They would never admit it publicly of course, but you can be assured that Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and Boston counterpart Danny Ainge both want the same thing when their teams meet on Monday night: to lose. Both the Jazz and Celtics are in full-blown rebuilding modes and eyeing the potentially excellent 2014 draft as a way to kick-start a return to contention. Utah is absolutely salivating over the chance to get Duke star freshman Jabari Parker because he's a Mormon and obviously that would be a big selling point to folks in Salt Lake City. It's not like many free agents are flocking to live there. Utah opened as a 3-point favorite on NBA odds with a total of 189.5 for sports bettors.
Struggle On Both Ends For Boston
This is the finale of a four-game road trip for Boston and the first three all were losses; the Celtics (27-29-1 ATS, 22-35 O/U at sportsbooks) have lost four straight overall. They all looked pretty similar: the offensively challenged Celtics didn't crack triple digits in any of them but the opponents all did. The C's played without Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger in Saturday's 105-98 defeat in Sacramento in which rookie Celtics coach Brad Stevens earned his first ejection. The loss dropped Boston to 0-12 on the road against Western Conference teams this season.
It was the second of a back-to-back -- the Lakers ended their franchise-record eight-game home losing streak against Boston on Friday -- so Rondo sat just as a precaution off his ACL surgery. He'll be back in there for this one -- backup Phil Pressey was a team-worst minus-13 vs. the Kings -- but Sullinger is doubtful as he suffered a concussion in the loss to the Lakers. He looks to be one of Ainge's few building blocks, averaging 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Kris Humphries would start again and the former Mr. Kardashian had 19 points and eight rebounds against the Kings. Boston remains without another starter in guard Avery Bradley, a tremendous perimeter defender. He has missed the past five games and it's no coincidence that teams are having little trouble scoring against Boston in that stretch.
Burke Could Be A Good One
Since a 1-14 start Utah has been pretty competitive, going 18-22. That turnaround almost exactly coincided with the season debut of rookie Trey Burke, last season's national player of the year at Michigan. He missed the first chunk of the season after surgery on his right index finger. The No. 9 overall pick is averaging 12.8 points and 5.6 assists. He's probably going to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Philly's Michael Carter-Williams and Orlando's Victor Oladipo.
The Jazz (24-28-3 ATS, 25-29-1 O/U) have been streaking this month, opening it with three losses, then winning three straight, including a home upset of Miami. Since then the Jazz have dropped three straight again. Burke had 16 points and six assists in Saturday's 121-104 home loss to Minnesota. The Jazz played again without injured big man Derrick Favors against the Wolves and are now 0-9 this season when he sits out. Utah has held teams to 99.7 points with him in the lineup and more than 105.0 per game when he's out. Favors is averaging 12.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and is questionable to play in this one. Enes Kanter has stepped it up offensively in place of Favors by averaging 22.7 points in the past three but he's not the interior defender Favors is.
Back on Nov. 6, the Celtics were 4.5-point home favorites for sports bettors and beat the Jazz 97-87. Brandon Bass led Boston with 20 points in the first NBA win for Stevens. His former Butler star, Gordon Hayward, led Utah with 28 points (look for Boston to target Hayward this offseason when he is a restricted free agent; Utah probably matches any offer, however). Burke was still out injured for Utah. That game also ended a streak of 289 consecutive games that sold out for Boston, dating to the end of the 2006-07 season. That offseason Boston added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and became a hot ticket again.
NBA Free Picks: Utah -3 and over 189.5. Boston is 1-6 ATS in its past seven playing on one day of rest, while Utah has covered 14 of its past 20 after a loss of at least 10 points at home. The over is 5-2-1 in the past eight meetings.