They’re both on the road to the Draft Lottery, but somebody has to beat the NBA odds Friday night when the Boston Celtics lay 3.5 points at home to the Los Angeles Lakers. Is Boston the Smart pick?
Jason’s record as of Dec. 3: 12-11 ATS, 0-2 Totals
We could go over the rich tradition shared between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers – the 32 NBA titles (33, if you include the 1948-49 Minneapolis Lakers in the old BAA), the 11 Finals appearances against one another, the Hall of Fame players like Bill Russell and Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson… but that would be going off on a tangent. Friday’s game at the Garden (7:30 p.m. ET) has none of that cachet. It won’t even be on NBA-TV.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. Both these franchises might be in the rebuilding phase, but the Celtics (5-11 SU, 7-9 ATS) and the Lakers (5-14 SU, 9-9-1 ATS) both have some intriguing young athletes who can jump right out of the gym. The Lakers also have Kobe Bryant, who’s still worth the price of admission just by himself. Boston opened as a 4-point chalk on the NBA odds board with a juicy total of 214.5; as we go to press, the spread is down to 3.5 points, but the total has risen to 217. Get ready for buckets galore.
Actually, to say the Lakers are rebuilding suggests that they have a plan to get better at basketball. If they do, we haven’t seen it yet. This franchise has been treading water since the passing last year of owner Jerry Buss, who poured a considerable amount of time and money into the Lakers – which he could afford to do. His ownership share was split amongst his six children, with Jim Buss in charge of basketball operations.
It’s been all downhill ever since. We won’t belabor the point – tons of ink has already been spilled over this – but the Lakers as constructed are top-heavy on Bryant’s diminishing skills. He’s still playing at a marginal All-Star level (20.0 PER this year) at age 36, which is remarkable given his recent injuries, but while Bryant is scoring 26.2 points per 36 minutes, his defense (minus-3.0 DBPM) has regressed to the point where he has a negative Box Plus-Minus (minus-0.2) for the first time since his rookie campaign in 1996-97.
Are You Not Entertained?
It’s not as if Bryant is surrounded by complementary defensive role players, either. The only plus defender on the roster at the moment is Ed Davis (plus-0.5 DBPM). Everyone else on the team is a swinging gate. Even if you account for the season-ending injuries to Steve Nash and Xavier Henry and rookie Julius Randle, none of those gentleman is a stopper. Neither is Ryan Kelly, who’s out until January with a hamstring injury.
It’s as if the 2014-15 Lakers were always meant to score buckets and entertain paying customers, rather than win games. They’re No. 11 in the league in offensive efficiency at 105.4 points per 100 possessions, and they’re dead last in defensive efficiency at 112.4 points allowed. The OVER is 11-8 for the Lakers as a result.
The No D-League
Now consider the Celtics. This is the second time in the past decade that Boston has torn down and rebuilt under Danny Ainge. The first teardown resulted in an NBA championship – over the Lakers in 2008, no less, although L.A. got its revenge two years later. Ainge has charted a similar course this time, dumping veterans for youth and allowing head coach Brad Stevens to develop the new players.
The most important of these players still has some work to do. Marcus Smart (minus-1.6 BPM) showed flashes of promise earlier this year, but he missed 10 games with a sprained ankle, then played only five minutes in Wednesday’s 109-102 overtime win against the Detroit Pistons (+4.5 away). Smart has been sent to the D-League for a conditioning stint, so he presumably won’t be in the mix Friday night.
That’s almost enough to make us add the Lakers to our NBA picks. But we’re going to recommend the OVER instead. Boston has the OVER at 12-4 this year, fuelled by the No. 26-ranked defense in the league (106.4). Buckets galore.
Free NBA Pick: Take the OVER at BetOnline