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Bettin' the Finals

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The NBA Finals begin Thursday when the Celtics and Lakers battle in Game 1 from TD Banknorth Garden. With only one game per night, gamblers are left with few options on how to wager on the finals. Still, we have a few days to tackle the best-of-seven battle.

The Line

Boston opened up as a three-point home favorite for Game 1, while the total is listed at 193. On Nov. 23, 2007 the Celtics dropped the Lakers 107-94 as an eight-point home favorite, shooting 50 percent from the floor, including eight bombs from 3-point land.

The short price on Game 1 seems like a bit on an insult to the Celtics, who have gone 10-1 at home in this yearís playoffs. It tells me that Los Angeles will most likely be laying anywhere from six to eight points at home, and it could move either way depending on the outcome of the first two battles.

The 193-point total is the highest Ďover/underí for the Celtics in the playoffs and is one of the lowest numbers for the Lakers. Los Angeles watched the Ďunderí cash in all five games against San Antonio.

Days of Rest

One thing to keep an eye on in this series is the schedule and the amount of days off. For those of you who donít know, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was the reason the league switched from a 2-2-1-1-1 format to a 2-3-2 because the travel between the East and West Coasts was too much for everybody involved.

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Both clubs will be rested for the first game on Thursday and then they get two days off for Game 2 and Game 5. Games 3, 4, 6 and 7 will all be played on one-day of rest.

Game 1 might be a solid look at the Lakers, who own an 8-2 straight up and 7-3 against the spread record on three days of rest or more. Boston has been a tad rusty, owning a mediocre 3-3 record both SU and ATS.

On two days rest, both the Lakers (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) and Celtics (11-3 SU, 8-5-1 ATS) have been solid for backers.

And one-day of rest has been good as well for both, watching Boston (48-15 SU, 36-27 ATS) and L.A. (39-19 SU, 31-24 ATS) both dominate opponents this year.

Winning on the Road

The Lakers have posted a 4-3 SU and 4-2-1 ATS road record in the postseason, while Boston has gone 2-7-1 both SU and ATS, earning both victories against Detroit in the conference finals.

Despite postseason struggles away from home, Boston still owns the best road ledger (33-17 SU, 28-20 ATS) in the NBA. Los Angeles isnít far behind, boasting a 31-17 SU and 31-15 ATS mark.

Boston dropped L.A. 110-91 on Dec. 30 as a three-point road underdog at Staples Center, handing the Lakers a rare double-digit loss at home.

Series Price

Itís very rare to see the team that doesnít own home court advantage listed as the favorite, but thatís the case in this best-of-seven series. Los Angeles has been made a 1/2 favorite (Bet $200 to win $100), while Boston can be purchased at an 8/5 price (Bet $100 to win $160).

The Western Conference has taken seven of the last nine championships, including a three-peat by the Lakers from 1999 to 2002. Boston hasnít made an appearance in the finals since the 1986-87 playoffs, when they lost to the Lakers in four games.

The line seems fair considering the West is definitely the better than the East as a whole, plus Boston struggled against Atlanta and Cleveland in the first two rounds before stepping up against Detroit in the conference finals.

Los Angeles coasted past Denver in the first round and then stifled both Utah and San Antonio to reach the finals.

The price isnít too high for the Lakers, considering the numbers against the Nuggets (-750), Jazz (-250) and Spurs (-220) were all higher. Boston has been favored in all three of its postseason battles, so catching money is certainly generous.

Exact Series Result

For those of you not familiar with this future wager, itís pretty simple. Just predict what team will win the best-of-seven series and in how many games, with 4, 5, 6 and 7 being the only choices.

Itís also a much smarter bet in terms of risk vs. reward.

The Lakersí Phil Jackson has won nine championships as a head coach, three coming in Los Angeles and six with Chicago. In his nine trips to the NBA Finals, the legendary coach has never faced a Game 7. Perhaps this is the year he gets tested in a decisive battle.

 
Exact Series Results from Sportsbook.com
Outcome Odds
Celtics 4 Games 15-1
Celtics 5 Games 8-1
Celtics 6 Games 5-1
Celtics 7 Games 4-1
Lakers 4 Games 11-2
Lakers 5 Games 4-1
Lakers 6 Games 3-1
Lakers 7 Games 7-2
 

Looking at the odds above, you can actually find yourself value and limit your risk compared to playing the Lakers on the series price.

If Boston does win this series, most would expect them to claim the crown at home in either Game 6 or 7. That being said, play one-unit on the Celtics to win in six (5/1) and seven (4/1) games. If Boston stops L.A. 4-2, you profit $400 ($500-$100). If it goes to Game 7, then you have a $300 ($400-$100) profit.

The Lakers have finished off the Nuggets in four, Jazz in six and Spurs in five throughout this yearís postseason. The 2-3-2 format has the Lakers playing the middle games at Staples Center. Winning four of five against the team with the leagueís best regular season record could be a reach, which leaves you with Lakers winning in six (3/1) or seven (7/2) games. If you play both, youíll profit $200 ($300 -$100) if the L.A. wins 4-2 or $250 ($350-100) if they close it out in Game 7.

Historians following the Lakers-Celtics rivalry have watched the two teams go at it 10 times in the NBA finals. The most common outcome in the 10 battles has been six and seven, both happening four times a piece. There has been one four-game sweep and one series last just five games.

Most Valuable Player

If the Lakers capture the championship then most would expect the regular season Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant, to repeat the feat in the postseason. Oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com have listed him as an overwhelming 1/2 favorite (Bet $200 to win $100) to do so. Bostonís Kevin Garnett (5/2) and Paul Pierce (9/2) are the second and third choices behind Bryant.

Both Garnett (21.5 PPG) and Pierce (26.5 PPG) had success in Bostonís two wins against Los Angeles this year, but itís been the former Kansas Jayhawk (Pierce) that has been taking over late in games. And thatís what the voters will see, especially if Boston wins the title.

It would be surprising to see Bryant not win the award, especially if the Lakers take it all. You could place long shot wagers on Pau Gasol (+750) or Lamar Odom (+1500) but your probably wasting money. While Gasol and Odom arenít expected to upstage Bryant, gamblers should recall that San Antonioís Tony Parker took home the award last year as the third choice behind Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Chris David can be reached at cdavid@vegasinsider.com

  
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