USA Today Sports

NBA TNT doubleheader: Lakers at Celtics, Bulls at Nuggets

Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics (-2, 194)

Just as things were starting to fall into place for the Los Angeles Lakers, another major injury cropped up that could severely impair the team's chances of snagging a playoff slot. Forward Pau Gasol is the latest casualty for the Lakers, suffering a torn plantar fascia in his right foot during Tuesday's win over the Brooklyn Nets. Gasol was headed back to Los Angeles to be examined by a specialist, but he is expected to miss at least four weeks. Meanwhile, the Lakers will put their three-game winning streak on the line when they visit the Boston Celtics on Thursday.

Boston suffered what appeared to be a debilitating injury when All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo was lost to a season-ending knee injury. Rather than fold, the Celtics have played their best ball of the season, running their winning streak to five games since Rondo was hurt. Kevin Garnett scored a season-high 27 points in Wednesday's victory over the Toronto Raptors - the only road win during the current streak. All five starters scored in double figures for the fourth straight game for the Celtics.

TV:
8 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT THE LAKERS (23-26, 20-28-1 ATS): Gasol was largely responsible for helping Los Angeles snap an eight-game road losing streak, averaging 20 points during the current three-game run. He was starting in place of Dwight Howard, who has sat out the last three games after aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder in a loss at Phoenix on Jan. 30. Howard is listed as day-to-day, but Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant let it be known that the day should come soon. "You have to play through where you have to manage the pain," Bryant said. "When you go through those things you learn your body and what you can push through."

ABOUT THE CELTICS (25-23, 19-26-3 ATS):
Boston's bench had produced an average of nearly 50 points in the three games prior to the matchup with Toronto. On Wednesday, former Raptor Leandro Barbosa did most of the damage, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to spark the game-winning rally. It was the third straight game in double figures for Barbosa, who has shot at least 50 percent in each game since Rondo went down. Coach Doc Rivers earned his 400th win with the Celtics, putting him third on the franchise's all-time list behind Red Auerbach (910) and Tom Heinsohn (427).

TRENDS:

* Under is 5-0-1 in the last six meetings in Boston.
* Under is 6-2-1 in the last nine meetings.
* Lakers are 7-15-1 ATS in the last 23 meetings.
* Underdog is 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings.
* Road team is 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings.

BUZZER BEATERS:


1. Los Angeles has won three straight against Boston, including both meetings last season by a combined four points.

2. Paul Pierce, who has four double-doubles in his last five games, is averaging 24.7 points in 24 games against the Lakers.

3. Howard averaged 16.4 points and 12.7 boards in 27 games against Boston while he was with the Orlando Magic.
 
Chicago Bulls at Denver Nuggets (-6.5, 197.5)

The Denver Nuggets attempt to extend their season-best winning streak to eight games when they visit the Chicago Bulls on Thursday. Denver has won 14 of 17 games and is now among the top five teams in the Western Conference standings, thanks to strong play during a home-heavy stretch. The Nuggets wrap up a six-game homestand against Chicago, which has won six of nine games. The Bulls hope to have center Joakim Noah (foot) back after a three-game absence.

Chicago is a solid 14-8 on the road despite losing at Indiana on Monday. The Bulls are 2-2 during a stretch in which eight of nine games are on the road. Chicago will be without guard Kirk Hinrich (elbow) for the fourth straight game. Denver rallied to beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday and scored 29 points off 17 turnovers. “When we create any type of offense with our defense, we score,” coach George Karl told reporters. “Everybody wants to make a great offensive play, but I think it’s actually more thrilling and exciting to a team to make a great defensive play.”
 
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT, WGN (Chicago), Altitude (Denver)

ABOUT THE BULLS (29-19, 20-28 ATS):
Guard Marco Belinelli is a game-time decision after turning an ankle during Monday’s game against the Pacers. Belinelli suffered the injury in the first half and then returned to score 17 in the second half en route to a season-high 24 points. With point guards Derrick Rose (knee) and Hinrich sidelined, veteran Nate Robinson has played 40-plus minutes in three consecutive games while being highly productive. Robinson is averaging 18.7 points over the last seven games. Forward Carlos Boozer (hamstring) had 10 points against Indiana after missing the previous three contests.

ABOUT THE NUGGETS (31-18, 29-20 ATS):
Denver has topped 100 points in eight consecutive contests and will find it challenging to keep the streak going against the Bulls, who rate third in the NBA by allowing just 91 points per game. Controlling the pace will be crucial for the Nuggets. “We’ve got to move the ball and we’ve got to run,” said swingman Corey Brewer, who tallied 20 points against Milwaukee. “It’s all about running, especially when you play a team like the Bulls, who play really good five-on-defense. You want to get the pace going.” Forward Kenneth Faried had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Milwaukee for his 20th double-double of the campaign.

TRENDS:

* Under is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Home team is 6-2-1 ATS in the last nine meetings.
* Over is 7-3 in the last 10 meetings in Denver.
* Bulls are 5-11-1 ATS in the last 17 meetings.
* Bulls are 1-4 ATS in the last five meetings in Denver.
* Underdog is 4-1-1 ATS in the last six meetings.

BUZZER BEATERS:
 
1. Denver has won five straight games against Chicago at the Pepsi Center and 11 of the past 12.

2. Bulls C Taj Gibson is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds while starting the last four games.

3. The Nuggets are 19-3 when allowing fewer than 100 points.

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