NBA Picks: Suns vs. Lakers

Darin Zank

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 7:00 PM GMT

The LA Lakers went 10-9 without Kobe, but lost his first game back over the weekend. The Phoenix Suns, meanwhile, after going 25-57 last year, are off to an 11-9 start this season. But have they been over-achieving? How much is Kobe's return worth to the Lakers? How much does his return affect the betting line?

LA is a short favorite for a Pacific Division battle with Phoenix at Staples Center Tuesday night. Can the Lakers get their first win with Bryant back in the lineup? Or can the Suns continue their surprising early-season success?

Suns-Lakers Betting Line

Most betting outlets opened this game with Los Angeles favored by three points in the NBA odds, the total proffered at around 207 or 208. In the early wagering action the spread had held steady, but the total had been bet down to 206.

Suns-Lakers Game Set-Up

LA has won six of its last nine games. But as six-point favorites at home Sunday night the Lakers lost to Toronto 106-94. LA shot just 43 percent from the floor, allowed the Raptors to shoot 49 percent and committed 19 turnovers.

Kobe, in his first game since tearing his Achilles last Spring, shot just 2-for-9 from the field and committed eight turnovers by himself.

But LA has been one of the better teams in the league this season to bet on, perhaps because they've been under-estimated a bit by the books and bettors during Bryant's absence; so far, the Lakers are 12-7-1 ATS on the season.

On the under-dogged side of this match-up the general consensus is the Suns might be the worst team in the Western Conference again this season. They've gone with a youth movement, and we all know how those things can go.

But so far Phoenix has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the league.

The Suns are off to an 11-9 start, and in beating expectations on a nearly-nightly basis they're 14-5-1 ATS.

Phoenix has won its last two games, after beating Toronto last Friday 106-97. The Suns had six guys score at least 10 points, shot 45 percent from the field, held the Raptors to 40 percent shooting and covered as three-point favorites at home.

So Phoenix is in second place in the Pacific Division, two games behind the first-place Clippers, while the Lakers are in fourth place, three games out of first.

Suns-Lakers By the Numbers

Several numbers catch our attention in homeworking this game.

The Lakers rank just 19th in the league in FG shooting at 44 percent, third in 3-point shooting at 40 percent but 24th in free-throw shooting at 73 percent. At the other end of the court they rank a respectable 14th in FG defense, holding opponents to just under 45 percent shooting, but third-worst in rebounding at -3.4 per game.

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Kobe's return might help them in the shooting department, but there's no reason to believe he'll help them a whole lot on the boards.

Meanwhile, Phoenix ranks eighth in shooting at 46 percent, 11th from long range at 37 percent but 21st from the line at 74 percent. The Suns also rank 11th in FG defense, holding foes to 44.5 percent shooting, first vs. the 3-point shot at 33 percent, and 20th in rebounding at -1 per game.

Suns-Lakers Recent History

These two teams split four games last season, as the home teams won each game. But Phoenix was the underdog in each game, and covered in three of the contests.

Suns-Lakers Betting Trends

LA is 11-9 on the OVER/UNDERS this season, as Lakers games have averaged 204 total points.

Phoenix is 12-8 on the totals, as Suns games have averaged 201 points.

The Suns are 9-2 ATS on the road this season.

Los Angeles is 7-3-1 ATS at home.

The Kobe Factor

Whatever you think about Kobe, he has been a great player, no question about it. He's the one who shoots the daggers, he's a proven a winner.

But Bryant pulled his Achilles at the age of 34 and is 35 now. And anybody who has ever torn their Achilles will tell you they were never the same afterward.

Can Kobe still be a very good player? Can he, instead of using his great athletic ability, switch things up and use his guile and guts to dish, and defend, and set others up? Yes, that's totally possible.

But how many minutes is he going to play Tuesday night? He got in 28 minutes Sunday against Toronto, but Coach D'Antoni is probably still trying to figure out how far Kobe can go at the moment.

What does Kobe mean to the betting line? Our guess is about a bucket, maybe a three-pointer. But in the early going of his comeback even that might be too much.

Bottom line: at the moment Kobe's a bit of a wild-card.

Suns-Lakers Injury Update

LA has Bryant back, but is still playing without G Steve Nash, who's dealing with a back problem. And G Jordan Farmar, who had scored in double-digits four of his previous five games, tweaked a hamstring last week and is out for the next couple of weeks, at least.

As far as the Suns go, newcomer Emeka Okafor hasn't played yet this season because of a problem with his neck, and rookie Alex Len has been out most of the season with a turned ankle.

Our Take on Tuesday's Game

The Suns, God love 'em, have been playing over their heads this season. It's nice to see a young team get off to a good start, but our guess is by the end of the season, perhaps even by the All-Star break, Phoenix will be back near the basement in the Western Conference. The future may be theirs, but not the present.

Kobe's had a couple more days to get into the swing of things, and we expect better results from him and the Lakers Tuesday night. So we'll give the short spread and go with LA for our free NBA pick for tonight.

Pick: Take LA at the -3 points offered at Pinnacle.

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