The New Year begins with the defending champ Los Angeles Lakers looking very vulnerable following Sunday night’s 19-point home loss to Memphis, the Lakers’ second loss to the Grizzlies this season.
The loss dropped the Lakers’ record to a still solid 23-11, but they trail conference leading San Antonio by 6½ games. The Spurs continue to have the NBA’s best record, 29-4 and continue to win without flash. They’ve also been fairly healthy and injuries play such an important part in enabling the most talented teams to play to their potential.
San Antonio’s best asset may be its depth as all teams inevitably suffer from injuries over the course of a grueling 82-game schedule.
The league’s elite teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack with only one division featuring a lead of fewer than four games. Chicago and the Lakers start the week with 8-game leads in their divisions while Boston is up by 6½ in the Atlantic division.
Despite that outstanding record, the Spurs are up by just four over Dallas in the Southwest because the Mavs are also playing lights out basketball with a 25-8 record. However, the injury to Dirk Nowitzki last week has slowed the Mavericks a bit and they’ve lost three of four in his absence.
Miami has a 4-game lead over Orlando in the Southeast with Atlanta just a half game behind the Magic. The most competitive race is in the Northwest where Oklahoma City trails Utah by a half game with both teams winning over 65 percent of their games.
As January arrives, so does the NBA mid-season where injuries and scheduling become even more important as handicapping factors. Back-to-back games start to really take a toll as does travel. Although the lines maker will build in adjustments to compensate for these negative influences, sometimes those adjustments are not nearly enough.
In other cases the adjustments may not be warranted. As always, it’s on a case by case basis. As handicappers we often rely on generic, all encompassing historical results. But they still are applied on a game by game basis when making a betting decision.
Current form remains perhaps the most important factor in handicapping sports that are played every day or every couple of days, especially when lineups remain intact.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Hornets at Lakers (Fri): The Lakers won the first meeting 103-88 that ended a 3-game losing streak, the last two of which were to Miami and at San Antonio. The win quieted critics briefly but after winning their next game over Philadelphia, they were blown out at home this past Sunday by Memphis. They host Detroit and play at Phoenix in mid-week and should win at least one of those games to avoid having to break another 3-game losing streak here.
The Hornets are having a fine season and figure to earn one of the second tier playoff seeds in the very contentious Western Conference. But they don’t match up well against the Lakers who should be both motivated and confident when they take the court, looking at this game as a chance to regain some confidence if not their swagger.
The Hornets may well try to slow the pace but the ultimately the Lakers will be able to force the pace and extend the margin in the fourth quarter. LAKERS.
Celtics at Bulls (Sat): Chicago will be without Joakim Noah while the Celtics are likely to be without Kevin Garnett as both are dealing with injuries. Rajon Rondo is back with the Celtics after having also missed several games due to injury. Boston has won the previous two meetings against the Bulls who are coached by former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, who was instrumental in making the C’s a defensive power.
Although both prior meetings went OVER, the first one needed overtime to do so and the second went OVER by just 5. Both teams played on Friday night against sub-.500 foes and nave been playing very well of late, even despite the injuries. The Bulls started this week having won four straight, six of seven and 13 of 15. Boston has dropped three of five following its 14-game winning streak.
The Celtics are an established power while the Bulls figure to continue to show improvement under their first season coach whose knowledge of Boston’s personnel should enable further adjustments following the previous two losses to them this season. BULLS.
Heat at Blazers (Sun): Portland’s 18-16 start has to be considered a bit of a disappointment following preseason expectations of many that had the Blazers as strong contenders in the West. Injuries have played a part but there does not seem to be the chemistry that fueled this team to win at least 50 the past two seasons.
Miami has overcome its slow start to win 17 of 18 entering this week. The Heat had won 12 straight sandwiched between losses to Dallas and have followed that most recent loss with five straight wins including their 16-point win at the Lakers on Christmas Day. The Heat will be favored in this game on what has been historically a strong home court.
Although Brandon Roy remains out indefinitely for Portland, there is still enough talent to give Miami a competitive effort. They’ve been one of the league’s best home teams this season with a 12-3 record, including eight straight home wins entering the week. BLAZERS.
last week season PCT
2-1 13-12-1 52.1