Let the games begin! The Western Confernce Final games, that is. Phoenix and Los Angeles have had plenty of rest following their victories in the conference semifinals over the Spurs and Jazz respectively. Kobe Bryant and his mates hit Monday's Game 1 as 6 ½-point favorites in the match and decided 350 chalk to win the series. Steve Nash and the Suns will try and pull off the improbable win to reach the NBA Finals.
The NBA playoffs have broken just right for the defending champ Los Angeles Lakers as they open their series with the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.
Bookmaker.com has Los Angeles as 6 ½-point home ‘chalk’ with a total of 210 ½-points. L.A. is a 350 series favorite.
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The Lakers (65-27 straight-up, 39-50-3 against the spread) beat the talented, but inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 in the opening round. They then swept the banged-up Utah Jazz to make the Western Conference Finals.
The ‘over’ went 3-0-1 against Utah and is 6-1-1 in Los Angeles’ last eight games.
The Lakers are on a six-game winning streak, going 5-1 ATS. They won both Game 1’s (1-1 ATS), but didn’t play great in either and were fortunate to get the ‘cover’ against Okalahoma City by a half-point.
Even the upstart Phoenix Suns seem like a favorable matchup. The Lakers and Suns met four times this year, with L.A. going 3-1 SU and ATS. Los Angeles won the two home games by an average margin of 19.5 points.
Los Angeles is 5-1 SU at home against Phoenix the last three years (4-2 ATS). The ‘over’ is 8-3 in the last 11 meetings in L.A.
Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson has already started his patented mind games by saying point guard Steve Nash carries the basketball. Jackson is the master of working the refs, and his opponent’s psyche, even before the series begins.
Jackson may be partially right about Nash, but it’s not like Kobe Bryant doesn’t get breaks from the refs too.
The Suns (62-30 SU, 56-35-1 ATS) took care of Portland in the opening round 4-2. They got a break with Brandon Roy either out or injured most of the series. They did their best work sweeping the San Antonio Spurs last round.
That was a shocking development as Phoenix was considered the ‘softer’ team and far weaker defensively.
Phoenix is 6-0 SU and ATS in its last six games, averaging 109.5 PPG against San Antonio. However, the ‘under’ is 4-1 in its five playoff road games, with the one ‘over’ coming by just one point.
These franchises have polar opposite playoff histories. Los Angeles has 15 championships, only trailing Boston (17). The Lakers have made the NBA Finals an incredible 30 times. They’re shooting for their third straight Finals appearance.
The Suns’ championship futility spans over 40 years, with just two Finals appearances (1976, 1993). Several of their playoff defeats have been of the heartbreaking variety.
Phoenix did eliminate Los Angeles in the 2007 playoffs. However, that was a totally different Lakers team, with the immortal Kwame Brown starting at center. L.A stole Pau Gasol from Memphis the next year and the latest dynasty was underway.
There’s some important injury news. Los Angeles center Andrew Bynum says his knee feels worse and has more swelling. He’ll play on Monday, but any problems have to be taken seriously considering his injury history.
Phoenix center Robin Lopez hasn’t played since March 26 with a back injury. He’s expected to be back and start for Game 1. That’s very important as his size and defense, along with Amare Stoudemire, can help contain the ‘twin towers’ of Gasol and Bynum.
Los Angeles has the clear overall advantage as it has Bryant and Phoenix’ doesn’t. However the Suns’ bench has an advantage on almost everyone in the league, including L.A. The series will get very interesting if Phoenix steals a road game.
TNT will have the 9 p.m. (ET) broadcast from the Staples Center. Game 2 will be on Wednesday.