NBA Sunday Tipsheet: Lakers set to down struggling Suns
A recent upturn has the Lakers keeping pace in the Western Conference dogfight, and winning is the only option when Phoenix come to town, writes Mark Kirwan...
"Injuries have started to bite in recent games for LA though. Rajon Rondo's broken hand comnbined with Lonzo Ball's dodgy ankle have left them short at point guard. It's meant LeBron's had to handle the ball more - something this LA move was supposed to avoid - and that work adds up at 33 years old."
Lakers leaning on LeBron
Phoenix Suns @ LA Lakers
Live on Sky Sports Arena
It's Sunday, it must be the Lakers on Sky.
To be fair, they've picked up their play in recent weeks, with 11 wins in 15 games since Halloween, so you can make a case for showing them so much.
The Lakers are fortunate to have hit that run of form, because they'd be cut adrift in a ridiculously competitive Western Conference without it.
The Spurs, 14th of 15 in the standings as of writing, have 10 wins from 22 games, while Dallas in in the eighth seed spot have 10 in 20. The Clippers, with 15 wins, are first.
Injuries have started to bite in recent games for LA though. Rajon Rondo's broken hand comnbined with Lonzo Ball's dodgy ankle have left them short at point guard.
It's meant LeBron's had to handle the ball more - something he'd hope to avoid with the move to California - and that work adds up at 33 years of age.
Lonzo is back now, so that takes the pressure off, but, in this year's Western Conference, the extra effort from their aged star could cost them come the decisive games of March and April.
It shouldn't be an issue tonight though. The one team already out of the West's playoff race is Phoenix, with just four wins on the season.
Devin Booker is expected to be healthy, but that shouldn't make enough of a difference to make this a rare Suns win.
Both of these teams generally go under. Lakers games are 2-8 on the total when they're the home favourite, while Phoenix are 9-13 this season. Take the under on 223.5 Total Points at [1.88].
Utah on upward Korve
Utah Jazz @ Miami Heat
Live on Betfair Video
Utah's underperformance explains the tight look of the West's standings.
Some talked of Utah pushing Golden State like Houston did last year - remember, the Rockets did take the top seed last term, though the Warriors scratched out them out in the playoffs. There's long way to go, but things haven't panned out like that, with the Jazz going 11-12 so far.
The Salt Lake City side have struggled to maintain the defensive dominance they showed last season, and their scoring's taken a hit with Donovan Mitchell's play fluctuations.
This week they made a move that should help address the offence, bringing in veteran Kyle Korver and his sweet three-point shooting. That should help stretch opponents and give second-year star Mitchell more space to operate in.
It's also the kind of move that they'd hope will win games such as those they play tonight.
Miami are one of those massed teams in the East who are a lottery pick from night-to-night. They beat New Orleans in their last game as home underdogs after losing the previous game to Atlanta as eight-point favourites.
Utah need to get their act together, and wins at Miami are how that should look. The Korver arrival only encourages us to think they're a solid proposition against a very inconsistent team. Take Utah -3.5 on the handicap at [1.94].
Spurs and Blazers on the slide
Portland Trail Blazers @ San Antonio Spurs
Live on Betfair Video
Two more of the tightly packed challengers in the West meet in San Antonio, but both look more like candidates for the later seeds at best rather than conference championship contenders based on their recent form.
Portland saw a roadtrip through the north and east cool one of the league's hottest starts. They were 9-3 when they beat the Celtics at the Moda Center on November 11, but are 3-6 since, and have taken some heavy beatings in that run.
Admittedly, six consecutive games on the road isn't easy, but their games back home have been just as disappointing. They're 1-8 against the spread in their last nine.
The Spurs enjoyed a briefer spark to start their season, 6-2 through eight in a first campaign without their MVP-chaser Kawhi Leonard, but it's been trending downward all the way since.
They're 10-12 now and the preseason fears that they would miss their first postseason in more than two decades only gain evidence with each game.
They got DeMar DeRozan in the Leonard trade, so weren't left empty-handed, but it's their defence, traditionally the bedrock of their success, that's declined.
In their last four games, they've given up 135, 128 and 136 in three losses, and even allowed 107 to the atrocious Bulls in a one-point win.
That lax play isn't fixed overnight. Naturally, Spurs games are trending over recently, with their games going 7-1-1 in the last nine. Portland are seeing similar numbers on totals with 7-2. You can only look at the line of 217.5 and think this goes higher at [1.84].
1pt on Under 223.5 in Suns Lakers @ [1.88] on the Exchange
1pt on the Utah Jazz -3.5 @ [1.94] on the Exchange
1pt on Over 217.5 in Blazers Spurs @ [1.84] on the Exchange