How to bet against the Lakers with LeBron's health uncertain
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
As LeBron James gets set to enter another postseason in the twilight of his NBA career, there are growing sentiments that "The King" is rapidly breaking down and his supporting cast isn’t good enough.
We’ve heard that song and dance before, but LeBron was always able to find those second and third gears to steer his teams to deep runs. But a few basketball bettors I frequently jive with believe the gap between perception and reality has never been this large in LeBron’s career.
Odds are good they’ll be favored until coronation or elimination.
"You put those two on the court together, and that’s good enough for people," Golden Nugget executive sportsbook director Tony Miller told FOX Sports. "As a team, they’re not that good this year. I don’t think they’re going to last. They might even get stuck in the play-in games. So we’ll see what they’ve got.
"They’re still probably favored in every series they play," Miller continued. "But there’s a decent chance Utah is a slight favorite in a potential series deep in the playoffs. It’ll be very hard for me to make a team with LeBron and Davis an underdog. That’s the truth."
Long gone are the days of bookmakers rooting for LeBron in the playoffs. Finals trips and Finals wins with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers were actually good for business behind the counter. The liability has exploded exponentially since James’ relocation to Los Angeles.
"LeBron was real good to us when he was with the Cavaliers and the Heat," Miller explained. "We always shaded him – and we still do – but when he won his first few championships, that was great for our future book.
"When LeBron went to the West Coast, things changed. We always get blasted with Laker money anyway. People love to bet the Lakers in Vegas and they travel to Vegas to bet ‘em, too. They always seem to play the late game and they’re the last team in everybody’s parlay. And that’s before LeBron.
"Then they signed LeBron and traded for Anthony Davis and it was just a mountain of Laker money all the time. We actually opened Los Angeles at +130 to win the NBA title this past offseason. The action still came in. The price doesn’t even matter. It’s the Laker mystique, then you add LeBron and the snowball just gets bigger."
There aren’t many players over the years that have stimulated betting action quite like LeBron does. Miller said players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did wonders for betting handle back in the day. He also said that LeBron has strong competition in the present day as far as betting polarization goes.
"Steph Curry does it too," Miller said. "People love to bet on or against Curry. He’s very popular in the basketball betting circles. I’m really interested to see what a Lakers-Warriors play-in situation would look like. Curry against LeBron is a monster matchup for the West Coast and both guys would drive up the betting."
A couple of American sportsbooks allow bettors to wager "Yes/No" markets for championships. Circa Sports in Las Vegas is offering Yes +555 and No -900 on the Lakers’ championship markets. So if you want to fade the Lakers, you have to lay $90 to win $10.
Don’t do that.
I will never, ever implore you to lay nine dollars to win one. That is atrocious bankroll management. If you’re looking to fade the Lakers, your best chance is to wait. It’s worth reminding you that a LeBron-led team has never lost in the first round of the postseason.
My advice would be to let that Laker locomotive build up steam, then remove the tracks later in the playoffs against a team like Utah. You could potentially get the Jazz at plus-money too if all the stars align.
"I would definitely wait," Miller admitted. "They’re definitely going to win their first series assuming they’re healthy. I do think the Jazz could give this team a run. Maybe even the Suns. But I would wait until the Western Conference semis to try and take them out."
Fading LeBron inside the conference hasn’t been the greatest idea over the years, either. He’s been to the NBA Finals 10 times in his last 14 seasons.
Miller has learned to stop getting cute with the numbers when it comes to LeBron. His responsible shading – think of it as a "LeBron Tax" – has worked wonders and there’s no point in changing that process now, especially with the way his customers fire on the Lakers.
"I let the money do the talking," Miller explained. "The money moves my lines behind the counter. I could sit here and fiddle with the numbers, but I let the market move the line. If I get a lot of accumulation on the Lakers throughout the day and things get lopsided, I’ll move to write some money back the other way. But you have to let the money talk."
The most dangerous part of any LeBron fade is that he gets every call under the sun in the playoffs, a rite of passage for the most important player in the game. I have screamed at many televisions at unfavorable whistles that always seem to go the way of basketball royalty.
"That’s LeBron, man," Miller said after a belly laugh. "And it’s not going to stop now. When you’re the superstar, that’s what happens. Jordan and Kobe thrived off of that treatment for years. That’s the way it works."
I don’t like the Lakers to win the NBA title, but I don’t think you’ll get your monies worth fading the purple and gold in the early going. Your best opportunity to dethrone L.A. will present itself as the field shortens.
Wait for a contender with a deep bench and a great coach – a la the Jazz or Clippers – and arm your slingshot accordingly.
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.