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Do the Lakers have value or are they overpriced?

Do the Lakers have value or are they overpriced?

Do the Lakers have value or are they overpriced?

Fourteen times Los Angeles Laker teams have walked off the court as NBA champions.

Kobe Bryant can say that he played an integral role in three of those title teams. Still, for Bryant it hasn’t been enough. Each of those three titles came with a 325-pound asterisk named Shaquille O’Neal, whose three Finals MVP awards still rankle Bryant.
So when the favored Lakers take the court against Orlando Thursday night in Los Angeles in Game 1 of the Finals, it will provide an opportunity for the narcissistic Bryant to lead his own team to a championship, rather than playing Robin to the Big Aristotle’s Batman.

His chances?

Oddsmakers opened with the Lakers at -285 to win the series (the Magic are +240), and Bryant has been installed as the favorite (-250) to win the MVP award (Orlando’s Dwight Howard is at +275). sportsbook manager Randy Scott has the Lakers at -280 and says that the public likes Los Angeles at that price. Buyers sense a bargain at Orlando to win the series in six games, receiving +850 on that prop, and bettors also like the series to go more than 5.5 (at -230). Howard gets slightly shorter odds (+250) to win the MVP trophy, but the public likes that number better than what’s offered for Bryant (-400). oddsmaker Peter Childs opened with a price of Lakers -260.

“The Cavs,” notes Childs, “were at -800 to win the series and the Lakers are much lower. Were the Cavs perceived to be that much better than the Lakers prior to the start of their series? Or are the Magic all of a sudden that much better of a team to warrant that kind of adjustment after beating Cleveland?”

The Magic, says Childs, were able to exploit several matchup advantages against the Cavs, edges that might not be there against LA.

“The Lakers have better perimeter players to hang with the Magic’s 3-point shooters,” says Childs. “Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and especially Trevor Ariza are great on the perimeter; they're long and will be able to contest the outside shots of the Magic. And don’t forget Kobe Bryant, who's an outstanding defender and, if called upon, can shut down any number of Magic players.”

Childs also likes the Lakers’ experience, pointing out that “Bryant and Derek Fisher are playing in their fifth NBA Finals, and [coach] Phil Jackson is coaching in his 11th NBA Finals. The Lakers took a lot away from losing in the Finals last year, both experience and feeling the devastation of losing when they got so close. The Magic don't have a single player that has been this farin the playoffs and their coach, Stan Van Gundy, was let go from the Miami Heat before they eventually went on to win the 2006 NBA Finals.”

In Vegas, there is a slightly different feel.

“The series price should be around -200 (LA),” says Vegas oddsmaker Peter Korner. “But we pumped it up to -240 thinking that no one (of the books) needs any more Laker money on them.”

Korner opened the Lakers at -5 in the first game (in Los Angeles) with a 204 over/under number. The line has gone up to -6 and 206 since then, evidence that the public is solidly behind the Lakers. That comes as a bit of a surprise to Korner.

“I thought Orlando would be a live pick but the players like the favorite and I'm comfortable with that,” says Korner. “Six points is a lot here. Orlando matches up well, took both games vs. L.A. during the year, is healthy and should have no pressure in this series until they get to three wins.”

Korner says that the Game 2 line will be driven up to -7 if Orlando takes Game 1 and forces the Lakers into a must-win situation.

“If the underdog is going to win a game, it’s usually one of the first two,” says Korner.

The Magic were 6-point dogs in Los Angeles when they pistol-whipped the Lakers by six in January, a game which gives Orlando backers confidence that the folks from Disney World can make it three consecutive surprising victories in a row. The odds would have been long that the Magic could knock off, in succession, the three best teams in the NBA this season – Boston, Cleveland and (perhaps) the Lakers.

In the NBA it’s all about the stars and not the game itself, and while the league’s suits are a bit chagrined that LeBron James didn’t have enough juice to carry the Cavs to the Finals, Dwight Howard and the Magic are a pretty damn good consolation prize.

Maybe someday Van Gundy will write a book explaining how he can deal with constant acid reflux and still coach an NBA team to the Finals. Until then he’s happy watching opponents try to figure out a way to double-team Howard when he gets the ball on the blocks and still close hard on Orlando’s vast array of 3-point shooters.

It‘ll be interesting to see how long it takes L.A.’s Andrew Bynum to stop banging with Howard, and also how much energy Pau Gasol has on the defensive end trying to help Bynum and still get to the 3-point line to stop Rashard Lewis from raining 3s. Orlando is making 3s at 37-percent in the playoffs, and if the Magic continue at that pace they could make life uncomfortable for Phil Jackson.

The Lakers are basically the same bunch that spit the bit a year ago against the Celtics, save for the presence of Bynum. But the Purple and Gold should have known it had a problem with Bynum when the big easy spent some of his time rehabbing at the Playboy mansion. Given Bryant’s recreational history it’s hard for Kobe to criticize Bynum, even with the center’s playing time at only 17 minutes in the playoffs.

Without James it may not be the series that everyone expected and most everyone wanted, but there are enough interesting subplots to make this a fun couple of weeks for fans and bettors.

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