Twenty-eight teams will have played their first game by the time LeBron James and the Lakers take the floor in Portland on Thursday. But there’s nothing quite like King James debuting, especially when it happens in new threads.
It’s going to feel a little different this time around, as the future Hall of Famer is playing as an underdog for the first time since perhaps his rookie season. Now he’s in charge of a young Lakers core that also features a handful of colorful veterans off the bench.
James will be the focal point – when is he not? – but he’s not alone.
Brandon Ingram appears primed for a breakout season after averaging 16.7 points as a sophomore. Lonzo Ball was inefficient as a rookie but that (and his father) overshadowed a highly successful rookie season. Kyle Kuzma was named All-Rookie, while Josh Hart is quietly becoming the most efficient of the entire bunch.
The meme team includes the castaways on the island of misfit toys: JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and Michael Beasley. It’ll be interesting to see how Luke Walton, pieces everyone together.
It’s tough to determine how the Blazers enter the 2018-19 season. The good? They won 49 games last year, including 16 straight at one point and Damian Lillard was named first team All-NBA. Then again, they were swept by Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans and face major question marks about where the franchise is headed.
Still, there isn’t a more dynamic backcourt outside of Oakland than Lillard and C.J. McCollum. As long as those two are standing upright they’ve got a chance to win, especially at home.
How should NBA betting fans approach the opener – and LeBron?
It’s tough to win in Portland. Last year the Blazers went 28-13 at home and were even better against the spread. In that regard they were 23-15-3, the fifth best mark in the NBA.
We can toss out last year’s results because of how different this year’s Lakers are, but we’ll note here that L.A. has lost seven straight in Portland by 69 combine points since 2014-15. For what it’s worth, LeBron James has lost five straight games in Portland.
Also, consider that the Blazers have won 17 straight home openers. You read that correctly. It’s an NBA record. We don’t expect LeBron James and a Lakers team still figuring out how to all play together to have it ready in Game 1.
LeBron’s teams are notoriously slow starters. It’ll be that way in 2018. We like the Blazers –3 on 888Sport.
The Blazers were 35-47 on hitting the over last year. Whether it was because their defense wound up being better than most expected – they jumped from 22nd to 6th in defensive efficiency – the Blazers kept it low scoring by top basketball bookmakers’ standards.
Throw in the fact that this Lakers team could struggle to score in the early going. And, like Portland, their defense should be better than expected and better than it was a year ago – they improved from dead last to 13th in efficiency.
This is quietly two solid defenses squaring off against one another, and with some early-season jitters on national TV expected, it could be a lower-scoring affair. We’ll play the game going under the 222 total 888Sport has.
Normally we’d expect LeBron to ease in to his role. But with him needing to carry a young team and playing in a building he’s struggled of late, King James might be in for a massive night. He understands the gravity of this situation on national television.
Specifically, James should get it going both as a scorer and passer. He showed a real desire to involve his teammates in the preseason – his 42.3 percent assist rate was the second highest of his career in preseason play – and if there’s one thing his young Lakers core does well, it’s score the basketball.
The Blazers are also really lacking a LeBron stopper. Their wing defenders are nothing to write home about. In two games against Portland last year LeBron averaged 29.5 points on 59 percent shooting. The year before that? 25.5 points on 48 percent shooting. Getting the picture?
LeBron is going to score at will but also find his guys. For what it’s worth, over his career LeBron’s 7.5 assists per game in October is the second highest of any month (February, 7.6).
For those reasons, we like James to go over 28 points at -125 and over 35.5 points plus assists at -118 on 888Sport.
It’s going to be a sight to behold when LeBron James takes the floor for the Lakers. True, we’ve seen him in preseason action, but this is going to feel different. He’s beginning the newest chapter of his Hall of Fame career and is taking on the biggest challenge of his career yet.
He’s certainly an MVP candidate, and the load he’ll be asked to shoulder should mean monster stat lines each night. Voter fatigue is certainly one of the reasons he hasn’t won the award in six seasons.
But reverse fatigue could be setting in among voters – as in, how has the world’s best player not won MVP in six seasons? If the Lakers are able to hover anywhere near 50 wins, James almost certainly will have the award wrapped up unless someone puts together a historic season.
For that reason, James is a bet we like to win MVP at +300 on 888Sport.