In this NBA era of load management, LeBron James is going old school.
The Lakers star — at age 36 and in his 18th season — has played in all 26 games for Los Angeles (20-6) and appears to be on a mission to win his fifth NBA MVP award.
James has emerged as the clear favorite at Las Vegas sportsbooks to secure his first MVP trophy since 2013. He’s now the +150 favorite at the Westgate after his odds were as high as 14-1, and he’s the ticket and money leader at the Westgate and William Hill.
“It seems like he’s doing everything he can to get it,” Westgate vice president of risk Jeff Sherman said. “The crazy thing was that going into this season, especially with the short turnaround time the Lakers had, we figured LeBron would rest some games.”
A chip on James’ chiseled shoulder might be that he was denied the MVP award last season, when he led the Lakers to the NBA title. He was runner-up to Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was named MVP for the second straight season despite failing to lead Milwaukee to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
Antetokounmpo opened this season as the second MVP choice behind Dallas guard Luka Doncic. But each player saw his odds climb to double digits as the seemingly ageless James — averaging 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists — went on a tear.
The next day, the Westgate made James the 4-1 favorite to join Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (six), Bill Russell (five) and Michael Jordan (five) as the only players with at least five MVPs.
Loading up on LeBron
“After he put up a monster game in Milwaukee over Giannis, taking that game personally, and then hit seven 3s against the Cavs, I bet LeBron that night,” Kezirian said. “Luka’s Mavs kept losing, and a three-peat for Giannis just wasn’t happening. And LeBron was playing every game, which was a distinct change that the odds had yet to reflect.”
Sherman and Kezirian think there is voter fatigue on Antetokounmpo among the media members who decide the award.
“With awards, you have to handicap the voters as much as you handicap the players,” said Kezirian (@DougESPN). “It’s human nature to want to be right, so you could just sense some voters were disappointed with another Giannis postseason flameout and had some buyer’s remorse.
“So LeBron reminded everyone he’s the league’s best player with another title, and it was punctuated with his mic drop in the awards ceremony when he demanded to ‘put some respect’ on his name. And remember, because the finals were in October, they are fresher in voters’ minds and the season is more condensed, so almost subconsciously the vote might incorporate the previous season more than any other year.”
Best of rest
The 76ers lead the East with an 18-7 record, and Philadelphia center Joel Embiid is the +550 second choice at the Westgate to win MVP after opening at 30-1.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic also has climbed into the conversation as the +650 third choice after opening at 16-1.
Nets forward Kevin Durant and Doncic are each 12-1, Antetokounmpo is 14-1 and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is 18-1.
Looking beyond James, professional sports bettor Erin Rynning (@ersports1) was asked for a value pick to win MVP.
“It’s his award to lose,” Rynning said. “However, one must strongly consider in a COVID year anything can still happen. A player like Stephen Curry at long odds is putting up similar numbers to his previous MVP seasons, although ultimately his team success is not quite there.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at [email protected] Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.
NBA MVP odds
Up to 100-1
LeBron James +150
Joel Embiid +550
Nikola Jokic +650
Luka Doncic 12-1
Kevin Durant 12-1
Giannis Antetokounmpo 14-1
Stephen Curry 18-1
Damian Lillard 30-1
Kawhi Leonard 40-1
Donovan Mitchell 40-1
Paul George 100-1
Anthony Davis 100-1
James Harden 100-1
Jayson Tatum 100-1
Devin Booker 100-1
Trae Young 100-1
Ja Morant 100-1