Hawks fly to L.A.

Well, the Lakers burned me in my Thursday TNT preview last week as Los Angeles went into Boston and not only covered but won, 88-87, in overtime in what at the time was just the Lakers’ fourth road win in 13 games this season.

Still, this is clearly a pretty flawed team – how else to explain that the Lakers just worked out Gilbert Arenas? Of course, “Agent Zero” was cut by the Orlando Magic before the season, with Orlando eating the $60 million-plus owed Arenas but scraping his salary cap number off its roster thanks to the amnesty clause allowed in the new CBA. The Lakers could sign him for the veteran’s minimum, about $1.4 million.

Atlanta, meanwhile, is one of those teams that is never bad enough to be in a spot to grab a superstar at the top of the NBA Draft but also never good enough to seriously contend for a title. Actually, a great read on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website wonders how Atlanta is even decent.

Take a look at the Hawks’ recent draft misses: From 2004 through 2007, the Hawks had five lottery picks and pretty much screwed up four of them. They took Josh Childress instead of Luol Deng/Andre Iguodala in 2004; Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul/Deron Williams in 2005; Shelden Williams instead of Brandon Roy/Rudy Gay in 2006, and Acie Law IV instead of Thaddeus Young/Rodney Stuckey in 2007. The only one they got right was Al Horford, also in 2007. And Horford is probably out for the year.

How the Teams Enter

Atlanta (18-10) showed its schizophrenic side on Sunday, falling at home to Miami, 107-87. Why did the Hawks lose? They were outscored 26-6 at the foul line. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in the Hawks’ nearly 5,000 regular-season NBA games, spanning 63 seasons in four different home cities or regions, it was only the second time they lost by 20 or more points without being outscored from the field. The first was a 114-94 loss to the Celtics in 1963 in which Boston outscored the St. Louis Hawks, 40-18, from the line. Cool stat, I thought. Atlanta allowed 63 first-half points vs. Miami, its most points allowed in a half all season, and was down 32 at one point. This is the same Atlanta group that won in Miami on Jan. 2.

The Lakers (16-12) concluded a six-game road trip with a 94-92 win at Toronto on Sunday that shouldn’t have been that close considering L.A. had an 18-pont lead. Kobe Bryant had 27 points, including the game-winning jumper with 4.2 seconds left. Since coming into the league in 1996-97, Bryant has hit more game-winners in the final five seconds than any other player. Sunday marked the 16th time he’s done it in the regular season, two more than Carmelo Anthony.

Betting Story Lines

Maybe it’s good that the Hawks are out of Philips Arena. Over the past 10 days, the Hawks have lost four times at home, and none of them have been close. The Hawks are 13-1 against teams that are under .500, 5-9 against those above it, although they did beat both Indiana and Orlando before essentially throwing in the towel against the Heat. This one starts a five-game road trip with the Hawks likely to only be favored in one of them (at Phoenix on Wednesday). Atlanta has won four of its past five on the road.

The Lakers’ depth is being exposed, so maybe Arenas can’t hurt. L.A.’s second unit averaged a league-worst 20.3 points per game entering Sunday and was outscored 43-24 by the Raptors’ substitutes. And Toronto is god-awful. L.A. was 3-3 on the road trip, necessitated by the Grammys being held at Staples Center. Still, that supposedly improved defense has been torched by point guards of late. The Knicks’ Jeremy Lin had a career-high 38 in New York’s win over the Lakers on Friday and Toronto’s Jose Calderon had a career-high 30 on Sunday. It just emphasizes how badly the Lakers need to add a point guard before next month’s trade deadline (Ramon Sessions?).

This is the only meeting of the season between the Lakers and Hawks. L.A. won both meetings last season, each by 14 points.

Odds and Key Trends

The Lakers opened as 5.5-point favorites with the total at 179.5 on NBA odds. Atlanta is 14-13-1 ATS overall and 8-5-1 ATS on road. The Lakers are 12-16 ATS overall and 8-5 at home. ‘Over/ under’ records: ATL 11-16-1, LAL 11-16-1.

The Hawks are 1-4 ATS in past five as a dog. The Lakers are 2-8 ATS in past 10 vs. Eastern Conference. The under is 7-0 in the Hawks’ past seven on Tuesday and 4-0 in the Lakers past four after a win. Hawks have covered just once in past five at Lakers.

Betting Prediction

Hard to know which Atlanta team shows up, but I am guessing the one where its nine losses to clubs with winning records have come by an average of 13.1 points, and the Hawks have fallen behind by at least 20 in their last five defeats overall.

Without Horford, the Hawks were dominated down low by Miami, and the Heat’s frontcourt stinks. Just think what Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should be able to do, and the Lakers are No. 1 in the NBA in rebounding. Atlanta is so desperate for a big man – Jason Collins is also hurt — that it recently signed Erick Dampier off the scrap heap. He joins Zaza Pachulia as the only healthy centers on the roster. The Hawks have been at a size disadvantage while using forwards Ivan Johnson and Josh Smith to back up Pachulia.

Atlanta usually gets blown out at the Lakers, losing its past five there by an average of 17.0 points. That sounds about right. Take L.A. and the under.

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