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For the first time since the 2016-17 season, the NBA’s best will play in an All-Star Game representing their conferences Sunday in Atlanta. The last three seasons of Team LeBron vs. Team Stephen or Team Giannis have stained the game, in my opinion. Returning to the conference-vs.-conference format will bring back some standing. LeBron James wound up going 3-0 as a GM, which to me was the last thing the league needed.
I’m not a huge fan of the NBA All-Star Game, as I find that all that offense is offensive to the game. Unfortunately, regular-games are trending in that direction. Still, it is the only game on the NBA board one day each winter, so most bettors are inclined to take part in the action. I have developed a quantitative system that analyzes the rosters and projects a favorite and a point spread. It has been very successful, going 7-3 SU and 6-3-1 ATS over the last 10 years.
A year ago, Team LeBron (-7) beat Team Giannis 157-155 on a total of 305.5. The game going Over the total advanced the record of that betting option to 12-2 in the last 14 games. That should come as no surprise, and I pity anyone who bets this exhibition Under the total and then chooses to watch it. In terms of sides, favorites have won six straight games outright while going 4-1-1 ATS. With the format going back to East-vs.-West, it should be noted that the West was on a 6-1 SU and ATS run before the 2018 game changed.
Assuming no late-breaking injuries, opt-outs or positive COVID-19 tests, the only voted-in starter unavailable will be Kevin Durant of the Nets. Though many fans and bettors find this game utter nonsense, these are the world’s best players, so it does make it worthy of 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 help.
The last conference-vs.-conference All-Star Game was played in 2017, when the West defeated the East 192-182. The 374 points scored set a record, as did the posted total of 351.5. That is also the highest total on record. We’ll see if the oddsmakers have the guts to test that number. I doubt it, as this year’s rosters feature a greater percentage of bigger post players who would prefer the game being slower. If you’re a fan of good possessions and solid defensive effort, turn away.
For the East, with Durant on the injured list, Jayson Tatum of the Celtics steps into the starting lineups. He joins the Nets’ Kyrie Irving, the 76ers’ Joel Embiid, the Wizards’ Bradley Beal and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis will replace Durant on the roster. The West’s starters will be LeBron James of the Lakers, Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Luka Doncic of the Mavericks, Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets and Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers. The only West player who will miss the contest is the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, who has been replaced by the Suns’ Devin Booker. On the surface, the West’s starting lineup appears superior. Finding out for sure is where my player-evaluation system comes into play.
So who’ll win this year’s game? Whom should we bet on? Most often, it comes down to two questions:
— Which roster is better?
— Which team will play with more cohesiveness?
While it is impossible to know the answer to the second question, it is possible to evaluate the first. This can be done from perception and quantitative standpoints.
I have used this 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 on ESPN.com used for evaluating player efficiency. 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 that I use to justify a point-spread play for Sunday’s game.
According to the results, assuming the minutes-played breakdown is somewhere near accurate — and it has always been very close — the West roster is slightly better in terms of cumulative player efficiency ratings, by about 3.1%. However, the last two years were the widest (+ 8.7% and + 9.1%) my projections have ever been. So on paper, this year’s game figures to be more competitive than it has been in several years.
Last year I called for not backing Team Giannis at anything less than an underdog line of + 7. That’s where the final line settled, and Team Giannis covered. The previous year was an easy favorite cover for Team LeBron (-4.5), a game I called drastically underpriced.
My current projection based on a total of 300 would have the West favored by 4.5 points. For anything higher, I would back the East; anything lower, ride the favored West.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules for this year’s game before finalizing your bets, as they could throw you off, especially on the total when you consider the “24-point rule.” Here are a few of the key rule highlights:
— Each of the first three quarters will begin with a score of 0-0 and will last 12 minutes. The winner of each of the first three 12-minute quarters will be the team that scores the most points in that quarter.
— At the start of the fourth quarter, the game clock will be turned off and a final target score will be set. Then the teams will play an untimed fourth quarter, and the first team to reach the final target score will win the game.
— The fourth quarter will not be timed. Instead, a target score will be set by adding 24 points (Kobe Bryant’s old uniform number) to the total of whichever team leads through three quarters. For instance, if the team with the lead has 100 points, the target score would be 124. The first team to reach that target would win the game.