Los Angeles Lakers -3.5 @ New Orleans Hornets (Total: 186.5)
We are coming down the home stretch of the NBA regular season and things are starting to really heat up. The Thunder has been the runaway Western Conference leader most of the season, basically a forgone conclusion for the top seed come playoff time. Almost silently, with little to no fanfare, they will wake up this morning in a virtual tie with the San Antonio Spurs. Manu Ginobli played fantastic in their win over the Jazz, their eleventh straight win overall, and Tim Duncan has played limited minutes all season to be fresh come postseason time. The memory of last season’s epic loss to the #8 seed Grizzlies in the opening round is still fresh, but it might be a mistake to overlook the Spurs.
There is another battle going on in the West as well, as the Lakers and Clippers are jostling for the #3 seed, as well as the Pacific Division crown. It’s safe to say regular season division titles don’t mean much in Laker Land, but for the Clippers, it would mean their first division title EVER, so perhaps this year it takes on a little extra emphasis. If the Lakers are going to hang on to their slim half-game lead, they need to win games like tonight; ‘should-win’ road games against the worst team in the Western Conference.
New Orleans enters at 15-41, four games worse than the Kings for the Western basement. They are only 7-21 at home, so any thought of a Sacramento-like “but they are tough at home” advantage should be dismissed. For all the Lakers issues and drama of late, it is hard to see this team giving away the division lead by blowing tonight’s contest seems unlikely to me. In fact, looking at their splits, it is surprising that Los Angeles is only a 3.5 point favorite. I’d have expected the game to be more like 6 or 6.5.
The reason for the close line is the uncertainty over whether Kobe Bryant will play tonight. Officially he is listed as questionable, but don’t be surprised if he suits up. However, if he doesn’t play, the game becomes one where the interior play of Gasol and Bynum becomes the primary emphasis. Kobe fans might not like to hear this, but this style actually elicits the Lakers best basketball. Last game, without Kobe, Gasol and Bynum combined for 53 points and 31 rebounds – complete domination. I expect the same thing from this duo tonight against the overmatched New Orleans frontcourt.
Give me the Lakers on the road laying the points.
Free Pick: Los Angeles Lakers -3.5