Stop the presses: The Los Angeles Lakers have won two of their last three games. They could even make it three of four Friday night against one of the worst basketball picks out there, the Toronto Raptors.
Jason’s record as of Mar. 25: 61-55-4 ATS, 5-11 Totals, plus-2.15 units ML
Everything was going so well Wednesday night for the Toronto Raptors. Despite the absence of Kyle Lowry, Toronto took an early lead over the Chicago Bulls (–3) at the ACC, performing well at both ends of the court. Even James Johnson got in on the act after not playing at all the night before in Detroit. Raptors fans had their fingers crossed; maybe things were finally back to normal.
Then the fourth quarter started. And as usual, Jonas Valanciunas was on the bench. By the time he was re-introduced to the game with 3:42 left to play, what was an 82-77 lead for Toronto had turned into a 103-97 deficit. In the end, Chicago won 116-103 to leave the Raptors high and dry at 5-13 SU and ATS in their last 18 games. Guess who our NBA pick is going to be for Friday’s matchup (7:30 p.m ET) against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers?
Good guess. We don’t have any NBA odds for this one yet as we go to press; Lowry (19.6 PER, plus-3.8 BPM) is questionable with back spasms, although he appears unlikely to play, and the Lakers may or may not bother letting Jordan Hill (16.5 PER, minus-2.0 BPM) and Carlos Boozer (16.7 PER, minus-2.9 BPM) get into the game. But given the way Toronto head coach Dwyane Casey is keeping Valanciunas (20.5 PER, minus-0.7 BPM) planted on the bench during the fourth quarter, we’re fading the Raptors from here to Kapuskasing in our NBA picks.
From Lithuania with Love
What is going on with Coach Casey, anyway? We’ve been down this road before; Casey doesn’t trust Valanciunas in late-game matchups against anyone but the softest of centers, and even then, not so much. But the third-year center is on the ascendancy, and even if his BPM numbers aren’t that impressive, Valanciunas leads the Raptors (42-30 SU, 32-39-1 ATS) with 7.2 Win Shares, including 2.0 WS on defense.
When you throw in the lack of regular minutes for Johnson (18.2 PER, plus-3.1 BPM), who’s been one of Toronto’s best players this year – especially on defense – the knowledgeable Raptors fans have had just about enough of Casey at this point. Even formerly untouchable GM Masai Ujiri is starting to take some stick for standing pat at the trade deadline, but we’re not going to go there. The pieces are in place, if only the coach would use them properly.
Screaming Lord Byron
Kind of ironic, then, that we’re going to recommend a Lakers team (19-51 SU, 33-33-4 ATS) that’s been coached into the ground by Byron Scott. But we knew early on that this was going to happen. Scott telegraphed things in L.A. by insisting on a hard-nosed style with less reliance on the 3-point shot and more reliance on Kobe Bryant (17.7 PER, plus-0.5 BPM) firing up contested long-2s until the cows come home.
Pretty much the only reason the Lakers have become a strong basketball pick of late (6-10 SU, 12-4 ATS since Feb. 20) is because Bryant was removed from the equation, after market expectations in L.A. had dwindled to nothing. Losing Nick Young (14.3 PER, minus-3.2 BPM) helped from a betting perspective, as well.
As for Hill and Boozer, they were given another night off Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and it didn’t prevent the Lakers (–1 away) from getting paid in a 101-99 overtime victory. Too bad we had OVER 201.5 in that matchup instead. The two teams combined to shoot 12-of-48 from downtown, so we’ll chalk that one up to bad luck, but we’re not about to give up the opportunity to fade Toronto this time.
Special update: Los Angeles has opened as a 9.5-point road dog.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Lakers at BetOnline