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Most of the NBA playoff prop odds will be released on Thursday once the jumbled mess that is the Western Conference is finally resolved on Wednesday, the final day of the regular season. But one prop currently up at Bodog.com is betting on which player will go further in the playoffs (maybe you’ve heard of them): LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.
Currently LeBron is the -150 favorite, while Kobe is +120.
On the surface, this might seem like an easy bet – LeBron – because the Cavs have the overall home-court advantage and because they probably have no true challengers in the East other than Orlando (sorry Boston and Atlanta, but its true). Meanwhile, the Lakers could actually be pushed in the first round by the Thunder -- OKC at worse will run the Lakers ragged with their young legs -- and then likely have to get through someone like Denver or Phoenix followed by Utah or Dallas. That’s an incredibly tough road. Plus the Lakers will have to play a potential Game 7 in the Finals in either Cleveland or Orlando.
For what it’s worth, Orlando was 1-1 against the Lakers this season but won the most recent matchup, 96-94, on March 7 in Orlando. The Cavs swept L.A. this year, holding the Lakers to just 87 points in each meeting. LeBron has won seven of his last nine head-to-head meetings against Kobe.
In my mind, you don’t base this prop bet on either LeBron or Kobe but on Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.
Can the Magic’s Howard dominate the post against Cleveland like he did last season? Well, that’s why the Cavs brought in Shaquille O’Neal. In four games against the Cavs, Howard averaged 18.5 points and (62.5 percent shooting) and 11.8 rebounds. But Howard’s best game came in the meeting that Shaq was out injured, and the Magic dropped two of three against Cleveland when Shaq was in the lineup. And now that the Cavs have Zydrunas Ilgauskas back, it would seem they have enough big bodies to cause Howard trouble – or at least send him to the line often.
As for Bynum, he missed L.A.’s final 13 regular-season games with a left Achilles tendon injury. But he said following a workout Tuesday that he is on target for Game 1 against the Thunder, although certainly Bynum will need some time to get into game shape and play significant minutes. Bynum is averaging 15 points and 8.3 rebounds this season while shooting 57 percent from the field. The main problem when he is injured is that Lamar Odom is then thrust into the starting role and the Laker bench is terrible without Odom – for example, Portland's second team outscored the Lakers’ reserves 5-8 on Sunday.
So what’s the best bet here? Both LeBron and Kobe will enter the playoffs pretty well-rested. Both Shaq and Bynum are coming back from long injury absences. The East seems a much easier path than the West. But the West also dominated the East this season to the tune of 246-203, and I think that type of challenge will help the Lakers. In addition, how can you not favor L.A. coach Phil Jackson over Cavs counterpart Mike Brown? If Bynum is healthy, the Lakers still have the most talent. So take Kobe at +120.