Lakers send message, but Spurs play 'def'

Feb 10, 2009 5:07 PM
Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |
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The NBA’s movers and shakers shall congregate in Phoenix over this coming weekend as the league holds its annual All-Star Game and attendant festivities.

Teams have played more than half of their 82-game schedule, but the All-Star break provides a chance to take a few days off and evaluate their prospects of making the playoffs.

We were treated over the past week to a preview of playoff basketball. Two of the games involved both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, both favored to again meet in the NBA Finals in June.

Last Thursday, the Lakers needed overtime at Boston but pulled off the sweep with a 110-109 victory. Should these teams tie for the best overall record, LA has the tiebreaker edge for home court advantage.

Three days later the Lakers face a Cleveland team that had won all 23 previous home games this season. Despite trailing by 10 points at the half and with star Kobe Bryant ailing the Lakers won, 101-91. Thus LA sent a message to the two teams most likely to represent the East that they are the team to beat this season.

Oh, and they won both games without emerging star Andrew Bynum who was injured a week ago and is expected to miss the balance of the regular season. Bynum, however, should be back for the playoffs. His absence in last season’s postseason may well have kept the Lakers from beating Boston for the NBA Title.

The Lakers’ biggest challenge in the West may come from recent nemesis San Antonio. The Spurs, though aging, have plenty of championship experience and a trio of stars forming the nucleus of the club.

The fact that rarely if ever are teams required to play on back-to-back nights in the playoffs will work to San Antonio’s advantage. And should there be a setback in Bynum’s recovery the Spurs’ chances are enhanced.

With the NBA taking a break between Friday and Monday, here’s a look at a trio of games that will be played Wednesday and Thursday.

Suns at Cavs (Wed): The Cavs try to bounce back from a loss to the Lakers that ended a 23-game home winning streak In fact, 17 of the 23 home wins have been by double digits. Phoenix has lost seven road games by double digits, including Dallas, Utah, New Orleans and Boston. Despite playing a night earlier in Indiana, the Cavs will be highly motivated to get back on track in front of their home fans. CAVS.

Lakers at Jazz (Wed): The Lakers have been in eight different cities in less than two weeks. They should be weary facing a rested Utah team that last played on Sunday. The Jazz lost that game at Golden State and will be eager to enter the All Star break by beating the team with the best record in the league. They catch the Lakers without Andrew Bynum and possibly fatigued. JAZZ.

Celtics at Mavs (Thu): Boston had won 12 straight before dropping games to the Lakers and Spurs. They play the second of back-to-back road games after visiting New Orleans on Wednesday. Prior to Tuesday, Dallas had won 6 of 8. The two losses were at Utah by 28 and at Boston by 24. Boston’s Kevin Garnett, who was battling the flu, should be full strength as Boston seeks its fourth straight win over the Mavericks. CELTICS.