NBA-Regular season-Monday night basketball- 9 games preview

Game of the Night – Oklahoma City at New Orleans, (Fox Sports Oklahoma, 8:05 ET)

Anthony Davis caught an accidental head butt from Denver star Nikola Jokic in Friday’s blowout loss and immediately left in the third quarter, but he got good news on Sunday when the was cleared after an examination, diagnosed with a contusion of the orbit bone above his right eye. The Pelicans (8-8 SU, 9-7 ATS) list him as probable for this one, so we’ll get both teams at relatively full strength if wing defender Tony Allen is able to make it back from a knee issue.

New Orleans welcomed back Rajon Rondo last week and is still getting him acclimated, but comes in on a two-game losing streak after a 125-116 home loss to Toronto and a 146-114 loss at the Nuggets. This is an especially challenging week for New Orleans, who will play the Spurs on Wednesday before a Friday-Saturday back-to-back at Phoenix and Golden State. Despite DeMarcus Cousins joining Shaquille O’Neal and Moses Malone as the only players in NBA history to score 400 points and grab 200 rebounds over a season’s first 15 games — a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Shaq did it in 2000 — the Pelicans open the week with just the seventh-best record in the conference, a half-game up on Oklahoma City (7-8 SU, 6-8-1 ATS) and slumping Memphis.

If you want to be optimistic about it, New Orleans hasn’t had Rondo in play and needed to pick up Jameer Nelson just to give itself an extra playmaker alongside Jrue Holiday. The Pels have also lacked firepower on the wing, but are stuck with that predicament until Solomon Hill is able to return from a torn hamstring next month at the earliest.

Oklahoma City can identify with the slow start and getting a number of moving parts together, but certainly didn’t anticipate being under .500 nearly one-fifth of the way in. The Thunder have shown signs of getting it together lately and would be coming into tonight’s game above .500 if they hadn’t blown a 23-point lead in San Antonio on Friday night, continuing a disturbing trend that has plagued new-look OKC over the first full month of action.

Russell Westbrook was the culprit, struggling to finish shots he typically makes in his sleep down the stretch. Paul George also missed multiple easy looks and failed to grab a key rebound on the defensive end in the 104-101 loss to the Spurs. Combined, Westbrook and George shot 10-for-38 and were brutal down the stretch. Carmelo Anthony scored a team-high 20 points but probably feels he didn’t get the ball enough in the second half to keep the game from tightening back up in the first place. None said much to reporters about the brutal loss after the game, but among one another, need to continue to communicate and grow because that Friday night setback is the type that can linger if not addressed.

This is a big week for the Thunder, who welcome in Golden State on Wednesday, facing the team they envision facing as their primary playoff obstacle for the first time. Kevin Durant returning to Oklahoma City is always an event, but he enters the week questionable after missing Sunday’s win in Brooklyn with a sprained left ankle.

It certainly feels like the Thunder are running into an ex with their hair messed up, as in they don’t have their house in order just yet. They did at least got center Steven Adams back after a three-game absence due to a calf issue. Although OKC went 3-0 without him, it still missed his presence clogging up the paint and rebounding, so count on him being the x-factor against the NBA’s most talented big-man tandem tonight.

Oklahoma City swept the season series between these teams 4-0 last season, but only one of those games was played after the Pelicans acquired Cousins. He and Davis combined for 69 points and 17 rebounds, but Cousins fouled out in just 22 minutes, dropping to 0-3 in his early stint in New Orleans. That game also saw Davis score 24 first-quarter points, so it will be interesting to see how the Thunder match up against him with the likes of Andre Roberson, George and Anthony all givng away tons of size. Expect constant double-teams, which will test whether the other Pelicans can take advantage, something that has largely eluded them thus far.

Rondo started for just the second time against Denver and played a season-long 25 minutes, scoring 13 points and adding six assists. Alvin Gentry will play him and Holiday in tandem, which is Plan A for making sure that both bigs remain angry and efficient. Rondo’s presence on the floor puts pressure on Holiday and Dante Cunningham to step up as shooters, and they went a combined 2-for-8 from 3-point range in Denver on Friday. Rondo joined Davis and Cousins on the floor during the key stretches where the Nuggets pulled away and caught a minus-30 in plus-minus, so there should be genuine concern that playing his way into shape is likely to cost New Orleans a few games. It’s obviously a short sample size, but New Orleans is 0-2 SU/ATS with their new starting point guard out there and have seen both games soar over the posted total. Opponents have averaged 135.5 points.

Injury Concerns

Washington missed John Wall in yesterday’s 100-91 road loss in Toronto, running out of gas in the second half without its point guard. The team called his absence precautionary, giving him a Sunday off due to left knee soreness, but head coach Scott Brooks told the Washington Post that he was unsure if he’d play in Monday’s visit to Milwaukee, though said “it’s a great chance” he’ll play if the swelling he said hindered his effort in a Friday night home loss to Miami subsides. It sounds like the Wizards just didn’t want him to play three games in four nights, so he’s got a good shot at being out there barring any setbacks.

Forward Otto Porter was nursing a swollen hand and Markieff Morris caught a knee to the face in Toronto, so there certainly should be concern that the Wizards won’t have the juice to prevent what would be their first three-game losing streak of the season. The loss north of the border kicked off a stretch that sees Washington play 10 of 12 on the road between now and Dec. 12.

Cleveland announced late last week that point guard Derrick Rose needs a few weeks to heal an ankle injury and is still at least a month away from getting Isaiah Thomas in the mix, so being forced to give Iman Shumpert the week off to heal from knee pain of his own isn’t ideal. While Dwyane Wade is likely to get more minutes after playing 37 in Friday’s 118-113 OT win over the Clippers, veteran Jose Calderon will likely start tonight’s visit to Detroit.

The Cavs have won a season-best four straight games (2-2 ATS) but are also without forward Tristan Thompson until mid-December, so expect vets LeBron James, Kevin Love and Wade to play major minutes. Fortunately, there are no back-to-backs scheduled for this group until next week.

The Clippers have dropped eight straight entering Monday’s game at the Knicks and matched a season-low 87 points in Saturday night’s loss in Charlotte. They should get some relief with point guard Patrick Beverley hoping to return from a 5-game absence due to a knee injury. L.A. hasn’t won without him and is 5-5 with him in the mix. New York lists shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. as questionable with a sore foot and injured his elbow on Friday. He’s scored 26 or more points in three of this last five games.

Portland visits Memphis and won’t have to deal with point guard Mike Conley, who has been shelved indefinitely as he tries to keep an Achilles issue from becoming a season-altering problem. Forward Brandan Wright (groin) and guard Tyreke Evans (shoulder) each left a 105-83 Saturday night loss to Houston, so the Grizzlies will certainly be significantly short-handed since they’ve already ruled Wright out. Evans is expected to be a game-time call.

Head-to-Head Trends

Since 2014, even before LeBron returned via free agency, the Cavs began a three-game winning streak against the Pistons that is part of 13-6 SU run in this Central Division series. That also includes a 4-0 sweep in the 2016 playoffs first round, spoiling Stan Van Gundy’s only postseason appearance with Detroit. The teams split last year’s season series, both SU and ATS, with the Pistons winning each of the final two meetings in Auburn Hills. They’ve since moved back downtown, so this will be James’ first regular-season visit to Little Caesar’s Arena, which makes you wonder if he’ll have a special performance in store in order to christen it. The Pistons served as his first real obstacle in this league, bringing out both the best and the worst in him, so the thoughtful star always packs something extra for them. Detroit will be facing the Cavs coming off an upset win in Minnesota and is 3-0 (2-0-1 ATS) on the second night of a back-to-back, owning wins at New York, Golden State and home against Sacramento.

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel went 0-4 SU and ATS against the Pacers and former assistant Nate McMillan last season. The Magic have a long history of struggling against Indiana, owning just one win in the last 12 meetings since the final matchup of the 2013-14 season, when Vogel was on the opposite sideline. Last year’s games weren’t even close, as the Pacers won each by double-digits and owned an average margin of victory of 14.3 points per game. With former Magic draft pick Victor Oladipo now in Indy and returning to Central Florida for the first time in that uniform, things could get spicy. Domantas Sabonis, who the Magic drafted and also shipped out, has been sharp in his sophomore NBA season. Indiana beat Miami 120-95 on Sunday to match a season-high three-game winning streak. It is 1-3 (2-2 ATS) on the second night of back-to-backs, winning in Cleveland.

Philadelphia star Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year lock Ben Simmons fell short of an upset of Golden State on Saturday, blowing a 24-point lead, so it will be fun to see how they bounce back against visiting Utah. The 76ers snapped a nine-game losing streak at the hands of the Jazz on Nov. 7 despite Embiid’s absence and Rudy Gobert’s 16 points and 15 boards. It was Philly’s first win in Utah since 2005. The Stifle Tower is now out with a knee injury until mid-December, while Embiid averaged 33 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks last week in his first extended action where he’s consistently played over 30 minutes.

The Celtics look for a 16th straight win as the team with the NBA’s top record (15-2) visits Dallas (3-14), which posts the league’s worst. The Mavericks owned the C’s until last season, winning 11 of 12 meetings between 2010-16, dropping only a double-OT game in Boston back in 2012. The Mavs were swept by Boston last season for the first time since ’08 and are a 7-point home dog tonight as they look for consecutive wins for the first time in ’17-’18.

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