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Lakers appear ready

After a month and a half of ‘bubble’ play in Orlando, the resumption of the NBA season following the coronavirus-related shutdown must be considered a huge success. 

With very few positive tests and a limited number of opt outs since play began, a great deal of credit must be given to the players, coaching staffs and attendant personnel for the discipline they’ve shown in reaching the point at which we’ve arrived. 

The Conference finals are set to begin to determine the two teams that will play for the NBA title. When the playoffs began, I indicated my belief that one of the top Conference seeds would not make it to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately the team I felt would fall short would be the L.A. Lakers. I did think Milwaukee would emerge from the East to face the Houston Rockets.

Both top seeds appeared to take similar paths to their respective conference Finals. Each lost their opening first-round games (Milwaukee to Orlando, the Lakers to Portland) and responded in identical fashion by winning the next four.

Each then lost their first Conference semifinal games (Milwaukee to Miami, the Lakers to Houston). But that’s where their paths diverged. The Bucks lost three of the next four to be eliminated by the Heat. The Lakers, however, repeated their feat against Portland by sweeping the next four games from the Rockets.

The Lakers lost the first games in their two series by seven and 15 points. What happened next was truly impressive, following those opening losses with back-to-back four-game sweeps. All eight wins were by eight or more points including three by at least 20. Over the full 10 games LeBron James and his teammates went 7-3 ATS, rewarding their backers quite nicely after going just 1-7 ATS in the seeding games (3-5 SU).

Were the Lakers playing possum in those seeding games, going through the motions before gearing up a notch or two when the playoffs began? It sure appears that those eight games were indeed used for conditioning and timing after a four and a half months layoff. They will be well rested for their series against either the Nuggets or Clippers. After clinching against Portland last Saturday, they watched their potential opponents play two more games on Sunday and Tuesday. 

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Milwaukee may have taken its path to the Finals for granted, going 3-5 both SU and ATS in the seeding games. Although the Bucks rebounded nicely to defeat the Magic, they appeared ill-prepared to handle feisty Miami which, if not the better team, certainly played the better basketball.

Pun intended, the Heat are the hottest of the four remaining teams, entering Tuesday’s opening game against Boston having won and covered seven of its last nine games. And the lone loss was in overtime in Game 4 vs. Milwaukee.

Boston defeated Toronto in a classic defensive-oriented series. Only one of their seven games produced more than 207 points in regulation play. The lone exception was the double overtime game won by Toronto 125-122. But that game was tied at 98 after 48 minutes of play.

But for that double overtime game, dating back to their opening series with Philadelphia, the Celtics would have stayed Under the Total in nine straight games and in 11 of 12.

In Tuesday’s opening game Miami will have been idle for 10 days, Boston for just four. Boston was favored by 1.5 with the Total at 209.5 eight hours before tipoff.

I respect the job Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley have done in putting together this Heat time and I do expect them to give the Celtics a tough series. But the pick is for Boston to defeat Miami in six games.

I do expect the Lakers to represent the West in the NBA Finals. I have them defeating the Nuggets in five games or the Clippers in six. A series against the Clippers would make for great TV and give Los Angelinos temporary respite from other conditions affecting the region.

All to set the stage for a flashback to much of the first four decades of NBA history: Celtics vs. Lakers for the NBA title.

Thursday

Heat vs. Celtics: On Tuesday Miami should have shaken off any rust from its lengthy idleness. There may have been sloppy play in that have led to higher than expected scoring. An Over in Tuesday’s game would make this play in Game 2 even more attractive, especially if the total is adjusted slightly upwards. 

Both teams are more comfortable playing defensive basketball. Since the playoff phase of the restart began, the Heat and Celtics have combined to play 16 Unders and just 5 Overs with two of Overs needing overtime to cash. UNDER

Friday

Nuggets/Clippers vs. Lakers: Despite losing the first games of their previous two series this is a good spot for the Lakers in Game 1. With three extra days of rest, the nagging aches and pains will have had time to recover and there should be a priority to not fall behind in the series. 

LeBron and Anthony Davis should be fresh and healthy. The Lakers split four games with each potential foe, including a win in Orlando when, as noted above, they may have just been going through the motions. LAKERS

Last week: 1-2

Season: 40-33-1