NBA Betting - Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference
by Trevor Whenham - 02/22/2007
Here's a contentious statement - there is a perception out there that the Western Conference of the NBA is better than the Eastern Conference. Much, much better. Of the ten teams most favored to win the NBA championship only three come from the Eastern Conference. You could make an argument that Detroit is an elite team, and Miami gets consideration because they are defending champs, but it would be difficult to make a case for hardly any other Eastern team to stand up to the best of the West. Though it's good to know that one conference is better than the other, it's more important to figure out how we can profit from that reality.
The first thing we have to do is understand the scope of the disparity between the two leagues. The Eastern Conference does not have a winning record overall. The fifteen teams have combined for a 378-430 record, or a winning percentage of just .468. The conference does worse when playing against the West - they are 137-189, or .420. The top five teams in the Eastern Conference have a combined record of 104-57, or .646, against their own conference. When they venture out West, though, they don't fare nearly as well. They have combined to go just 51-54, or .486. Clearly the best of the East are no match for the West. Only four teams in the whole conference - Detroit, Cleveland, Miami and Orlando - have a winning record against the West.
So, the West is clearly dominant. How does that relate to betting? This is where it gets a little bit trickier. Three of the top five teams in the league against the spread are from the East. There are only seven teams that would be profitable over the season as a flat bet, and four of them come from the East, including the Raptors, the runaway leaders in profitability. The three worst teams in the league ATS are all from the West. The Eastern conference as a whole, contrary to what you might expect, is actually better against the spread - 398-394-16 - than they are straight up. That means that the public seems to overcompensate for the general pathetic-ness of the East.
Given that the East plays poorly against the West yet performs reasonably well on the wagering front, the public is clearly doing something wrong. This makes sense. In a match-up between the two conferences, the West if going to be favored quite consistently. The favorite gets overvalued as a general rule in all forms of betting. The West will often get further overvalued because of the perception that they are far superior. The superiority of the West will already have been factored into the spreads, so the West will not only be facing large spreads often, but spreads that are shaded or larger than they really should be. Because of that it seems logical that the East would be performing better against the spread than their record would indicate that they should. You're essentially getting free points on the East in many cases.
There's another factor at play here, as well. When the top teams in the West go on a trip to the East it is often a long trip, and it will often include a few teams that are far from good. If a team is facing large spreads in those conditions, as they almost certainly would, then it would make sense that they wouldn't cover as often as they probably should. If you're on a long trip playing against a bad opponent then you would probably settle for a four-point win, even if the spread was much more than that. The Western teams, in other words, would be understandably unmotivated in these circumstances, and unmotivated teams often don't cover. That would contribute to the relative success of the East ATS.
This situation would seem to present an opportunity for profit. If the public is going to generally overvalue the West, and particularly the handful of best teams in the West, then there is money to be made from finding the spots where the East would be most likely to cover. By looking at the schedules of the Western teams when they head on road trips it should be obvious which games the teams will be up for and which games they may mail in their performances for. The Mavericks would be more motivated for a big Friday night game against the Pistons, for example, than they would be for a Tuesday night game in Atlanta or Boston. Though they would almost certainly win the games against the latter two opponents, the Mavs might not be motivated enough to cover the hefty spreads. The combination of motivation and public perception, then, would likely create profitable situations for you to take advantage of.
It's important to remember that you will largely be betting on underdogs when you are betting on the East in games against the West. When you are betting on underdogs, especially in games with larger spreads, the straight up record of a team is largely irrelevant. It's important to consider the size of the spread compared to your perception of what it should be. You also can look at the movement of the spread. If it moves significantly towards the West then you have potentially spotted a value spot.
Profiting from the real and perceived disparity between the East and the West in the NBA comes down to one thing - don't fall into the same traps as the public. Don't equate a poor record with betting performance. If you remember that then there is profit to be made.