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Lakers head to Orlando

Big Week For Lakers, Especially Dwight Howard On Tuesday

The Los Angeles Lakers would be in the Western Conference playoffs if the season ended today as they have caught and passed the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed in the conference. After an expected loss at Oklahoma City last Tuesday, the Lakers closed the week with wins at New Orleans and home against Toronto and Chicago (1-2 ATS). Sunday's victory over the Bulls pushed the Lakers to two games over .500 for the first time this season; it was their 16th victory in their past 22 games.

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The Lakers are now 8/1 at the book to win the West and 15/1 to win the NBA Finals. Now it seems like the playoffs are a foregone conclusion and that reaching as high as the No. 6 seed is a good possibility for the Lakers with No. 7 Houston and No. 6 Golden State both playing inconsistent basketball. Getting to No. 6 should mean the Lakers avoid San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round of the postseason - but also would mean a likely matchup against the Clippers (at least no travel) or Memphis Grizzlies. The Clips are 3-0 against the Lakers this season, winning the season series for the first time in 20 years. The Grizzlies are 2-0 versus the Lakers.

The Lakers have been much improved on the road in that 22-game stretch but are still just 11-20 away from home (11-19-1 ATS). This week the team visits Orlando on Tuesday, Atlanta on Wednesday and Indiana on Friday before returning home only for one game, against Sacramento on Sunday. The Lakers certainly will be big favorites at the Magic, one of the worst teams in the NBA and just 10-24 at home (11-23 ATS), better than only the Bobcats.

However, the Orlando players and certainly the home crowd will be fired up to "welcome" back Dwight Howard for the first time since his trade out of central Florida. Howard is despised in Orlando and has thrown his former teammates under the bus on several occasions since landing in Los Angeles. He has recently apologized to fans in Orlando for how he handled his final few months in a Magic uniform. Even Howard admits the scene will be "crazy" on Tuesday: think LeBron James' first trip back to Cleveland. The Lakers were stunned at home by Orlando 113-103 on December 2.

Early-Week Live Betting Schedule

On Tuesday, the book offers Hawks at Heat and Grizzlies at Trail Blazers. Miami is the story of the NBA right now with a league-best 18-game winning streak heading into the Atlanta game. The Heat were 0-2 this season against Indiana but beat the Pacers 105-91 on Sunday to improve to 29-3 at home (16-16 ATS) despite just 13 points from LeBron James, his fewest in a game since February 6, 2011. The streak is tied for the seventh-longest in NBA history and the best since the Celtics won 19 straight early in the 2008-09 season.

Miami now has beaten every team in the NBA at least once this season and is the first team to clinch a playoff spot. In addition to the Pacers, the Heat have gotten payback in this streak for earlier losses to the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Bulls, Grizzlies and Knicks. Miami also has beaten the Lakers and Thunder to sweep those season series.

The Heat are now 8.5 games ahead of No. 2 New York in the East, a gap that's expected to increase with the Knicks losing Amar'e Stoudemire for the rest of the regular season due to knee surgery. Miami also has passed West-leading San Antonio for the best winning percentage in the NBA. That could be vital come June for home-court advantage in a potential Finals matchup. The Heat still visit San Antonio on March 31. That's likely to be the only game for the rest of the season in which Miami is an underdog. If the Heat are still on their winning streak that day, a win over the Spurs would be No. 30 in a row. The record is 33 straight by the 1971-72 Lakers. Tuesday's opponent, Atlanta, is 0-3 against Miami this season, and the Heat have covered comfortably in all three.

On Wednesday, the Live Betting options are Jazz at Thunder and Knicks at Nuggets. That latter game will get a lot of hype as it's Carmelo Anthony's return to Denver for the first time since he was traded to the Knicks. New York didn't visit Denver last season due to the lockout and had already played in the Mile High City in 2010-11 before acquiring Anthony in February 2011. The question is: will Anthony play Wednesday? He has missed three-straight games with a sore knee and was listed as questionable for Monday's matchup at Golden State.

The numbers say the Knicks may not miss Stoudemire. The team is 22-9 without him entering this week and was 16-13 with Stoudemire in the lineup, with the Knicks' scoring average dropping nearly five points per game and points differential down by nearly four points. However, Stoudemire had come on in recent weeks and averaged 14.2 points on excellent 57.7% shooting in just 23.5 minutes per game. Without him, the Knicks have a non-existent low-post offensive threat.
Check back Thursday for a weekend Live Betting preview at the book.

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