The San Antonio Spurs
look to send an early playoff message when they travel to the Los Angeles Lakers
on Thursday night.
The NBA-best Spurs have taken the league by storm with a 40-8 straight-up record (28-18-2 against the spread). However, they’re still not getting a lot of respect as their Western Conference odds (plus 130) at Bookmaker.com are behind the 34-15 SU Lakers (plus 125).
San Antonio even won the only Lakers meeting this year, 97-82 as 3 ½-point home favorites on Dec. 28. Tony Parker had 23 points and L.A. shot just 35.4 percent from the field. Center Andrew Bynum (knee) was still working his way back into the Lakers lineup and wasn’t even starting yet.
Coach Gregg Popovich’s squad is playing championship caliber ball with the league’s sixth-best scoring offense (104 PPG) and 12th on defense (96.9 PPG). However, many still think the two-time defending champ Lakers are the better team. A San Antonio road win would help change that perception.
The Spurs also need this game for another reason. This is the second of a massive nine-game trip with the rodeo kicking them out of town. They lost the first game Tuesday night in Portland, 99-86 as five-point favorites.
The 185 combined points scored went ‘under’ the 187-point total. The ‘under’ is 2-2 in the last two games, but 11-2 in the last 13 overall.
Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge was a man among boys with 16-of-23 shooting for 40 points. That would have never happened with a younger Tim Duncan guarding him, but the now 34-year-old has slowed down a few steps. It remains to be seen if his decline catches up to San Antonio in the second half or in the playoffs. His deep cast of teammates have compensated so far.
San Antonio doesn’t want to start this trip 0-2, although only one above .500 opponent remains in the last seven games.
Los Angeles is 21-27-1 ATS to go along with its 34-15 SU mark. This is the final game of a five-game homestand that’s gone 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS.
The Lakers’ last game was Tuesday night hosting Houston. They were trying to come out strong after losses and failures to ‘cover’ against Sacramento (100-95 as 12-point favorites) and Boston (109-96 as three-point favorites). Instead, they struggled as 8 ½-point ‘chalk’ and needed overtime for a 114-106 victory.
Kobe Bryant had 32 points and Pau Gasol added 26. They each had six in the extra session when the Lakers scored 16 points in all. If it wasn’t for the overtime, L.A. would have been held under 100 points for the third consecutive game. Not good for a team averaging 103.7 PPG (ranked seventh).
Gasol (18.4 PPG) had just 21 total points in the two previous games. He needs 20-plus points every night to help Bryant (25.6 PPG) and Lamar Odom (15.6 PPG). Everyone else is a crap-shoot offensively right now.
Bynum missed the Houston game with a bone bruise in his knee. He’s being listed as questionable for Thursday. The team is already without reserve forward Matt Barnes (knee), which hurts the bench scoring. San Antonio’s only injury is backup forward Matt Bonner (knee), who’s expected to miss his ninth straight game.
The seven-foot Bynum being out again would be big as San Antonio has a big height disadvantage with 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair starting next to Duncan. Duncan should have his hands full with Gasol, although the Spaniard struggled in the first meeting (nine points).
San Antonio is 15-6 SU and 13-7-1 ATS away. Los Angeles is 19-7 SU at home, but 10-16 ATS. It doesn’t play well on Thursday’s for some reason at 1-9 ATS in the last 10.
The ‘under’ is 5-0 in the last five meetings between the teams. San Antonio won (100-81) and ‘covered’ the last meeting in Los Angeles last April, but was 0-4 ATS in L.A. before that.
TNT will have the 7:30 p.m. (PT) tip-off from Staples Center right after Miami at Orlando.
San Antonio is at Sacramento on Friday, while the Lakers start a seven-game trip in New Orleans on Saturday.