A Recognized Leader And Trusted Name In Sports Handicapping Since 1971
One E-mail A Week Is All You Need!
Our weekly newsletter is loaded with exclusive free picks,
insight and advice from our expert handicappers
Lakers No Longer A Public Team? by Jeremy Martin
In the last several decades, there has been no bigger public betting team in the NBA than the Los Angeles Lakers. This has been the one team that bookies could always expect plenty of action on from the public or 'square' bettors, the largest segment of the betting community. Since there has been such lopsided action on this team for so many years, the sportsbooks have always been able to 'shade' the point spread so that Lakers' backers would have to play the worst possible line. Even in years when the Lakers have an outstanding straight-up record, it is not out of the ordinary for the team to be under .500 against the number.
The public's adoration of this team has been well deserved since they have been one of the most dominant franchises in NBA history. Since the 1960s they have taken 21 trips to the NBA Finals and they have been crowned champions of the league nine times during that span. Boston and Chicago have had dynasties during that time frame but no other team has dominated like Los Angeles.
But what a difference a year makes. The Lakers lost one of the most prolific centers ever to play the game when Shaquille O'Neal was traded to Miami in the offseason. Gary Payton defected to the Celtics and Karl Malone has yet to take the court this season because of nagging injuries. Phil Jackson, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league, decided to retire.
The team brought in veteran Coach Rudy Tomjanovich during the offseason to lead the team. They signed Kobe Bryant to a big new contract and added sixth-year forward Lamar Odom, an often-troubled player with loads of potential. They added some other role players that team management hoped would overachieve and lead this team to another Finals run.
It looks like the formula has been a failure thus far.
Los Angeles is 14-11 heading into Saturday's showdown with the Shaq-led Miami Heat. Bettors who have backed the Lakers this year have cashed in only ten times this season. The team can look like an NBA Finals-caliber team one night by beating the Kings by 16 on the road only to return home and lay eggs against Washington and Memphis. It seems like Bryant's off-the-court issues have received more press than anything that he or the team has done on the court. If the season ended today, the Lakers would be a very low seed in the playoffs.
The public has definitely taken notice. For the first time in eons, the squares have backed off Los Angeles. There are still the die-hard fans that will bet on the team no matter what the circumstances, but for the most part the public has moved on to other teams (the Phoenix Suns being one of them).
"The public is not as naïve or unwise as we always like to think they are," said Doug Beil, race and sportsbook manager for Terrible's Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. "Right from the very beginning I think the public realized that this is not going to be a (dominant) Lakers team. I think (the public) took a 'lets wait and see' attitude. I think what they are seeing is that they are going to have a lot of struggles this year. They are not a public team right now and that is saying something for sure.
"I guess we can all question what the management and the ownership was doing there. You are just seeing things that you never see with the Lakers. Or at least I don't think we have seen it since before Magic Johnson - that kind of timeframe. That's where we are at right now. It doesn't look like the formula is going to work at this point of the season."
At the Stardust in Las Vegas, sportsbook head honcho Bob Scucci has also seen a drop-off in Lakers' betting handle. However, he said that he does see lots of action on the team when they are playing at home and the game is the last one on the betting board.
"I don't think it has been that drastic of a drop-off," he said. "The fact that they usually do play their games late, they are still a draw. There are still a lot of loyal Lakers followers and they still draw a lot of public money. I don't think it is to the extent that it was when they had Shaq and obviously everyone knows they are not the same team they were last year. But they are still a very popular team."
On the subject of the team's inconsistent play; Scucci thinks that the Lakers take on the off-the-court personality of their star player. "As erratic as (Bryant) is personally, I think that the whole team takes on that identity," he said.
Despite their struggles, there is promise in the future for this young Lakers squad. There are plenty of other teams in the league that would love to trade positions with Los Angeles. They have Bryant, who is arguably the most clutch player in the league. He is one of the few guys that can win a game single handedly when he is 'in the zone.'
They also have Odom, who could become that No. 2 guy that gets this team back to a championship level. The Pistons proved last year that you don't necessarily need two stars to win the NBA Championship but that formula is usually the key to success in the NBA. If you look at the league champions for the last several years most of those teams had at least two 'superstars.'
"I think Odom is a tremendous talent and he would be a perfect compliment to (Bryant)," added Scucci. "If there's one thing that (Detroit) proved last year is that it's not so much the individual talents but how you play as a team. And if (the Lakers) can learn to play together as a team they could be a force to be reckoned with."