There's good news and there's some bad news regarding the Lakers' chances to three-peat.
Let's just start with the bad news, just so you can then feel inspired about the good news that lies ahead. Here's the bad news: Jay Rood, race and sports book director at MGM Mirage, told me Tuesday morning that the general public still favors the Miami Heat to beat the Lakers in the 2011 NBA Finals. The good news: Rood doesn't personally agree with that sentiment, and he remarks that the odds will likely change for better or for worse once the actual regular season begins Tuesday night, including a TNT doubleheader featuring the Heat against the Celtics (5 p.m. PDT) and the Lakers against the Rockets (7:30 p.m.)
The Heat this offseason were favored in Vegas to win the championship. Has that stayed the same?
Rood: It's definitely cooled off. They're still the favorite on the board. I believe we've got them at 7-to-5 right now, which is easily the shortest price of anyone entering the season in my recent memory. Usually at the beginning of the season, the shortest price that you'd find on the board in the NBA would be in the neighborhood of 3-to-1 Lakers maybe a year or two ago. Seven-to-5 is where the Heat are at right now. Lakers are 2-to-1, which is a ridiculous second choice. It is what it is. It's the power brokers of the NBA at this point, and it's pretty much prove us wrong that these two teams don't end up in the Finals. That price there indicates that if they do get into the Finals, that the Heat would be the favorite over the Lakers at this point, not forgoing how the season unrolls in front of us.
How does Miami have the edge over the Lakers at this point?
Rood: In my mind, they don't. But I don't book to what I think. I book to what the people bet. Early in the year when all of this was going down, if you had the Heat higher than 2-to-1, you were going to take money left and right. Pretty good-size money too. There were a lot of people showing up betting four- or five-figure amounts that the Heat would win. It just kept coming in, so we had to find the market price and keep lowering it so it slows down to where you can live with the liability.
What do you draw from this strong public sentiment toward Miami, considering it's rare for a two-time defending champion not to be the favorite?
Rood: It's an extremely rare position the Lakers are in right now. It's a spot where you can't get caught off guard because it would be easy to let the Lakers drift up to an area that's not in line with their capabilities with repeating once again. What you take away probably is what the commissioner [David Stern] said the other day. There probably needs to be maybe four less teams in the league and make it more exciting with higher-quality teams. Right now, the only two teams that anybody wants to know the odds on are the Lakers and the Heat, and occasionally the Thunder. At this point, they're dominating the board. I'm not drawing bets anywhere else. The only ones I drew bets to is when LeBron [James] was deciding where he was going to go to and people were making speculation bets in the market. They were betting New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Miami; they were all trying to cover the board in where he would end up. The day or two prior to the decision, it became pretty apparent that there was a strong opinion he was going to go the Heat because that was the team more people focused on.
But you had said the sentiment toward the Heat was stronger this summer compared with now. What's the reason for that?
Rood: It's cooled off a little bit from my perspective of wagering just because the price has gotten shorter on them. If we had Lakers at 2-to-1 and the Heat at 5-to-1, which is probably where I'd think personally it should fall, we would still be taking quite a bit of money with the Heat at that price. My opinion may change on that in the next week -- if they come out and really, really show they've got a team that is going to play well together and is going to get the job done. There's teams you talk about all offseason and how great they're going to be, what they're going to do and where they're going to end up. The Cowboys are a perfect example of that. Nobody knows, but that's why they play the game. It's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. This is the nature of how it works. It goes through a cycle. It'll ramp up here again if they come out of the gate and go 12-0; everybody will start getting fever pitch about it again, and they'll see 7-to-5 on the board and think that's great value. And we might start taking more wagers on them again. If that's the case, I'd more than welcome it.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: A portion of the Las Vegas skyline. Credit: Brian Jones / Associated Press