Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: LA Lakers at Boston
by Matt Severance - 02/05/2009
Tonight's Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics rematch of last year's NBA Finals and a Christmas Day win by the purple and gold could well be the most-watched NBA game on TNT this year and draw more betting action than any other in the regular season as well - Boston has opened as a 5.5-point favorite.
Of course, Los Angeles beat the C's 92-83 at Staples Center on Dec. 25 behind Kobe Bryant's 27 points and nine rebounds, ending Boston's 19-game winning streak. That loss sent Boston into a 2-7 funk, and a key part of L.A.'s success was center Andrew Bynum. His numbers, nine points and seven rebounds, weren't great, but he was a disruptive force in the middle - which the Lakers were missing in last year's Finals.
"He makes you change the shot," Boston coach Doc Rivers said of Bynum in that game. "We had three or four of them where we double-clutched for no reason - other than the fact that in the left of your eye he was coming. Size makes you miss layups."
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they won't have that "size" tonight as Bynum was ruled out 2-3 months earlier this week after tearing an MCL in his right knee. During the five games before he was injured, Bynum averaged 26.2 points on 65.3 percent shooting, 13.8 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks. Think that would help against Kevin Garnett?
With Bynum out, Paul Gasol is starting at center again and Lamar Odom comes out of his sixth man role and plays more in the post as a power forward. Frankly, this makes Los Angeles a much less physical team. Bryant clearly has stepped up his game this week in the wake of the injury, following his 61-point night at Madison Square Garden with 36 in Wednesday night's win at Toronto.
Boston has won 12 games in a row (9-3 ATS) since that 2-7 stretch - the second-longest winning streak in the league this year behind that 19-game run - and will get Garnett back from the flu tonight after the reigning Defensive Player of the Year had missed wins over Minnesota and Philly.
"We have extra motivation this time, because they broke our streak the first time," Boston's Paul Pierce said to reporters.
The Celtics no doubt noticed that the Raptors scored 44 points in the paint against that Bynum-less Lakers frontcourt on Wednesday. Toronto is last in the NBA in that category this season. Boston's Kendrick Perkins and Garnett, meanwhile, dominated Gasol and Odom in last year's Finals.
Boston is 24-2 at home this year, not having lost in Beantown since Jan. 7. The Lakers have just five road defeats, the fewest in the league, and are 8-3 in the second night of back-to-backs. But Los Angeles is just 1-8 ATS in the past nine games against Boston and 0-4 ATS in the past four in Boston. Of course, that last meeting was the Boston Massacre, a 131-92 Celtics win to win the 2007-08 NBA Championship.