Time for a new NBA championship favorite?
The Lakers are 2-3 so far in the bubble, and their offensive numbers are not looking so hot. Of the 22 teams at the NBA restart at Walt Disney World, the Lakers rank last in field goal percentage (.408), last in 3-point percentage (.234), last in points per game (98.8) and next-to-last in free throw percentage (.729).
Sports bettors have been backing them all season, even through the four month hiatus due to coronavirus, and they are still listed as the co-favorite to win the NBA championship at several of America’s biggest sportsbooks.
But are they still a worthy wager?
It is a question worth asking after LeBron James said there is a mystery off-the-court issue that the team is dealing with. It is something LeBron had said even before he sat out Thursday night (sore groin muscle) and the Lake Show fell victim to Super-Small-Ball as the Houston Rockets defeated them 113-97.
LeBron came into the restart averaging 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field, 35% from 3-point range. In his four games at Disney, James is averaging 19.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 42% shooting, 27% from 3-point range.
Not exactly up to his standards.
“This is a totally different situation than any other situation that I’ve been in in my career, so I have zero experience with having the No. 1 seed inside of a bubble during seeding games playing in August,” he said.
No panic from Lakers backers just yet
Is the betting public scared off? Not exactly.
“The three most popular teams in futures market this week are the Lakers, Clippers and Trail Blazers. The LeBron injury just happened (Thursday), so we really won’t know what impact that will have until next week,” said Kevin Hennessey, a spokesman for Fan Duel Sportsbook.
The fact that folks are betting the Trail Blazers is significant. They were cited here on TheLines as being worth a flyer back in early June when they were listed as high as +30000.
Portland looked spectacular in defeating the Denver Nuggets on Thursday behind 11 3-pointers from Damian Lillard, and their odds are now down to +12500 at PointsBet, +6500 at FanDuel and +8000 at DraftKings. That is sure of a sign as any that the oddsmakers are not all on the same page in terms of the Blazers’ championship chances.
But back to the Lakers.
It is true that they really have nothing to play for in the bubble, having already locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Same goes for the Milwaukee Bucks, who are locked in as the No. 1 seed in the East, which helps explain their loss to the Brooklyn Nets despite being 19-point favorites – the third-biggest loss by a favorite in NBA history.
Be that as it may, all 22 teams in Orlando are trying to play themselves back into game shape while being locked inside a Disney campus where they are away from their friends and families for an extended period of time. The teams that go all the way to the NBA Finals will have been there almost three months by the time the championship round concludes.
So dismiss the Lakers’ slow start at your own peril.
“They’re not playing well, but that is not changing the price,” said Johnny Avello, head of DraftKings Sportsbook. “You can’t grade the Lakers by how they are playing in these end-of-season games. They’re still working on their mojo, and when they are healthy they are going to be a handful. So we’re not reacting to what’s going on now. If LeBron is injured in the playoffs, that will certainly change things.”
The race for eighth and ninth place bears watching, especially if the Blazers (currently ninth) end up being the team that faces the Lakers in the first round. With Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside flanking the veteran backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers are arguably better in the abstract than they were a year ago when they made it to the Western Conference Finals before being ousted by the Golden State Warriors.
Portland’s size will be a tough matchup for any team from the West, and as Stan Van Gundy said on the TNT broadcast Thursday, there are no easy outs in the West.
Trying to make sense of the Eastern Conference
The championship chances of the Philadelphia 76ers were imperiled when Ben Simmons came up limping with a dislocated kneecap. Brett Brown’s team had been drawing steady significant interest in legal US sports gambling markets, but as we all know, one injury can change things significantly.
If Simmons leaves the bubble for treatment, he would be subject to a quarantine when he returns, and that could keep him out for the entire first round. That’s something to keep in mind when considering the prospects of a futures market wager on the Sixers at odds of anywhere from +2000 to +3500.
The teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference are nowhere near as tough as the teams at the bottom of the Western Conference, and it has been assumed that the Bucks would have an easy time making it through the first three rounds before reaching the Finals. But Giannis and company have struggled at times in the bubble, too, losing to the Nets and Rockets to go along with victories over the Celtics and Heat.
Milwaukee remains a co-favorite with the Lakers at most sportsbooks, with the second choice in the East now the defending champion Toronto Raptors at +1000 to +1400. Like the Lakers, the Bucks are locked into the No. 1 spot. Unlike the Lakers, they will not face the same caliber of competition in the first three rounds of the postseason.
Unlikely teams getting support from bettors
In a week and a half – after the Western Conference play-in tournament is complete – we will know all of the first-round matchups. And none of them is going to be more closely watched than the one involving LeBron and the Lakers.
Heck, Los Angeles could even end up facing the Phoenix Suns, who have been bubble-icious in Orlando by starting 4-0.
Anyone wanting a flyer wager at a nifty price can latch on to Phoenix, who are a smooth +50000 at PointsBet. Yes, the Suns would be an unlikely champion. But if ever there was a year when something like this would happen, 2020 would be everyone’s first choice.
So don’t count out Phoenix just yet, despite the odds.
“Phoenix, Portland, Toronto … teams that have been playing well are getting all kinds of support,” said Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at Sportsbook USA. “But the Lakers are still the Lakers and they are still getting support, and the Lakers have sort of always been that way.”
Yes they have. But the Lakers we expected to get and the Lakers we have been getting are two different things. Because of that, better value can be found elsewhere … at least the way things look now.