In the movies, one man can conquer long odds and pull off far-fetched feats. It’s time to find out if LeBron James is truly a Hollywood-type hero.
Sylvester Stallone made bigger challenges look routine in the “Rambo” and “Rocky” series. Bruce Willis was a one-man wrecking crew in the “Die Hard” series. And now Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is taking on a monster earthquake in San Francisco to save the day in “San Andreas.” The storylines in those movies are ridiculous and unbelievable.
James’ real-life task is simple by comparison. The Cavaliers are small underdogs in the NBA Finals, needing to win four times in a seven-game series without home-court advantage. The betting public is finding the script believable.
“I definitely get the feeling the public is with Cleveland,” said Ed Salmons, Westgate Las Vegas sports book manager. “I know the media has been pushing the Cleveland thing and how great LeBron is, and the public is buying in.”
He added in a sarcastic tone, “You get the best player and you’re getting plus-200. How can you not bet it?”
It’s shaping up as a sharps-versus-squares battle, with the wiseguys on the favorite and the public in love with the underdog. This has intrigue because of James, who is at the top of his game and capable of pulling the upset almost by himself.
After the Warriors wrapped up the Western Conference finals Wednesday, the Westgate opened Golden State as a minus-270 favorite in the NBA Finals. By Thursday, the price dropped to minus-240. The lowest price in the market is minus-210 at an offshore book.
Some of the early money is sharp, and some of it is from bettors looking to hedge or middle. A small percentage of the money is public, though the public generally hits the windows in the last 24 hours, and the series does not open until Thursday.
Erin Rynning, a sharp NBA bettor and handicapper for Sportsmemo.com, ran his numbers and made the Warriors minus-280 favorites.
“To me, it’s the best team against the best player, and it’s always hard to discount the best player. LeBron is just unbelievable,” Rynning said. “I think Golden State is the better all-around team and a deeper team. The Cavs have a shot, but I prefer the Golden State side.”
William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said he’s also siding with the Warriors, picking them in six games.
“We’ll see if LeBron gets star treatment,” Bogdanovich said. “The Cavs could give them a little trouble. But I don’t see the Warriors losing the series. The Warriors are so strong at home, and they are the deeper team.”
We were able to preview this movie Feb. 26, when James totaled 42 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers to a 110-99 win in Cleveland. James had his way with Warriors defenders Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala. Golden State might use Draymond Green as the primary defender on James this time, but he’s probably a step slow.
“Barnes and Iguodala had no chance,” Rynning said. “LeBron did his thing and single-handedly beat them.”
In the February matchup, Cleveland got 24 points from point guard Kyrie Irving and 16 from forward Kevin Love. Irving is hobbled with a knee injury, and Love is lost to a dislocated shoulder.
“The Cavs have played really well defensively in the playoffs,” Rynning said, “and they didn’t show that all season.”
Cleveland is better defensively without Love, and it will have to win this series with defense and a lot of offense from James. Golden State, an underrated defensive team, will hope to contain James.
If that’s impossible, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson need to outshoot him. Curry and Thompson each took hard shots to the head in the West finals against Houston, but they should be fine with a week to recover.
The Warriors were lucky in the playoffs to avoid San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers, and they whipped a Rockets team missing Patrick Beverley, a relentless defender who would have hounded Curry.
The Cavaliers rolled through the East with a 12-2 postseason record — sweeping Boston, dropping two games to Chicago and sweeping Atlanta — to boost their public perception.
“My dilemma is, how good was Atlanta and how good were the Bulls? You had to be impressed with how Cleveland took apart those two teams,” Rynning said. “Cleveland is a little banged up and undermanned. Golden State is a more well-rounded team. I’m looking to play Golden State.”
I’ll go with Curry and the Warriors in seven, overcoming a Hollywood performance from James. This is the must-see movie of the summer.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.