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Inside the Paint - Thursday

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Despite dealing with age, injuries and chemistry issues, the Boston Celtics (25-23 straight up, 19-26 against the spread) and Los Angeles Lakers (23-26 SU, 20-28 ATS) both continue to fight for a spot in the postseason. Tonight, these two legendary franchises will square off from TD Garden in Boston.

If the playoffs started today, Boston would be the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and Los Angeles would miss out entirely for a postseason spot in the West. The two clubs still have more than 30 games to change their fortune but most pundits agree that injuries have done these teams in.

The loss of point guard Rajon Rondo (knee) hasn’t set in yet for the Celtics but it’s hard to imagine the club keeping up their current pace without the All-Star.

Since Rondo was ruled out for the season on Jan. 27, the Celtics have won and covered five straight games, including last night’s 99-95 road win at Toronto. During this run, Boston has also notched impressive victories over the Heat (100-98) and Clippers (106-104). Both of those wins came at TD Garden, where Boston has gone 17-9 SU and 12-12 ATS this season.

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Similar to the Celtics, the Lakers have felt the injury bug as well. The team won’t have forward Pau Gasol (foot) in the lineup for up to six weeks. Also, All-Star center Dwight Howard (shoulder) has missed the last three games and is listed as ‘probable’ for tonight. If he does go tonight, I would expect him to sit tomorrow at Charlotte and then gear up for Miami on Sunday afternoon.

Boston opened as a 2 1/2-point home favorite but the number currently sits at 1 1/2.

Even with all the injuries the Lakers have shown some effort lately, especially from All-Star guard Kobe Bryant but he doesn’t seem too confident with his current cast of mates. "Now reality kind of sets in,” Bryant said. “If Pau can't go and Dwight can't go, we have to figure some things out.”

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni seems to like the challenge when asked about the recent injuries. "Hopefully we'll get Dwight back pretty soon and then hopefully Pau's not too bad,” D'Antoni said. "If not, we'll play.”

Los Angeles has won six of its last seven games and is 3-1 on its current seven-game road trip. The Lakers could easily be 4-0 but they were outscored by 16 points (29-13) to Phoenix in the fourth quarter on Jan. 30.

Fatigue could be a factor tonight for Boston, who has gone 5-6 on zero days rest this season. However, the Celtics played nine of those games on the road where they went 3-6, which means the club has produced a 2-0 mark in back-to-back spots at TD Garden.

As mentioned above, the Lakers face the Bobcats in North Carolina tomorrow. This season, L.A. has gone 3-6 SU and 1-8 ATS in the front end of back-to-back spots. Defensively, the Lakers have been lacking in these situations, which has helped the ‘over’ go 6-3. In case you’re wondering, the Lakers haven’t been great on rest either. The team is 3-6 both SU and ATS and the ‘under’ is 6-3. The Bobcats aren’t great but could be a look tomorrow as home ‘dogs.

The Lakers and Celtics haven’t met this season but Los Angeles has won the past three encounters, including both affairs in last year’s lockout-shortened season. Two of the wins during this stretch occurred in Boston and gamblers should note that the final margin was decided by a combined 10 points (6, 1, 3).

Total players have seen the ‘under’ go 7-3 in the past 10 meetings but you might want to tread lightly with that number considering the new faces and styles. Tonight's total opened at 196 and has dropped to 194.

TNT will broadcast this tip at 8:05 p.m. ET.

Chicago at Denver: The obvious choice for TNT’s late-night affair would be Denver, who has quietly ripped off seven straight wins. More importantly, they’ve gone 6-1 against the spread during this run and that includes Tuesday’s miraculous front-door cover over Milwaukee (112-104) as a seven-point home favorite. The Nuggets trailed that game by 15 at halftime but rallied behind the home fans and ran the Bucks off the court in the second-half (61-38). Denver also had a 37-11 free-throw advantage over Milwaukee in that contest. The victory improved Denver’s record to 21-3 SU and 16-8 ATS.

Oddsmakers sent Denver out as a five-point home favorite and the number has been pushed up to 6 and 6 ½-points at most outfits.

Chicago will be looking to snap the Nuggets’ streak tonight and its defensive style could definitely do the job. The Bulls are holding opponents to 91 PPG, which is ranked third in the NBA. The defense should be in better shape tonight with Joakim Noah (foot) returning to the lineup. The big man missed Monday’s 111-101 loss at Indiana and his absence was evident. It was the second-highest point total the Bulls gave up this season and the first time in 11 games that a team was able to put up 100-plus on Chicago. The Bulls will conclude their six-game road trip tomorrow at Utah. Make a note that Chicago is 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS in their last five games when playing on the front end of a back-to-back set.

The total on this game opened at 197 and was quickly steamed down to 195 ½. The Nuggets have watched the ‘over’ cash in five straight and 12 of their last 14 games. During Denver’s recent seven-game winning streak, the offense is averaging 113 points per game. Chicago has been an ‘under’ (28-20) team all season but the ‘over’ has gone 13-9 in its road games.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the ‘under’ trend in the late-night game on TNT and it occurred again last Thursday albeit very luckily.

2012-13 TNT Late-Night Games
Date Matchup Total Result
Nov. 1 Oklahoma City 84 San Antonio 86 204 Under
Nov. 8 L.A. Clippers 103 Portland 90 201.5 Under
Nov. 15 Miami 98 Denver 93 202.5 Under
Nov. 29 Denver 105 Golden State 106 199.5 Over
Dec. 6 Dallas 97 Phoenix 94 205 Under
Dec. 13 San Antonio 90 Portland 98 200.5 Under
Dec. 20 Miami 110 Dallas 95 203 Over
Dec. 27 Boston 77 L.A. Clippers 106 189.5 Under
Jan. 10 Miami 90 Portland 92 195 Under
Jan. 17 Miami 99 L.A. Lakers 90 207 Under
Jan. 24 L.A. Clippers 88 Phoenix 93 191 Under
Jan. 31 Dallas 97 Golden State 100 203 Under
Feb. 7 Chicago at Denver - -

When you look at the early steam to the ‘under’ and the above trend (10-2) this season, the ‘under’ could be in play again tonight. Tip-off is set for 10:35 p.m. ET.

Chris David can be reached at cdavid@vegasinsider.com

  
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