NBA betting: Why the Lakers are primed for a second-half surge

ByTyler Fulghum ESPN logo
Thursday, February 8, 2024

We've seen this movie from Hollywood before. Spurred by a roster re-tool at the trade deadline, last year's Los Angeles Lakers surged in the final two months of the season. The Lakers qualified for the Western Conference playoffs through the play-in, then made an improbable run to the Western Conference Finals before being swept away by the eventual champion Denver Nuggets in a series that was far more competitive than 4-0 outcome would indicate.

Fast forward a year and we're left wondering if a similar story arch is in store for the Lake Show. We haven't yet reached the trade deadline so there's still plenty of time for Rob Pelinka to mix things up yet again, but the recent three-game winning streak to start the month of February has certainly caught our attention.

The Lakers beat the Boston Celtics -- the best team in the league -- in Boston without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They were 15.5-point underdogs but controlled the game from start to finish. They followed that up with another upset win at Garden against a Knicks team that had nine games in a row, this time LeBron and AD were on the floor and AD specifically took over the game in the pivotal 4th quarter as a one-man wrecking crew on defense. They closed out the Grammy road trip with a breezy win in Charlotte and now return to Arena to host the... Denver Nuggets Thursday night. A win over the team that swept them out of the playoffs could further indicate the Lakers, who lest we forget won the inaugural In-Season Tournament, are primed for another late season run.

What should you be betting on this team?

Los Angeles Lakers to win NBA Championship (+1500) -- NO

The value is not here for a team that is playing its best ball, but still has some major roster issues. The Jared Vanderbilt injury may seem small, but it is far from insignificant. He unlocks their defensive ceiling playing alongside Davis. IF he misses the rest of the season, that is a major blow. The Lakers still feel like they don't have enough shooting around LeBron. Maybe this changes by the deadline, but right now this roster doesn't feel like a legit championship contender. I would like to see this price north of +2000 before considering it.

Lakers to win Western Conference (+1200) -- Only if you're a Lakers fan

This price is a bit more appealing. This team did make it to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, and Playoff LeBron should NEVER be discounted. While the Western Conference may seem deep on paper, is it really? The Thunder and Timberwolves have almost zero playoff equity on their resume. Sure, they're objectively great teams, but is that lack of experience something you want to bet on in the NBA postseason? The Nuggets are legit. The Clippers are playing like an offensive juggernaut. The Suns have a ridiculous Big 3. The Lakers (likely) won't have to beat all three of those teams to advance to the Finals, only two of them. Again, for Playoff LeBron, we've seen that movie many times before. Only as a Lakers fan is this price palatable.

Pacific Division Winner (+8000) -- NO

I love a longshot play, but there's just not enough games left on the schedule. They're 8.5 GB of the Clippers in the division, but sitting in 4th place behind the Kings and Suns, too. I would love to say this is a good bet for longshot value, but it's just not playable. We would need something larger than +10000 for this miracle to happen.

LeBron JamesMVP (+50000) -- NOPE

Probably deserves more consideration than this, but he's got no shot.

Austin Reaves sixth man of the year (+5000) -- I wish I could, but I can't ...

About a month and a half ago, I wrote a betting article about this market and Reaves was basically a betting co-favorite with Tim Hardaway Jr. Now he's a 50-to-1 longshot! Perhaps it's because Reaves is now being used by Darvin Ham in the starting lineup, and it appears that is actually a better use of his talents. Reaves is playing better individually, and the tam has found more success with him starting as opposes to coming off the bench. I thought he had a real shot for the award 6-7 weeks ago, but now it appears the market has completely turned against him.

Anthony DavisDefensive Player of the Year (+6600) -- YES!

This is my favorite way to bet the Lakers at the moment. Davis has always been considered one of the best defenders in the modern NBA, yet he's never won this award. Rudy Gobert, the odds-on favorite, has won the award three different times. Could we see some voter fatigue? Yes, the Timberwolves do have the best defense in the league and Gobert is the anchor, but Davis' impact feels more singular when watching the teams play. If you want to look at metrics, Gobert leads the league with 3.9 Defensive Win Shares. Davis is sitting at 3.0 (tied third). When it comes to Defensive Box Plus/Minus, Gobert is at 1.9, Davis is at 1.8. If the Lakers make another late season run and climb the Western Conference standings, AD is going to have plenty of nationally televised opportunities to add to his case. Outside of Gobert, only OG Anunoby (injured), Chet Holmgren (rookie), and Jarrett Allen have shorter odds than Davis. He seems like a longshot at the moment, but to me I think his realistic chances are better than 1.5%, which is what his current odds reflect.