NBA Betting: Lakers a Team Worthy of 'Public' Status
by Trevor Whenham - 11/14/2008
Last year's season for the Los Angeles Lakers ended with a frustrating, embarrassing loss to the Celtics in the NBA Finals. That was a long time ago, but the Lakers clearly haven't forgotten about it, and they obviously want to do something about it. The team is the only undefeated squad remaining, and they have been spectacular.
They have played seven Western Conference teams, and they have covered the spread six times. They are scoring more points than any team in the league, and allowing fewer. In the last three games they have played much of the elite of the West - Houston, Dallas, and New Orleans - and the last two were on the road. They haven't looked challenged in any game. New Orleans is a real contender, yet the Lakers never trailed in the game. The Lakers are, needless to say, very, very good.
When talking about 'public teams' in the NBA, the Lakers are the front-runners in that aspect even during down years. Oddsmakers often 'shade' the lines for their games, meaning they bog them down with more points, because the public will bet on them no matter what the number is. So for the Lakers to be 6-1 against the spread is a bookie's worst nightmare.
It's, of course, way too early to say that the race for the top of the West is over. A lot can happen between now and the end of the season. The way things are going now, though, it seems unlikely that a team will be able to move past the Lakers. The odds indicate that the race for the Western Conference isn't close. The Lakers are at 6/5 to win it all. No other team is better than 9/2. There are all sorts of reasons for that, but let's take a look at five:
Two-ended game - A team can succeed by playing outstanding defense. That was what the Celtics did last year. Or a team can succeed by scoring all sorts of points. The Suns have been reasonably successful by running up the score. It is very rare, though, for a team to have the talent and the discipline to do both effectively. Offensively, the team is tops in points scored, and second in rebounding margin and three-point percentage. Defensively, no team has allowed fewer points, they are tops in steals, and second best in defending field goals. They are scoring 18 more points per game than their opponents. It's not hard to see why they have been so successful. More significantly, though, the team could afford to be quite a bit less successful on either end than they have been and they would still be good enough to win more games than they lose. This team has the definite look of one built to keep winning.
Comparison to last year - Last year, the Lakers were the class of the West. Though their margin of superiority wasn't overwhelming, their berth in the finals was no fluke. In so many ways, though, this team is an improvement over last year's. Kobe Bryant is healthy. Pau Gasol is with the team from the start, and the offense can be built from the start with him in mind. Andrew Bynum is back in the fold and continuing his development. Trevor Ariza is emerging. The supporting cast is a year more experienced and more familiar with the offense. This team is better this year because they are carefully built to be. The Lakers were profitable ATS last year with all the problems and changes that they encountered. There is little reason to believe that that will be any different now that the team is at full strength.
Coaching - Phil Jackson is the coach. That's all that really needs to be said here. His teams don't take steps backwards. They build on what they have already accomplished. No coach in the league is more of an asset than Jackson, no matter how bizarre the guy may be.
Problems with key opponents - The Lakers are likely to succeed in part because of their own prowess, but also because of problems with the teams chasing them. San Antonio hasn't looked good at all, and they are currently without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. If and when the Spurs turn things around the Lakers could already be out of reach. Dallas is dealing with a gimpy Josh Howard, and with a roster that already has proven to be inadequate. Utah still has offensive problems. Portland is talented, but young. Phoenix has to deal with a new coach and system, and with a rapidly aging Shaq. New Orleans has gotten off to a lethargic start. The Lakers are currently the most complete and most effective team right now, and there is little reason to believe that that is going to change significantly barring serious injuries.
Urgency - Kobe Bryant needs to prove that he doesn't need Shaq to go all the way. Phil Jackson doesn't need to prove anything, but he is incredibly competitive, and he knows that time won't improve his chances of winning another title with the Lakers. Both men are approaching the end of contracts. It's likely that both will re-sign, but there is still a real urgency for this team. It's very early on, but everything seems to be falling in place to send the Lakers back to the finals. The further we get into the season, and the more real that possibility becomes, the hungrier the two key pieces of this team will become. The will of these two men is more of an asset than any team in the West has.