Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are into the Finals, leaving little doubt with a 119-92 win at Denver in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Friday. Now LeBron James and the Cavaliers need a win in Game 6 in Orlando against the Magic on Saturday to even things up in the East and force a showdown for the title on Monday back at The Q in Cleveland. Sir Charles and the TNT crew have the tip a little past 8:30 (ET).
At point guard, from Rhode Island, No. 7… Lamar Odom!
The Los Angeles Lakers may have finally discovered the silver bullet that will dispose of the underdog Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. With the Lakers (-6) down 71-64 at home in the third quarter, coach Phil Jackson took Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher out of the game and replaced them with Odom and Shannon Brown. But it was Odom doing much of the ballhandling, hitting a 3-pointer to tie the game at 73 and leading the Lakers to an eventual 103-94 victory.
Although this series was tied 2-2 going into Staples Center Wednesday night, Denver’s impressive frontline had outplayed the top seed in the West at 3-1 ATS, extending the Nuggets to 13-1 ATS in the playoffs and threatening to prevent the Lakers from making a return trip to the NBA Finals. Odom changed all that. His impact on the perimeter was reminiscent of another important 6-foot-10 player in this postseason: Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu, who is bedeviling the smaller guards and wings on the would-be champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Odom finished Game 5 with an eye-opening stat line of 19 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and a team-high plus-18. This freed up Pau Gasol to have one of his better days in the paint, especially on post-up plays. Meanwhile, Brown brought the Staples crowd to its feet with a slam dunk over Denver’s Chris Andersen and finished the day plus-13 in just 14 minutes of action. A game that was dead-even after each of the first three quarters thus turned into a Lakers payday.
Now it’s up to handicappers to adjust – or not, depending on their judgment. Nearly all the betting trends had been with Denver, and still are despite going back home down 3-2 in this series:
- 21-6 ATS overall
- 20-6 ATS versus winning teams
- 8-1 ATS as a home favorite
- 11-4 ATS versus the Pacific Division
Denver is expected to at least extend this series to seven games; betting odds at press time had the Nuggets pegged as 5½-point faves with a total of 208½. But the fickle betting public has abandoned Denver, giving the Lakers about 60 percent of the action on both the spread and the moneyline at +180. As usual, we recommend shopping for lines – Los Angeles was available as high as +205.
Watching Odom (and Brown) do their thing Wednesday night evidently gives L.A. supporters plenty of confidence, even though the Lakers are about as consistent as that Cream of Wheat my Mom fed me for breakfast back in the day. This is a team that has drawn back-to-back ATS wins just once in the playoffs (against the Houston Rockets) and remains 3-4 SU and ATS on the road. Meanwhile, Jackson has been insistent on giving Fisher his allotted minutes; in Game 5, the veteran point guard was a minus-2. What is the Zen Master cooking up for Friday?
If Odom is on the menu, bettors who prefer the under will be very pleased. His four blocks (plus five more from Gasol and a pair from Trevor Ariza) helped the under get to the pay window for the fourth time in this series. The under is also 12-5 for the Lakers in these playoffs and 21-9 since Mar. 24. The betting public is reliably pounding the over at nearly 85 percent support.
It’s not always easy to equate the Lakers with defense. Hustle and effort are sometimes lacking – and playing in the thin air at the Pepsi Center won’t put a lot of zazz in their step. But L.A. is ranked fourth in playoff defensive efficiency at 101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Denver is one spot back at 102.8 points.
For a quick and dirty comparison, the Lakers (-9) lost Game 6 by a 95-80 score on the road against the Rockets, but the under was an easy winner on the total of 197.5 points. The high stakes involved in Friday night’s contest (9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN) should produce another relatively low score.
Should the Nuggets rebound with a win on Friday, the teams will clash back in Los Angeles in Game 7 on Sunday night.
The other weekend matchup has the Cavaliers and Magic contesting Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Orlando on Saturday – due in large part to LeBron James’ series-saving triple-double in his team’s 112-102 win in Game 5 on Thursday. Another superhuman effort by James on Saturday night (as a small underdog, according to the early lines) would push that set to a deciding Game 7 on Monday night in Cleveland.