L.A. Lakers at Boston Celtics
Time: 7 PM CT, ESPN
Spread: BOS 8.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Charles Barkley may have written off the Boston Celtics following Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on opening night, but no one told the rest of the Boston Celtics that would be it. The C’s have won nine-straight games to improve to 9-2 on the season, sitting firm atop the Eastern Conference. Boston will welcome the the 5-5 Los Angeles Lakers to the TD Garden. Boston is 8.5-point favorites in a game with an over/under of 208 according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Boston, for its part, has been getting it done with stifling defense. The Celtics average a pedestrian 103.5 points per game but are allowing just 94.5 points per game this season, giving Boston the best differential in the East of +9.1 points. The Celtics are 3-1 at home this season after sustaining an early loss to the Milwaukee Bucks (to fall to 0-2 on the season). Kyrie Irving has adapted seamlessly to Brad Stevens’ offense, averaging 22.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, but perhaps the real key to the C’s offensive attack has been center Al Horford.
Horford is averaging 14.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, serving as a high post initiator and stretch-5 of the best sorts: Horford is shooting 47.4 percent from behind the arc at 3.5 attempts per game. He is 53 percent from the field and makes his impact on defense too with 1.3 steals/blocks per game. Horford is now looking like the key that the Celtics thought he would be in what was a disappointing first year for Horford in Boston.
California product Jaylen Brown has also made huge strides as a secondary scorer behind Irving, averaging 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Even rookie Jayson Tatum has been quite ready with 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 31 minutes a night as a rookie starter. Marcus Smart has played his usual stifling defense, and seeing 29.1 minutes per game is a corollary of having lost Jae Crowder in the deal that brought Irving to Boston.
The Celtics still have a strong nine-man rotation, including Terry Rozier who is a strong backup 1-man with nearly five assists per game and nine points per contest. The Celtics have the components to be a 50-win team, but the key is its synergy. Horford makes everyone better on offense, while Smart performs much the same role on the defensive end. Irving is a better table setter than Isaiah Thomas was, and he is a fraction of the liability defensively. Boston upgraded its defense in a huge way in parting with Thomas’ 28 points per game, but Irving has a clutch gene much like Thomas’ and has been waiting to have his chance as a true alpha dog, after living in LeBron James shadow. The fit in Boston is real nice so far.
The L.A. Lakers have two new additions leading the team in scoring this year. The Lakers parted with D’Angelo Russell to obtain leading-scorer Brook Lopez, who averages 16.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Rookie Kyle Kuzma has fulfilled all the hype, and is second on the team in scoring with 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He has started to make Julius Randle obsolete. Brandon Ingram has improved in his second season, and is averaging 15 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in 32.8 minutes a night.
The Lakers still are trying to find its identity, but the team seems to perform better with Lonzo Ball on the court, even if the rookie is shooting just 29 percent from the field thus far. Ball averages 8.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game, finding various ways to impact the game while his shot is not falling. The Lakers presumed he would be the key to revamping its attack, and the Lakers are averaging 106.5 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting. The Lakers defense still has to make strides, though, in giving up 107.3 points per game.
Los Angeles had the league’s worst defense a year ago, and Ball did nothing to upgrade that necessarily. L.A, seems best defensively with Larry Nance at the 4 or 5 spot, but Lopez cannot be benched because he is the team’s most consistent offensive threat. Perhaps sacrificing defense is the name of the game until the Lakers find a way to better seal the perimeter, because Lopez is not much of a rim protector. A few hustle wings might help solve the problem, too, if the Lakers can manage to either obtain one, or rejuevenate Luol Deng.