San Antonio out front, but history favors Heat


At this point, despite the agony of another defeat, LeBron James has to like his chances. The Miami Heat are headed home, and only their margin for error has been eliminated.

At the same time, with two shots to win one game, the San Antonio Spurs surely like their chances, too.

The Spurs lead the NBA Finals 3-2, but do they truly hold the advantage? It’s a philosophical question Aristotle, Confucius and Plato might wrestle with and not arrive at a consensus conclusion.

“I would rather be in San Antonio’s position,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “If you’re good enough to get in this position, there’s no reason you can’t win it.”

I agree. Others will disagree. We can argue philosophy all day, but what does the math say?

A short time after Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green shot the Spurs to a 114-104 victory in Game 5 on Sunday night, oddsmakers posted the Heat as minus-130 favorites to win the series.

Miami is a 7-point favorite and minus-330 on the money line for Game 6 on Tuesday, when the Heat will look to extend their streak of 12 consecutive wins and point-spread covers after a loss. So, the odds lean slightly in their favor. Of course, it’s not always that simple.

“I love easy questions,” said handicapper Steve Fezzik of Pregame.com. “You would much rather be the team up three games to two with two shots to beat those guys.”

The Spurs are in a strong position, as I predicted two weeks ago, taking a 3-2 lead back to Miami. But if they lose the next game, things really change. It’s time for a history lesson.

Under the 2-3-2 Finals format adopted in 1985, no road team has won both Games 6 and 7. With a one-game lead, however, the Spurs don’t need to win both.

Eight times since ’85, the team without homecourt advantage (San Antonio, in this case, is the ninth team) took a 3-2 lead, and five times the road team won the championship. But the road team never won in Game 7.

In Finals history, there have been 17 Game 7s, and only three times has the road team won — Washington in 1978, Boston in 1974 and Boston in 1969.

It’s also worth noting that home teams are 90-23 (79.6 percent) all time in NBA Game 7s, the latest being Miami’s rout of Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals on June 3.

The home court in the NBA, Fezzik noted, is valued at four to five points. The Heat closed as 5-point home favorites in the series opener, and the line has climbed a point for each Miami home game in this series.

In Game 5, the Heat closed as 1-point favorites at about half of Las Vegas sports books, with most others, including the LVH, closing pick-’em. The winning team has covered all five games of the series, and the team off a loss is 4-0.

It’s better to have the lead with two shots to win the title, Fezzik said, and added, “But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Heat to go win it all. They always respond off a loss, and Game 7 is really tough to win on the road, especially in the NBA, and I don’t know why.”

Reverse the scenario, and if Miami led 3-2 going to San Antonio, Fezzik said the Heat would be “monster favorites” of around minus-300 to win the title, with both games lined close to pick-’em.

Two years ago, Miami trailed Dallas 3-2 in the Finals and returned home to lose Game 6 to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. In last year’s East finals, the Heat trailed 3-2, won at Boston in Game 6 and rallied to beat the Celtics in Game 7 in Miami.

“You’re not talking about an invincible team. Here’s a dynasty that’s fraught with problems,” Fezzik said. “Miami was in the same position against Dirk and a bunch of stiffs and couldn’t get it done.”

In 2010, the Lakers returned to Los Angeles trailing 3-2 and won the title, needing a big rally late in Game 7 to turn back the Celtics. The history lesson says the Spurs had better get it done in the next game, because winning Game 7 on the road is a mission next to impossible.

“It was an enormous spot,” said Sherman, who sided with the Spurs on Sunday. “It’s obvious the Spurs can’t lose and go down 3-2 going back to Miami. It’s not very hard to keep betting on the team that lost the previous game. Now the Heat are in the must-win situation.”

The zig-zag path of the Finals indicates the Heat are a good bet Tuesday, and history indicates Miami would be a big favorite to win a Game 7.

But, philosophically, I still prefer to be the Spurs, playing with the lead and a margin for error.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.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.