Los Angeles Lakers +8.0 @ Brooklyn Nets
The Lakers travel to the Barclays Center this afternoon to take on the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn trails the Boston Celtics by one game in the win column for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed. As such, and with 11 games remaining to make a final push, the Nets are, at present, still fully engaged in the regular season proceedings.
In contrast, the Lakers are a dismal 19-52 this year, and, as a playoff berth is mathematically impossible at this point, have nothing meaningful to strive for over the remaining 11 games on their schedule. In a sign of capitulation from management, Los Angeles indicated this week that Boozer and Hill will each miss 4-5 games (we expect this means that the Lakers starting Center and Power Forward are done for the season). Moreover, just today Jeremy Lin was removed from today's lineup due to "Illness" -- we interpret this signal similarly, and do not expect to see Lin on the floor again before October.
Interestingly though, by the numbers, the systematic deactivation of starters, which seems to be underway, does not directly result in detriment to the Lakers expected scoring margin. For instance, Boozer's whole-season Real Plus/Minus is -3.64, while replacement player Ed Davis' RPM is (slightly) positive. And at -2.24, second backup, Ryan Kelly's RPM still bests that of Boozer. Thus, on average, one would expect Boozer's departure from the Lakers lineup to improve their performance against the spread by a couple of points. (This perhaps counterintuitive assertion might be explained by the observation that, at this advanced stage of his career, Carlos is a defensive liability, while the significantly younger tandem of Davis and Kelly are better able to move their feet against opposing big men.)
Any pickup in advantage versus the spread gained by sitting Boozer is virtually exactly offset by Jeremy Lin's absence though. Jordan Clarkson too is a poor defender, so playing him in Lin's stead give the opposing team a couple of spread points.
Jordan Hill also sports a decidedly negative RPM. In contrast to the Boozer and Clarkson situations, Hill's is reasonably stout on defense. His struggles though come on the other side of the ball. Here too, backups Robert Sacre and Tarik Black boast superior RPMs to Hill, so the numbers suggest that Hills absence, on average, is actually good for the Lakers.
All in, our lineup-related RPM adjustments imply that the Lakers are about one point better versus the spread, compared to when main players are available. However, Brooklyn will be without Power Forward Thaddeus Young, who is hampered by a bad knee. We estimate that Young is worth just more than one spread point to the Nets (assuming Plumlee and Jefferson assume Young's foregone playing time). Thus, though the Lakers laundry list of inactive personnel trumps Brooklyn's in length, the net impact of the two is almost nil.
Our Real Plus/Minus-based power ratings favored the Lakers +8.0, assuming the active roster as of March 23rd were available; that prediction still stands.
Before placing your wager on LA though, consider though that the Lakers do become very thin with the skeleton roster they plan. Fatigue and fouls are likely to be particularly impacting factors in today's game, and therefore pose (hard to predict) risks to Los Angeles supporters. However, by the numbers, our work favors the Lakers to cover, and we are (trepidaciously) betting according.