Surging Along

After early playoff exits the last two seasons with seventh seeds, Kobe Bryant and the surging Los Angeles Lakers are hoping for an easier path to the NBA finals with the Western Conference's top seed.

The Lakers look to win their 10th straight game and remain atop the West when they host the league-worst Miami Heat, who are coming off their first victory in a month.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Los Angeles –14 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 207.5 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 62% of bets for this game have been placed on Miami +14 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Los Angeles (40-17) had the fifth-best record in the West on Jan. 31, but has gone 12-1 this month to move to the top of the highly competitive conference.

The Lakers defeated Portland 96-83 Tuesday, and are just two wins shy of last season's total with 25 games to play.

Los Angeles has been a seventh seed in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and was knocked out in the first round by Phoenix each time. This season, the Lakers are hoping a top seed can help them win their first NBA title since 2002.

"I've just talked about home-court advantage and what we want to do in terms of getting ourselves in position to compete in the playoffs," coach Phil Jackson said.

On Tuesday, Bryant scored 11 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, and added nine rebounds and seven assists. The 10-time All-Star is averaging 29.0 points on 51.2 percent shooting, 5.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds during the nine-game winning streak - the club's longest since reeling off 11 straight victories March 13-April 2, 2004.

The Lakers are averaging 112.9 points during their run, and have won their last three by an average of 17.0 points.

"We're having a lot of fun, I think we're enjoying it, but at the same time, we're focused and alert," said Pau Gasol, who is averaging 21.4 points on 62.8 percent shooting and 7.4 boards in 11 games with Los Angeles since being traded from Memphis earlier this month.

"We're excited, but at the same time we're really focused on every game. Next game is Miami, and we're going to try to win that one, too."

Bryant had 33 points as he shot 10-of-15 from the field and made all 11 of his free throws in the Lakers' 104-94 victory over the Heat on Feb. 10. That game came before Miami (10-44) traded Bryant's former teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, to Phoenix, making this the first meeting between the Lakers and the Heat since 1996 that won't feature O'Neal on either team's roster.

Los Angeles, which has won 13 of 16 at Staples Center, has won 10 of its last 13 home games over the Heat.

Miami, meanwhile, has dropped 13 straight road games since a 117-113 win at Phoenix on Dec. 10. This is its longest losing streak away from home since dropping the final 14 road games of the 1990-91 season.

The Heat, however, defeated Sacramento 107-86 on Tuesday to win for the first time since a 98-96 victory over Indiana on Jan. 26.

Miami shot 52.0 percent (39-of-75) for the game and set a franchise record by holding the Kings to 10.0 percent (2-of-20) in the third quarter.

"I know we've had it in us," coach Pat Riley said. "I don't know where it's been. But, we played extremely well. We just played a complete game for 48 minutes."

The Heat, who have lost 26 of their last 28 games, now try to win consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 9 and 10. Tuesday's win was the first for Miami since trading O'Neal to Phoenix for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.

"It feels good to get this first one," said Marion, averaging 17.8 points and 10.5 rebounds in six games for Miami. "Now let's try to string a few of them along."

Dwyane Wade finished with 15 points and nine assists on Tuesday after scoring at least 30 points in three straight games. Wade had 19 points and nine assists against the Lakers last month after averaging 36.3 points and 8.7 assists in the previous three meetings.

By: Marc Young - - Email Us

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