Banking on Mavs, Magic to step up in NBA playoffs

In the majority of American households, “money management” means hiding the keys from the wife when she says she’s going to the mall. (Seriously, how many purses and shoes does one person need?)

In gambling parlance, money management is a basic concept in which you identify your bankroll (essentially, how much money you can afford to lose in an absolute worst-case scenario) and arrange your wagers so that you’re risking a small percentage (generally no more than 5 percent) of that bankroll on each individual play. Admittedly, I violated basic money-management strategy in Week 1 of this column when—in an effort to make a big splash out of the gate—I had a large play on the Colts in the Super Bowl. I did feel strongly that the Colts were the right side against the Saints, but in retrospect, the wager should’ve been scaled back.

However, the last couple of weeks I’ve delivered positive money-management lessons. Two weeks ago, I went 1-1 and still cleared $250 because I won my big play. Then I lost two of three selections last week, plus just missed on an earlier pick of Tiger Woods to win the Masters, so I finished 1-3. And yet, because my top play was a $330 winner on the Warriors (who upset the Thunder), I cleared $40 for the week, putting my bankroll at $5,455.

Not exactly Megabucks, true. But winning beats losing. And if nothing else, it’ll buy the wife half a shoe.

With the NBA’s long second season tipping off, I’m going to focus on two strong futures plays for this week’s picks.

$75 (to win $600) on Dallas Mavericks (8-to-1 odds) to win the Western Conference: I’ve been a Lakers fan for three decades, so this goes against my heart. But your heart has to take a backseat to your eyes when you’re wagering, and my eyes tell me something isn’t right with Kobe and the boys. Without question, they’re not as invincible as they looked a year ago on their way to the NBA championship.

I see two teams with a legitimate chance to end L.A.’s season prematurely. One is the Nuggets, who took three of four in the regular season from the Lakers. The other is Dallas, which split four meetings with Los Angeles. Both teams have veteran leaders at point guard (Jason Kidd for Dallas; Chauncey Billups for Denver), and both have scorers who can match Kobe (Dirk Nowitzki for Dallas; Carmelo Anthony for Denver).

So why do I prefer the Mavericks? Two reasons: First, there’s a good chance Nuggets coach George Karl will miss the playoffs (or a good chunk of it) while going through cancer treatment. Secondly, the Mavericks were much better on the road this season (27-14) than the Nuggets (19-21 through April 12), and the Lakers will have home-court advantage.

$50 (to win $350) on Orlando Magic (7-to-1 odds) to win the NBA Finals: While the Lakers and Cavaliers rested starters in the final week of the regular season, the Magic went all out in what were essentially meaningless games. They did so because: A) they wanted to go into the postseason with momentum, and B) they wanted to finish with a better record than Los Angeles. Here’s why the latter was important: If Orlando can get an NBA Finals rematch with the Lakers, it will have the home-court edge this time.

Of course, for the Magic to secure such a rematch, they’ll have to first win the Eastern Conference, which means they’ll likely have to defeat LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the conference finals. That’s a pretty tall mountain to scale for sure, but Orlando eliminated Cleveland in six games last spring, largely because the Cavs didn’t have an answer for Magic big man Dwight Howard.

To address that problem, Cleveland signed Shaquille O’Neal in the offseason. It was a desperate move that I highly doubt will work in a seven-game series.

If the Magic do get to the Finals, they’d be favored against any opponent other than the Lakers. And even if Los Angeles gets there, the odds you can get on Orlando right now will be better than you’d be able to get prior to the Finals.

Can Orlando beat the Lakers this time around? My heart says no way. My eyes, though, say, “I wouldn’t be shocked.”

Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “$7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.