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Bad Beats: Betting Teams Without the Superstar

   by Ben Burns - 02/10/2010

What’s your first reaction when you hear a player the caliber of Kobe Bryant is going to miss a game?

For the vast majority of sports bettors, the answer is to bet against the Lakers.

Bookmakers everywhere love that answer.

When a superstar is ruled out, bookmakers expect a surge of action on the opposing team. So naturally they inflate the line in that direction.

Bryant’s recent two-game hiatus is a perfect example. The Lakers are 2-0 straight up and against the spread without their superstar, whose status for Wednesday’s game against the surging Jazz is questionable at best.

On Monday, with Bryant’s status up in the air against the Spurs, the Lakers opened as only four-point home favorites. That line looked fishy from the get-go.

Last January, the Lakers were 7.5-point favorites at home against the Spurs. Obviously, both rosters underwent a few changes in the offseason, but the cores remained intact for Spurs and Lakers. By opening Monday’s line at Lakers -4, oddsmakers seemed to suggest that Kobe, who’s averaging 28 a game, is only worth a couple buckets to the line.

Of course, as soon as it became official that Bryant would not play, the number was bet down to -2.5 by the late-night tip-off.

Some money was lost, because the Lakers rolled right through the Spurs on their way to a 12-point victory and easy cover.

For another example, look at New Orleans without Chris Paul.

Paul is gone for 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury he suffered in late January against Chicago.

The loss of their do-everything point guard would seem to be disastrous for the Hornets. But disastrous is an exaggeration, much like the inflated point spreads the Hornets have been garnering.

The Hornets are a respectable 7-8 straight up with Paul, who also missed time early in the season. More importantly for our purposes, the Hornets are 10-5 against the spread in those games, heading into Wednesday’s game against Boston.

It will be interesting to look back on how the Hornets did against the line after Paul returns and how oddsmakers adjust the lines with him back in the lineup. But right now, Hornets backers are benefitting from coverable lines that are exaggerated because of Paul’s absence.

Those are just two examples of teams exceeding expectations without their superstar. It happens every year, and can produce profitable situations for bettors who look past the obvious answer.

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