It wasn’t holiday news oddsmakers or sports bettors wanted to hear. When LeBron James was scratched from the Lakers’ lineup with a thoracic muscle strain before Sunday night’s date with Denver, it meant his status would be uncertain for the Christmas game everyone has been waiting for.
That, of course, is Wednesday’s clash with the Clippers at Staples Center. The league scheduled it as a must-see event, part of a quintuple-header highlighting the co-favorites to win the Western Conference and NBA titles.
In the markets:
— Sportsbooks were hoping for heavy (and split) betting action, generating much more traffic than usual on Christmas. Stars like James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard have a national and global following, and Lakers-Clippers would drive interest in all legal jurisdictions.
— Handicappers were hoping for a pure read on how oddsmakers and sharps were Power Rating the two powers. You can’t get any cleaner than full strength on a neutral court. The opening line would tell observers which team oddsmakers thought was superior. Early betting would expose sharp sentiment (the term “sharp” reflects how pro bettors “sharpen” opening lines).
Now the market must wait for news on James’ status. Even if he’s cleared, an adjustment may be made because he’s not 100%. Foot traffic in sportsbooks will be lighter.
Sunday’s five-point line adjustment from Lakers -7.5 to -2.5 after the scratch gives us a sense of James’ estimated market value. Observers can at least use that for guidance Wednesday if he’s the only high-impact player to miss the game.