Boston has won 10 consecutive games since their three-game burp three weeks ago, and the Celtics would like to make it 11-straight at home against Utah before they start a tough road trip west that includes the Texas Triangle. Meanwhile, Detroit and Orlando are home this weekend and look to hit their strides in an attempt to make up ground on Boston atop the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Celtics are at least half as good as the Houston Rockets. On Wednesday, the C’s (-18½) blew out the Seattle SuperSonics 111-82 to register their 10th win in a row. Rattling off 10-straight victories is no easy feat, even if it pales in comparison to Houston’s 20-game streak.
But look again: Boston’s 10 opponents included the visiting Detroit Pistons (+4), the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers (+9½), and eight also-rans.
Boston was still dominant enough to go 7-3 against the spread during those 10 contests. Adding Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown to the mix corrects the C’s only true weakness – depth – and makes them the deserving even-money favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
Now we’ll see how well Boston stacks up against some of the best from the West. There’s a five-game road swing coming up, including the dreaded Texas Triangle. Houston’s win streak might be up to 22 by the time the Celtics pull into the Toyota Center.
Utah at Boston (-7½)
Friday, Mar 14, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
The Jazz (43-23 straight up, 35-31 ATS) have been one of the better teams in the league all year, especially with the addition of eagle-eyed marksman Kyle Korver and his career-best .629 true shooting percentage in a Utah uniform.
To put that in perspective, Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies is sixth in the NBA with a .625 TS% on the season thus far. Utah is 27-7 SU and 21-13 ATS since trading Gordan Giricek and a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Korver.
However, Utah has hit a speed bump on the road. The Jazz are 14-21 ATS away from the former Delta Center and dropped the cash in the first two games of their current four-game trek through the East. The Celtics, on the other hand, are rolling in the green again after five consecutive paydays, snapping a 2-6-1 ATS slump. Boston is 19-13-1 ATS at the Garden.
Indiana at Orlando
Saturday, Mar 15, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
The Pacers (25-39 SU, 29-35 ATS) were an easy fade pick this year; owners Herbert and Melvin Simon are on a mission to remake the team in the community’s image. We’ve already seen far too many articles about how today’s Celtics are “finally” a team that the African-American community can embrace, so we’ll avoid viewing Indiana’s situation through the same filter. Suffice to say, quality is not job No. 1 for the Pacers.
The same can’t be said for the Magic at 42-24 SU and a league-best 42-23-1 ATS. They overpaid for Rashard Lewis during the offseason, handing the former Sonic a max contract, but you can’t argue with the results on offense: 17.2 points per 36 minutes with a 40.2-percent success rate from downtown. One of the keys to Orlando’s success is the way Lewis draws defenders out of the paint when he drifts behind the arc, clearing room for Dwight Howard (20.3 points, 13.5 rebounds/36). Indiana will struggle to contain that inside threat with Jermaine O’Neal possibly done for the season.
New Orleans at Detroit
Sunday, Mar 16, 1:00 p.m. (ET) ABC
Handicappers have grown to love the Hornets at 43-20 SU and 38-24-1 ATS. This is a “small-market” team that the general public just doesn’t want to bother paying attention to, even if Chris Paul is having an MVP-quality season with a 28.5 Player Efficiency Rating. That’s second only to the King himself, LeBron James at 30.5 PER. But Paul is no stranger to snubbery. It fuels him.
The Pistons could use a little of that motivation. Sure, they’re doing quite all right for themselves at 17-5 SU since Jan. 23, featuring a 10-game winning streak of their own. Yet Detroit is a mere 9-13 ATS during that span and hasn’t gotten paid in five straight outings. If this were the Red Wings, we’d brush it off and say they were saving it for the playoffs. NBA players don’t get the same benefit of the doubt.