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Lakers’ big men can exploit Heat flaws

When filthy-rich athletes and coaches whine about working on a holiday, most of us won’t offer hugs and sympathy. LeBron James is taking his talents to Los Angeles for Christmas, and he’s unhappy.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson is forced to sit on a bench, draw plays and whistle through his fingers for Christmas, and he’s not thrilled about it.

Jackson could have retired. James could have signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Instead, they will be featured in the NBA’s showcase game Saturday, because the league needs the attention and it’s the matchup we want to see.

When the line is posted today, expect Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to be slight favorites — of 1 to 1½ points — over James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.

In the big picture, meaning 82 games plus about a two-month postseason, this one Heat-Lakers game means little. But it will reveal something about Miami, which has been disappointing by most standards.

“My power ratings have Miami No. 1 followed by Boston, San Antonio and the Lakers,” said handicapper Jim Kruger of Vegassportsauthority.com. “The Lakers have stumbled the past two weeks in my ratings, mainly due to a drop in offensive efficiency, while Miami has been improving.

“A lot of people are down on the Lakers after their embarrassing loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday, but I like L.A. to beat the Heat.”

I also expect the Lakers to take the first game in what will surely be a long, dramatic series between title contenders. Aside from Bryant, the Lakers’ strength is their size with 7-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and 6-10 Lamar Odom.

The people who foolishly predicted Miami would win 70 games this season forgot two important things: James and Wade basically play the same position and they needed time to learn how to play together, and the Heat’s flaws on the front line would get exposed.

A preseason thumb injury to long-range shooter Mike Miller was a blow to Miami. Miller has returned, making a cameo in a 98-96 loss to Dallas on Monday, but Wade has a sore left knee.

As stated here in October, I bet the Heat under 64½ regular-season wins. Miami is 22-9 after a 95-83 victory at Phoenix on Thursday night.

Neither the Heat (15-16 against the spread) nor Lakers (21-8 straight up, 14-15 ATS) have been kind to bettors, so the oddsmakers are setting the right prices.

“The Heat are the next-to-last team in getting points in the paint and the fifth worst in net points in the paint. The Lakers are third in points-in-the-paint scoring, and there is an advantage with Gasol, Odom and Bynum,” Kruger said. “I like the Lakers’ matchups and the fact the Heat probably won’t be able to take advantage of point guard Derek Fisher’s defensive liabilities.

“With a few days off, the Lakers should be well prepared to face the Heat. While the Lakers probably don’t need any motivation, being booed off the court in their loss to the Bucks should help them focus.”

The NBA will continue to spotlight the Heat and Lakers, but the league has several other good stories.

Clippers rookie Blake Griffin is a highlight dunk waiting to happen. The Timberwolves’ Kevin Love has developed into a monster, averaging 20.9 points and leading the league in rebounding (15.6).

A 14-game winning streak has made everyone realize the Boston Celtics (23-4) are not too old. San Antonio (25-4) and Dallas (23-5) are emerging to challenge the Lakers in the West.

For those who couldn’t care less about the NBA now, I recommend “Christmas Vacation” with the Griswold family.

■ BOTTOM LINES — Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is on a good roll as a handicapper. At the grand opening of the Lucky’s sports book at Fitzgeralds last week, Goodman bet a $100 four-team parlay to benefit a charity of his choice. He won with Brigham Young and Troy in bowl games and hit two NFL underdogs for a payout of $1,220.

Every winning parlay ticket, it seems, involves a close call. Goodman caught a break with the Philadelphia Eagles in their stunning comeback victory over the New York Giants.

Stringing together winners is not easy, but Ken Thomson (Sportsxradio.com) is riding a record streak in The Hot Corner, the daily best bet in the Review-Journal. Thomson has won 14 consecutive plays, the best run for any handicapper since the feature was started in August 2005.

San Diego State’s cover over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night put bowl favorites at 6-0. Look for bowl ‘dogs to start cashing, and keep an eye on Tulsa, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

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