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NBA Key Numbers: What Do the Sportsbooks Think?
by George Monroy - 1/11/2013

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Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers

Sports bettors have a plethora of knowledge and information at the tips of their fingers. The Internet has made accessing information and researching wagers easier and faster than ever before. The average sports bettor is far more educated and savvy than in years past. Nowadays, most bettors have a solid understanding of the nuances of wagering and how they impact games. However, one topic where knowledge and information still seems to be scarce is concerning NBA key numbers.

The majority of gamblers understand NFL key numbers and the importance of the numbers three and seven — for those that don’t, key numbers are the most common margin of victories during games. In the NFL three and seven are the two most common key numbers, and they occur roughly 22 percent of the time. The smart gambler knows to watch for lines that are half a point off of either number in order to try and figure out which way the sportsbooks are leaning during a game.

NBA key numbers, while still relatively under the radar, are starting to gain steam in the sports betting community. The most common key numbers are two and seven, which according to most information you can find, occur rough 12 percent of the time. The first question a gambler might ask when dealing with NBA key numbers is how strong they are compared NFL key numbers.

The best way to get answers about key numbers is from the experts themselves. Doc’s Sports recently spoke with Bovada oddsmakers about the subject of NBA key numbers, and were given some interesting insight into the topic. So, since there is probably no better way to learn than by actually taking to the oddsmakers, here is a quick look at our brief chat with Bovada.

Doc’s Sports: Two and seven are most commonly accepted as the strongest NBA key numbers, but how strong are they, as compared to three and seven in the NFL?

Bovada: There's really no comparison, the NFL numbers are much, much more important than the NBA numbers. In the NFL we'll work hard to avoid moving off a three or a seven, but in the NBA we won't hesitate to move on a seven if the action or the market warrants it.

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DS: Can you explain why the number two is such a frequent margin of victory in NBA games — are teams really that evenly matched?

Bovada: Good question, and one for debate. Prevailing theory is that it all comes down to the way close games typically finish; if a game has anywhere from a zero- to five-point difference with a minute left, the number of scenarios for that game that lead to a two point difference outnumber any other outcome.

DS: Can you explain why the number seven is such a frequent margin of victory?

Bovada: A seven-point lead becomes a three-possession game, and with a minute or less left, teams will typically not bother fouling and just let the game run out. Seven, eight and nine can actually all be considered similar for the same reason (although seven is the most likely).

D.S: How do sportsbooks take these numbers into account, when setting or deciding to move, their lines?

Bovada: There are certain cases where we may be cautious of moving from -1 to -2, particularly where a close game has flopped favorites (i.e. line opens Team A -2 and is bet to Pick or even Team B -1). Beyond that key numbers in NBA aren't really that much of an issue, at least for us.

D.S: Are there any other key numbers that sportsbooks take into account during NBA betting?

Bovada: Five is traditionally considered a strong number, but, again, for line movement purposes NBA key numbers aren't typically an issue.

D.S: Are there any key numbers you consider for NBA totals?

Bovada: Not particularly. 171 and 182 are slightly more likely to land than others but not enough to be considered key. The fact that a given play can generate a one, two or three (and rarely a four) means that the distribution of totals between 170 and 200 are pretty equal.

Conclusion

NBA key numbers are a topic gamblers should begin to think about, but according to the experts, they are not something that concerns sportsbooks the way NFL key numbers do. Basketball margins of victory are too volatile to be predicted with any regularity, as any single possession can generate up to four points. But the concept is still a topic that gamblers should know and understand.

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