Identifying NBA Public Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 12/05/2006
When it comes to handicapping the NBA there are two concepts that can make you a lot of money if you pay attention to them, or cost you a fortune if you ignore them - streaks and hype.
Teams in the NBA regularly string together ridiculous winning and losing streaks. Take this year's Dallas Mavericks, for example. Before finally losing on Monday night, the Mavs had won 12 in a row. That streak came after they had started the season on a four game skid. They aren't the only one, either - Orlando won 10 of 11, the Jazz started the season winning 12 of 13, and the Heat lost six of seven. These streaks often come out of nowhere, the media loves to talk about them, and the public loves to hear about them.
The NBA is built almost entirely around hype and legend. Kobe is the next Jordan. So is LeBron. And Wade. Adam Morrison is the next Larry Bird. The NBA would be a marginal sport if it weren't for people's love of hype and hyperbole. People get really excited about the big names and they blindly assume that their teams will win in almost any situation.
The streaks and the hype mean that there are teams that the public backs with enthusiasm. Those public teams, then, face spreads that are larger than they probably should be, and they are therefore not as attractive to a sharp bettor as they would otherwise be. A classic recent example of a public team was the 2003-04 Lakers, the last hurrah of Shaq and Kobe. Despite winning the title, the team covered just 40 of the 104 games they played, including a 27-42 record ATS as favorites.
Though the Lakers were a public team throughout that season, and have been most of the time since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar first put on their colors, many public teams have enjoyed a shorter love affair with the public. Teams can even go through a period as a public team during a part of a season and then be dismissed as the public moves to another team. As a general rule, it's important to keep track of the public teams, if only so that you can avoid betting on them in most cases. Inflated, 'shaded' lines rob the teams of value. If you want to bet these public teams, you want to do it early before the public drives the spread higher. Here's a look at five teams that the public is fixated on at this point in the season:
San Antonio - The Spurs have an obvious and enduring reputation - they are a boring team that doesn't make many mistakes and wins a lot of games. Because of this reputation, casual NBA fans will look at the Spurs as a safe bet. This is reflected by the fact that they have been favored in 16 of their first 18 games. Despite winning 13 of those games, they have only covered 10 times. The public gets hurt especially badly when a strong public team goes on a losing streak. When San Antonio recently lost three of five, and barely won a fourth, the public still kept loyally backing them, and they suffered for it - the team covered just once during the five games. Despite their struggles, the public made the Spurs the solid favorites for the eleventh straight game on Monday.
Cleveland - You'd have to be blind and deaf to not hear about how great LeBron James is. He keeps getting better and better, and his team is finally a legitimate force. To a thoughtful handicapper, that means that you look for spots that let you take advantage of their strength. To the public, it seems to mean that they can never lose. The Cavs are a solid team having a solid 10-7 season, but they aren't as good as the public seems to thing they are. They have been favored 13 times, and they have only covered in six of those games. Even when they are underdog they are too well liked - they have covered just once in four tries.
Orlando - The public loves to hear about up and coming teams, and Orlando certainly fits that bill. With the incredibly exciting Dwight Howard, a healthy Grant Hill and a solid supporting cast, the Magic are playing very good ball. They are 13-5 on the season, and they have won 10 of their last 12. That sets them up as a team that the public will jump all over, and they already are. They are 8-4 ATS during their 10-2 streak.
Dallas - We've already talked about them. Just consider this - when a team wins 12 games in a row, and they are owned by Mark Cuban, a guy who loves the media more than anyone in the world (other than Paris Hilton), then the public is probably going to think that they will never again lose.
Miami - This is a team that has started the season badly (7-9), and the public has played it fairly accurately (7-9 ATS). They aren't acting like a public team yet, but the conditions are in place for that to change soon. The team has covered four games in a row, Dwyane Wade is about to get the media exposure of being named Sports Illustrated's 'Sportsman of the Year,' and Shaq, who the public still has a massive love affair with, should be back by Christmas. Unless the team starts losing a lot of games again, then the public is going to jump all over last year's champions.