The final two games of the NBA's first half -- which statistically isn't correct with every club having played at least 50 of its 82-regular-season games -- are the only two on the schedule Thursday night on TNT for sports bettors. The Brooklyn-Chicago opener could be a playoff preview, while the Oklahoma City-L.A. Lakers nightcap looks like a mismatch on the NBA odds board.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls
Is there a harder-working team in the NBA than Chicago? The Bulls continue to play solid basketball despite trading away Luol Deng. If you would have told any Bulls fan the team would be at worst .500 at the All-Star Break after losing Derrick Rose early in the season and trading Deng in early January, they would have laughed.
Joakim Noah has very much picked up the slack for Deng and will be Chicago's lone All-Star this year. Noah dominated the Atlanta Hawks in Tuesday's 100-85 victory with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists, his fourth career triple-double. Noah's four triple-doubles are shockingly tied for the fourth-most in the NBA over the past three seasons. Tuesday's game was just the second in the past 11 in which the offensively-challenged Bulls (No. 29 in scoring) reached triple digits.
The Bulls (24-27 ATS, 20-31 O/U at sportsbooks) have played the past three games without power forward Carlos Boozer, and he's unlikely to return Thursday in order to get extra rest for his left calf strain. The Bulls haven't missed him much as it's clear backup Taj Gibson is now the better player -- and will become the starter next season after Boozer is amnestied this summer. Gibson had 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in 46 minutes against Atlanta. He is averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in February and his trade value has never been higher. If the Knicks do listen on a deal for Carmelo Anthony, they would certainly insist on Gibson as part of any package.
This will be the second of a back-to-back for the Nets (24-25 ATS, 25-21-3 O/U at sportsbooks entering Wednesday) after hosting Charlotte on Wednesday. Brooklyn has lost its past two in the second of back-to-backs and the last one was an ugly 111-95 defeat in Detroit last Friday. The Nets have also lost two straight on the road and may not use Kevin Garnett on Thursday in order to give the 37-year-old some extra rest heading into the break. KG, who played Wednesday night, also took a rest day for that Pistons loss.
This is the second of three meetings this season. On Christmas Day in Brooklyn, the Nets perhaps hit rock bottom in their slow start with a 95-78 defeat as 4-point favorites on NBA odds. Chicago took control with a 21-5 run in the third quarter. Gibson had 20 points and eight assists to lead the Bulls, who had six players in double figures. Garnett and Paul Pierce combined or only 12 for the Nets, whose bench was 4-for-30 from the field. It was Chicago's eighth win in the past 10 regular-season meetings.
NBA Free Picks: Bulls -4 and under on NBA odds. Chicago has covered five straight against the Eastern Conference. The under is 7-2 in the Bulls' past nine games overall.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The L.A. Lakers can set an unwanted franchise record Thursday night by losing their seventh straight home game and Los Angeles (27-24-1 ATS, 28-24 O/U at sportsbooks) opened as a 12-point underdog on NBA odds to Oklahoma City, which will enter the second half with the Western Conference's best record and clear favorite.
In some ways it would be easier to say who is healthy than who isn't for the Lakers. Their two best players, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, remain out. Kobe says he will return this season even though he has played in only six games. Gasol is hoping to return next week, and the Lakers would love that to showcase the Spaniard one last time before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Also out for the Lakers on Thursday will be Xavier Henry, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Jodie Meeks.
Steve Nash also is unlikely as he left his second straight game early on Tuesday with recurring nerve problems. So you are probably looking at a starting five of Kendall Marshall, Steve Blake, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams and Chris Kaman against the Thunder. The Lakers have used 26 different starting lineups in dealing with so many injuries.
Oklahoma City (32-22 ATS, 27-27 O/U at sportsbooks) has lost only twice since Jan. 14 and enters this off a highly-charged 98-95 win at Portland on Tuesday. It was a game the Thunder clearly cared about as it was their final regular-season meeting with Portland and the Blazers had beaten OKC twice in three games earlier this season. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 36 points. He outscored Blazers All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard (28 points) by himself.
This is the second of four meetings this season. On Dec. 13 in Oklahoma City the Thunder were 12.5-point favorites on NBA odds and blew out the Lakers 122-97. Durant had 31 points, and Russell Westbrook, who hopes to return next week from injury, was two rebounds shy of a triple-double. Kobe actually played in that one and had one of the more unusual lines of his career: four points, 13 assists and seven turnovers.
NBA Free Picks: Thunder -12.5 and the over 207 on NBA odds. Durant could outscore the Lakers starting five by himself, and L.A. has the worst home record in the West. OKC has the most road wins in the NBA and has covered seven of its past nine away for our NBA picks. The over is 7-2 in Oklahoma City's past nine against teams with a losing record and 6-2 in the past eight meetings.