It seems like a long time since the conference finals ended, but Game 1 of the NBA Championship Series is finally upon us. For Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, the goal is simply to defy the oddsmakers for a third consecutive postseason series and win their first title. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are 6-point favorites in Game 1 in LA's Staples Center, set for a 9:00 p.m. (ET) tip on ABC.
It’s not too often sportsbooks open a line on an event as public as Game 1 of the NBA Finals and not have to budge the number an inch before tip off.
Oddsmakers originally set Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers as 6-point home favorites for Thursday night’s opener (9 PM ET, ABC) with the Orlando Magic, and that’s exactly where the line rests at almost every outlet through late Wednesday.
One book had the Lakers at -6½, but my guess is that’s just an attempt to garner attention from the sportsbetting community. After all, I’m writing about the outlier, so I guess I’m doing them a favor if my theory holds any water. It’s doubtful the particular venue is seeing an exorbitant amount of action on Los Angeles, which was literally attracting 49.75% of wagers on the spread according to consensus reports on the eve of Game 1.
There’s been more movement on the total, which opened at 204½ late last Saturday night but is now in the range of 205½ to 206½, depending on where you do your shopping. Most of the money has been on the over, which means the public is expecting a game in the triple digits. That was the case in each of the two meetings during the regular season, which were won by the Magic both on the scoreboard and at the window.
The official word on Jameer Nelson is that he’s questionable for Game 1 after missing Orlando’s last 54 games with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Questionable is a significant upgrade on where Nelson stood at the end of the Magic’s win in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, when the St. Joseph’s product sat on the sidelines.
If Nelson manages to suit up in the series like his teammates are predicting, it shouldn’t affect betting odds directly. His presence could alter public perception, however, and if that’s the case oddsmakers could be forced to adjust the line accordingly. Orlando is 29-25 ATS (23-31 O/U) since Nelson first went down before the All-Star break, so it’s a much more profitable wager with their point guard in the lineup.
The Lakers have been off since last Friday night when they closed out the Denver Nuggets, and the rest is good news for the many L.A. backers eyeing the franchise’s 15th NBA championship. Los Angeles is 6-2 ATS this season when it has more than three days rest, while Orlando is only 1-4 against the number when it’s just as fresh.
The Magic come into the Finals as one of the best road bets ATS in the Association at 31-19-1, making the 6-point tag precarious for Lakers bettors. One of those paydays came on January 16 at Staples Center, when Orlando tripped up Los Angeles 109-103 as 4.5-points pups at the window.
Two things to handicap in Game 1 that will affect how the remainder of the series is played and wagered is the Lakers’ ability to defend the three-pointer and who wins the matchup between Pau Gasol and Rashard Lewis. If committed on the defensive end of the floor, L.A. figures to present quite a challenge to Orlando’s shooters because of its collective length. Outside of their point guards, the Lakers have swingmen that are all 6-foot-6 or taller; on top of that, 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom can guard players like Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, or even J.J. Redick if need be.
I’m guessing Gasol will have an easier job of defending Lewis than vice versa, although it’ll be a moot point when Gasol is playing the five opposite Dwight Howard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stan Van Gundy double teams Gasol in the early going, and forces Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher, and Bryant to make outside shots. That strategy might be a poison Van Gundy shouldn’t pick; Gasol is an excellent passer and any focus away from Kobe might not be the best move.
Something that hasn’t been discussed either in betting circles or by major media outlets is that Bryant could be a detriment to the Lakers in Game 1. There’s a chance Kobe could come out and try to do too much himself in the early going; it likely won’t be enough to cost the Lakers the game, but it could preclude L.A. bettors from padding their bankrolls in the opener.