Two former teammates and champions square off Thursday night when LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (35-9) continue their road trip by facing Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets (18-24) at Barclays Center.
Here is a preview for Thursday night’s game, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
We’ll start with the Lakers, who bounced back from a clobbering by Boston on Monday to beat the Knicks Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. This season, Los Angeles is averaging 113.7 points per game, eighth in the NBA, but doing so on a league-best rate of 48.4 percent shooting.
The Lakers are only 21st in threes made with 10.9 but sit just outside the top 10 with a 35.9 percent clip from beyond the arc. Los Angeles is also seventh with 25.8 assists per game.
On defense, Los Angeles is seventh in the league with 106.1 points allowed per contest. They have allowed an average of 38.6 field goals, the fourth-fewest in the league, while also holding opponents to the fifth-best rates of 44.0 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three.
The Lakers are also the league leaders in blocks per game with 7.3 and get the fourth-most steals with 8.5.
Meanwhile, the Nets are reeling, as a six-point home loss to the 76ers on Monday was their fourth in a row and eighth in their last 10 contests. Roughly halfway through the season, Brooklyn is 19th with 109.3 points per game, scoring on just 44.0 percent from the field.
The Nets rank ninth with 12.3 threes made per game, although their 33.2 shooting percentage from deep is the third-worst in the NBA. However, the Nets are also top 10 with 10.7 offensive rebounds and are the second-best team in total rebounds overall with 48.5 per game.
Brooklyn has been average in terms of points allowed, giving up 111.6 per game. While they are only 16th with 40.9 field goals allowed, they’re holding opponents to the fourth-lowest rate of 43.8 percent from the field.
Despite being the second-best defensive rebounding team in the league, Brooklyn’s size hasn’t translated to blocks, where it is 19th with 4.7, as well as 26th in steals with 6.7.
Who To Watch
All eyes will be on James versus Irving Thursday night. The former Cavaliers went to three NBA Finals together and won a title in 2016, but now face each other for the 12th time as foes.
James has dominated the rivalry, winning nine out of the 11 meetings and averaging 25.5 points. That’s close to what he’s averaging this year, a solid 25.1 points with 7.6 rebounds and a league-high 10.8 assists.
Along with Anthony Davis, LeBron’s new superstar teammate who leads the Lakers with 26.6 points, James is definitely going to be inspired to have a big game Thursday night.
On the other side, Irving would love nothing more than to beat James for the third time in his career. His first season in Brooklyn hasn’t gone as planned, as he was out for 26 games due to a shoulder impingement. Not to mention, Kevin Durant has been out all year and won’t play with the Nets until next season.
Irving is averaging 26.5 points, however, along with 6.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He and guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s averaging 21.8 points per game, will lead the charge versus one of the league’s best teams.
Odds And Pick
Fresh off of a game Wednesday, the Lakers enter Thursday as favorites at Brooklyn, listed by oddsmakers at -6. While the low number may be because it’s on a back-to-back, Los Angeles is a perfect 5-0 on the second half of a back-to-back this season.
That’s part of the reason why I’m picking the Lakers Thursday night. Los Angeles has been consistently one of the best teams in the league all season and lacks any glaring weaknesses.
Meanwhile, the Nets have stumbled to four straight losses, all of them to teams similar to the Lakers in terms of caliber and record. I think Irving will get plenty of points, but Los Angeles will be too much for the Nets to handle. So give me the Lakers -6.