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Lakers should find a way to get past Suns

The NBA is down to its version of the Final Four and things have not gone according to plan as the Eastern Conference favorites, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were upset in six games by the Boston Celtics to produce a matchup of the last two Eastern Champs – Boston and Orlando – to decide which team will advance to the NBA Finals.

Boston took the first step towards that goal by upsetting Orlando this past Sunday in Game One, 92-88, withstanding a late Orlando comeback that turned a Boston route into a narrow escape.

Nonetheless the Celtics accomplished what all road teams seek in garnering at least a split of the first two games of the series with a chance to take a 2-0 lead back to Boston if the Celtics can duplicate Sunday’s feat in Tuesday’s second game.

Inexplicably the geniuses who run the NBA – or more likely their television “partners” (more like bosses) have made the two Western Conference combatants, the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers – wait a ridiculous 8 days to open their series. The matchup was set last Monday when the Lakers completed their four game sweep of Utah, a day after Phoenix had similarly completed their sweep of San Antonio.

The more than a week’s delay in starting the Western Conference Finals is hard to justify but actually may work to the benefit of both teams – especially the Lakers – as significant nagging injuries have had extra time to heal.

Whether that benefit will ensure crisp rather than sloppy play early in the series remains to be seen. But teams are accustomed to certain continuity throughout the regular season and the Playoffs and it would not surprise if such a lengthy layoff is reflected in the ability of both the Suns and Lakers to establish and early rhythm.

Orlando opened as slightly under 3 to 1 favorites to get by Boston but those odds have dropped substantially following the Magic’s opening game loss. Prior to game 2 Orlando was still favored but by just 6 to 5 odds.

Prior to Monday’s opening game the Lakers were roughly 7 to 2 favorites to get past Phoenix.

As to the Eastern Conference series it would be normal to expect Orlando to bounce back with a fully focused effort in game two on Tuesday to avoid going down 0-2 in the series and then heading on the road. This expectation is priced into the line as the Magic are favored by seven and a half points, a full point higher than their impost in game one. Boston has been an excellent road team all season and they have rarely been blown out. In fact, of their 17 road losses this season (regular season and Playoffs) only 3 losses have been by double digits (although 8 others have been by either 8 or 9 points). Orlando won 3 of 4 regular season meetings with the Celtics but none of the wins was by more than 7 points.

Let’s remember that the Celtics are now healthy and as such they are as good as or perhaps better than the team that won the NBA Title just two seasons ago. Last season it took Orlando the full seven games to eliminate the Celtics, including winning the final two games.

Boston has an excellent shot at winning this series. Betting game two is problematic as the Magic’s main reason for support is being down 0-1 – Boston matches up nicely with Orlando and is arguably the better coached team. If you play situations you are on the Orlando side. If you play numbers and value you will take the points with Boston.

Game three in Boston should present a good opportunity for the Celtics to either extend their lead to 3-0 in the series or break the 1-1 tie. Boston should be a very slight favorite in that contest and may well come favored again in game 4. Here Boston would be the play if they are looking to even the series at 2-2 (having dropped games two and three) while Orlando would be playable if they are seeking to draw even. Should there be a fifth game back in Orlando, the Magic would be the play if they are seeking to go up 3-2 and are not off of a win while Boston would be playable if the have lost three in a row and are looking to avoid elimination.

In the West, the loser of Monday’s first game would be playable in game two in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Lakers would make for a solid play in game three in Phoenix in almost any scenario short of being without Kobe Bryant. He is still nursing an injured finger but the greater concern for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum. The oft injured center was having some knee issues that may well have limited his effectiveness in Monday’s opening game. The Lakers have been able to overcome the absence of Bynum in the past.

Look for the Lakers to win this series in at most six games with a five game win quite probable should they sweep the first two games at home. Phoenix’ best situation would be in game 4 at home down two games to one or – also in game four – if they are in the unlikely position of sweeping the Lakers. The Lakers would also be playable back home in game five if they are in position to end the series.

The two Conference Finals shall be revisited again next week as we get closer to determining the teams that will compete for the NBA Title next month.


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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