LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant

Handicapping News: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant

ESPN has aggressively been billing the NBA Finals featuring the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder as "LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant." They used that theme across their global platform of TV, radio, apps, and probably two or three things that haven't even been invented yet. Then, on SportsCenter, they said "Everyone's talking about LeBron vs. Durant" even though it was mostly just their own people on their own shows.

As handicappers, you have to look at the complete picture. No individuals win championships in this sport. TV Networks like to sell personalities. Handicappers bet in Las Vegas on TEAMS. You don't become successful in Las Vegas by letting the media do your thinking for you. In fact, one of the reasons oddsmakers are easy to beat is that they spend too much time listening to TV pundits before posting their opening lines.

But, given how Durant outplayed LeBron in Game One...does ESPN have it right in this matchup? Will "everyone else" cancel out in a way that it really is LeBron vs. Durant that will determine who wins games and cover pointspreads? Let's take a look at Game One for some guidance.

Game One Stats
LeBron: 30 points on 24 shots, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers
Durant: 36 points on 20 shots, 8 rebounds 4 assists, 2 turnovers

Durant's a more efficient scorer because he tends not to force things unless he's trying to draw a foul. He's so quick that he can get the ball out of trouble to another option. LeBron tried to force some things late in Game One when his other options weren't doing much of anything. On the scoreboard though, Durant won by six...in a game that Oklahoma City was favored to win by five. ESPN can give credit to Durant for being a big factor in the straight up win. But, handicappers have to recognize that Durant's edge basically matched the market price. OKC didn't cover because Durant got the best of LeBron.

Let's see what happened with the other members of each team's "big three."

Game One Stats
D-Wade and Bosh: 29 points on 30 shots, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 turnovers
Westbrook/Harden: 32 points on 30 shots, 8 rebounds, 14 assists, 3 turnovers

When you add these edges to those of Durant, you get very close to the final scoreboard victory margin. In fact, we're at +9 here for OKC's "big three" in a game they won by 11. That means ALL OTHER CONTRIBUTORS only yielded a +2 edge for the Thunder.

So:

  • Durant was the main reason OKC won straight up

  • Durant/Westbrook/Harden were the main reasons OKC covered

As you handicap tonight's Game Two, don't fall into ESPN's trap of only thinking about who they're trying to hype. Beating the market will most likely depend on what happens beyond the LeBron/Durant Thunderdome (in an actual Thunderdome!).

  • Will D-Wade step up and play better, or is he physically ailing to a degree where that's just not possible?

  • If D-Wade steps up, will James Harden step up in a way that matches him? Harden was barely a factor Tuesday Night, but we all know he can take over a game in crunch time.

  • Will Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers go 6 of 10 on treys again? Will Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, and Kendrick Perkins go 9 of 11 on two's? That's 18 points for both teams that came on very high percentages.

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