What changes to NBA All-Star Game will mean for bettors

LAS VEGAS — The All-Star Game for any major sport has never been anything special. The contests usually lack in effort, and the result is of little consequence in the grand scheme of the league year. That is usually the case for the NBA, but on Sunday the league will shake things up for its All-Star Game with a format that will pay tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

Gone are the usual parameters of a basketball game. Scores will be reset after each of the first two quarters, and the teams will be playing for Chicago-based community organizations. After the third quarter, the clock will be shut off, and the two teams will fight to reach a target score in an untimed final quarter of play. That target score will be 24 more points than the score of the leading team, or both if tied.

How oddsmakers would handle this new format was a burning question, and as the week went on different operators went to market with unique choices for bettors.

The aspects which gave them the least issue was the side. Team LeBron opened up as the consensus favorite, and coming to that conclusion was a simple task.

“On the side, this year’s All-Star Game is actually a bit easier to price,” said Patrick Eichner of PointsBet, which operates in New Jersey. “It’s really just a handicap of the respective rosters.”

Team LeBron does have the decided edge in roster makeup. It is a team loaded with talent from the Western Conference — and includes the likes of Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard, among others. The market originally posted Team Lebron as 4 1/2-point favorite, but that ballooned to a 6-point spread by Friday.

Where operators seemed to differ was the total for the game. With the NBA putting a hard cap on the fourth-quarter scoring, there could be a dip in overall scoring. PointsBet opened the total at 285.5, but jumped to 301.5 in the following days.

“We took some early steam on the Over and also bumped a bit to stay in line with the market,” Eichner said. “The public always is rooting for the Over, and I think especially this year given Kobe tribute aspect.”

That move on the total alone shows just how much this new format alters things for bookmakers around the country. Even the current consensus total of 302 is a far cry from what bettors have seen in the past.

The 2019 NBA All-Star Game finished with 342 total points scored and in 2017 it was 374 points. The lowest total seen in recent memory was 293 points scored in 2018, the year in which the league increased player incentives to $100,000 to each member of the winning team.

PointsBet also opened quite a few prop markets for the game as well, including player scoring props. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo owns the highest total at 23 1/2 points, and setting those took some outside-the-box thinking.

“Our traders do have to make a bit of an assumption on which players will contribute most during capped fourth quarter,” Eichner said.

In Las Vegas, the Westgate sportsbook approached it by setting totals for each of the first three quarters at 86 1/2 points, along with spreads for each. However, the real issue foreseen by Westgate sportsbook manager Jeff Sherman is not so much in setting numbers, but attracting action.

“The challenge is having the people wagering understand the concept,” Sherman said. “The new rules make a lot of people confused. I guarantee this will be one of the lower handled All-Star Games we have had.”

That is an extremely low handle. Despite the stand-alone aspect of the broadcast, the usual handle of an All-Star Game is not even close to a Lakers game on TNT in Las Vegas. It is closer to a nightly NBA contest that isn’t on national television.

It is one of the most unusual formats bettors have seen for an All-Star Game, but oddsmakers have handled it in stride. What bettors will do remains to be seen.

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