How To Bet NBA Totals
by Trevor Whenham - 02/05/2009
Sports bettors don't always make a lot of sense. Picking sides in the NBA is very tough - the books set good numbers, and they consistently make solid profits. On the other hand, books often struggle with NBA totals. They are harder to come up with a good number, and books regularly lose money on NBA totals over the course of the whole season. Despite that, the volume on NBA totals is significantly lower than the sides. Bettors largely stay away from the option that would give them a better chance of long-term success. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised by that - betting volume is much higher in the NBA and the NFL than in college, though the chances of making a profit over the long term are much, much higher in college. Logic and sports betting aren't always closely associated.
If sports books tend to lose money on NBA totals then it only makes sense for bettors to bet on them. A big part of the reason why more people don't play them, though, is that they are intimidated by them. Betting sides is easier to understand because everyone picks a winner any time they watch a game. People rarely think about what the final score is going to be, though - especially in the NBA where the scores and totals are so high. Luckily, getting comfortable with totals isn't hard. You just have to adjust the way you think about things slightly. Here are four tips to get you started:
Who will set the pace? - Totals are all about pace - how quickly are teams going to be able to score. The quicker teams are able to score, the more points will be scored in a game, and the higher the total will be. In many cases, determining the pace is reasonably simple. Two highly offensive teams are going to score early and often, and the total is going to be high. Conversely, two teams that play very tight defense regularly are very likely to play a low-scoring game. Those situations aren't often likely to create big betting opportunities, though. The books will know what kind of game is expected and will be able to set a solid number. The challenge, and the biggest potential reward, comes when teams of contrasting styles meet. In these cases you have to determine which side will be able to assert itself and control the pace of the game. Will the explosive offense be able to score like they are used to, forcing the defensive team to keep up? Or will the defensive team shut down the offense, keeping the score low? By looking at how the teams have fared in past games against similar teams you may be able to find a betting situation you are comfortable with. You can often find numbers that are far away from what you expect. That's a good feeling.
Look for a big edge - There is absolutely no reason to bet on a total if you think it is going to be close. If you are patient you can easily find games in which you feel like you have a large edge. Anything can happen in a game - overtime, a scoring slump, a hot streak from three-point range, excessive fouls causing plenty of free throws - so you want to make sure that you have a good cushion to your opinion. Everyone's definition of a big edge will vary, and you need to figure out what works for you. There are general rules, though - If you think the combined total will be 200 points then 202 or 197 probably wouldn't create a betting situation, but 190 or 211 might. There are lots of games every night and the season goes on for a long time, so there is no reason to play games in which you don't have a pretty good chance of cashing in.
Avoid easy solutions - There are all sorts of rules and systems out there that supposedly help you pick winners. With few exceptions, they can't replace logic and hard work. For example, two I hear or read about all the time are to play the under on the game with the lowest total of the night if there are five or more games being played, or playing the over on the highest total of the night in the same cases. In both of these cases you are supposedly employing psychology to spot situations where the books will have created left value on the board. The theory sounds compelling, but there's just one problem - they don't make money. The under in those circumstances is 41-40 ATS this year, while the over is 43-40. I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in breaking even or losing money. Just do your own work.
Look for changes - The best profit opportunities from betting NBA totals come when something significant changes that the public doesn't compensate for. Some changes are obvious - the Lakers aren't likely to score as much when Kobe Bryant is out, for example. Other changes can be less obvious but just as significant, though. Is a strong defensive player who doesn't get much attention because he doesn't score much going to miss a game? Has their been a change to the starting lineup? Is a scorer in a shooting slump? Has a player consistently struggled against an opponent? Basketball fans understand that small changes can make big differences. The better you get at spotting these changes and anticipating their impact, the bigger your bankroll will be.