NBA News and Notes June 12

NBA News and Notes June 12

Celtics at Lakers, Game 4
By Brian Edwards

There was a real chance for Boston to put the 2008 NBA Finals away in Game 3. After taking a 2-0 series lead back in Beantown, the Celtics had a golden opportunity to get greedy.

They played terrible in the first half, yet trailed by just six. Even on a night when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were playing like dogs with fleas, Boston had a 68-66 lead with 7:38 left in the fourth quarter.

The Staples Center crowd was anxious -- real anxious. The anxiety was palpable.

This series was supposed to be Kobe Bryant’s defining moment. This was the year he finally won his first MVP. This was supposed to be the year he (not Shaq) would lead the Lakers to an NBA title, but there was a good chunk of the second half of Game 3 in which broom treatment from Boston seemed to be a realistic possibility.

It didn’t happen, though. Bryant (36 points) was too good, especially down the stretch, when he made back-to-back buckets to put the game away. (Why on earth did Doc Rivers not double-team on both of those possessions?!)

And Phil Jackson’s team got a monster lift from Sasha Vujacic, who erupted for 20 points off the bench. The fourth-year Slovenian product drained 7-of-10 shots, including a clutch 3-pointer from the corner that gave the Lakers an 81-76 advantage with 2:01 left.

Los Angeles (70-30 straight up, 57-40 against the spread) eventually captured an 87-81 win, but Boston backers took the cash as a nine-point underdog. Those gamblers got a fortunate break in the waning moments thanks to another questionable coaching decision by Rivers.

With L.A. leading by six with 21 seconds left, Boston didn’t even put the Lakers on the free-throw line to ice the game even though it was just a two-possession difference. Lamar Odom was called for a charge with six seconds left, and then Boston missed a last-second shot to end the game.

If the Celtics had fouled at around the 18-second mark, L.A. backers would’ve had a decent shot at the cover, but it wasn’t to be. Boston (80-25 SU, 63-40 ATS) has now covered the spread in all three games of the series. In fact, the Celtics have cashed tickets in all five head-to-head meetings this season.

As for the total, the 168 combined points fell way ‘under’ the 195 ½-point tally. As for halftime wagers, the ‘under’ also cashed. With L.A. leading 43-37 at intermission (80 points by my math), the second-half total was 97½, equating to a 177 ½-point total. For Boston backers looking to press their bets, they got the C’s at plus four in the second half, equating to plus 10 rather than the original nine-point number.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the Lakers as eight-point ‘chalk’ for Game 4. The total was sent out at 191. As of late Wednesday afternoon, most books had moved L.A. to 7½ with the total ranging from 191-192. Gamblers can back the Celtics on the money line at plus 300 (risk $100 to win $300).

KG and Pierce combined to score only 19 points, making just 8-of-35 shots in the process. Garnett reminded me of Chris Webber in the 2002 West finals against the Lakers (more on that series below in Bonus Nuggets), settling for entirely too many perimeter jumpers instead of attacking the basket.

On the other hand, Ray Allen has put his shooting slump to bed. Allen was brilliant, burying his first five 3-pointers and finishing 8-of-13 from the field in a 25-point effort.

Rajon Rondo was limited to 22 minutes after spraining his ankle in the first half. He finished with eight points, two rebounds and a 4/2 assists-to-turnover ratio. Rondo will play in Game 4, but how effective he’ll be remains to be seen.

Back to the Lakers, who know what they’re going to get from Bryant on a nightly basis. As for Pau Gasol and Odom, that’s a completely different story.

Bottom line: Odom is playing like a total scrub in the biggest games of his career. In Game 3, he was 2-for-9 from the floor and had more turnovers (five) than points (four). Gasol is cowering from the moment, playing soft on both ends and crying for fouls.

Thankfully for the Lakers, though, Vujacic rose to the occasion in Game 3. However, the Lakers can’t count on KG and Pierce to no-show again, so production from Odom and/or Gasol becomes mandatory from here on out.

Tip-off for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 9:05 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--LVSC has adjusted the series price to pick ‘em (minus 110 either way).

--Dating back to March 28, the Lakers have won 15 in a row at home.

--As much as I believe the Celtics squandered a better-than-decent chance to put the series away Tuesday, it’s not comparable to Dallas blowing that 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter in a similar Game 3 at Miami in the Finals two seasons ago. The Mavs really blew that game, but this scenario was different. Boston simply had a good shot and failed. There’s a major difference.

--I’m not at all implying that Tim Donaghy’s allegations – in their entirety -- are accurate, but I will say this with no hesitation whatsoever: Sacramento unquestionably got robbed by the officials in Game 6 of the 2002 West finals against the Lakers at Staples Center. I thought it as I watched the game and still think it to this day. With the Kings up by one in the final minute, I specifically remember Bryant literally slapping Mike Bibby in the face as Rick Fox and Bryant trapped him just across the midcourt line. Instead of a foul, Bibby was called for a walk (and just as I type this, ESPN’s Outside the Lines just showed a replay of Bibby’s eyes watering as he complained about the call). And to be clear, the foul on Bibby was just one of at least a half-dozen in the fourth quarter alone that were mind-boggling.

--Why is ESPN Classic not showing Game 6 of the Kings-Lakers over the last 24 hours and change? I guess the answer would be because the network is in business with the league. Speaking of ESPN Classic, I used to love the channel. Who runs the programming for that station now? Seriously, replays of the WSOP and billiards tournaments aren’t doing it for me. Break out the old-school Battle Lines (UK-Duke Elite Eight is the best), replays of The Season and the Sports Century series.

--Be sure to check out Thursday’s edition of the Power Hours. On last week’s show, bettors were spoon-fed winners galore. Chris David and I went through a plethora of prop bets for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and we were right on the money with just about all of ‘em. C.D. correctly called ‘under’ 30 points for Bryant in Game 1, while I suggested a Vujacic (-2 ½ points) wager against James Posey that won by an 8-5 count. David, who picked the Lakers to win the series in six games, said he “wouldn’t be surprised if Boston won the first two games at home before the Lakers get hot at home and rally to win the next four games like Miami did against Dallas a couple of years ago.” C.D. also forecasted the ‘under’ in Game 1, while I called for Boston to cover. I also correctly forecasted a Rays-Red Sox brawl just a day removed from Coco Crisp’s shouting match with Joe Maddon following Crisp’s cheap-shot slide into second base. Finally, VI’s horse racing guru Anthony Stabile was also a guest, confidently encouraging gamblers to stay away from 'chalky' Big Brown wagers in the Belmont.

vegasinsider.com.

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Thursday's best NBA bet
COVERS.com

Boston at L.A. Lakers - 7½, 191½

So, let’s get this straight. In Game 3’s loss to the Lakers, Kevin Garnett shot 6-for-21 from the floor, Paul Pierce finished with just six points and five fouls, and Rajon Rondo rolled his ankle – yet the Celtics were still within striking distance in the fourth quarter. So what would have happened if those big names even showed up? That’s the big question with the Lakers set as solid favorites again for Game 5.

It’s hard to imagine Pierce and Garnett struggling that badly again with a chance to put Los Angeles down 3-1, but Rondo’s injury could be a real problem for the Celtics. The 22-year-old runs the offense methodically and has a knack for changing the tempo just when Boston needs it.

Rondo reported in his blog after the game that he was no better than 50 percent when coach Doc Rivers took him out in the fourth quarter. Eddie House stepped in to play 19 solid minutes, but he and veteran Sam Cassell have nothing on Rondo’s defense or his ability to find the open man at the right time.

So if he’s out, the Celtics will definitely feel his absence, but in the end they should be able to at least keep it close if Pierce and Garnett show up.

Pick: Celtics

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NBA FINALS

(1) Boston (14-9, 11-12 ATS) at (1) L.A. Lakers (13-5, 10-7-1 ATS)


The Lakers, who were barely able to get back on track in a must-win situation in Game 3, look to square this best-of-seven championship series when they host the Celtics for Game 4 at Staples Center.

Los Angeles held off Boston for an 87-81 home victory Tuesday night, but failed to cash as a heavy 9½-point home chalk. Kobe Bryant poured in 36 points and Sasha Vujacic added 20, but they were the only Lakers to reach double figures. However, only two Celtics reached double digits in scoring, as well, with Ray Allen scoring 25 and Kevin Garnett tallying 13, while Paul Pierce shot a dismal 2-for-14 and finished with just six points.

Boston, which had been horrible at the betting window through much of the playoffs, has cashed in four straight games and five of its last seven dating to the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit. Los Angeles, conversely, is 0-3 ATS in the Finals and has followed an 8-1-1 ATS run by going just 4-5 ATS in its last nine.

The Celtics are now 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS against the Lakers this season (2-0 ATS at Staples). Prior to covering the spread in the last five battles, Boston had gone 1-7 ATS against Los Angeles. Finally, the host is still 4-2 ATS in the last six head-to-head contests in this storied rivalry.

Despite Monday’s cover, Doc Rivers’ Celtics are still just 2-8 SU and 3-7 ATS on the highway in the playoffs. But they are on positive pointspread runs of 5-0 against the Pacific Division, 12-2 against the Western Conference (5-0 last five), 4-1 on Thursday and a lengthy 25-11-1 in their last 37 games following a spread-cover. Boston is also 9-2 ATS this year as an underdog of three points or more.

The Lakers, who have won 15 consecutive home games going back to March 28, are 9-0 SU and 6-3 ATS in playoff games at Staples this year. They are also 8-3 ATS in their last 11 at home dating to the regular season, 5-1 ATS in their last six on Thursday, 11-3-1 ATS in their last 15 following a SU win and a solid 8-3-1 ATS in their past 12 when going on one day of rest. On the flip side, Los Angeles is mired in pointspread funks of 0-7-1 in the NBA Finals, 0-6 against the Eastern Conference, 0-4 against the Atlantic Division and 1-6 at home against teams with a winning road record.

Game 3 fell miles short of the 195½-point posted price, and the under is now 2-1 in this series. The total has alternated in each of the last six meetings between these teams, though the over is still 6-3 in the last nine clashes at Staples Center.

The under for Boston is on streaks of 5-2 overall, 6-0 on the highway, 4-1 on one day of rest and 4-1 on Thursday. For Los Angeles, the under streaks include 7-1 overall, 5-0 after a SU win, 5-0 on one day of rest, 4-0 at home and 10-1 in Thursday contests. That said, the over is 11-5 in the Lakers’ last 16 battles against Atlantic Division foes.

ATS ADVANTAGE: UNDER

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NBA Today

Boston at Los Angeles Lakers (9 p.m. EDT). After winning at home on Tuesday night, the Lakers look to even the NBA finals in Game 4.

INJURY REPORT

Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo missed practice on Wednesday because of a bone bruise in his left ankle, but he said he would be ready to play in Game 4 of the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night. X-rays were negative, and Rondo iced and rested his ankle overnight.

MOVED


In the midst of the SuperSonics' bid to relocate to Oklahoma City, the team's NBA Developmental League affiliate was moved to Tulsa on Wednesday. The NBA announced an expansion and realignment of the minor league circuit, including a change that will associate the Sonics with the Tulsa 66ers instead of the Idaho Stampede. Tulsa will continue to serve as the minor league club for the Milwaukee Bucks, but no longer will be linked to the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks.

RATINGS

Game 3 of the NBA Finals drew the highest television ratings of the series. The Lakers' 87-81 win Tuesday night earned a 9.2 rating on ABC, the network said Wednesday. That's up 44 percent from the 6.4 last year for Spurs-Cavaliers. It was the highest rating for a Game 3 since Lakers-Pistons in 2004 drew a 10.5.

SPEAKING

``It's the same game, it's just a bigger stage. You're not at your high school auditorium any more. This is Carnegie Hall.'' - Boston's Sam Cassell, on trying to get his teammates to relax and not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the NBA finals. The Celtics lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 on Thursday in Los Angeles.

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Behind the lines

Defense rules the Finals


The under is 6-0 in the Celtics' last six road games.

With opponents geared to stop Kobe Bryant, the Lakers opened the NBA playoffs by averaging well above 100 points per game against Denver and Utah.

But defensive-minded San Antonio and Boston have made things difficult for the Lakers over the last two rounds and that explains why the under is 7-1 in Los Angeles' last eight playoff games.

Tonight, the over-under total for combined points is listed at 191 for Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center. A far cry from the bloated totals posted for the Lakers' playoff series against the Nuggets and Jazz when the lowest total for any game was 210 points.

Predicting combined total points for an NBA Finals' game can be difficult because everything depends on the matchup and timing.

For example, although the Celtics have the ability to score with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, they are more methodical than the Lakers, who prefer playing up-tempo games.

That's why Boston's deliberate style often leads to low-scoring games, especially at home.

But when the Lakers are on top of their game, points will be scored.

That's what happened in Game 2 at Boston's TD Banknorth Garden when the Celtics held on for a 108-102 victory. The 210 combined total points gave the win to the "over" since the total line for the game was 191.5.

Last adds: The under is 6-0 in the Celtics' last six road games, and the under is 10-1 in the Lakers' last 11 games played on Thursday.

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Gamblers riding Boston in the playoffs have to be pleased with the results of the first three games of the Finals. The Celtics are 3-0 against the point spread in their first appearance in the Finals since 1987.

Here are a couple of trends to consider for Game 4: In Boston's last 14 games against teams from the Western Conference, the Celtics are 12-2 against the spread. In the Lakers' last seven home games against a team with a winning road record, they are 1-6 against the spread; and in the Lakers' last six games against teams from the Eastern Conference, they are 0-6 against the spread.

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Sportsbetting.com's updated odds on the Most Valuable Player award for this year's Finals has the Lakers' Kobe Bryant as the favorite at 1-1, followed by Boston's Paul Pierce at 3-2 and Kevin Garnett at 2-1.

latimes.com

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NBA Finals Gameday

The NBA Finals became a true series again on Tuesday night, as the Lakers fought back in Game 3 to cut the Celtics' series lead to 2-1. The Lakers and Celtics return to the court on Thursday with Los Angeles looking for another victory to tie the series 2-2.

On Tuesday, Kobe Bryant delivered the win for Los Angeles with a game-high 36 points. The Lakers went on to win 87-81 but failed to cover the 9.5 point spread, dropping them to 0-3 ATS in the series. Not only did Bryant score when the Lakers needed him, he also played stellar defense while guarding Boston sharpshooter Paul Pierce. The result was a horrible night for Pierce, who was limited to only six points on a miserable 2-of-14 shooting. Also coming through for the Lakers in the must-win contest was Sasha Vujacic. In the first two games of the series Vujacic scored 16 points combined, but he stepped up in Game 3 to net 20 points off the bench.

With Pierce struggling on Tuesday night, Ray Allen led the Celtics with 25 points. Kevin Garnett also had a lackluster game with 13 points on 6-of-21 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. Rajon Rondo was held to eight points and four assists after a sprained left ankle in the third quarter drastically cut into his usual playing time. Rondo's sore ankle isn't expected to keep him out of Game 4, but it could force him to give up minutes to Sam Cassell and Eddie House.

With the win on Tuesday the Lakers maintained their unbeaten streak at home and now sit at 9-0 at the Staples Center in the postseason.  Los Angeles may be undefeated at home, but they are 6-3 ATS with all three spread losses coming in their last five games.

Total bettors saw a big change between Games 2 and 3. In Game 2 Boston defeated Los Angeles 108-102 and the combined score went well OVER the posted total of 190.5. The oddsmakers subsequently raised the total in Game 3 to 195.5, but the result was a big under play as the 87-81 final score came nowhere near reaching the total.

The oddsmakers have tweaked the total again for Game 4, opening it at 192, while they've also reduced the point spread, setting the Lakers as a 7.5-point favorite.

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NBA Games

Garnett/Pierce combined to go 8-33; Garnett missed 36 of last 50 shots as Celtics barely hung on in Game 2 at home, then got beat 87-81 in Game 3. Boston is 2-8 on road in playoffs, but it can win title without winning at Staples. Lakers still must win next two games, then go for split in Beantown.

Key to last two games has been role player (Powe, Vujacic) in game of their life; Lakers led Kobe go off early in game in Game 3, would expect more of that here. His 11-18 (61.1%) night on foul line was alarming. LA is 9-0 at home in playoffs, but with public opinion still riding on LA (they're only slight underdog in series, despite being down 2-1), big number for LA to cover.

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