Thursday, February 13, 2020 4:13 PM EST
By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP
While some basketball purists are skeptical about this year's new format for the NBA All-Star Game, the changes have curiosity brewing within the betting industry.
This year the league's annual showcase is essentially multiple games within the game, which might entice more fans to get in on the action while it’s ongoing.
“I think there might be some fans who may view this as a very interesting and quite appealing introduction into the world of in-game betting, because the beauty of this format is it’s a huge talking point, said Alex Donohue, a sports gambling expert for the website Bet-NJ.com.
The NBA is doubling-down, hoping the changes energize players' competitive juices. The contest is often more fun than game with players showing off their snazzy sneakers but not their best defensive stances. So the league is implementing the new format believing the change will stop the laissez faire approach to defense.
Scores will be reset to 0-0 for each of the first three quarters. Each time a team wins a quarter, it earns $100,000 for charity. The totals will then be added and the fourth quarter will be played to a target score the winning team will have to reach, rather than a standard 12-minute period.
Everyone will find out Sunday if players and bettors are more engaged.
“Whenever there’s a big talking point in sports and among groups of sports fans," Donohue said, “inevitably fans have an opinion and when they’re legally allowed to bet it’s an opportunity to express that opinion.”
Donohue is based in Europe, where he says in-game betting can sometimes account for 70% to 80% of the action on a game. In-game betting isn’t as popular yet in the U.S., but he believes the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago could be a catalyst for change, saying it might be a “milestone” in sports gambling.
Opinions vary on the interest in the game as a betting event. When the league took its midseason spectacle to Las Vegas in 2007, it went under the condition that it couldn’t be bet there in the sports books. Gavin Maloof, whose family then owned the Sacramento Kings and the Palms, responded: “If you bet the NBA All-Star Game, you might as well get a life.”
Times have changed. There is currently gambling in 14 states and advances in technology allow bettors to put their money down on their mobile phones right from their living rooms. Bets can't be placed on Donohue's site, but it has links to regulated ones where they can.
These days, Johnny Avello, the head of race and sports book for DraftKings, said All-Star weekend, including the 3-point shooting and dunk contests, draws a fair amount of interest. About 35% of DraftKings' action is live wagering and he believes fans will jump in during the game Sunday night, particularly as they try to determine where the final total might land.
In the days before superteams, when players were foes first and friends second, the NBA didn’t worry about its All-Star game. Players may have taken it easy in the first three quarters, but the competitiveness came out in the fourth.
That’s why Kobe Bryant laughed in 2003 when Michael Jordan made a request of him before the game and did so again when recounting the story in 2015 during his final season.
“I remember playing Michael his last All-Star Game in Atlanta and he and I were catching up in the locker room and he says – because this was his last game – he says to me, ‘I just want you to approach this like any other game. I want you to compete against me, just like it’s any other game,’” Bryant said. “And I remember saying, ‘Michael, what the hell about me led you to think I was going to approach this any differently?’”
That mindset was lost in recent years, with the low point in 2017 when players hardly attempted to defend in a game where the West won 192-182. The league then scrapped the East vs. West format in favor of one in which two captains draft rosters. Now comes another change and bettors will have to determine if they like it.
Paul Howard, who co-hosts a radio show on the Vegas Stats & Information Network, doesn’t anticipate significant action. He said bettors don’t know what to expect with the changes.
“Hard to anticipate what’s going to happen. It’s new to bookmakers and bettors,” he said. “People used to bet it over every year because of no defense. They don’t know what to expect now.”
That makes Avello’s job tougher. Reviewing recent All-Star results won’t help much in trying to set a final total, because the team leading after three quarters would end the game by scoring only 24 points — a tiny number for the best players in the world — in the fourth. The teams previously combined for about 75 in the last period, he said.
“There’s usually not much defense unless the game’s real tight and in this format you have to make it tight, because you have to have stops in that fourth quarter if you’re behind,” Avello said.
He expects to have Team LeBron favored by as much as 10 points over Team Giannis, far higher than usual in an All-Star game, but acknowledges that even before the format change the All-Star Game was tough to gauge.
Avello isn't sure if people will be betting it, but he is certain of one thing — “If we make a mistake,” he said with a laugh, “... they’ll be jumping in.”
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