There is still nearly a half season of basketball to be played before the NBA playoffs begin but the two time defending Los Angeles Lakers are not playing as though they are capable of engineering a second three-peat in the last 11 seasons.
The talented though aging Lakers continues their struggles against the NBA’s elite teams again this past Sunday with their home loss to Boston.
The loss to Boston followed a rather lackluster home effort two nights earlier against lowly Sacramento.
The Lakers lost to the Kings 100-95 as 12 point favorites and the explanation given by many observers was that they were caught looking forward to the game against the Celtics.
But despite leading at the half the Lakers were outplayed in the second half and Boston ended up dominating the fourth quarter and winning 109-96, easily covering as 3 point underdogs.
The loss to Boston was the Lakers fifth loss in six games against the league’s top teams, those teams that are currently winning at least 65 percent of their games. The Lakers are also 0-6 ATS in those games and their average margin is minus 8.3 points.
Specifically, those half dozen games include a split with Chicago and losses to Dallas, San Antonio, Miami and Boston. Three of the games have been at home and three have been on the road.
It’s a small sample, to be sure, but these results can be taken as a sign that the Lakers are in decline and it’s questionable whether they’ll suddenly be able to just “turn it on” come the playoffs when they will face some very talented and tough teams just to get through the Western Conference.
Meanwhile San Antonio continues to set the pace with a 40-7 record through Sunday. They have a 7½ game grip on the top seed over the second place Lakers. 0Dallas is a game further back. The Spurs are seeking their fifth NBA Title since 1999, sandwiched around the five the Lakers have won during this stretch.
The Spurs are not flashy but are incredibly consistent. Despite their outstanding record they remain no higher than the fourth betting choice to win the title with current odds of 5-1, behind Miami (7-5), Boston (3-1) and the Lakers (7-2).
The Spurs will be at the Lakers this Thursday night as the Lakers seek to avenge a 15 point loss at San Antonio on December 28 in what will be yet another test for the Lakers against an elite team.
A couple of other teams priced at double digits to win the title are Orlando at 15-1 and Chicago at 20-1. The Bulls are especially interesting with their 23-4 home record (33-14 overall).
They are third in the league in allowing just 92.0 points per game and are fifth in best net points differential at plus 6.1 points per game. And they’ve played for much of the past month without Joakim Noah who is expected back for the stretch run.
In Derrick Rose they have an emerging superstar. Might Rose and Noah lead the Bulls to a surprising NBA Title much as Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal did with the Miami Heat five seasons ago?
The NBA All Star Game is three weeks away and the trading deadline is just a few days later. Many rumors will surface over these next few weeks which will make for interesting talk radio and televised pre game discussions but most of the rumors will remain just that. It will be interesting to see which teams do indeed make significant roster changes to prepare for the playoffs.
In the meantime, Carmelo Anthony remains a Nugget as Denver played in New Jersey on Monday night.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Blazers at Pacers (Fri): Indiana made the second coaching change of the season on Sunday, firing Jim O’Brien and naming assistant Frank Vogel interim coach for the balance of the season. The Pacers are hoping for the same type of success Charlotte has enjoyed since Paul Silas took over for Larry Brown, going 11-7 since the change.
The Blazers have been at less than full strength, playing without Brandon Roy for more than a month with an injured knee. The Pacers may be just 11-11 at home but Portland is just 9-15 on the road. Indiana’s first two games under their interim coach were against lowly Toronto and Cleveland so they should be well conditioned for this game against a rather average Portland team that is considered by many to have underachieved this season. PACERS.
Lakers at Hornets (Sat): Although the Lakers have struggled against the league’s elite teams they have fared much better against second tier teams such as New Orleans. They are 7-2 straight up and 6-3 ATS against such teams, winning by an average of 11.1 points per game. This includes a pair of wins over the Hornets earlier this season, by 15 points on this court in late December and by 4 at the Staples Center on Jan. 7.
The Lakers are off of a Thursday game in San Antonio whereas New Orleans last played Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Regardless on Thursday’s outcome the Lakers figure to be focused on this game — either to build upon the momentum of a win or to try to answer their critics in rebounding from a loss. They match up well against the Hornets and given their recent woes may not be onerously priced — they were favored by 3 points in their December win here. LAKERS.
Magic at Celtics (Sun): Two of the top teams in the East meet for the third time this season with the home team having won each of the previous two games. Orlando won at home on Christmas Day and Boston returned the favor just two weeks ago. Boston sits atop the conference with a 36-11 record, 5½ games ahead of fourth seeded Orlando. The Celtics are an outstanding 22-3 at home while the Magic have a winning road record but it’s just 13-11.
Boston is off of Friday’s game at Dallas while Orlando last played Thursday night at home against Miami. This game should be competitively priced with the C’s laying perhaps a trey. Boston has gotten big man Kendrick Perkins back on the court after missing the first half of the season due to injury. Should be an entertaining prelude to the Super Bowl with both teams running the court. OVER.