Lakers/ Celtics?

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But beware of refreshed Suns squad

Leave it to some of the characters in Las Vegas sports books to come up with some of the best zingers that summarize what’s happening in the NBA’s Western and Eastern conference finals; to wit, “I haven’t seen Magic look so poorly since Criss Angel’s Cirque show at the Luxor,” or “We haven’t seen Suns that bad since the Mendez brothers.”

During the Celtics’ Game 3 win over the Magic, Rajon Rondo made a diving play for a loose ball underneath Magic guard Jason Williams, got up and scored easily as Williams watched.

One bettor at the MGM Grand quipped, “That play is the complete microcosm of those two players’ careers – always hustling by one (Rondo), and a lazy attitude by the other (Williams). What do they put in the water in West Virginia that makes players so lazy?” he said in reference to the fact that Williams and Randy Moss played together at the same West Virginia High School.

I walked around a few sports books on the Strip Saturday and Sunday during the NBA games and absorbed all the excitement in the air, but the reality is that the playoffs haven’t been as gripping as Commissioner David Stern would have liked.

In the semi-finals we saw three of the four series end in sweeps and the trend has continued through the stage we’re at now.

For the sports books, sweeps are the worst thing that can happen in regards to handle and win. Their goal is to get two-way action with as much handle as possible created by the hype of a series. People visiting Las Vegas want to have a vested interest in the games with a wager, but when one side is beating the other like a drum continually, it takes away the level of excitement and pre-game hype and ultimately hurts the volume at the betting windows.

What’s even worse for the books is that there are fewer games and they don’t even get the opportunity at an attempt to match figures from 2009. The first round created the same amount of games both this year and last, but the conference semi-finals have had five less games than last year.

Thus far into the conference finals, it appears each series will be over quickly. The 2009 playoffs had six games each in this round, meaning that the sports books will have up to nine games less for handle in the NBA category for the months of April and May.

At the end of the tunnel, however, there is light. Should the Lakers and Celtics meet in the Finals, the sports books may be able to recoup some of the missed action by making gains from their matchup. Last season saw the Lakers win 4-1 in a series that lacked any real drama and lacked hype just because the Magic looked almost as lifeless as they have against the Celtics this year.

The green of the Celtics and Purple and Gold of the Lakers are what the NBA has forever been about. The two teams have combined to win 32 championships, more than half of the NBA’s 63 championships in the league’s history. The Celtics hold a 9-2 advantage all-time when meeting the Lakers in the Finals, with the most recent win coming in 2008 when the Celtics beat Kobe Bryant in his first finals without Shaquille O’Neal, prompting Shaq to roll out his famous free-style rap at a nightclub in regards to Kobe trying to win a ring without him.

“There will be lots of excitement for a Lakers-Celtics series,” says South Point Sports Book Director Bert Osborne. “Las Vegas is a Lakers town without a doubt; the excitement level when they play is always taken up a notch in the book. Now you mix in the tough hard nosed Celtics, with all their history, and likely support from all the East Coast transplants who embody that style of hustle and physical play, and we should have ourselves an event that should be a home run.”

The storyline of Bryant attempting to win his second straight title against the team that beat the Lakers two years ago, should create all the hype needed to make this a big series for Las Vegas sports books. It‘s possible that the excitement level of betting and watching the Lakers game on the big screens with hundreds of others in the sports books may even draw several quick visits to Las Vegas from Los Angeles specifically for the games.

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