It doesn’t matter that the NBA is the hardest sport to beat next to the NFL. Nor does it matter that NBA lines are extremely sharp, or that some of the players in the league are among the most detestable in all sports.
We’re still going to bet NBA. So let’s at least try to make some money from it. To accomplish this we need to be aware of certain harsh realities.
Basketball is an eight-month grind similar to baseball. That means riding hot streaks and dealing with cold streaks. Money management is as important as handicapping.
Bet a little more when winning, but don’t ever let yourself get too cocky. This is a sport that slaps you down to size real fast by nature of its randomness and garbage-type finishes that often decide the point spread winner. If you’re losing you need to scale down your action until you regain your rhythm.
For the NBA is a rhythm sport. The lines almost always seem accurate. So face it, you’re rarely going to get value. Sometimes you will, but it’s usually just during the first couple of weeks. If you refuse to play unless you get a great number, you’re going to be sitting out a lot.
So don’t be afraid to get involved. Now, I’m not saying be undisciplined. No matter how much you like a side, you have to pass if the line is too out of whack. Rare is the time when you really love a side and are able to also take a great number on the same game. You’ll get bit a few times, losing by a point or two, but in the long run you’ll make more money provided you handicap right and play the game even if the betting line isn’t entirely to your liking.
Some gamblers disagree, saying you should never play unless you’re getting the best number. That’s fine in theory, but hard to apply in the NBA since a large part of handicapping pro basketball is situations, injuries, matchups and your own subjective feel rather than power rankings, statistics and coaching.
Basketball is a hard sport to get rich on. I’ve beaten the NBA five of the past six years hitting between 54 and 58 percent. Perhaps that doesn’t sound spectacular, but it’s solid profit taking into account there are 30 teams playing 82 games followed by the postseason. I would dare call a liar anybody who claims to consistently hit better than 60 percent over the long run playing a lot of games each season.
Having the right feel in the NBA is huge. The key question, of course, is how to acquire the right feel? It’s developed through experience, watching the games, analyzing players, understanding situational aspects, reading pertinent up-to-date material and talking to sources if you’re lucky enough to have good ones. And in the end, it comes down to trusting your own instincts.
Unless your whole life has been devoted to handicapping NBA, you have to make certain concessions. For instance, I don’t spend a lot of time pouring over statistics and compiling power rankings. These are factored into the betting line anyways.
The oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants - the company that supplies the betting numbers to most of the hotels in Nevada - use power rankings to make numbers as other linesmakers do. I do make overnight numbers and compare them. But the oddsmakers’ numbers are solid and need to be respected. There’s no reason to try to improve on their time-tested numbers.
Betting totals is something else altogether. There are individuals and betting syndicates who are extremely proficient in this area. Las Vegas bookmakers were plagued for many years by one especially sharp individual in this area.
Bookmakers adjust totals much faster than sides. It’s my experience gamblers are either very good or very bad at over/unders with most having no clue how to beat totals. Over/unders are hard to get involved with unless you thoroughly understand what you’re doing. It’s difficult for both oddsmakers and bettors, for instance, to accurately gauge a total when a fast-paced team matches up against a half-court opponent.
If a team is playing its fifth game in seven days you figure that team is at a huge disadvantage physically and mentally. That’s easy to handicap playing a side. But when betting a total, would you know if that’s an advantage (tired arms making for poor shooting percentage) or a disadvantage (too tired to play intense defense)?
For reasons like that I find sides much easier to handicap. The business aspect is what makes the NBA so much a crapshoot when handicapping. The players make so much money and have so many games that you’re not always assured of getting a top effort from them. That’s not a concern in college because players usually play hard all the time. The NBA is more a marathon with players pacing themselves, picking their spots.
It’s rare to find a team, for instance, playing well every game during a long road trip. The secret is to project when they’ll tank and when they’ll be on. Beating the NBA is difficult because you’re at the mercy of the different mood swings of various key players who can be just out of high school, have a ghetto background or have a name you can’t pronounce because they’re from somewhere halfway around the world.
Sometimes the point spread is decided in the final minute. Even though the outcome is evident, a point spread could be decided by a meaningless uncontested lay-up, an undefended jump shot or if the losing team decides to foul or not. It’s not nearly as bad as what occurs in college, when a hopelessly losing team keeps needlessly fouling, allowing the winner to cover a big spread and pushing the total over.
But often times the line is so solid that the game falls in the mix, where it could go either way from a point spread standpoint no matter how well or poorly you handicapped. I remember losing with an 8-point underdog a few years ago when the favorite had a 7-point lead with just seconds left and the ball. The underdog wasn’t going to foul, instead they started shaking hands and walking off the court.
Now when that happens, you can almost start counting your money because the winning team is just going to dribble out the last few seconds, especially when they were at half-court, as in this instance. However, in this particular case, the notoriously selfish J.R. Rider had the ball and sensing an easy way to pad his stats, made a mad dash for the open hoop dunking the ball with a second left. The announcers criticized Rider for being bush, as did other players, but the bottom line was the final score was a 9-point margin costing me a wager.
Always accept that a certain amount of games fall into the mix. The way to beat the NBA is to nail the games that don’t fall into the mix more often than not. Use proper money management and know how to take advantage of injury information.
Just because Chris Webber is out doesn’t necessarily mean the 76ers are a bad bet for that evening. It helps to know the players and backups so well you can correctly assess if the bookmaker made a correct line adjustment on an injury. Sometimes they over-adjust. I’ve played in Rotisserie leagues with deep rosters (12 teams composed of 15 players) for years to keep sharp on players. I’d recommend it.
Because of the long season, there will be short windows of opportunities to take advantage of inside knowledge such as a key player unexpectedly not being in the lineup either through injury, suspension or other personal reasons. The biggest NBA bet I ever won came a couple of years ago when 30 minutes before tip-off I received a call from a source saying Steve Francis wouldn’t play.
The books got that same information a few minutes before tip-off, but in that short interval before the house found out, I was able to bet against Francis’ team, which happened to be the Rockets at the time, while also betting the under. Both wagers easily won.
These kinds of dream spots don’t crop up too often, but they can prove profitable when they do. The bottom line with beating the NBA is to keep plugging; exploit hot streaks; take advantage of rare inside information when it appears; lay low during cold spells; and respect how tough it is to make a huge profit wagering on the sport. Keep things in perspective. The NBA can be beat, but not if you’re impatient and greedy.