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Inside the Paint - Thursday
After a wild offseason which included some big acquisitions, a lot of pundits expected the Los Angeles Lakers (17-21 straight up, 16-21 against the spread) and Miami Heat (25-12 SU, 18-19 ATS) to meet in this year’s NBA Finals. After watching nearly half the season play out, Miami has certainly lived up to the expectations but Los Angeles has easily been the biggest disappointment in the Association.

If the playoffs started today, the “Purple and Gold” wouldn’t be dancing. They currently sit in the 11th spot in the Western Conference, three games behind the eighth-seed Houston Rockets. We still have 40-plus games to play but the odds of watching the Lakers earn one of the top four seeds are very long.

Miami currently holds the No. 1 seed in the East and this team isn’t playing great basketball, which tells you how weak the other 14 teams in the conference are. You only have seven teams with winning records and outside of New York, who do you expect to challenge Miami? If you say Boston or anybody from the Central Division, then you haven’t been watching pro hoops this season.

At, you bet the Heat at minus-180 (Bet $180 to win $100) odds to win the East and if you look at the big picture, that’s a bargain. Last year Miami was a 1/5 (Bet $500 to win $100) over Boston and two years ago against a good Chicago squad, oddsmakers made the Heat minus-190 (Bet $190 to win $100) favorites. Give it a look folks, seriously!

Despite being the prohibitive favorite to win the East this season, Miami is catching points to the underachieving Lakers tonight. Los Angeles opened as a two-point home favorite and the number actually moved up to 2 ½ at most outfits.

Miami has been installed as an underdog once this season, which came on Nov. 15 at Denver. In that matchup, the Heat didn’t have All-Star Dwayne Wade in the lineup and they still beat the Nuggets 98-83 as 3 ½-point road ‘dogs from the Pepsi Center.

After losing six straight, the Lakers have rebounded with a pair of double-digit wins at home albeit against the Cavaliers (113-93) and Bucks (104-88). Including those victories, L.A. has won six of its last seven matchups against the East.

If you look back at the Lakers’ recent losing streak, you’ll notice that five of the six setbacks came against playoff teams. Miami is certainly in that class and it will be interesting to see if Los Angeles can rise to the challenge when it steps up in class. All-Star center Dwight Howard believes the team can reach the next level.

“When we play the way we played these last two games, I don't see anybody beating us," Howard said. "The problem is we have to do it on a consistent basis and not have any lapses during the game. We're learning, but stuff like that takes time. When we stay focused and we stay together, we'll be great."

Howard has looked great the past two games, tallying a combined 53 points and 30 rebounds, but the competition wasn’t exactly great.

Fortunately for the Lakers, the Heat hasn’t been a strong road team (9-9 SU, 7-11 ATS) this season but they easily cruised past Golden State 92-75 last night in the Bay Area. LeBron James scored 25 points in the win and also became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 points.

Miami has only played five games this season on zero days rest and it’s posted a 4-1 record. The Heat was favored in four of those games and they went 2-3 ATS. The ‘under’ has gone 3-2 during this span. Make a note that none of the starters played heavy minutes as the Heat led the Warriors by 30 points after three quarters.

You should get a serious effort out of the Heat tonight, especially when you see that the team will have five days off after this game. Considering, they’ve gone 2-3 on their road trip, anything but a win here would be disappointing.

At the Staples Center, Los Angeles has gone 12-9 (10-11 ATS) this season. The club is expected to get forward Pau Gasol (concussion) back in the lineup tonight after missing the last five games. Following this game, the Lakers begin a quick three-game road trip which starts in Toronto on Sunday afternoon.

In last year’s lockout shortened-season, the two teams split their regular season encounters with the home team earning victories. The ‘under’ cashed in both affairs and is on a 4-0 run in this series.

The Lakers have watched the ‘over’ go 20-17 this season but the ‘under’ has cashed in three of the last four games. Miami has leaned to the ‘under’ (20-17) this season and three of the first five games on this road trip have stayed ‘under’ the number as well. Tonight’s total is hovering between 205 and 206 points.

TNT will provide coverage of this game at 10:35 p.m. ET.

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