NBA wagerers should prepare for a wild ride

In the odd world that is the NBA, the unthinkable is happening. It has become hip to support the Los Angeles Clippers, and Kobe Bryant is being counted out early.

The lockout few of us cared about is over — a month sooner than most of us expected — and commissioner David Stern’s choreographed league is making a Christmas comeback.

For seven weeks, it was all about college basketball. But there will be more games on the betting board now, and that’s a good deal for Las Vegas sports books and hopefully for the bettors, even those who don’t care for LeBron James.

Training camps were brief. Trades and roster moves came fast and furious, and more are rumored.

If you blinked, you missed the preseason. The schedule is abbreviated to 66 games. There will be teams playing back-to-back-to-back games and five games in six nights. It could be chaos.

“We’re both guessing, the players and the bookmakers,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books. “That’s OK with me, as long as it’s going to be crazy on both sides. I think you’re going to see a lot of volatility, which is going to increase handle. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun the first few weeks.

“I’m kind of looking forward to it.”

Successfully handicapping the NBA is not a matter of convenience. It takes an everyday commitment, and that’s especially true this season. Stars will be rested during grueling stretches in the schedule, so expect late information to trigger some major line moves.

“You’re going to see some questionable basketball and you’re going to see teams mailing it in, and you’ve got to be prepared and ready to react,” said handicapper Erin Rynning (SportsMemo.com).

No books in Las Vegas posted regular-season win totals because of time issues and player uncertainties, but offshore totals did surface this week at Pinnaclesports.com.

“I thought about it,” Vaccaro said, “and then you had all the possible trades, and I scratched the whole idea.”

James and the Miami Heat top the list at 50½, followed by Oklahoma City (48½) and Chicago (47½).

The Los Angeles Lakers were posted at 40½, but the number was taken off the board after news spread of Kobe Bryant’s right wrist injury.

It turns out Bryant plans to play Sunday against the Bulls, after it was speculated he could miss two to three weeks. Expect the Bulls to win anyway.

The Lakers replaced Phil Jackson with Mike Brown in a coaching downgrade, lost Lamar Odom in a mysterious trade with defending champion Dallas, and Bryant lost his wife to a divorce.

The latter won’t be a negative factor. Check out online photos of Bryant’s supposed girlfriends, and you’ll see he’s a fine rebounder.

“I’m not sure about their new coach. The Lakers are on the don’t-like list, but the cat is kind of out of the bag on that one,” said Rynning, who questions the athletic ability and depth of the Lakers’ roster.

Adding an elite point guard such as Chris Paul could have helped.

But Stern vetoed the Lakers’ trade for Paul, who instead has made the Clippers cool.

With Paul, dunking machine Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers’ win total is 40½.

On Dec. 16, Vaccaro posted a proposition on the Lakers and Clippers and which team would have more regular-season wins. The Lakers opened minus-250 and by Thursday it was minus-125.

“To accurately compare last season’s wins in an 82-game schedule to this season’s reduced 66-game slate, it is easiest to compare winning percentages,” said handicapper Jim Kruger (VegasSports
Authority.com). “In the season wins forecast the oddsmakers have put out, the team projected as having the biggest improvement is the recipient of the Stern-approved trade of Paul. That’s the Clippers, at almost a 15-game adjusted 82-game schedule improvement, or a 22.4 percent uptick in their winning percentage.”

Rynning is targeting Indiana and Milwaukee, teams with depth and youth, as surprise bet-on teams in the Eastern Conference.

“Youth and depth are going to be bigger factors this year than ever before because there are more than three times as many occasions of a team playing four games in five days this season than there was last season,” said Kruger, who expects the Boston Celtics to be a disappointment.

The Celtics, older and thinner on the bench, are also on Rynning’s don’t-like list.

“The Celtics could be a little bit dicey in the regular season. It’s a team with really bad depth,” Rynning said. “There might be some money to be made against Boston.”

Kruger expects the Sacramento Kings to exceed lower expectations, and their win total was bet from 18½ to 20½ this week.

The Kings got cooler by drafting a sniper named Jimmer Fredette, so that’s another odd reason to welcome back the NBA.

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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