Wagerers confident in repeat for Heat

No longer is LeBron James a comical figure or a punch line. The King owns one ring, is getting fitted for a second, and at last count has 7.4 million Twitter followers, which in today’s society means he’s a big deal.

James’ success in the past year certainly has won him a lot of friends and influenced several bettors. There is no hotter futures ticket at the moment than the Miami Heat.

After adjusting the Heat’s odds to win the NBA championship from 7-4 to 7-5, LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said, “We’re still taking money on Miami.”

James led Miami to its ninth consecutive win Thursday, blasting the Bulls 86-67 in Chicago, where reality is setting in, and it’s harsh. No team in the Eastern Conference is capable of beating the Heat in the playoffs this season, and that’s no joke.

Boston, Chicago and Indiana had legitimate shots last year, but not now. The Celtics are slipping fast without Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. The Bulls are hopeless unless their best player, point guard Derrick Rose, returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The Pacers have some potential, but Paul George is not that popular on Twitter.

The trade deadline passed Thursday, and the biggest names on the move were Jordan Crawford and J.J. Redick, making it the lamest deadline day in league history.

Miami is bigger, faster and stronger than last season, due in part to Allen, but mostly because James has become an unstoppable force.

At this point, it’s almost a letdown when James settles for a double-double. That’s a combination of points, rebounds and assists, not the burger on the In-N-Out menu. He had 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists while embarrassing the Bulls.

“The last couple of weeks they have really turned it on,” Sportsmemo.com handicapper Erin Rynning said of the Heat (38-14). “LeBron is playing at a sick, crazy level.”

In November, the New York Knicks emerged as a threat to James’ reign, but Carmelo Anthony is all about chasing scoring titles, not winning an actual title.

Miami is minus-225 to win the East at the LVH sports book, followed by Chicago and New York at 5-1 odds, and Indiana at 10-1.

“I would feel more comfortable laying the price on the Heat to win the East instead of betting them to win the title,” Sherman said. “I don’t put much stock in the Knicks. I don’t even think Rose coming back would do much for the Bulls. You just don’t come back to your old self right away after an injury like that. It takes about a year.”

Rynning gives the Bulls, who can be found at 7-1 odds to win the East at a few books, and Pacers only outside shots.

“The team that could be a real sleeper could be the Bulls, but that would depend on Rose coming back healthy,” Rynning said. “Remember, last year Miami and Chicago were neck and neck and basically co-favorites.

“The Knicks don’t look like they have it. Now, it’s just the Carmelo show. He gets it and he chucks it up, and they don’t really play any defense. Indiana is kind of intriguing.”

Dwight Howard stayed put at the deadline, for better or worse for the Los Angeles Lakers, who needed to trade their childish center but made yet another wrong move by doing nothing.

The Clippers are the second-hottest futures ticket, according to Sherman, but their half-court offense is a traffic jam, their coach is asleep at the wheel, and they took a telling 116-90 beating from San Antonio on Thursday, when Chris Paul brought a knife to a gun fight in a point guard duel with Tony Parker.

“To me, the Clippers are the wild card,” Rynning said, “and they might be that team that could be good enough to knock off Miami.”

Then again, maybe the Clippers are just like strippers — fun to watch and not to be taken seriously, especially at 5-1 odds to win the NBA title.

The Spurs, a league-best 44-12, and Oklahoma City Thunder appear to be a cut above the rest in the West, where there will be some postseason drama.

The Finals entrant from the East is a done deal. No joke, it will be LeBron again.

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.