Saturday, February 19, 2011

2011 NBA All Star Weekend Preview (sport, gambling)

I have to say that I'm pretty excited about this year's NBA All Star Weekend. The rosters for the main game are completely stacked, and there's a lot of hype about what Blake Griffin will do in the dunk contest. It wasn't always this exciting, though. I was watching a dunk contest marathon on NBATV, and there were some lean years between the epic Vince Carter year and the Dwight Howard Superman year. There are a lot of events throughout the weekend, so I'm going to go through them in order.

Friday

Nothing really interesting here, so I didn't bother to preview it. It was obvious Justin Bieber was going to win the celebrity game MVP. I mean, can you even set a line on anything determined by text votes where Bieber is one of the choices? The rookie/sophomore game wasn't much of a game either. They somehow managed to score a staggering 288 points combined in two 20-minute halves.

Saturday

Haier Shooting Stars

Team Texas is the deserving favorite here (+175) when you consider that their current player Dirk Nowitzki is one of the best shooters in the league right now, and their legend Kenny Smith was a shooter back in his playing days. This event, however, essentially comes down to the half-court shot, which is more or less a crapshoot. If you're a real degenerate who needs some action here, I would say that Team Texas is actually very good value compared to the other teams (ranging from +180 to +200), as I expect that they will get through the other shots in a much quicker time.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

I actually like the concept of this event, although I wish they could do more with it. Perhaps an obstacle where they have to dribble two balls, one in each hand. The preliminary lines set at Bodog were much more generous than the lines at the sportsbook I have access to, which are Chris Paul (+200), Derrick Rose (+200), John Wall (+250), Russell Westbrook (+200), and Stephen Curry (+250).

My recommendation would be to take two horses in this race. I would choose the proven Derrick Rose (2009 winner) and the young shooter Stephen Curry. First, a look back at previous winners shows that except for Steve Nash, all of them were strong, driving guard types such as Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams. Because of the zigzag obstacle course, pure speed is pretty useless, as evidenced by Tony Parker's dismal showings the two years that he participated. So picking based on physical strength, I choose Derrick Rose. The other thing that's important is actually making the "passes" and the shot. Because there are no defenders or any decision-making processes involved in this, making a "pass" is essentially putting a ball through a hole. On that front, Stephen Curry is the best of this group at doing that, despite not being a point guard.

Foot Locker 3 Pt Contest

The lines are Daniel Gibson (+300), Dorell Wright (+400), James Jones (+450), Kevin Durant (+250), Paul Pierce (+350), and Ray Allen (+165). I believe there's often very good value in the lines for this event, and I remember picking Daequan Cook a couple years back as a value pick at over +300. Except for last year's win by Paul Pierce (which I consider a fluke), this contest has typically been for shooters and not scorers. So I would immediately throw out KD and Pierce. Ray Allen won this event 10(!) years ago, but I think he's more of a catch-and-shoot rhythm shooter now, and offers little value at that price. I think Jones belongs in that same category, so I'm not interested. That leaves Gibson, a terrific value for the only shooter in this event with a career 3P% > .425. I think Gibson is the money play here, but I also wouldn't mind piecing off some of that action to Wright at the big odds.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

My favorite slam dunk contest performances in the new millenium are, in order, Vince Carter's epic performance in the 2000 contest (which actually overshadowed two impressive performances by T-Mac and Steve Francis), Dwight Howard's Superman year, Gerald Green's performance that same year (overshadowed by Howard, but he did the candle-blowing dunk and a between-the-legs shoeless dunk), and Dwight Howard's elevated rim dunk the year he lost to Nate Robinson. I really don't think Nate should have won that year, but that's what happens when we move to an age where fan voting dominates everything. If people could vote for Bieber, they'd probably name him the dunk contest winner too.

The fan voting plays a major factor in the lines, making Blake Griffin a prohibitive favorite at -500. Not only because of what he might do in the dunk contest, but because he has the largest fanbase by far compared to the other contestants such as Demar DeRozan (+400), JaVale McGee (+650), and Serge Ibaka (+800). No play here. Just sit back and enjoy.

Sunday

This is quite a main event. So many quality guys were snubbed. The starting rosters may contain some of the best talent ever assembled. Both sides are actually pretty even. There's a lot to look forward to in this showcase, but there are also a couple of interesting lines to look at.

Full game o/u 268. Historically the line has been in the 262-265 range, but with all the big names this year, the line has been bumped up. Given that the rookie/sophomore game resulted in 288 with only 40 minutes of game time, one would think that this would be an easy over bet.

Indeed, my pick is the over, and my only concern is that this game doesn't really have too many deadeye shooters, especially from beyond the three. However, that should be offset by the fact that every player on both rosters is capable of playing well in the open court, and I expect just a ridiculous pace of fast break opportunities. There are no Shaqs on this roster. Nobody is going to post up. If you take a drink for every dunk, you will die of alcohol poisoning.

But an even better bet might be the first half over 134.5. Just a half point premium for the first half, when legs are fresher and the game outcome is far from being relevant. If the game is close, there's always a possibility that the teams slow down and tighten up in the 4th quarter.

I'm looking forward to an entertaining weekend of "basketball", but I'm also here to remind everyone that when the bookies are faced with setting lines for events like these, they tend to be cautious with the favorites and leave some good value sitting around on some of the underdogs.

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