NBA Handicapping: Back-to-Back Games
by Trevor Whenham - 02/04/2009
NBA teams have already played games on back-to-back nights 333 times this year. That means that it is important for bettors to consider the impact that these games have on teams. It's especially important in this case because people probably have assumptions about what happens that they regularly act on. For example, I would guess that a large number of people would assume that teams are not going to be at their best in the second game in as many nights. If that were true then it would be a powerful tool for handicappers. If it isn't, though, then it could be a costly leak in your bankroll. Here's a look at how teams are performing this year in their the back end of back-to-back games:
The teams in the league have gone 168-161-4 ATS in these games. That's obviously not enough to make them attractive to bet on or to bet against. That means that any blanket assumptions about the impact of these games isn't going to be useful to bettors. To potentially find useful information we will have to dig deeper into the information.
It might seem like a good assumption that the Western Conference would be better in these games than the East - they are better teams in general. That's not even close to true, though. The Western Conference teams are just 79-85-1 ATS. Again, that's not particularly useful - It wouldn't be profitable over the long term to bet on or against the teams in the conference in these games. The East is a slightly different story. It sits at 89-76-3 in the second games. That means that it would be profitable to bet on them. Though it's hard to boil that down to simple explanations, one contributing factor would be travel - Eastern teams typically don't have to travel as far as Western teams do in-conference, so fewer of their back-to-back games would involve intense travel.
Does it make a difference if we break the teams into those that are better than .500, and those that are worse? Though a good record doesn't necessarily mean a team is good ATS, you might assume that the better teams are generally going to be more successful ATS in the second games as well. As it turns out, the comparison is a handy one - there are 15 teams above .500, and 15 teams below. The results aren't particularly helpful, though. Teams above .500 are at 79-77-2 ATS, while teams below .500 are 89-84-2 ATS. Neither one is helpful for bettors.
Very good teams
Though the results of the last test weren't useful, the logic makes sense - better teams should be in a better position to handle the extra stress of back-to-back games. So what happens if we tighten our definition of good teams? There are nine teams in the league with winning percentages better than .600 - three in the East and six in the West. Those teams are 53-43-1 ATS in the second games, while the lesser 21 squads are 115-118-3. That means that the good teams are profitable while the weaker teams aren't. Five of the nine teams are profitable by themselves.
Really good teams
The next logical step is to look at the exceptional teams in the league - those with winning percentages above .700. That narrows the field down to just four teams - Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando in the East, and the Lakers in the West. The results here are very interesting. Those four teams are 26-14 ATS in the second games. That's a 65 percent winning percentage, and that has obviously been very profitable so far this year. That leaves the rest of the teams at 142-147-4 ATS.
Really bad teams
If betting on elite teams in this situation seems to be a promising proposition, then how about betting against really bad teams? Five teams in the league have inning percentages below .500 - Memphis, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, the Clippers, and Washington. Those teams have combined to go 24-34 ATS in the second games. That's a 41 percent winning rate, and that would make a bet-against nicely profitable. We can't be as confident that this would remain profitable over the long term as the elite teams because of that difference in winning percentage, though. It's also interesting to note that while three of the four elite teams were profitable in these games, just two of the five bad teams would have been profitable if you were to bet against them.
Best five teams
The heroes of second game betting, at least by volumes and wins, are the Nets. They have played in these situations 14 times - only the Bucks have played more - and they have covered 10 of them. That's significantly better than their 26-23 overall ATS record. The Cavs have the best win percentage at 8-2 ATS, followed by Orlando at 6-2 ATS, the Lakers at 8-3 ATS, and the Raptors at 6-3-1 ATS. Honorable mention has to go to the Thunder and the Timberwolves. Neither team is particularly good, but both have covered more than 60 percent of their second games. That's more notable for Minnesota - Oklahoma City has generally been good ATS, while the Timberwolves far exceed their overall performance in these games.
Worst five teams
What's interesting here is that there are both good and bad teams in this group. You might expect that lousy teams like Memphis (the worst in these situations) and the Clippers would be here, but you might not be so sure that solid teams like Utah, San Antonio, and Miami would also be in the bottom five. Dishonorable mention also has to go to Boston. They may have the best record in the league and a profitable overall ATS record, but they are a lousy 4-7 ATS in these situations.