Los Angeles Lakers Futures Market: When to Bet on LeBron James & Co. to Repeat

Los Angeles Lakers Futures Market: When to Bet on LeBron James & Co. to Repeat article feature image

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James.

The Los Angeles Lakers will have to play their way into the NBA playoffs.

The Lakers finished as the seven seed after the (extremely complicated) standings set on Sunday night. They will face the Golden State Warriors in the 7-vs.-8 play-in game on Wednesday night.

The winner will get the No. 7 seed and face the Phoenix Suns. The loser will have to face the winner of the No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 10 San Antonio Spurs for the No. 8 seed.

We'll have complete coverage of the way to bet that play-in game (Lakers are 4.5-point favorites as of this writing, down from 7-points). But for right now, let's go to a bigger (and more lucrative) question.

Is this the best value you'll be able to bet the Lakers?

I broached this subject back in early April when the Lakers were +350 to win another championship. I didn't think they would go any lower than that.  I was wrong based on two contingencies that occurred.

One, LeBron James' ankle held him out longer than I expected, and then he re-injured it. In April, every sportsbook rep I spoke with started with "barring an injury setback" and sure enough, that happened. I thought James would be back by late April, and he barely made it back before the end of the regular season.

Two, the Blazers got red hot. Portland closed their final 15 games with a 10-5 record and that, combined with clinching tiebreaker over the Lakers while James was out, got them the six seed.

So now, the Lakers are two games away from elimination. Oddsmakers were split on whether being involved in the play-in game would alter their odds. But the important thing is that once it became apparent that the Lakers were likely to fall into the play-in, the books already adjusted for it.

As of this writing, the Lakers are between +400 and +500 to win the NBA title.

So, is now the best time to bet the Lakers?

No, you actually want to wait a little bit.

Objectively, of course, the odds have value. At +500, the implied odds of a Lakers title are 16.67%. Clearly, they have a better chance than that by any objective analysis.

However, the play-in is just a different beast. James tweaked that ankle once again on Sunday, though after the game he said it was fine and wouldn't be an issue.

But the bigger problem is just the instability of one-game samples. The Warriors beating the Lakers wouldn't be shocking; Stephen Curry goes supernova and the Warriors' defense locks up a supporting cast that you're not terrified of, outside of Anthony Davis, and the Warriors win a rock fight by having the best slingshot (Curry) in the game.

The Lakers losing two games would be shocking … but it's not impossible. A big reason the NBA plays seven-game series (alongside the huge difference in money) is that it insulates the best teams from being eliminated due to one bad shooting night or a good shooting night.

But what if the Warriors out-tough the Lakers and then Los Angeles go cold and Memphis gets a hot shooting night from Dillon Brooks/Desmond Bane/Grayson Allen (if he were to play)? That's a possible outcome in a one-game environment. Grizzlies vs. Lakers in a three-game series? No question. But one game?

There's too much risk there.

The Lakers' implied odds vs. the Warriors are 65% to win. If they play the Grizzlies, they are likely to be 9.5 point favorites, making them -538 on the moneyline for an 84.4% implied probability in that game. (If they play the Spurs, that line and implied probability will be even higher). So their odds of losing both, barring injury, are approximately 6.5%.

However, after the play-in game, the Lakers will have escaped a more random outcome scenario and the odds will still be favorable. Los Angeles' title odds before the risk of play-in presented itself were along the lines of +250. That's just 28.57% implied.

"Lakers odds won't change too significantly, given we have them priced -5000 to make the playoffs out of the play-in," Jay Croucher, head of trading for PointsBet USA, told The Action Network. "They will shorten slightly if they win the (Warriors) game by getting into the kinder side of the bracket. The Lakers currently have equal odds with the Clippers for the title and West, and will become slight favorites if they beat GSW."

So if we can expect the Lakers not to move beyond +300, there will still be value after the play-in and before the playoffs begin.

I'm personally of the opinion that the only teams that can beat the Lakers in a seven-game series are the Clippers, Nets and Bucks, and I think it's doubtful Milwaukee will make it.

A Lakers team that would have a path of: Phoenix Suns ➡ Denver Nuggets/Portland Trail Blazers ➡ Los Angeles Clippers/Utah Jazz would have to have better than 29.57% implied.

Do I think the Lakers are losing to the Warriors?

No. But it's very plausible in a one-game environment.

Do I think if they do lose to the Warriors, they are losing to the Grizzlies or Spurs?

Not at all. But the risk is there.

Finally, the move may be to wait until after the results of the play-in Game 1 vs. the Warriors. If they lose that, the Lakers' odds may have to lengthen based on the inherent risk of it coming down to one game vs. two. So either way, you want to wait until at least after the Warriors game before betting the Lakers' title odds.

The Lakers are a safe bet to make, especially with where their odds will be, in the playoffs. But they need to get there first. The risk is too high until a Lakers team that has a season from hell has actually gotten there, and when they do, you'll still get value.

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