Thursday NBA Picks

Our team of writers and handicappers hand out their NBA picks and predictions for Thursday, January 22.

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Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic, 8:05PM ET

Jameer Nelson believes the Orlando Magic are close to commanding almost as much respect as the Boston Celtics.

Really close, in fact.

``They're a great team. We're a good team,'' said Nelson, the Magic point guard. ``We're trying to get to where they are.''

A quick glance at the standings shows Orlando is rapidly closing whatever gap exists between the teams. When the Magic wake up Thursday morning, they'll have the best record in the NBA, a mild surprise considering how well the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers have played so far.

Finding a way remain on that perch into Friday morning, well, that'd be a neat Magic trick.

It's only one of 82 regular-season contests, yet there will be a distinct big-game feel for the Magic on Thursday night when the reigning NBA champion Celtics visit for a matchup of teams jostling for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference as well as the league's overall best record.

NBA Free Pick: Orlando  View Game Matchup | Best Line: -4.5 Sportsbook.com

Washington Wizards at Los Angeles Lakers, 10:35PM ET

Pain doesn't seem to phase Kobe Bryant, especially if his teammates continue to offer their support.

Despite a finger injury, the reigning league MVP hopes to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a third straight victory overall and fifth in a row over the lowly Washington Wizards on Thursday night at Staples Center.

Two days after dislocating his ring finger in a win over Cleveland, Bryant had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in a 108-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

It was the second triple-double in three games for Bryant, who hadn't had one since April 1, 2005 before posting 28 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Orlando on Friday.

"We're in a good rhythm of how teams are playing against me, how they're matching up against me," said Bryant, who has 45 assists in his last four games - the most in any four-game stretch in his career.

Normally, the 16th career triple-double for Bryant, averaging 25.8 points all-time versus Washington, wouldn't be overshadowed by a teammate. That was the case as 21-year-old center Andrew Bynum enters this contest coming off a career-high 42-points against the Clippers.

Plagued by injuries throughout his previous three seasons, Bynum shot 17-of-24 from the floor and pulled down 15 rebounds in making his 40th start.

NBA Free Pick: Washington View Game Matchup | Best Line: -14.5 Sportsbook.com

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Posted: 1/22/09 9:31AM ET

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