Lakers cruising in as NBA favorites

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Rest or rust? That’s the big question many NFL coaches have to deal with after their team clinches with one or two games remaining in the regular season.

It also sometimes happens in the NBA. That could possibly explain the poor performance of the Western Conference No. 1-seeded Los Angeles Lakers since play began under the bubble outside of Orlando, Fla.

Through Sunday, the Lakers had lost four of their six bubble games while exhibiting poor body language and a look unrecognizable from what we saw before the COVID-19 shutdown that made them the No. 1 seed. During Saturday’s 116-111 loss to the Pacers, LeBron James scored 31 points while the entire team shot only 42% from the field. A poor shooting night can be excused and worked on, but the defense should always be there and they allowed the Pacers to shoot 52%.

Still, the Lakers are 11-to-4 favorites to win the NBA championship and Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook VP of risk management Jeff Sherman says bettors don’t seem to be alarmed.

“The Lakers have been getting lots of action on them despite how they’ve looked in the bubble,” he said. “The daily games have been treated like preseason games by most just because of the uncertainty of who is playing in each game.”

The Lakers have shot only 41% from the field in their six bubble games which have been pivotal in them going 1-5 against-the-spread. Their season average has been 47.8% while their overall ATS mark has been 36-32-1 for +0.8 units of profit if betting every game. But there’s no reason to panic.

“After they beat the Clippers to get the No. 1 seed, there was no sense of urgency for them to play hard,” said Sherman, a lifelong Lakers fan. “It was wrapped up. These are kind of like meaningless games for them waiting for the playoffs to start.”

Part of the lack of execution for the Lakers under the bubble has been running their offense without Avery Bradley, who opted out, and Rajon Rondo, who is out with a thumb injury.

“Sure the loss of Avery Bradley hurts them,” Sherman said. “He was their No. 1 defender who they put on their opponents best guard.”

The good news is that Anthony Davis (26.1 ppg) and LeBron James (25.4 ppg, 10.2 assists) are both having amazing seasons and they’re both healthy. Maybe the Lakers are just bored and maybe they turn things up a notch one game before the real games start in the playoffs. But I know they can’t be excited about possibly playing the hot Portland Trail Blazers right out of the gate if the Blazers win their play-in game this weekend. Sherman said the price he would make today (Monday) for a possible Lakers-Blazers first-round series is Lakers -450.

Looking at the SuperBook’s odds board you can see who they respect after the Lakers at 11-4 (+225). The Clippers (3-1) and the Milwaukee Bucks (7-2) are the only teams listed in single digits. After them, it’s the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, both at 10-1, the Houston Rockets at 14-1, the Denver Nuggets at 20-1, then the Blazers at 30-1. Portland isn’t even in the playoffs yet and its odds are lower than teams that are locked in such as the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-1) and Utah Jazz (80-1). 

More than a trendy pick

The San Diego Padres opened 50-1 in October to win the 2020 World Series and were dropped to 30-1 in July before the first game of the truncated Major League Baseball season.

San Diego has remained there as of the most recent changes on Monday. At 9-7, they are in a spot to make the 2020 playoffs even though they’re only third in the NL West.

I’ll tell you a few reasons why I like them to make a strong run to win their first World Series and it starts with them having fun. They’re gaining confidence each day and their brand of baseball is enjoyable to watch.

But fun doesn’t cash tickets or have a measurable formula. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team lead MLB in home runs, stolen bases and triples as the Padres were through Sunday. Those are three of my most favorites plays of the game to watch and they’re doing it the most and the best after nearly three weeks of play.

While their bats lead the NL in OPS (.795) and they’ve shown they can be patient and take a few pitches, they still have some issues with the bullpen. But I think they’ll be better in the next two-thirds of this shortened 60-game regular season. I could see their rotation faring well against a higher-seeded team in the playoffs and that’s the key.

The first round or Wild Card Series, is a best-of-three series between eight teams in each league with the No. 1 seed playing No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, and so on. I could feel really good about the Padres winning Game 1 of the series at someone else’s home park with no fans in the stands and Chris Paddack on the mound. I’m also partial to Garrett Richards and with some more work put in he should be dealing aces by the playoffs.

It’s in the first-round where the Padres’ chances rest by them knocking out a higher-seeded team and perhaps a team like the favored Dodgers, Cubs or Braves get upset in the short format. After that, momentum, excitement and fun can make them play better than they really are.

By the way, aren’t the Padres’ new uniforms great? It’s such a cool look.

I’ve seen enough so far and I think they can do it.

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