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Shorthanded Lakers beating the odds

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Dealing with high-profile absences, the Los Angeles Lakers have befuddled betting markets heading into Monday night’s meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

— The Lakers ( 2.5) dominated Dallas 129-114 on the road Friday without Anthony Davis. The result was never in doubt after they led 45-27 at the end of the first quarter. LeBron James scored 35 points and Kyle Kuzma 26. 

— The Lakers ( 9) coasted 125-110 at Oklahoma City the next night. This time it was 41-19 Lakers after a quarter, even though Davis and James sat out. Kuzma scored 36.

Teams are supposed to get worse when stars can’t play. The Lakers covered by 17.5 points without Davis, then by 24 points in what could have been a no-show fatigue spot missing two superstars. 

No, the Lakers aren’t better tired and shorthanded. That would be clear over a much larger sample size. But those results show how tricky it can be to project results when stars are injured or ill. Limited lineups may rise to the occasion, particularly if a great shooter relishes the chance to get more looks. Opponents may lose their intensity in anticipation of an easy win. 

Oddsmakers and bettors greatly underestimated what the rest of the Lakers were capable of on the road in testers. That’s something to remember when stars are hurt or sick through the second half of the season. For now, be sure you monitor the markets and injury lists for home games Monday and Wednesday against Cleveland and Orlando, then for Saturday’s nationally televised road game in Houston (5:30 p.m., ABC).

Other notes

— Markets also misread Saturday night’s USC-UCLA game. They were correct that the Trojans were the superior side. The Bruins closed laying -1.5 points, which is less than the standard value of home-court advantage in basketball. But USC topped that expectation by about a dozen points in a 74-63 laugher. 

Some may be wondering if the market typically reduces its standard three points for home-court advantage in crosstown rivalry college games because no travel is involved. The short answer is no. Such matchups are common in major cities, creating a large sample size to study.  Quick example: Last season, UCLA was -4.5 at home but 2 at USC. That differential of 6.5 points is fractionally higher than three points per site. 

Recreational bettors who don’t read box scores should be aware that Saturday’s game was played at a very slow pace — just 63 possessions per team. A shaky UCLA defense allowed 74 points at a crawl because it let USC shoot 61% on two-pointers, 50% on treys, which has the same impact as 75% on deuces.

USC’s win has it threatening the top 70 in Ken Pomeroy’s market-respected computer rankings ( UCLA fell out of the top 130 and needs to improve quickly to garner even NIT consideration. 

The L.A. schools will host the Pac 12’s “No-Cal” schools this week. UCLA plays Stanford on Wednesday, then California on Sunday. USC sees them in reverse order Thursday and Saturday. 

— As the college and NFL postseasons wind down, the upstart XFL is set to begin in less than a month. Caesars Entertainment was the first sportsbook in Nevada to post futures prices to win the title in the eight-team league. The Los Angeles Wildcats aren’t among the early favorites, sitting midpack at 600 (risk $100 to win $600, or anything in that ratio). 

XFL championship odds: Tampa Bay 350, Dallas 350, DC 450, New York 600, Los Angeles 600, Houston 600, St. Louis 800, Seattle 1200. 

The Wildcats open their season Saturday, Feb, 8, at Houston (2 p.m., FOX). Caesars odds suggest Houston will be a slight home favorite.

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