2008 NBA Finals Game 1 Preview and Pick

Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) +2.5, 192 at Boston Celtics (66-16), 9 pm Eastern Thursday, ABC
by Zman of Predictem.com

One of the storied rivalries in American sports tips off when the Los Angeles Lakers visit Beantown for game 1 of the best-of-7 NBA Championship Series vs. the Boston Celtics Thursday night.

Boston, champions of the Eastern Conference, posted the best record in the league this year at 66-16, while the Lakers were the best of the West at 57-25. But after taking 20 games to beat Atlanta, Cleveland and Detroit in the Eastern Conference playoffs, while Los Angeles won the West in 15 games over Denver, Utah and San Antonio, the Celtics are listed as underdogs at upwards of +160 to win this series, even with home-court advantage. The Lakers, meanwhile, are giving as much as -190 as the series favorites.

Boston is listed at Sports Bookies around the Internet as three-point home favorites for Thursday’s game 1, with a total of 192. The Celtics are also posted at right around -135 for game 1 on various Vegas moneylines, with LA getting +115.

This may be a great rivalry, but it is of the past. These two teams haven’t met outside the annual home-and-home series since the 1987 Finals.

Boston swept two games from LA during this regular season, by scores of 110-91 and 107-94. But both those games were played before the Lakers picked up C Pau Gasol in a trade in early February. After getting Gasol, LA went 27-9 to close out the regular season.

The Celtics beat the Lakers in Boston back in November, leading by 18 at halftime and covering the spread as eight-point chalk. That game also saw Kobe Bryant go nine-of-21 from the field, as the game stayed under its total of 204. And in Boston’s other win over LA a month later, Bryant went 6-of-25 from the floor, as the Celtics covered as three-point road favorites. That game went over its total of 198.

In those two games together, Boston out-shot the Lakers from the field 48% to 39%, and out-rebounded LA by over 10 per game.

In fact, the biggest lead the Lakers held in either game was two points, while the Celtics led both games by more than 20.

The Lakers are 4-3 straight up and 4-2-1 against the spread on the road this playoff season. On the other side of this match-up, the Celtics are 10-1 SU and 6-5 ATS at home this playoff season.

The Lakers went 37-15 in Western Conference play this season, while the Celtics went 25-5 vs. the West. On the other side of the ledger, Boston went 41-11 in the East, while LA went 20-10 vs. the East.

The Celtics were the best money-maker in the league this season, going 52-28 against the spread. The Lakers weren’t too bad themselves, going 47-33 for their financial backers.

LA is 12-3 in its playoff run this spring, and 10-4-1 ATS. Meanwhile, Boston is 12-8 SU this playoff season, but just 8-12 ATS.

Boston went 35-6 straight up at home this season, 2nd-best in the league, while Los Angeles went 27-14 on the road, which was tied for the 2nd-best away mark in the league.

Statistically speaking, these two teams were very similar this regular season. LA shot 48% from the field as a team, 38% from 3-point range and 77% from the free-throw line. The Lakers also ranked 6th in the league in FG defense at 44.5% and 8th in rebounding at +1.4 per game, and posted a 22/14 per-game assist-to-turnover ratio.

Meanwhile, Boston shot 47.5% from the floor, 38% from long range and 77% from the line. The Celtics also led the league in FG defense at 42%, ranked 4th in rebounding at +3.1 per game, and averaged a 24-14 A/TO ratio.

The Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com rank Boston #1 at 98.68, the Lakers #2 at 98.36. Sagarin’s current NBA home-court advantage figure is 4.02.

The totals went 36-45 in Celtics games during the regular season, which averaged 191 total points, while Lakers games averaged 210 points, and the totals went 40-41.

During this playoff season, LA is 5-10 on the totals, as the games have averaged 204 points, while Boston games have averaged 179 points, with the totals going 9-11.

Zman’s Game 1 Pick: I like the Celtics to cover the -2.5 at home.