If the San Antonio Spurs are going to beat the odds and win four more games, Tony Parker will need to be the best player on the floor in the NBA Finals.
Parker is a dynamic player — ask the Memphis Grizzlies or Eva Longoria — and one reason for underdog bettors to believe in the Spurs. Another reason is Gregg Popovich, the best coach in basketball.
Of course, LeBron James makes the Miami Heat tough to beat and bet against, and that’s why, for bettors and Las Vegas sports books, this is about as good as it gets for a Finals matchup. A difference of opinion makes a horse race, and this series is no different.
“There are a lot of people out there who like San Antonio,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “It’s going to be pretty split. I lean to the Heat in a tough, tough series.”
Miami is a minus-220 favorite in the best-of-7 series and a 5- to 5½-point favorite in today’s Game 1. The home team has won and covered the Finals opener in nine of the past 10 years, for what it’s worth.
For every point there is a counterpoint. The Spurs, 12-2 in the playoffs and on nine days’ rest, are on a roll but potentially out of rhythm after a long vacation.
“The rest versus rust debate,” Sportsmemo.com handicapper Erin Rynning said. “I can’t say the layoff is going to be a big deal. That’s a tricky question. I would say it’s going to be a positive for the Spurs because their older guys seem to do better with rest.”
Rynning’s research showed that since 2002 in the playoffs, teams with seven or more days of rest are 9-7 against the spread. The Spurs were involved in four of those situations, going 4-0 straight up and 3-1 ATS.
“Right now, my numbers point toward San Antonio,” said Rynning, who bet the Spurs in Game 1 and to win the series.
Another factor to consider is the 2-3-2 Finals format, which makes it difficult for the Spurs to win the middle three games on their home court. It’s not impossible — Dallas took three straight, two at home, against Miami two years ago and won the Finals in six games — but it’s unlikely San Antonio will sweep its home games.
“I think the 2-3-2 format helps the road teams,” Sherman said, referring to the Spurs in this case. “If you split the first two games, you really have to win two of three at home. The Heat are not a lock to go 2-0 at home.”
Rynning thinks the Finals schedule is an advantage for the Heat, but he leans to the Spurs overall. Sherman thinks the schedule favors the Spurs, but he leans to the Heat overall.
I expect the Spurs to split the first two games, win two of three in San Antonio and take a 3-2 lead back to Miami, where Justin Bieber and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be sitting courtside to witness the dramatic conclusion. I bet the Spurs to win in six, at 7-1 odds at the LVH, but wagering on almost any NBA playoff series is a fluid situation.
Opinions can change from game to game. My opinion today is San Antonio has a legit shot to take the series, but I’ll wait to see what happens in Game 1 before making another wager.
If the Spurs are old and tired, they showed few signs of it while sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers, outrunning the young Golden State Warriors in six games and mauling the Grizzlies. Parker, still swift as a 31-year-old point guard, finished off Memphis by scoring 37 points in his best effort of the playoffs.
James is best suited to handle Parker on the pick-and-roll, the Spurs’ bread-and-butter offensive set, but it would take too much of a toll on him to defend Parker for four quarters. Look for that matchup primarily in late-game situations.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio’s most athletic defender, is capable of hanging with James, if that’s possible. The key for the Big Three will be how much help LeBron gets from the Little Two, because if anyone has appeared old and tired in the postseason, it’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
There are wild cards in every series, and Miami will need role players Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller to hit big shots on cue.
Popovich probably learned a thing or two from how Chicago and Indiana, teams with lesser talent, pushed the Heat to the wire. The Spurs’ coach could be the ace in the hole.
While the Spurs rested, the Heat struggled to escape the Pacers. But in the end, this Finals matchup is worth the wait for the bettors and bookmakers.
“Obviously, it’s an enormous difference between the Heat and Pacers,” Sherman said. “A Pacers-Spurs series would have been nonexistent.”
A Parker-James showdown should be extraordinary. May the better player win, in six or seven games.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com 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.