Two reeling squads in the Toronto Raptors (26-38) and Los Angeles Lakers (36-27) clash for the third and final time this season. The Lakers snapped a nine-game losing skid against Toronto by beating the Raptors earlier this season as a one-point favorite.
The Lakers gutted out a win over Toronto despite being without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. With both of them back, they are bigger betting favorites: eight points and -340 on the money line. The odds are steep, but Los Angeles should win Sunday.
Raptors: Make it Count
The Toronto Raptors have lost three straight in what has been a tough stretch against the elite teams of the league. This team has fallen hard after losing most of its championship core beginning in the offseason. But Toronto is far from being done.
The Raptors won just one game in March, but turned it around in April. They’re three games back of the final playoff spot and will need to win almost all of its remaining games to qualify.
Acquiring center Khem Birch has been a catalyst for the Raptors. The big man from Montreal has solidified the frontcourt and alleviated their rebounding and defensive woes. Birch is having a career season with the Raptors, averaging 12.0 points, 7.9 boards, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 60.5% from the field.
Thanks to Birch, the Raptors are no longer last in the NBA in rebounding. Losing Chris Boucher (knee) hurts and G Fred VanVleet (hip) is still banged up. But Toronto will be a tough out against any team with its new lineup.
Lakers: End of an Era
We may be witnessing the decline of our era’s greatest player as James may not be the same player anymore following his latest ankle injury. We’ve seen it happen to another Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant, toward the end of his career.
While James’s injury may not be as damning as Bryant’s, the 36-year-old may not be as dominant as he once was. Still, he posted 16 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in his first game back against Sacramento.
Even if James isn’t MVP-caliber anymore, the Lakers still have an assembly of savvy veterans plus two All-Star big men in Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis. And they have all the motivation in the world as they’re just one game ahead of Portland for the sixth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
LeBron James on where the Lakers stand a few weeks before the playoffs: "It’s only nine games left. It’s just been … it’s been a hell of a season. … We look forward to the challenge. It is what it is. This is the season and we got to make the most out of it."
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 1, 2021
The Lakers will look to begin reclaiming a top-four seed in the West now. They have some critical games against Western powers. James may not be 100 percent anymore, so it’s his teammates’ turn to carry him.
The Raptors are a dangerous underdog heading into the Staples Center. This team is allergic to playing easy and even if the Lakers should still win this one, I am staying away from the point spread on the NBA betting lines.
Toronto is only 13-19 against the spread on the road, but the Lakers are just 12-19 ATS at home. This team still has offensive issues and, even with James, ranked in the lower half of the NBA in offensive rating.
However, the Lakers are a bad matchup against the Raptors, as they are a big team that allows the fourth-fewest defensive rebounds from its opponents while limiting them to just 52.4% effective field goal percentage (EFG%) and the second-fewest three-pointers.
While Toronto has toughened up inside with Birch and forward Freddie Gillespie, the Lakers are the better team inside and should be able to outduel a scrappy Raptors team. This should be a close game, and as a side bet, take the prop for the largest lead of the game to be under 18½ points at -115.
Pick: Los Angeles Lakers -340