By Chris David
**No. 1 L.A. Lakers vs. No. 8 Utah**
Series Price: Los Angeles Utah
Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
Since the NBA playoffs expanded to a field of 16 in 1984, the No. 8 seed has gone 3-47 in the first round, with only Golden State in 2007, New York in 1999 and Denver in 1994 pulling off upsets. Can it happen again when the Lakers meet the Jazz in the first round?
Los Angeles is the team to beat in the West and they've looked much better this year with a healthy squad. Kobe Bryant (26.8 PPG) is arguably the best player in the league and most clutch too. Along with Bryant, the Lakers have the deepest and most talented frontcourt in basketball. Pau Gasol (18.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG) has looked even better with Andrew Bynum returning from knee surgery and Lamar Odom creates so many matchup problems off the bench.
If there is an edge for Utah, it's in the point guard position. Deron Williams (19.4 PPG, 10.7 APG) will be the second-best player in this series behind Kobe, but does the former Illinois standout have enough to advance. Carlos Boozer (37 games) is finally getting his legs back but he's definitely not at 100 percent. Another banged-up Jazz player is center Memhmet Okur (hamstring), who has the ability to spread the floor with his outside shot.
The bench play is even and even though head coach Phil Jackson has a slew of rings, Jerry Sloan is the farthest thing from a slouch. If Utah had been healthy all season long, it's fair to say that they wouldn't be the eighth seed. However, one glaring note on the Jazz that has hampered in previous seasons is their ability to win on the road. Utah went 15-26 straight up and 17-24 against the spread this year outside of Salt Lake City. It looks even uglier when you compare that to the Lakers' road ledger or 29-12 SU and 23-18 ATS.
Confidence is big this time of the year and the Jazz are lacking in that department as well. Sloan's team closed the year by losing seven of their final nine games, including a 125-112 setback to the Lakers last Tuesday. Los Angeles finished up the year by winning and covering four of its last five, all coming by double digits.
As mentioned above, the Jazz have been horrendous on the road this year, and that includes games against the Lakers at Staples Center. They've suffered nine consecutive losses at this venue, including all three in last year's postseason versus L.A. The Purple and Gold have gone 7-1-1 ATS during that stretch and all but two of the victories have come by double digits.
Gamblers should know that this first-round battle will be a rematch of last year's conference semifinals when the Lakers defeated the Jazz 4-2 in the best-of-seven series. Utah won two of three in Salt Lake City before falling at home in Game 6. And, the Jazz beat the Lakers but failed to cover in their only meeting at home this year. With that being said, if you're looking at Utah then perhaps wait until it's at home but the value might not be much.
Out of all the opening weekend contests, the 210-point total in Game 1 in this series is the highest number on the board and deservingly so. All three games this year went 'over' and seven of the last eight have gone 'over' too. Anytime you have two teams that get to the free throw stripe, it helps 'over' plays. It's going to be hard to justify an 'under' play here but you could get later value if one of the games become a track meet. Then, you'll see the number spike upward by five points, which could make for an attractive 'under' play.
This writer believes it will take the Lakers 15 games to reach the NBA Finals this year and the Jazz will be a speed bump in their path. After falling to the Celtics in six games of last year's championship round, the Lakers have been on a mission. If Los Angeles plays the way they're capable of then this best-of-seven won't last a week. Lakers close it out in five games.
There is no such thing as locks in life but the Lakers should not lose this series to the Jazz. Would I lay $2,000 to get back $100? No. At the same time, I'm not going to toss money into the ocean on the Jazz (+1,500) either. The way to go in this series is either play the Lakers on the money-line in each game, which is still high (-800) or go with the Exact Game Props. Currently Sportsbook.com has the Lakers at plus-150 (Bet $100 to $150) to pull off the sweep or win in five games. If you play both, you'll bring back a return either way.