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Lakers-Heat Preview by Jeremy Martin
Note: all statistics and records do not include Thursday's Miami/Sacramento matchup.
The hype has reached epic proportions. This is the game that NBA fans have been waiting all year for. When the Miami Heat meet the Lakers in Los Angeles on Saturday, it will without a doubt be the biggest betting event of the entire NBA season.
"It probably will be the biggest (betting) game of the regular season with an emotional match-up, a captive audience and national TV coverage," said Rob Gillespie, president of Bodog Sportsbook, Casino and Poker Room. "The (Dallas/Sacramento) game last Christmas was five or six times bigger than the average NBA game for the year. This game could be 10 times bigger."
Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA Championships but he was traded to the Heat in the offseason. His inability to get along with fellow superstar Kobe Bryant was a key reason for his departure. Last season the two took jabs at each other all year long via the media and that verbal war of words has continued now that the former teammates are playing on opposite sides of the country.
Shaq has been nursing a bruised calf and he has missed a couple games. The injury (as well as his huge ego) isn't likely to keep him out of this game against his former team. "With the recent fueding going on between Kobe and Shaq, I think it would be the biggest disappointment if for some reason Shaq doesn't play," said Bob Scucci, Race & Sportsbook manager for the Stardust in Las Vegas. "On a Christmas day game you are looking for that star attraction and (if) he doesn't even play I think it will be anticlimactic. If everyone is healthy and they are all playing they will draw more than any other (NBA) game that we have put on the board this year."
Christmas weekend will be a slow one in Las Vegas because the city is not much of a draw for families during that holiday. Scucci still thinks that this will be the biggest NBA betting game of the year just for the fact that it is a marquee game on a day when there aren't many games on the board.
"Christmas is going to be slow," said Scucci. "There are only two NFL games and two NBA games. There are only four games to bet so they are going to draw a lot more volume than if they were off on their own in the middle of the schedule. Each game will be big. The Lakers game will be much bigger than the earlier game."
For offshore sportsbooks, however, this game will be as big as any other regular season game in recent memory. It could even be the No. 1 NBA regular season betting game of all time.
Reports out of Las Vegas indicate a couple of books have already released an early line on the game with the Lakers posted as small favorites. Scucci has not set a line for the Stardust but he says that he would probably list the game as a 'pick'em as long as Shaq is good to go. Gillespie said he is thinking that Bodog will have the Heat as a one or two point favorite, although no official line has been set. Scucci is expecting heavy action on the Heat.
Miami is the top team in the East at 20-7 and they have been playing their best basketball of the season in recent weeks. They have won nine straight and have not dropped a game against the number in their previous seven contests. The Heat are a top-10 offensive team as they score 100 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. O'Neal and point guard Dwayne Wade have combined for a potent one-two punch. Wade averages 23 points and seven assist a game while O'Neal averages a double-double in points and rebounds.
The Lakers have been a one-man team with Bryant leading the way all season. The team is 14-11 overall and only 10-14-1 against the spread. Bryant averages 27 points per game as well as 7 assists. Forward Lamar Odom has been clutch on the boards as he averages more than 10 rebounds per game. The Lakers are currently in third place in the Pacific Division behind Phoenix and Sacramento, respectively. Los Angeles has dropped three straight and four of its last five against the number.
Los Angeles has dominated the series in recent meetings as the Lakers have won four of the last five straight up and against the number.