Dillon Brooks poked the bear. He called LeBron James old, said he doesn’t respect him and won’t respect him until LeBron scores 40 points on him.

On Friday, Caesars Sportsbook set the line at LeBron scoring 40-plus points for Saturday’s Game 3 showdown against the Grizzlies at +650. A compelling prop bet to be sure, but what’s the bet to make here?

Let’s dig into that.

While Brooks is a habitual line-stepper, this was a very calculated move. Brooks is unapologetically building his image in the Draymond Green mold … which is funny because that includes a public feud with Green himself. But Green and Brooks both try their best to get into their opponents’ heads and make them play out of character. And that is exactly what Brooks is trying to do here, to LeBron, no less.

The Lakers this season have had by far their most success when their offense has run through Anthony Davis. In the games Davis has played, he has averaged 27.8 PPG on 17.9 FGA in Lakers wins, but only 23.5 PPG on 16.3 FGA in losses. This is compounded against the Grizzlies, who are thinner in the middle with starting center Steven Adams and top backup Brandon Clarke both out. Davis scored 9 more points on 3 more shots in the Lakers’ Game 1 win than he did in their Game 2 loss.

In other words, it is in the Lakers’ best interest for Davis to get a lot of touches and shots. So, by definition, that would be in the Grizzlies’ worst interests.

Brooks knows this. Thus, he wears sunglasses indoors with his shirt open in the news conference and pokes the bear.

The problem is … the bear knows this, too.

LeBron James is one of the smartest, most experienced players in NBA history. He understands his role on this Lakers team is to lead and facilitate as much as it is to score. And he also understands that, to really shut Brooks up, the best possible way to do it isn’t to score 40 — it’s to win. And LeBron would have to play way out of character to go for 40 in this game.

To whit:

  • LeBron has played against the Grizzlies 17 times in a Lakers uniform, regular season and playoffs. He has never scored 40 points in any of those games.

  • LeBron has played in 29 playoffs games in a Lakers uniform, and he has only scored 40 points in a game one time. A 40-point effort in a loss to the Heat in 2020.

Brooks would love to make LeBron so angry that he changes the way he plays to try to score 40-plus points in Game 3. If he did, it would probably increase the chances that the Grizzlies could pull an upset on the road.

But LeBron knows this as well.

If the opportunity arises for him to post up or dunk on Brooks, I fully expect him to take it. After all, Brooks has been doing a lot of talking. But ultimately, LeBron wants to win this game and knows the best chance he has to do it is to bring Davis with him to the scoring forefront.

Now, if Davis is off again and LeBron has to score to try to keep the team in it, it’s possible. But that’s not an outcome I’d bet on, even at boosted odds.

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