OKC favored, but Miami has value

Evenly matched teams make perfect storm for betting on NBA Finals

Updated: June 11, 2012, 2:58 PM ET
By Dave Tuley | ESPN Insider
 LeBron James and Kevin DurantIssac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron James and Kevin Durant have brought their poker faces and a bettor's dream to the Finals.

LAS VEGAS -- Sometimes the sports books here win because things work out the way they expect them to, but the thing that really makes the books hard to beat is sometimes they get lucky, too.

Take the NBA Finals, for example. Less than two weeks ago, May 30 to be exact, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat were both up 2-0 in their conference championship series. Even though some books had some future-book liability from early in the season when the Spurs were available at around 30-1, they thought that was the price to pay to have a marquee battle for the title.

As we've all seen, the Oklahoma City Thunder ran off four straight wins to dispose of the Spurs while the Heat, despite dropping three straight to the Boston Celtics (another team that had taken some action at 30-1 to 50-1 around midseason before making a late rush), re-rallied to win Games 6 and 7 to create the perfect storm of NBA Finals: Thunder vs. Heat.

"This has worked out better than I thought," said Jimmy Vaccaro, the legendary Vegas bookmaker who currently works for the Lucky's chain of race and sports books and whom we've leaned on since interviewing him for our NBA preview back in December when Lucky's had the Heat as the NBA title favorite and the Thunder as the No. 4 choice (see the chart).

"The Heat are a bookmakers' dream because they're a very polarizing team. A lot of people love them but a lot of people hate them, so that creates betting handle no matter what. But the team that's been surprising is the Thunder," he said. "Whether it's a matter of people developing a fondness for them because they like the way they play, or if it's because they've been winning money with them" -- OKC backers won and covered the last four games of the series against the Spurs but are also 10-2-1 against the spread in their past 13 games since failing to cover in Games 1 and 2 of their playoff-opening series against the Dallas Mavericks -- "people are really supporting this team, too."


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Dave Tuley has covered the Las Vegas race and sports book scene since 1998 and runs his own website, ViewFromVegas.com.