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Inside the Paint - Tuesday
The first quarter of the NBA regular season is just about in the books and last year’s finalists, Miami and Oklahoma City, are both on pace to meet again next June. The Heat (8/5) and Thunder (4/1) are listed first and second respectively in the latest NBA Championship futures at Sportsbook.ag, which isn’t surprising. However, the offshore outfit does have a couple future prices that make you scratch your head.

It appears that the L.A. Lakers (7/1) and Boston (20/1) are still commanding respect. We’re well aware that most books don’t want to put themselves at risk with these experienced teams but neither is deserving of their current numbers based on form, especially the Lakers.

Los Angeles has a lot of big names but if the playoffs started today, the team wouldn’t even make the field of eight in the Western Conference. Even with the coaching change and injuries, the Lakers have been the biggest disappointment this season. While the “Purple and Gold” has struggled, the other club that plays in the Staples Center has quietly gone under the radar.

The Los Angeles Clippers lead the Pacific Division with a 14-6 record and outside of Oklahoma City they are the hottest team in the league. Los Angeles has won six straight albeit against teams with no winning records, which makes you believe it’s a bully. Prior to this run, they dropped four in a row and three of those opponents had records above .500.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles heads to Chicago (11-8 SU, 7-12 ATS) for the start of a four-game road trip. The Clippers opened as favorites over the Bulls and they’ll most likely be laying points in every other contest on this short journey too.

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Chicago enters this matchup with some steam as well, winning three straight and five of six. Similar to the Clips, the Bulls have been “bullies” too but we can’t blame them for playing in the Central Division, which is really down this season.

Even without the duties of point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls have only been underdogs six times (2-4 SU, 2-4 ATS) this season and just twice at home. In those games they’re 1-1 both SU and ATS, losing to Oklahoma City (91-97) in early November and beating New York 93-85 this past Saturday.

The total for this matchup is hovering around 187. The Clippers like to run ‘n gun, which has resulted in a 12-7 record to the ‘over.’ However, Chicago doesn’t chuck at all and that’s translated into a 13-6 ‘under’ mark, which includes a 9-2 record at the United Center.

Tip-off for this game starts at 9:35 p.m. ET, with ESPN providing national coverage.

New York at Brooklyn: The Knicks (15-5 SU, 13-7 ATS) sit on top of the Eastern Conference and they’ve proven that they’re not a fluke. After hammering Miami (112-92) on the road in a statement game last Thursday, they Knicks had an expected letdown at Chicago (85-93) on Saturday. However, they rallied past Denver (112-106) at home in a tough back-to-back spot. New York’s only weakness right now is its road record (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) and we’re nitpicking. Brooklyn (11-8 SU, 10-8 ATS) has dropped four straight and that comes after the team put together a five-game winning streak. During this slump, the Nets haven’t had center Brook Lopez (foot) in the lineup and he’s ‘doubtful’ for this affair. It would’ve been tough seeing Brooklyn beat Miami or Oklahoma City in its recent losses, but setbacks at home against Golden State and Milwaukee are inexcusable. The Nets just beat the Knicks 96-89 on Nov. 26 in overtime and tonight’s rematch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET with ESPN nationally televising the matchup. Most books opened the Knicks as 2 1/2-point road favorites and the early action has already seen the line go up.

L.A. Lakers at Cleveland: We know a lot of gamblers probably chased and lost with the Lakers (9-12 SU, 9-12 ATS) on Sunday as they fell to the Jazz (110-117) as 6 ½-point home favorites. The short price told you everything and after watching Orlando do the same thing to Los Angeles a week prior, it wasn’t surprising to see Utah get the outright win. So do the Lakers bounce back against Cleveland (4-17 SU, 9-12 ATS) on the road? They should but how do you back a team that’s just 2-5 on the road? Plus you can argue look-ahead spot here for Los Angeles with a game against the Knicks at MSG set for Thursday. Putting money on Cleveland lately hasn’t been a sound investment either. The Cavaliers are 0-5 both SU and ATS in their last five. Fortunately, the team is expected to get point guard Kyrie Irving (finger) back in the lineup. The Lakers will be without Pau Gasol (knee) for the fifth straight game. Los Angeles is listed as a six-point road favorite over the Cavs and the number is already moving up.

Denver at Detroit: The Nuggets opened as four-point road favorites and fortunately for them, they’ll be catching Detroit in a back-to-back spot. The Pistons have gone 2-3 SU and 3-2 ATS on zero days rest this season. Along with the Lakers, Denver has been a bit of disappointment too but we’ll forgive them due to a brutal schedule. George Karl’s team has already played 15 road games (5-10 SU, 7-8 ATS) and just six at home. After tonight, Denver heads to Minnesota for a game on zero days rest. The ‘over’ has gone 10-5 on the road for the Nuggets and that includes a 6-1 run. Tonight’s number is 201 and these teams already eclipsed that mark when Denver beat Detroit 109-97 on Nov. 6 as a 10 ½-point home favorite.

Washington at New Orleans: Hard to make an argument for either of these teams! After starting 0-13, Washington (2-15 SU, 8-8 ATS) has gone 2-3 in its last five games, which included an impressive 105-101 win over Miami last Tuesday. The Wizards have dropped two straight since the upset over the Heat. Washington is still searching for its first road win (0-8 SU, 4-3 ATS) and it could happen in “The Big Easy.” New Orleans (5-14 SU, 10-9) is in the same class of the Wizards when it comes to talent, and that’s not a good thing. The Hornets have lost three straight and five of their last six, four of those losses coming by double digits. If you bet on New Orleans, you need the team to shoot well or you have no shot. In their last three wins, they scored 100-plus points. Fortunately, the Wizards’ defense (98.5 PPG) isn’t great but New Orleans’ offense (92.6 PPG) doesn’t have any firepower outside of Ryan Anderson (18.1 PPG) and he’s hit or miss. The Hornets have only been favored once this season and they actually earned a win and cover against Charlotte (107-99) on Nov. 9. Most books opened New Orleans as a four-point home favorite. Rookie Anthony Davis (ankle) is expected to be in the lineup.

Chris David can be reached at cdavid@vegasinsider.com

  
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