Miami Heat is still the choice for fans

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The South Point sports book opened the Miami Heat as -380 favorites to beat the Indiana Pacers (+320) in the Eastern Conference Finals, and bettors found the number cheap.

They laid the price with the two-time defending NBA Champions all the way up to -440 before Sunday’s Game 1. When the Pacers knocked off the Heat, 107-96, the adjusted series price had the Heat -200.

Since February we’ve gone on a roller coaster ride with the Pacers who went from briefly being the highest rated team in the NBA to No. 11. They struggled in each of their playoff series against the Hawks and Wizards, which included twice getting blown out by 30 points at home to further enhance this perception the Pacers were too inconsistent to beat the Heat in a seven game series.

That still may be the case, but with their Game 1 win, the Pacers – who have home court advantage – have beaten the Heat seven of their last eight meetings at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Yet, because of the low rating on Indiana, the Heat will be favored in every game.

While the Pacers offense is still a bit shaky, their defense has been improving – getting back to being close to what it was when they were dominating in January. They have held their opponents to a playoff-best 41 percent shooting, allowing only 90.3 points per game. Both those figures are better than what they averaged in the regular season (42%, 92.3 ppg).

So are the Pacers a live dog to win the series after what we saw in Game 1? It’s only one game, but it was the Pacers’ most impressive performance of the playoffs. And it wasn’t just in the stats where all five starters scored in double figures and the team shooting 51 percent from the field. It was in the way they answered any challenge by Miami by going on their own runs. It was a great team win with everyone contributing.

As for the Heat, they shot 51 percent from the field in Game 1, which is right about where their season and playoff average is, but they do a lot of standing around defensively. They’re not active and they’ve been outrebounded by 4.8 boards per game during the playoffs (Pacers +9 in Game 1).

It’s hard to believe the Heat could be so bad rebounding because they are an elite team, but their 34.3 average during the playoffs is the worst among all 16 teams.

Having the best player on the team in LeBron James is certainly a huge equalizer, and he will win two to three games in the series on his own by just pounding the paint. He can score anytime he wants. But all the Pacers have to do now is win three games and they have home court edge.

I didn’t think the Pacers had any chance of being in this position, and I still think they’ll have at least two stinkers in this series where any confidence gained for them at the bet windows will quickly turn to cuss words. But, credit must be given.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team with such dysfunction coming into the playoffs let things work itself out and find a way to get this far. Their Game 1 performance was the sharpest they’ve been since January and they have the look of being a Championship caliber squad.

They are who we thought they were, as Dennis Green once said. Now the big question is whether or not we crown them. The LVH Super Book has the Heat as the 8-to-5 favorites to win the NBA Title with the Spurs at 3-2, Thunder at 4-1 and Pacers at 13-2.

Belmont freebies: Station Casinos race books will be one of the many places around town to check out promotions for the June 7 Belmont Stakes where California Chrome will be going for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

Because the event now has a great storyline, most race books in the city will attempt to lure your wallet to their book by offering some kind of complimentary prize such as t-shirts when making a wager.

Station’s book director Jason McCormick says they can expect up to a 50 percent increase in handle with a horse running for the Triple Crown as opposed to having just an ordinary Belmont Stakes with no hoopla. Although his team has yet to outline exactly what they’ll be giving away, a big underdog will be having t-shirts printed with “California Chrome” on them.

 “We kind of got burned two years ago when we pre-ordered ‘I’ll Have Another’ Belmont Stakes t-shirts on his run for the Triple Crown, and when he was scratched (tendonitis) the day before the race, no one wanted the shirts, so we got stuck with over 5,000 shirts.”

One certainty we can expect is Station books offering a $20,000 Twin-Quinella along with $2 Bud and Bud Lights, as well as $2 shots of Jack Daniels and Fireball. Be sure to check out other race books that are highly competitive in the local market for race players such as Coast Resorts, the South Point and Arizona Charlie’s.

William Hill posted California Chrome as a -120 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes within 30 minutes of winning the Preakness.

World Cup: Shortly after the Belmont Stakes, the World Cup will kick off in Brazil where the host country is listed as the 5-2 favorite to win by the LVH. The home soil will be a huge edge for all South American teams, so give extra consideration to Brazil, Argentina (9-2) and Uruguay (20-1) as candidates to win. My own personal rooting interest will be with the USA (80-1) and England (35-1).

To get into the proper shape it takes for the month-long International festival, I’ll be training at McMullan’s Irish Pub Saturday for the Champions League Final between Real Madrid (-175) and Atletico Madrid (+155). They have the absolute best Guinness pour in town.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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