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December 19, 2014

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NBA Finals in Vegas: What the odds say about home court format for Heat, Spurs

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) before the start of Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Sunday, June 9, 2013 in Miami.

LeBron James has experienced both the supposed greatest benefit and biggest drawback to the NBA Finals’ 2-3-2 home court format over the past couple of years.

A season ago, James and the Heat split the first two games of the best-of-seven finals in Oklahoma City and returned to Miami as a slight favorite in the series. They more than lived up to the billing at American Airlines Arena, winning and covering in all three home games to finish the Thunder.

When Miami found itself in the opposite position two years ago, the ending wasn’t as happy. The Heat and the Mavericks were tied at one game apiece after a stretch in Miami, but Dallas seized control by winning two of three at home and ultimately took the series.

The King’s conclusion on the controversial home court topic?

“It doesn’t matter,” James said in the press conference after game two in the 2013 NBA Finals, where he led the Heat to a 104-83 home victory to even the series with the Spurs.

The Vegas odds respectfully disagree. Using a projected minus-130 money line in San Antonio’s favor for the upcoming three contests — an inexact but worthwhile method — the Spurs have approximately an 18 percent chance to finish the Heat and win the series in Sunday’s game five.

Reschedule just one of those games for Miami, as the rest of the NBA Playoffs are set up, and San Antonio’s chance of winning the championship in five drops to just below 10 percent.

Sick of percentages yet? Didn’t think so because here’s one more: Miami, despite all the above pro-San Antonio rhetoric, has a 62 percent chance to defend its championship.

The Heat are now minus-175 (risking $1.75 to win $1) to win the series with the Spurs coming back at plus-155 (risking $1 to win $1.55). Most sports books opened the number slightly lower after game two — Station Casinos had the Heat minus-170 — but adjusted when money came in on Miami.

And why wouldn’t it after the Heat clobbered the Spurs despite a careless first half from James and an absentee second half from Dwyane Wade? If Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Mike Miller — who combined for 41 points on 61 percent shooting — are even half as efficient the rest of the series, San Antonio doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Early indications are that bettors jumped back on the Heat wave. The game three look-ahead line at William Hill sports books had Miami favored by three points. Several others initially posted minus-2.5, but the number went down another half-point by Monday morning.

Game three has proved critical in NBA Finals series since the league implemented the 2-3-2 system in 1985. This year marks the 13th time teams split the opening two matchups.

The winner of the third game has gone on to take the series in 11 of the prior 12 instances — the Heat in 2011 being the only exception. Eight of those 11 eventual champions were the road team staring ahead at three games on their opponent’s floor.

Three straight road games might not be such a formidable hindrance after all.

LeBron could be right. The odds could be wrong. Or vice versa.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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