Despite Nearly Identical Records, Sportsbooks Respect Knicks Far Less Than Lakers

LeBron James will miss Tuesday's tilt with New York due to bloody suspension
lebron james julius randle

After starting the 2021-2022 NBA season with five wins in six games, the New York Knicks looked like — BING-BONG! — dark horse title contenders in a deeply unsettled Eastern Conference.

Conversely, the Los Angeles Lakers, after a winless preseason that nevertheless saw them favored to make it to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, started the regular season 4-6, including a pair of embarrassing losses to newly acquired point guard Russell Westbrook’s original team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now, about a fifth of the way through the season, the 9-9 Lakers and 9-8 Knicks boast nearly identical records and playoff positions heading into Tuesday night’s tilt at Madison Square Garden. But while oddsmakers have all but written off the Knicks’ hopes of winning their first NBA title since Willis Reed hobbled out of a Garden locker room during the Nixon administration, they still maintain a high — if notably diminished — level of trust in LeBron James and Anthony Davis to regain the title they relinquished to the Milwaukee Bucks last season, one that saw both L.A. stars miss a significant amount of time due to injury.

While Davis has managed to stay on the floor — and play sensationally — for all 18 Lakers games this season, James, nagged mainly by an abdominal strain, has managed only eight. And LeBron won’t be in uniform again for the Knicks’ game Tuesday after receiving a one-game suspension for bloodying Detroit big man Isaiah Stewart’s face while squabbling for position near the basket during a free-throw attempt on Sunday. (This helps explain why the Knicks opened as 4.5-point favorites.) King James is a large, muscular human, but let’s just say he’s lucky his teammates got in the way of a berserk and bloodied Stewart, who’s about half LeBron’s age and built like Zeus — both the Greek god and the wrestler.

Knicks a carbon copy of last season’s squad?

Considering how well established contenders like the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz have played out of the gate, does anyone still like the Lakers to emerge from the Western Conference playoff scrum and play for an NBA title? DraftKings puts L.A. on equal footing with the Warriors at 7/1, and FanDuel is pleased to be at the top of the market on the Lakers at 10/1 to win it all — on par with the Jazz, but at longer odds than the Warriors (+650).

Meanwhile, the Knicks are sitting at a fat 80/1 to win the NBA title at FanDuel and DraftKings, with PointsBet offering them at 50/1. That lack of respect could come because the Knicks still lack a reliable secondary scoring option behind Julius Randle, who’s turning in a repeat performance of last year’s breakout campaign. Offseason acquisitions Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier have been decent at times, but far from great, and RJ Barrett — the likeliest candidate for that second banana role — has continued his wildly inconsistent play. In other words, the Knicks seem likelier to repeat last season’s disappointing playoff script than make a deep postseason march.

The Lakers and Knicks each boast fringe Sixth Man of the Year candidates in geriatric phenoms Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose (both 50/1 at FanDuel), but Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s unrelenting loyalty to the latter player is stunting the growth of promising second-year guard Immanuel Quickley, who’s regressed slightly after a stellar rookie campaign. It sounds cruel to root for either Walker or Rose to suffer some sort of serious injury that would keep them sidelined for a prolonged period of time, but with a coach as stubborn as Thibs, that may be what is required to get Quickley on the floor for more than half the game.

The every-game-counts Thibodeau, a 20/1 shot to win Coach of the Year at DraftKings (22/1 at PointsBet), was the perfect maestro to return the Knicks to relevance last season. But how he handles the likes of Quickley, Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson this time around will say a lot about whether he’s the right coach to get the Knicks to a point where they can win a playoff series and, ultimately, end a championship drought that’s coming on half a century.

Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY


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