Evaluating Late Season Totals and the League’s Worst Teams
The NBA regular season is coming to a close, and just a few playoff positions remain. We've already seen some teams rest players in late-season games, and line moves have been significant. Yet following the money at the sports books has not often worked out well for many bettors. That was the case in Miami April 10 when bettors steamed the Heat up 6-7 points to an 11-point favorite vs. the Cavaliers, who rested stars LaBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs built a big lead before Miami rallied to force overtime and win 124-121 (non-cover). Bettors steamed up the Spurs (-13) on April 5 at home vs. Los Angeles, but the lowly Lakers never trailed and pulled a shocker to win 102-95. Spurs coach Popovich had something to do with that, as he played more reserves as the game went along and likely doesn't want to see the Lakers get the top draft pick.
On the other end of the betting market is the bottom teams. Many public bettors love to bet against bad teams, yet these 'ugly dogs' have often made bettors pay.
A list of the worst teams in the league this season shows how they have fared since April 1 straight up (SU), against the spread (ATS) and over/under (O/U). All these teams have a record below .400.
Brooklyn Nets: 4-2 SU, 5-1 ATS, 3-3 O/U
Phoenix Suns: 2-3 SU, 3-2 ATS, 4-1 O/U
LA Lakers: 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS, 1-4 O/U
Philadelphia 76ers: 0-5 SU, 1-4 ATS, 4-1 O/U
Orlando Magic: 1-4 SU, 1-4 ATS, 3-2 O/U
NY Knicks: 1-4 SU, 2-3 ATS, 1-4 O/U
Minnesota Twolves: 1-5 SU, 2-4 ATS, 4-2 O/U
Sacramento Kings: 2-2 SU, 3-1 ATS, 2-2 O/U
Some of these bad teams have clearly played out the string, and some are experimenting with players and roster adjustments. Yet the three worst teams have all been big money makers while going a combined 10-6 SU and 13-3 ATS. So a lesson to be learned and tucked away for future seasons, as the linemaker clearly adjusts against these very bad teams and public perception, but the biggest 'Dogs actually have some bite, more often in games when the opponent has little interest or motivation.
Late season games may appear to have less interest for many teams that have secured their playoff position, or the bad teams with nothing but pride to play for. But many of these teams have seen their scoring up as the season comes to a close.
Here are some totals situations to help you identify more late-season winners.
In the last 4 games of the regular season (games 79-82) involving home favorites, we've seen the 'over' cash at greater than 58% when the total is posted at 199-214 (mainstream). This is on a sample size of more than 275 games going back 20 years. In the last four years alone, the 'over' has hit greater than 65%. This year in most recent games since April 5, the totals that fit this profile have gone just 7-7 over/under. Three more games fit the totals profile on April 11, and more are likely on the final day of the regular season April 12.
Another situation to follow in going with the flow is when two teams meet that both came off high-scoring games. This situation can be especially useful in late season games involving bad or defenseless teams that are playing out the string and care more about scoring than defending. We're looking to play on a game in which one team eclipsed the game total by at least 18 points in their last game, and the other team's previous game went over the total by at least 24 points. This situation has a huge sample size of more than 800 games the last 20 years, and when those two teams meet the next game, those contests have gone over the total better than 58% of the time. That totals profile is 22-12 over/under this season.
This situation fits the Phoenix at Sacramento game (218.5) on April 11.
Finally, match-up analysis, situational profiles, injuries and rest are all part of late-season handicapping. So too is understanding motivation, letdown and schedule situations as teams push for the playoffs and others prepare for the playoffs with their seed secure.
When non-playoff teams meet in the final week of the regular season (like PHO/SAC), there tends to be less defensive focus and more free flowing play and offensive production.
However, when the elite teams (Class A) meet in the final 10 games of the regular season, we tend to see better defense and I use many of these profiles in the playoffs. I often eliminate the final two regular season games as these top teams may rest some players more often or may have already secured a top 1 or 2 seed.
When San Antonio hosted Cleveland March 27, the Spurs shut down the Cavaliers in a 103-74 win than went well under the total of 211. Two days later, the league's top-2 team hooked up when San Antonio hosted Golden State. The Spurs lost as a home favorite 110-98, and the game stayed just under the opening and prevailing total. And on April 5, Boston hosted Cleveland in a marquee match-up with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the balance. The Cavs crushed the Celtics 114-91 in another Class A match-up that stayed well under the total that was bet up to 222.
I'll be back for the NBA playoffs to evaluate more profitable profiles and situations to support.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay