NBA Betting and Handicapping: Impact of Abbreviated Schedule
by Trevor Whenham - 2/10/2012
The biggest impact of the ridiculous NBA Lockout last year is the significantly compacted schedule. There are only 66 games this year, and they are played in much less time than they would in normal circumstances.
It only makes sense that we look at the impacts that this situation is having on NBA betting, and what it could have going forward. Let’s start by looking at something that was surprising to me:
The biggest storyline when people have been talking about the condensed NBA schedule has been the fact that every team has to play three games in three days, with at least one of those games usually on the road. That’s a brutal stretch of play — especially in the midst of a very tough overall schedule — and it was expected to be really tough on teams.
Executives, coaches, and players started complaining about these as soon as the schedule was set, and it comes up whenever someone needs an excuse for rough play.
Given that, I was more than a little surprised when I look at what has happened so far this season. Sixteen different teams have endured their three-games-in-three-days stretch this year. The impact of the mini-marathon should be felt worst in the third game, so I looked at the betting outcomes in those games.
The results? A totally respectable 9-7 ATS. That’s right, if you have bet on every team to cover the spread in their third game in three nights you would be showing a small profit.
What does that mean? Two big things — the impact isn’t as significant as people thought, and the public is overcompensating for the impact of the schedule in these cases. That doesn’t mean that you should blindly bet on these teams going forward. It is another good example though, of how assumptions need to be tested before you act on them with your betting.
Most people would have assumed that these third games would have been disastrous for teams, but the lines have done a solid job of compensating for the issues.
So, what other impacts are we seeing from this schedule so far? Three stand out:
Depth is crucial
Teams that have a lot of depth are being rewarded very well for it. The two teams with the best records in the league — Chicago and Oklahoma City — are also the deepest teams in the league. Philadelphia is shocking everyone in large part because they can share the load so well. The same goes for Indiana and Atlanta.
On the other hand, teams like Boston, the Lakers, and New York that have faced injuries and lack the depth they need have not met expectations to date. Depth will become even more of an issue as we get deeper into the season. The teams that can still win when their best players aren’t playing, or aren’t playing at their best, are going to be particularly dangerous — and useful for bettors.
Injuries are more challenging to manage
When fewer games are played each game matters more. That means that coaches — especially those of marginal playoff contenders — can’t afford to be putting out less than their best lineup.
It’s always a challenge to balance the need to rest a player and let him heal with the need to have him on the court. This year, though, it is tougher than ever.
The Bulls provide a perfect example as they have tried to balance the need to keep Derrick Rose as healthy as they can by letting him rest when needed with the desire to have the reigning MVP in the lineup. That has led to him playing in games that he wouldn’t normally play in — like the more than 20 minutes he played against New Orleans.
Bettors always need to be concerned about players that are hurt, and particularly those that are banged up but still playing. That concern is more important than ever now.
Practice time is limited
With more games being played in less time the opportunity to practice is limited. Teams can go a week or more without the opportunity for a full, intense practice.
That’s fine when a talented team is playing well. When a team gets into a slide, though, or when they just aren’t very good in the first place, then it is very tough for the coaching staff to make adjustments, to teach, and to help the team improve.
That’s a contributing factor as to why the bad teams in the league right now seem to be really bad, and why they aren’t getting any better. It’s also why we have seen some teams that should be decent — Memphis and the Knicks, for example — struggle to find their legs.
It certainly makes me more hesitant to predict that a team that has been in a funk is going to snap out of it in a hurry.
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