After upsetting LeBron James and the Cavs in the East, the Orlando Magic go for their first NBA title while the Lakers look for No. 16, with Game 1 set for Thursday in LA.
Think of all the precious Vitamin Water that’s gone to waste because the Orlando Magic spoiled the NBA’s dream Finals by taking out MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That was my initial reaction when I watched the final seconds tick off the clock in Orlando’s 103-90 win as 2-point chalk on the betting odds over Cleveland in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. It’s no secret the marketing department at league office – and every square bettor in the country – wanted a Lakers-Cavaliers title bout all season. The hype intensified after Kevin Garnett’s knee injury all but precluded a Boston repeat, although the Celtics managed to give the Magic a tougher go than LeBron’s Cavs did.
My second thought, of course, was centered on handicapping the Finals. L.A.-Orlando is a much more difficult beast to assess than Kobe-LeBron (the teams involved would have been the Lakers and Cavaliers, just so you know). The Lakers and Magic are the two most versatile teams in the Association, and they both have the ability to throw a variety of styles into the mix. The clubs match up very well, yet cause troublesome realities for each other. Expect the series to be a huge chess match between Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy.
Orlando is by far the better wager, and the numbers only tell half the story. The Magic are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games overall dating back to their series with the Celtics, and have gone 9-4 against the number since dispatching the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the opening round. L.A. is a wash at 9-9 ATS through the first three rounds, but it’s the Lakers’ lack of consistency on a number of levels that makes them virtually impossible to wager.
When you add all the public money that’s going to come in on Los Angeles before Thursday night’s Game 1, you’d be a fool to bet the Purple & Gold against the spread at pretty much any point in the Finals. If this thing goes the distance in the Lakers’ favor, don’t be at all surprised if the Magic cover in five or six of the games.
The two meetings during the regular season are to be taken with a grain of salt. Orlando won and cashed on both occasions, but injured point guard Jameer Nelson was its leading scorer in both paydays. Nelson torched the Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar combo much like Aaron Brooks was able to do in L.A.’s series with Houston, but Rafer Alston isn’t likely to have the same success.
The Lakers were also a different team when the Magic (+4½) won 109-103 at Staples Center on January 16. Vladimir Radmanovic was still in the starting lineup, and Andrew Bynum was playing his best basketball of the season before his second knee injury. Bynum isn’t back in form, and barring a miracle, he won’t be in time for Thursday. Trevor Ariza is in for Radmanovic; overall it’s an upgrade for L.A. although VladRad’s three-point shooting helped spread the floor for the first unit.
The matchup on December 20 in Orlando presents a more promising outlook for sharps burning some capital on the Magic (+250) to cash on the series prices board. Nelson (27 points) was once again the catalyst, but Orlando (+1½) managed to win 106-103 despite Los Angeles’ 24-of-25 performance from the line. The Lakers (-270 to win the Finals outright) aren’t going to shoot 96% from the stripe again, so they’ll need to shore things up on the defensive end to even hope of covering at Amway Arena.
Expect oddsmakers to move L.A. off its 6-point fave tag for Game 1 despite equal action through Sunday night. My guess is the public simply hasn’t weighed in with the Finals still three days away; the Lakers should be giving closer to seven points by the time Jack Nicholson takes his seat.
Los Angeles has been a dependable under play in the playoffs, having gone under in 12 of its 18 contests. Jackson likes to slow the offense (especially on the road) as compared to his approach in the regular season, when the Lakers run the triangle for the duration of the game if ahead. If you’re capping the opener to be tight, you might want to look closely at the under on the 206-point total.