NBA Classic Match-up: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics

After a rough start to the shortened 2011-12 season, the Boston Celtics (14-10, 10-6 home) have found their groove again, and could have another notch in the win column tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers (14-11, 3-9 away) who have continued to struggle away from home this year. However, in a classic rivalry game between two powerhouse NBA teams with tons of history between them, this showdown at the TD Garden in Boston should undoubtedly make for one of the top online sports betting contests of the week.

Boston is, dare I say, en fuego. Ripping off 5 straight wins and 9 of their last 10 coming into today’s clash with the Lakers, the Celtics have gotten the job done mainly with their outstanding defense, which is holding opponents to a league-best 86.5 points per contest. During their 5-game winning streak they’ve been even better, keeping opposing teams to just 81.4 points, and in the last 4 games at home they’re allowing just 79.2 points. Granted, those performances have come against teams like Toronto, Charlotte and a pair of struggling teams in Memphis and New York, but nonetheless the Celtics have found their key to victory by playing shutdown defense night in and night out.

Against Los Angeles however, who has won 3 straight games at the TD Garden and 5 of their last 6 meetings there, Boston may have to focus on making some improvements in their rebounding presence, which comes in second to last in the league (38.7 boards/game) while the Lakers rank second overall with 44.8 rebounds/game. That means that getting physical down in the paint against Andrew Bynum (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds/game) and Pau Gasol (16.4 points, 10.1 rebounds) is essential for the Celtics to win the possession battle, and stop the Lakers from getting second chances on the offensive end of the court. One very telling stat in this battle of the boards is that between Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum’s combined 22.5 rebounds per game, they’re pulling down almost as many rebounds as the Celtics top 4 defenders. Therefore, Boston must find a way to either produce more turnovers or be better in the paint against the Lakers’ big men. That starts with getting much better rebounding performances from Kevin Garnett, who leads the Celtics with 7.3 rebounds/game, but even more so from guys like Brandon Bass (who had just 3 rebounds on Tuesday vs. the Bobcats), and the veteran Jermaine O’Neal off the bench (5.5. rebounds/game).

While Boston has made a name for themselves via their lockdown defense from Rajon Rondo at the point (1.7 steals/game), Paul Pierce at the shooting forward position, and Kevin Garnett in the paint, what is definitely lacking this year has been their ability to generate points against talented offenses. The Celtics come into tonight’s match-up averaging just 90.8 points, ranking them 6th from last in the league. In Boston’s last 7 defeats overall, not once were they able to clip 90 points, and against teams with above .500 records, they’ve had a difficult time generating enough possessions to keep them in the game despite generally shooting the ball well (8th in the league, %43.4, in shooting percentage in losing efforts). Although the top scoring veterans like Pierce (18.4 points), Ray Allen (14.9 points) and Kevin Garnett continue to play consistent basketball day-in and day-out, the games where one of these three really stands out and pours in points are looking to be a thing of past for Boston. It’s certainly good to have scoring depth, and Boston is definitely better at that than the Lakers are (bench scoring for Boston is 28.1 points/game, Lakers are dead last at 20.2 points), but without one or two of Boston’s star players putting up near-Kobe Bryant numbers on a given night, the Celtics aren’t getting that big scoring push to contend with high-powered offenses. Luckily for them in tonight’s match-up however, the Lakers certainly aren’t the dominant scoring team of old, averaging just 93.2 points/game, and 91.1 points/game on the road.

For the Lakers to be victorious tonight then, they must find a way to get more scorers active in the ballgame, as hedging their hopes on just Kobe Bryant could be a poor choice against such a good defense playing on its home court. While Kobe continues to impress with his league-leading 29.3 points/game, Los Angeles’ scoring presence is relatively limited to him, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, as they’re the only players on the Lakers roster scoring better than 7.3 points per game. Against Boston, which plays very good defense, the Lakers simply must get better contributions from their bench, and stay fresh and active against the veteran Celtics. Ron Artest (yes, I know Metta World Peace, it’s still a ridiculous name I’m not using) has to be better than he’s been this season on average, with just 4.9 points and 2.7 rebounds/game. His scoring numbers have been chopped almost in half from last season, and it’s showing on the Lakers bottom line. Getting better efforts from Matt Barnes (6.7 points in 22.1 minutes/game), and putting more emphasis on Steve Blake ( especially as Derek Fisher’s numbers continue to decline) would certainly serve the Lakers well, as they can’t expect to get the season average scoring numbers out of their top-three guys in Boston tonight.

Another thing that has hampered the Lakers this year is their lack of outside shooting, with the 3-pt shot being their worst enemy. Ranked 2nd from last in the NBA at a measly %29.2 from deep, Los Angeles can’t expect to be successful against good inside defensive play without finding success outside the arc. Kobe Bryant in particular needs to avoid the 3-pt ball, as he’s taking 5.1 shots from 3-pt range, and finding success just %29.9 of the time. It’s evident that his wrist issues have come into play the most when he shoots from outside, but his reluctance to penetrate from outside the perimeter, draw the defense towards him, and kick the ball back out to an open shooter, is definitely a drawback for the Lakers’ overall game. That said, it’s not entirely Kobe’s fault that he’s forced to do so much from deep. Steve Blake, the L.A. player averaging the second-most three-point attempts, hasn’t been much better at %35.4, and the next most attempts made from 3 point land comes from Artest, who is averaging 2.2 3 pointers per game and has an atrocious %17.3 success rate. The Lakers could try and mix up their outside shooting more with the likes of Troy Murphy (%44.8) or Andrew Goudelock (%41.4), who are both shooting well but not that often from 3 point land, but that means a dedicated effort to get them the ball more, and out of the hands of Kobe Bryant. I’m not sure that Bryant’s ego will allow other Lakers players to be the center of attention from outside, but it sure wouldn’t hurt.

Betting Lines for Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics at Betonline Sportsbook

On the money line for tonight’s classic match-up, the Los Angeles Lakers are a +135 underdog at Betonline Sportsbook, while the Boston Celtics hold -155 odds to win straight up on their home court. Against the spread, 3 points separates the two teams, as despite the Laker’s poor road form, consideration has to be taken for the fact that the Lakers have played very well at the Garden over the past 6 meetings, winning 5 of those contests. The Lakers get +3 points to play with at -105 odds, while Boston must make up -3 points at -115 odds to beat the spread. In the over/under battle, with defense looking key to a win, and both teams struggling to put up serious points, 176 is the mark to stay under or beat. You can check out a wealth of good looking props bets at Betonline Sportsbook today as well, as there’s odds on which team scores 10 or 20 points first, what Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett’s points totals will be, or how many rebounds Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol will have. Find plenty of great betting options at Betonline Sportsbook for this exciting game right now!

Our Pick to Win:

With the Lakers coming into tonight’s game with poor road form this season, and struggling to score well against good defensive teams, Boston has to be a good-looking bet for most NBA fans tonight. However, if Los Angeles can find a way to generate offense and get better bench scoring than they have, they might be able to overcome in a more scoring-based showdown this evening. That said, with the way Boston has been playing as of late, especially at home, the odds-on favorite Boston Celtics look to be the right way to go on the betting lines, especially in a close game where the Lakers have had trouble with Kobe Bryant not being as clutch as usual down the stretch (take for instance his 1-for-10 shooting effort in the 4th quarter of Monday’s loss to Philadelphia). I like Paul Pierce to keep his solid recent play up in this big-time Thursday Night match-up, and propel Boston to their 6th win in a row, and 10 out of 11 overall. Boston wins a close one by a score of 92-90.

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