Why You Should Bet the Lakers to Miss the NBA Playoffs AND Win the NBA Title
There are two ways to view the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the postseason.
The Lakers are 40-38 on the season. When LeBron James and Anthony Davis play, they are 17-15, a 44-win pace over the full season. They are 20th in offense and 13th in defense, schedule, and Pace-adjusted per Dunks And Threes. They are perfectly average. They are likely to lose in the play-in tournament and miss the playoffs entirely.
The Lakers are 15-8 since the trade deadline. They are 18th in offense and first in defense at Cleaning the Glass in that span. They are 6-1 with LeBron James since adding D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jared Vanderbilt at the deadline. They have the championship-proven duo of James and Anthony Davis, along with shooting and an elite defense. They are a serious title contender.
Both of these things cannot be true.
Both of these things are currently true.
Both of these things are worth betting.
How the Lakers Can Miss the NBA Playoffs
The Lakers enter Tuesday night seventh in the Western Conference, tied with the New Orleans Pelicans, L.A. Clippers, and Golden State Warriors in the loss column. They face the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday. The Clippers have already clinched tiebreaker over the Lakers. If the Lakers lose to the Clippers, their chances of finishing in the top-six go down significantly.
The Warriors face the Thunder at home Tuesday. They have two more road games as the worst road team in the league: Friday against the Sacramento Kings, who will be locked into the No. 3 seed, and Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers, who are tanking their faces off.
The Clippers face the Lakers with a four-day rest advantage, then face those same tanking Trail Blazers and the Phoenix Suns, who should be locked into the No. 4 seed by Sunday.
The odds are high that the Warriors go 3-0. If the Clippers beat the Lakers, the odds are high that they go 3-0.
That would put the Lakers in the Play-In Tournament.
This is excluding scenarios where the Lakers lose to the UtahJazz in one of their two matchups which, while unlikely, is within the realm of possibility. (Just ask the MinnesotaTimberwolves, who have a similar record to the Lakers and lost to the Blazers Sunday.)
If the Lakers are in the Play-In tournament, they’re not as insulated as you might think. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers still rank 25th in 3-point makes per 100 possessions. They’re vulnerable to shooting variance.
Since the trade deadline, the Lakers have the best allowed effective field goal percentage in the league and the 15th-best expected eFG% based on where opponents are shooting from. If that variance were to flip, it could get dicey quickly.
Plus, there’s the injury factor. LeBron is very likely to get offseason foot surgery. One setback or a subsequent injury caused by overcompensation would be significant. I don’t need to spill ink on the risk with Davis when it comes to injury.
Every team has those vulnerabilities to various degrees, but in a play-in tournament situation, it could be the difference.
The Lakers are +730 to miss the playoffs. The implied odds are 12%. That figure is too low for the quality of teams they’ll face, the weak opponent slate that has put them in this position, and the inherent Lakers bump that they will get in any market.
How the Lakers Can Win the NBA Title
If the Lakers do make the playoffs, their odds of making a run are pretty high.
Let’s say they wind up in the No. 8 seed. No one is a tougher matchup for Nikola Jokic on both ends of the floor than Davis.
This Lakers team isn’t as good as the one that beat the Nuggets in the Conference Finals in 2020, but it has all the makeup of a team to beat them:
- Davis to outplay Jokic and get him in foul trouble
- James to apply pressure on the Nuggets defense
A guard (Russell) who can punish Jokic in drop coverage
The ability to stagger and beat up on the Nuggets’ terrible bench
The Nuggets have never won against the Lakers in a playoff series. Ever.
Let’s say they get the No. 7 seed and face the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have faced a lot of adversity this season on their way to 50 wins and the No. 2 seed. But a Lakers series not only means a matchup where Jaren Jackson Jr. will live in perpetual foul trouble but there’s all the extra drama of the earlier kerfuffle with Shannon Sharpe. It will be a big spotlight on a young team that doesn’t always play with the poise necessary to win games in the playoffs.
Plus, Memphis’ half-court offense is its weakness. That’s not the thing you want to struggle with when facing the Lakers, even if their defense is elite.
Let’s say they get the No. 6 seed.
The number of times the 2002 series, where the Lakers got a favorable whistle and bounced the Kings’ best chance at a title, would be referenced and asked about is already a distraction.
The Kings’ defense is porous, which would boost the weakest part of the Lakers. The Kings have never been in the playoffs with this group. Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes are the only two players with serious playoff runs in their pockets.
The Lakers would be the more experienced team; asking the Kings in their first emotional playoff run to beat LeBron is a tall task.
The biggest obstacle to a Lakers title run would obviously be the Suns. But Kevin Durant’s injury situation at this age is worrisome at best, and that’s before Chris Paul’s nightmarish history of bad luck injuries in the postseason.
The Suns also haven’t really played together, much like the Lakers. Are they ready to face the type of challenge a fully realized version of the Lakers could present?
Now, all of this is built around a 30-1 title bet, which means they’d have to beat the East as well. The Lakers might be live in that series but would be huge underdogs. You’d still have a great hedge opportunity with a 30-1 ticket depending on the matchup.
Finally, consider this: If you bet $100 on the Lakers to win the championship every single season since 2000, you’d be up $105 going into this postseason. If they win on this 30-1 ticket, you’d be $3,100.
The arc of history in the NBA bends towards the Lakers winning the title.
Since 2000, between the Lakers and LeBron, the two entities have combined for nine of 23 titles. Literally, 40% of all NBA titles in the past 23 seasons have been won either by James or the Lakers.
Why I’m Betting Both Outcomes
There’s certainly a healthy percentage of outcomes where the Lakers make the playoffs and are eliminated before the Finals. But the specific range where you cannot hedge a 30-1 ticket effectively is just: lose in the first round, lose in the second round. From there, at 30-1, you have options, even if the “to miss the playoffs” bet is sunk.
I have bet the New Orleans Pelicans to win the West, along with the Nuggets, Kings, Clippers, and Suns, at various prices. But the Lakers are a unique team in a unique situation where we can bet two very extreme outcomes with good payout on both ends.
Boom or bust. Glory or failure. Bet it both ways.
Pick: Lakers +730 to Miss the NBA Playoffs
Pick: Lakers +3000 to Win the NBA Title
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