The LA Lakers are back to .500 after an incredible comeback on Wednesday against New Orleans. Will they now get past Toronto on Friday night and pick up some momentum headed towards the NBA play-offs?
Rallying from 25 down to hunt down the soon-to-be Pelicans, the Lakers moved just 1½ games behind Utah in the race for eighth place in the Western Conference. That’s no mean feat for a team that was dead and buried two months ago when they had a miserable 17-25 record – and a bucket load of internal strife - amid a run of ten losses in 12 games, including a 108-103 reverse in Canada.
Now they’ve won 14 of 20 despite the loss of Pau Gasol, and will aim to extend a nine-game streak of victories in LA over the Raptors, who have lost five of their last six to all but kill off their post-season hopes. When they lose, they give up a large number of points so back the Lakers to come up trumps on a handicap of -7.5 with the score shooting over the line of 206.5.
With seven games separating Toronto, in ninth, and the Milwaukee Bucks above them, the top eight in the Eastern Conference looks set with five weeks of the regular season to go. And while Miami have all but secured home advantage in the play-offs, there is plenty of room for manoeuvre between New York, in second, and Boston, in seventh.
The Celtics host fifth-placed Atlanta tonight, with both teams chasing homecourt advantage in the first round. They’ve split their series 1-1 so far with Boston winning once by seven and the Hawks gaining revenge in overtime in the rematch. But the Celtics come in off four successive victories while their visitors have won only one out of four, hindered by a misfiring offence.
Josh Smith has been held to just 14.5 points in his match-up with Kevin Garnett so far this term and a repeat should see Boston deliver on the handicap of -4.
Bet of the day: Back the Lakers on the handicap over the Raptors at 1.91