It’s a no-brainer as to which TNT doubleheader game to watch this Thursday night, when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Boston Celtics. The NBA’s two winningest franchises will renew the league’s most storied rivalry for the first time this season (the two play again out in L.A. on March 11 in a Sunday national TV ABC game).
It’s also nice that both teams had Wednesday night off and there aren’t any key injuries, meaning there won’t need to be any line/total projecting myself.
Lakers at Celtics: How the Teams Enter
These clubs have nearly identical records but appear to be going in opposite directions. Los Angeles (14-11) started its six-game road trip with a very nice win and cover in Denver but has averaged only 88.5 points in losing at Utah (Saturday) and Philadelphia (Monday) since then—although there’s no shame in losing in those places. The Lakers blew a seven-point lead in the final 4.5 minutes in Philly and Kobe Bryant looked worn down, missing 9 of 10 shots in the fourth. L.A. is just 3-9 on the road.
Boston (14-10) seems to have hit its stride after a terrible start. The Celtics beat visiting Charlotte, the NBA’s worst team, 94-84 on Tuesday night for their season-high fifth straight win and ninth in the past 10 games (6-4 ATS).
Point guard Rajon Rondo played his third straight game since missing eight with a wrist injury and had his best of those three with 10 points and 14 assists. And don’t look now, but Kevin Garnett is playing like an all-star again. In Sunday’s 18-point win over Memphis, KG had a season-high 24 points and nine boards. Against the Bobcats he had 22 and seven. In his past four games, KG has shot 29-for-45 from the field (64.4 percent). Boston is 10-6 at home.
Lakers at Celtics Betting Story Lines
That Sixers game was notable for a few reasons. First off, Lakers Coach Mike Brown wasn't on the sideline while serving a suspension for making contact with an official in that Jazz loss. He’s back now. And Kobe, in his hometown, passed ex-teammate Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The 33-year-old Bryant, the NBA's leading scorer with 29.4 points, has 28,601 career points. He won’t be catching No. 4 Wilt Chamberlain this year and probably needs five good years to catch No. 1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).
Meanwhile, that Bobcats game for Boston also had a notable career scoring moment. Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird for No. 2 on the C’s all-time list. Pierce now has 21,797 points but probably needs five more good years to surpass John Havlicek’s total of 26,395 points.
Both teams are about as healthy as they can be in this crammed schedule. Boston welcomed back power forward Brandon Bass on Tuesday after missing a game with knee soreness, who was good for 13 points and three rebounds in 28 minutes. Boston stole Bass from the Magic before the season for Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who has been fairly awful in Orlando.
By the way, there is a trade rumor involving the Celtics and Lakers making the rounds lately: Pau Gasol for Rondo. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak recently told the team website that "If there were a way for us to get a 25-year-old, All-Star, ball-handling guard we'd love to do it … but that's not likely in February.” There is only one 25-year-old all-star point guard in the NBA right now: Rondo. Boston was happy with the emergence of backup PG Avery Bradley when Rondo was out. And Gasol could take Garnett’s spot with KG’s contract up after this season …. but this trade isn’t happening.
The Celtics and Lakers split their two regular-season meetings a season ago, each winning on the other's floor, 109-96 (Boston win) and 92-86 (L.A. win). Kobe averaged 32 points in the two games, while Pierce averaged 23.5. The win in Beantown was the Lakers’ third straight there in the regular season.
Lakers at Celtics Betting Odds and Key Trends
Boston opened as a three-point favorite with the total at 178 on NBA odds. The Lakers are 11-14 ATS overall and 3-9 ATS on road. The Celtics are 12-12 ATS overall and 7-9 ATS at home. Over/under records: LAL 10-15, BOS 9-13-2.
The Lakers are 1-6 ATS in past seven vs. Eastern Conference. The Celtics are 1-4 ATS in their past five vs. Western Conference. The over is 4-0 in L.A.’s past four after a loss. The ‘under’ is 6-1 in Boston’s past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 6-1 in past seven meetings.
NBA Picks: Lakers at Celtics Betting Predictions
It should be a low-scoring game.
Boston ranks No. 1 in scoring defense at 86.5 points per game and the Lakers at No. 4 (91.0) in their new defense-first philosophy under Brown. Teams are shooting barely 39 percent from the field in the past 10 vs. Boston. The Celtics have not allowed a team to score 100 or more points since the second game at Miami. The difference could well come on the boards, as L.A. ranks No. 1 (44.8 per game) and Boston No. 29 (38.8).
Smart money can’t overlook how well Boston is playing and how lousy the Lakers have been on the road. The only way I would lean toward the Lakers if it was the second of a back-to-back for Boston. But it’s not, so take the C’s. And the under (that 178 total has been the exact number Boston’s last two games have landed on).
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports NBA picks Web site.