In a game of one-on-one, Kobe Bryant might be able to whip every player in the NBA. But there are several reasons why his Los Angeles Lakers might take a beating in the first round of the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns, led by three stars in Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, are serious title contenders who are more than capable of upstaging Bryant’s one-man show.
An intriguing matchup because of its star power is a mismatch on paper, at least as oddsmakers see it. The Suns are 15-1 favorites to advance in the best-of-7 series, and 10 1/2-point home favorites in Game 1 on Sunday.
Most bettors, however, believe Bryant has a puncher’s chance, and the plus-1,100 series price on the underdog is apparently tempting.
“All the money has been on the Lakers,” MGM Mirage sports book director Robert Walker said. “We don’t have any money at all on the Suns yet.”
Four playoff series begin today, three in the Eastern Conference.
“I think five of the six best teams in the NBA are in the West,” Walker said. “The East will be fun, too, because the teams are all bad.”
Walker said wagering on the NBA playoffs “pales in comparison” to the NCAA Tournament, but the Lakers-Suns series should not lack for excitement.
Phoenix eliminated the Lakers in seven games last year, and in the deciding game, Bryant took just three second-half shots in a 31-point blowout.
The Suns are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and the Lakers are No. 7, same as last year. What’s different is the presence of Stoudemire, who was recovering from knee surgery a year ago.
Phoenix won three of four games this season against the Lakers, who stumbled to a 42-40 finish after a 31-20 start.
The defending champion Miami Heat is not even expected to survive the first round. The Chicago Bulls are minus-140 favorites over the Heat, and handicapper Jim Kruger is riding Chicago as his best bet.
“The Bulls have far more depth than the Heat and are younger and more athletic. The starting five for Miami has not played that much as a unit this season,” said Kruger (vegassportsauthority.com).
In a physical series, Kruger said, Heat star Dwyane Wade must be cognizant of not re-injuring his left shoulder, which caused him to miss several games recently.
Chicago, with the best home record in the East at 31-10, covered the spread at home in 24 of 41 games.
“The Bulls finished the year ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the NBA,” Kruger said. “They are sixth in offensive pace, while Miami is 26th. The Bulls are obviously going to want to run and get some easy baskets and remove Shaquille O’Neal from the game.”
Also in the East, Cleveland is a minus-2,500 favorite over Washington, Detroit is a minus-1,600 favorite over Orlando, and Toronto is a minus-145 favorite over New Jersey.
“Miami and New Jersey, on paper, look like really live ‘dogs,” Walker said. “There was a much greater chance for upsets when they played best-of-5 series. I’m not going out on a limb by saying I think (favorites) will prevail in the first round.”
Kruger said he is siding with veteran Jason Kidd and the Nets over the Raptors and rising star Chris Bosh.
“The New Jersey-Toronto series is youth against experience,” Kruger said. “New Jersey is the only series ‘dog that I would consider putting money on.”
In the West, top-seeded Dallas is a minus-1,800 favorite over Golden State, San Antonio is a minus-1,000 favorite over Denver, and Houston is a minus-230 favorite over Utah.
Kruger is picking the Rockets to follow Tracy McGrady past the Jazz in a series that starts today.
“The zig-zag theory has been a popular betting angle over the years in the NBA playoffs. It is as simple as betting against the winning team in the next game between two teams,” Kruger said.
“If you’re going to follow this theory, it is best to do so in the first round, where it has shown a profit seven of the past 10 years, assuming you followed it blindly. The next three rounds each show a cumulative loss over the past 10 years.”