Oddsmakers getting all the bounces in NBA betting

Oddsmakers getting all the bounces in NBA betting

Oddsmakers getting all the bounces in NBA betting
By JOSH NAGEL

Here are a couple words of advice for sports bettors looking to latch on to a specific NBA team and ride an early-season streak to the winner’s circle: Good luck.

With the noted exception of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are 18-4 against the spread to support their 19-3 straight up mark, the majority of NBA clubs hover near the .500 mark. (And it should be noted that there probably weren’t many bettors who anticipated banking a windfall from the Cavaliers in the first 25 games.)

This type of parity among NBA teams is somewhat of an anomaly this early in the season. Historically, ATS (against the spread) records tend to even out over the course of the season as oddsmakers adjust to early-season trends.

Not the case this year. Take the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, for example,  last year’s NBA finalists. The betting public was destined to back them this season because of their success last year and general high profile. Despite the fact the Lakers and Celtics are a combined 38-5 straight up, they are just 22-21 combined ATS. Another popular pair of public teams, the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons, are a combined 20-21 ATS.

“In my younger years, I probably would have been surprised by this, but not now,” says noted Las Vegas-based linesmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, who is now director of sports operations and public relations for Lucky’s Race & Sportsbook operations in Nevada. “The thing is, the talent in the NBA has caught up, but the numbers have caught up, too.”

Vaccaro said young players who are drafted in the NBA come into the league more prepared to make an immediate impact than they used to, but the oddsmakers have kept pace by accurately assessing how much a team can improve when it adds players through the draft and free agency.

Of the 30 NBA teams, 18 were within two games of .500 ATS records heading into Thursday’s action. Only four - the Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets - were four or more games above. 500. Similarly, there are only four teams that are four games or worse than .500: the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.

Coincidentally, the NBA’s two most dreadful teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Washington Wizards, are a respectable 21-21 ATS despite going a combined 6-37 straight up.

The good news is there is still money to be made for basketball bettors. The same type of trends that we’re seeing develop in the NBA aren’t holding true in college basketball, Vaccaro says, because there are so many teams to handicap that savvy bettors still can find cracks in the lines.

“The linemakers haven’t caught up as quickly in college basketball,” says Vaccaro.. “The gamblers are still way ahead of us there.”

Even so, Vaccaro and his colleagues will gladly take the win margin that comes when the public bets heavy on high-profile favorites and the over on totals. Lately those tickets are rarely returned to the cage for a payout.

“We’ve been charging them a huge price for the favorites,” Vaccaro says. “Of course, at least 60 percent of the parlays we take are for the favorite and over … so the ATS results work out for us in that respect.”

Astute bettors have adjusted their NBA strategies. Instead of looking for trending teams, handicapper Neil Baron of Reno looks for instances in which high-profile clubs are overvalued, particularly when they go on the road.

Recent examples are when the Celtics were eight-point road favorites Dec. 7 over the Pacers. They won 122-117 in overtime but did not cover. The Lakers came in as 12-point road chalks Dec. 5 against the Wizards and barely squeaked out a 106-104 win, putting easy cash in the hands of Wizards’ backers.     

“It doesn't really concern me that most NBA teams are near .500 ATS,” Baron said. “Typically, by the time you recognize that a team is doing really well against the pointspread, the oddsmakers have caught on and adjusted.

“I look for value in individual games. I like to fade public teams.”

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