NBA Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 3/4/2013
As much as I hate to do it, I feel obligated to talk about the Los Angeles Lakers again today. I do this because, for the first time since late December, the Lakers have finally gotten back to .500. It took some heroics from Kobe Bryant on Sunday to beat the Hawks, 99-98, and a loss would have been crushing for Los Angeles. Kobe hit a tough layup over Josh Smith with nine seconds left for the winning points and finished with 34. Hard to believe, but it was the first potential go-ahead shot Bryant had hit this season in the final minute of regulation or overtime.
Don't look now, but the Lakers have the NBA's fourth-best record at 13-5 (8-10 ATS) since Jan. 25. That has allowed L.A. to gain only 1.5 games on the No. 8 in the West, however, and it remains 2.5 games behind Houston for the final playoff spot in the conference. This week will be crucial for L.A.'s playoff hopes. It's going to be a dog Tuesday night at Oklahoma City but will be favored the rest of the week: Wednesday at New Orleans, Friday vs. Toronto and Sunday vs. Chicago. After that, L.A. plays eight of its next 10 on the road.
Sportsbook.ag lists the Lakers missing the playoffs as now a slight favorite at -110, with L.A. losing in the first round -- no doubt against either the Thunder or Spurs -- at +120. I am now inclined to believe the Lakers do make it, not over Houston but over Utah, which enters Monday just a percentage point ahead of the Rockets for the No. 7 spot in the West. The Jazz begin a four-game road trip on Monday in Milwaukee. I could see them going 0-4 as they follow the Bucks with trips to Cleveland (Cavs should win presuming Kyrie Irving plays), Chicago and the Knicks. So should L.A. have a 3-1 week as I expect and Utah does go winless, the Lakers will be in the playoffs come Sunday night. The Rockets also could lose ground this week. They will be dogs at Dallas and Golden State but should be able to win at Phoenix.
Rose Return This Week?
For the first time this season, Bulls star Derrick Rose sat on the bench with his teammates for their game Sunday, a loss to the Indiana Pacers. In typical fashion, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said there was no significance to Rose sitting on the bench, but I'm not buying that. Next Tuesday will be 10 months to the day that Rose had surgery for his torn ACL, an injury that happened last April 28.
I have said it time and time again that Rose will make his return, if he does come back this year, in a home game. And the Bulls have just one this week: Friday against Utah. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Rose plays that night. Otherwise, Chicago isn't home again until March 18. At that point, there are only 17 games left in the regular season, which probably isn't enough for Rose to get all the rust off and in sync with his teammates.
Spurs Just Fine Without Parker
Chicago's first game this week is Wednesday at San Antonio, and it would not be wise to bet against the Spurs at any point even though they will be without star point guard Tony Parker for about a month. Parker severely sprained his left ankle in Friday's home blowout victory against of Sacramento. The team didn't miss him Sunday, routing Detroit, 114-75. San Antonio had an incredible 35 assists on 45 field goals to go with eight players with at least seven points. As good as Parker is, the Spurs define the word “team”. They are 4-1 without Parker this season. Gregg Popovich started Cory Joseph against the Pistons and he had eight points, four assists and one turnover in 18 minutes.
If Parker is out the four weeks as expected, that would bring him back with about two weeks left in the regular season. Many now believe the Thunder will catch and pass the Spurs for the West's top seed. OKC enters the week three games back. I am not one of those people. San Antonio has played 34 road games (blame the annual Rodeo Trip) compared to only 27 at home, where the Spurs are 24-3. With that home-heavy schedule, San Antonio should be able to hold off the Thunder. Those teams play twice more (next Monday and April 4) and have split the first two meetings.
I do believe, however, that Miami will pass the Spurs for the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA. The scorching-hot Heat are even with the Spurs in the loss column entering this week but have played four fewer games. Miami may not lose anytime soon if it wins at Minnesota on Monday night for its 15th straight victory in a bit of a trap game off Sunday's big comeback at the Knicks. After facing the Wolves, the Heat are home for four straight. The only likely challenge in that run will be this Sunday against the Pacers. Indiana is 2-0 against the Heat this year, but so were the Knicks before Sunday's loss.
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