Heat a worthy foe

The NBA Finals get underway Wednesday featuring an intriguing and most unexpected matchup.

For most of the regular season and into the restart it was virtually assumed that Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers would meet to determine the champion of this most unusual season. Both the Bucks and Lakers had been atop their conferences for basically the entire season. 

Historically the NBA has been the major sport that held truest to form with the best teams in the regular season going deepest into the playoffs. The Lakers held up their part of the bargain by eliminating Portland, Houston and Denver. Each series lasted just five games. After losing their opening games to the Blazers and Rockets, the Lakers swept the next four. Their loss to Denver came in Game 3.

In going 12-3 SU in the playoffs the Lakers were a profitable 9-6 ATS. They were favored in all 15 games by at least four points. In more than half of those games they were laying more than six.

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The surprising participant in this season’s Finals is Miami. Seeded fifth in the East, the Heat eliminated Indiana in five games, top-seeded Milwaukee in five and third-seeded Boston in six. In going 12-4 SU Miami was a very impressive 12-4 ATS that also includes 6-3 SU when getting points.

Not surprisingly the Lakers opened -5.5 for Wednesday’s Game 1 and the early action on Miami dropped the line to 5 as of mid-morning Tuesday. The Total opened 218 and dropped a half point to a point across Las Vegas.

The series price opened Lakers -450/Heat +375 at the Westgate Sunday evening and steadily dropped to -360/+300. If you plan on betting the series remember to shop around as books have various prices somewhat tied to their overall NBA Futures liabilities.

Overall in Orlando, including the seeding games, Miami and the Lakers had very similar results. Both were 15-8 SU but while Miami has also gone 15-8 ATS, the Lakers are just 10-13 ATS. Miami has the better scoring differential of +3.5 vs +2.4, outscoring foes 111.8-108.3 while the Lakers’ average score was 111.3 to 108.9.

What may this foretell about the Finals? That Miami cannot simply be written off as a team fortunate to be playing for the title. Which is why it’s understandable that the series price has dropped as sharply as it has.

The Lakers arguably have the best two players in the series with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But it then can be argued that Miami has the next five or six best players, providing the Heat with more balance and better depth.

Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro provide a solid backcourt and are averaging a combined 37.4 points per game in the playoffs. Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder have been strong up front with Bam Adebayo providing a formidable presence in the middle. Those five are averaging between 12.3 and 20.9 points per game, providing 88.9 total points per game and 32.5 rebounds per game.

LeBron is further cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats by reaching his 10th NBA Finals. At 35, he remains a force and with Davis (just reaching his prime at age 27), the Lakers duo will be challenged by the Heat.

Given that the Lakers will have had four days’ rest prior to Game 1 and the Heat three days off, fatigue should not be a factor and Wednesday’s opener should not be one-sided.

The Heat and Lakers met twice during the regular season with the Lakers winning both games, by 15 in Los Angeles and by 3 in Miami. But their most recent meeting was back in mid-December. They did not meet in Orlando during the seeding games.

It’s quite easy to make a case for the Lakers, who’ve been the team to beat since early in the season when they started 24-3 over the season’s first eight weeks.

I’m taking the attractive +300 price with the Heat to defeat the Lakers and win the NBA title. Even at -360 the Lakers appear priced too high against a team that knocked off teams seeded fifth, first and third to reach the Finals. Miami being here is no fluke. Eight of their dozen playoff wins were by nine or more points. The pick is for Miami to win in six games.

Friday

Heat vs. Lakers: I expect this series to zig-zag for at least the first two games as the Game 1 loser makes necessary adjustments to avoid falling down 0-2. 

Even though I’ve picked Miami to win the series I’ll play against them in Game 2 if they pull the upset in Game 1. However if the Heat lose, as the line suggests, I’ll back them in Game 2. LOSER OF GAME 1

Last week: 0-1-1

Season: 42-34-2