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Betting strategy for NBA All-Star Game

By Steve Makinen  (Point Spread Weekly) 

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Giannis Antetokounmpo
© Imagn

For the third straight season, the best players in the NBA will be on hand for what has become arguably the most extraordinary all-star events in sports. No longer is the game East vs. West. Now it is two teams picked this year by captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is the third straight year James will captain one of the teams, and he is looking to extend his record to a perfect 3-0 SU and 2-0-1 ATS. A year ago, Team LeBron (-4.5) beat Team Giannis 178-164 on a total of 316. In 2018, the LeBron squad (-3) turned back that of Stephen Curry 148-145. The Over is also 11-2 in the last 13 games.

This year’s game will be in Chicago for the first time since 1988 and the first time at the United Center. Assuming no late-breaking injuries, all voted-in starters figure to be available. Many bettors find this game to be utter nonsense, but these are the world’s best players, so in that sense, it is worthy of your viewing. Of course, nothing makes a sporting event more viewable than wagering on it. Knowing the history of the game and how the rosters lay out can certainly help. I have handicapped the rosters for about 10 years and am usually able to peg the better team accurately. Last year I gauged Team LeBron to be 8.7% better than Team Giannis, making it the largest roster disparity I had ever projected for the NBA All-Star Game. Obviously, LeBron & Co. did not disappoint.

Giannis doesn’t figure to have a future as a GM after what has been a spectacular career thus far. It seems he is a far better player than he is an All-Star captain. 

For most bettors, All-Star Weekend offers a winter sabbatical from the grind of daily NBA wagering. A line, a total and numerous props are always available for the game as well as the other weekend activities. So there is value to be had. 

The game has changed a lot over the years, both in its competitive nature and the style of play. Last year’s game featured 342 points after the first try at changing the format produced “just” 293 in 2018. Of course, you can often see 280 points on any given night in the NBA nowadays. Still, the record came in 2017, when the West defeated the East 192-182, as Anthony Davis of the Pelicans stole MVP honors from back-to-back winner Russell Westbrook. The 374 points set a new benchmark, as did the posted total of 351.5. If you go back a decade or so, you’ll find All-Star totals more than 100 points lower. In other words, if you’re a fan of good defense, turn away.

James Harden, Luka Doncic and Davis figure to be the go-to guys for James’ team, while Antetokounmpo will turn to Joel Embiid and an entertaining backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young. Giannis has the highest Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA right now by at least 3.2. James is ninth, 6.7 points behind. Perhaps Team Giannis should leave the captain on the court for the full 48 minutes to give the team a better shot to win. Doncic, Harden and Davis hold the league’s Nos. 2-4 spots in PER, according to the well-respected Hollinger Player Statistics on ESPN.com. In addition, Team James’ final starter, Kawhi Leonard, is seventh, and three reserves are in the top 10. Thus, James’ team again looks far better on the surface. It appears that All-Star veteran James duped Giannis for a second straight year. 

So who wins this year’s game? Whom should we bet on? Most often, it comes down to two questions: Which roster is better, and which team will play with more cohesiveness? While it is impossible to know enough about the second factor beyond pure speculation, it is possible to evaluate the first. This can be done from perception and quantitatively. 

I have used this same unique formula to determine which roster was more talented in several recent NBA All-Star Games. The formula involves taking into account the Hollinger ratings for evaluating PER. I’ve estimated the minutes the starters and reserves will play based on recent games and have come up with a theoretical Total Team Efficiency Rating, which I use to justify a point-spread play for Sunday’s game. 

Assuming the minutes-played breakdown is somewhat accurate — and it has always been very close — the James roster is significantly better in cumulative player efficiency ratings. In fact, this year is again the widest my projections have ever been at + 9.1%, beating Team LeBron’s + 8.7% edge last year.

With the game projecting out pretty widely, I cannot back playing Team Giannis at anything less than an underdog line of + 7 or more. Last year’s game settled at -4.5, drastically underpriced. However, make sure you check the rules for this year’s game before finalizing your bets. They could throw you off, especially on the total when you consider the “24-point rule.” Here are a few of the highlights:

— The score will be reset to 0-0 after the first and second quarters, as the winners of the first, second and third quarters will receive $100,000 per quarter to donate to a Chicago-based charity of the captain’s choice.

— At the end of the third quarter, the total scores from each quarter will be combined, as it would be in a typical game. 

— The fourth quarter will not be timed. Instead, a target score will be set by adding 24 points (Kobe Bryant’s uniform number) to the total of whichever team has the lead through three quarters. For example, if the team with the lead has 100 points, the target score would be 124. The first team to reach that target wins the game. 

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