernee Simons over 22.5 points (-120).

Denver (-4.5) at Sacramento: Nikola Jokic went for 35 points and 17 rebounds against Golden State in a victory heading into the break, and his team has won five of six to stay out of the play-in bracket. These teams have met only once all season but will play three more times between tonight and March 9. The Kings have a new look with Domantas Sabonis on the team, and the starters are logging heavy minutes. Give the points (-110) and go with the player prop of DeAaron Fox going for 25 points, six rebounds and six assists at +650.