One game into the NBA Finals, buzzards in the media were circling over the Miami Heat, and only a superhuman effort by LeBron James could keep the team’s carcass from being picked apart.
Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, and maybe both, needed to be traded during the offseason. With his supporting cast decaying, James’ long-term future probably was not in Miami, where the dream of winning multiple championships was dying.
The Heat’s run could be done, unless they could come through in a must-win Game 2.
Dramatic overreactions always are a common theme in the playoffs — all it takes is one loss and the end of the world is near — but it’s all the more dramatic this year because of the hype surrounding James and his Heat.
So after Miami lost the Finals opener Thursday on its home court, the media overreacted, much like the guy in the KFC commercial who screams, “I ate the bones,” while a majority of the betting public reacted to the game of chicken by calmly wagering on the Heat to bounce back Sunday.
“We got Miami money,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. “You know it’s coming. I knew we were going to end up needing the Spurs no matter what. Very, very predictable.”
As predictable as Lindsay Lohan reporting for rehab.
It was the easiest call of the series, however long it lasts. The bettors were going to be on the Heat, who were highly unlikely to lose Game 2. The line ticked up from 6 to 6½ late in the afternoon at most Las Vegas books, and a lot of us were cashing tickets after Miami buried San Antonio, 103-84.
The Sunday spot set up perfectly to bet the Heat. But everything is back to being unscripted now, with the rest of the series far more unpredictable.
San Antonio, which stole the opener thanks to Tony Parker’s beat-the-clock circus shot, got its split and returns home for the next three games.
Before the series, I predicted the teams would split the first two games, and the Spurs would win two of three at home to take a 3-2 lead back to Miami. This shaped up as a hard-fought series, and after one thriller and one blowout, nothing has changed.
Not everything that happened Sunday was predictable. The plot twist came from James, who through 2½ quarters was playing one of the worst postseason games of his career. James was 2-for-12 from the field and threw away a pass with the Heat holding a 64-62 lead.
Ray Allen’s 3-pointer, James’ layup and a 3 by Mike Miller blew it open. Mario Chalmers’ three-point play put Miami ahead 75-65 after three quarters.
Chalmers, Allen and Miller carried the Heat during the game’s most crucial stretch. James finished with 17 points, never sniffing his proposition total of 28½. It’s not as if James was terrible — he did get eight rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and three steals — but he wasn’t the main reason Miami tied the series. This time, he had a lot of help.
Surprisingly, none of it came from referee Joey Crawford, whose erratic whistle was no factor.
Parker and Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ stars in Game 1, flopped in Game 2. Parker was held to 13 points, way under his prop of 21½. Duncan had nine points and 11 rebounds, and his prop for total points and rebounds was 30 at the LVH sports book.
When the scene shifts to San Antonio, the Spurs need to win two of three games, and for that to happen, Manu Ginobili will need to show up. Ginobili had five points in 18 minutes, his game receding more rapidly than his hairline.
The Spurs got crushed Sunday, but the books dodged a similar beating. The handle was 15 to 20 percent lower than it would have been for a Saturday night game, Vaccaro said, and the score stayed under the total, which opened at 188 and was bet to 190.
“We’re getting two-way play, and we’re getting decent play on the props,” Vaccaro said.
There is a yo-yo trend to most playoff series, and after two Finals games, there are reasons to like the Spurs, and there are reasons to like the Heat. Miami went into the series as a minus-220 favorite, was plus-105 after losing the opener and will be around minus-150 going to San Antonio. Prices get adjusted, and players disappear and reappear.
If there is a reliable trend, it’s the Heat’s resiliency. Since mid-January, after a straight-up loss, Miami has won the next game 11 consecutive times, with an average victory margin of close to 20 points.
The Spurs are 2½-point favorites in Game 3 on Tuesday. If they lose, the media buzzards will start circling. If the Heat lose, they’ll be hearing about a must-win Game 4 and the end of the world.
Bettors would be smart to tune out the noise and avoid overreactions.
■ BOTTOM LINES — Hockey betting is typically an afterthought at the books, even during the dog days of summer, but an attractive Stanley Cup Finals matchup should generate more action this year. Chicago is a minus-155 series favorite over Boston. The Blackhawks are slightly smaller favorites (minus-145) in Wednesday’s opener. ... Tiger Woods is a 4-1 favorite in the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday. Masters winner Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy are the second choices, each 20-1 at the LVH.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.