NBA betting reset: The 2020-21 season has highlighted the greatness of LeBron James and the Lakers

Frank Schwab
·4 min read

One important question remained after Super Bowl LV was finished.

February is typically one of the dead spots in the sporting calendar, but there are still sports going on. Including a great story in the NBA with arguably the biggest star in sports.

When the last NBA season ended, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions. It was a unique accomplishment, with James becoming the first player to win NBA Finals MVP with three teams.

With the weird abbreviated offseason, there was speculation that James and other Lakers could take more nights off than usual. James’ MVP odds reflected that. He’s 36 and it made sense if he took a few nights off.

Instead, James is the favorite to win MVP, which would make even more history.

LeBron James is having a big season

The MVP odds at BetMGM have shifted, and James is the new favorite.

James opened at +800 but is down to +250. In the MVP market, 27 percent of tickets and 37 percent of the money is on James, which is by far the most in both categories.

James is averaging 25.6 points, eight rebounds and eight assists per game. He looks as explosive as ever. The most impressive stat might be that he hasn’t missed any of the Lakers’ games yet. If James does win MVP, he’d be the oldest winner in NBA history.

The other big moves in the MVP market tell a story of the first part of the NBA season. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has had a big start to the season and has moved to the second favorite behind James, from +2500 to +400. Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers has had a big move too, from +4000 to +550, behind only James and Jokic. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks star who has won two straight MVPs, has shifted from +500 preseason odds to +1200.

There has been no change in the championship favorite at BetMGM. It’s the Lakers, who have the second-best record in the NBA behind the streaking Utah Jazz. The Lakers’ title odds opened at +300 and are down to +250. More than twice as much money has been bet on the Lakers to win the title than any other team.

The biggest move is on the Jazz, who opened at +5000 and are down to +1600. The Brooklyn Nets’ odds moved too, after trading for James Harden. The Nets opened at +900 and are currently +375.

“We've seen plenty of movement in the NBA futures market,” said Seamus Magee, sports trader at BetMGM. “The Nets and Jazz have had their odds shorten to win the championship, while Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are now among the favorites to win MVP. But at the end of the day, the Lakers and LeBron are the most popular bets to win their respective futures markets.”

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are having another big season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are having another big season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Who has been best against the spread?

As any bettor can tell you, just because the Lakers are one of the top-two teams in the NBA doesn’t mean they’ve been a good bet against the spread.

After Monday’s games the Lakers were 19-6 straight up but just 12-13 against the spread. That was tied with the New York Knicks for the 16th best ATS record in the NBA, according to The Action Network, and one of the few categories in which the Knicks are considered equal to the Lakers.

Utah has been the best team to bettors this season. The Jazz were 19-5 before Tuesday’s game and an impressive 17-7 against the spread. Utah kept rolling with a 122-108 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, easily covering the 5.5-point spread. The Jazz are balanced. They are the only team that is top five in offensive and defensive efficiency. Heading into Tuesday’s games they were fourth in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency. Donovan Mitchell is a star, Rudy Gobert is an all-star big man and the Jazz have many solid role players beyond them.

The next three teams on the top of the ATS standings as of Tuesday were a surprise: the Suns (14-9 overall, 14-9 ATS), the Hornets (12-13 overall, 14-10-1 ATS) and the Spurs (14-10 overall, 14-10 ATS).

The worst team in the NBA against the spread is the Miami Heat, a team that made the NBA Finals last season but was hit hard by injuries and COVID-19-related issues. They should get better with players coming back.

Unlike last season in the bubble, there have been some COVID-19 postponements and other related issues this NBA season. But the season is still going, with some great stories and subplots taking shape, and a lot of Lakers-related futures tickets looking good.

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