The gambling life ain’t easy, folks — which is where today’s tale begins. But by the time you get to the end of today’s column, hopefully you’ll be amused by my personal adventures and enlightened by my leaguewide analysis.
We are at the quarter-pole of the NBA season, and trends have emerged.
First, to truly appreciate what it means to gamble on the NBA on a daily basis, you had to experience what it was like to bet on the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, December 3rd. Before we begin, it is also important to note, I personally had a few dollars on the Magic and Raptors in these two contests, so you can follow the pain and agony along with me. Let me paint you a picture of what occurred in both of those games:
Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers
At the Las Vegas Hilton (LVH), the line opened at -3.5 in favor of the 76ers, quickly dropped to -3, and ended up closing at -4 just before tip-off. In terms of the over/under, the line opened at 208 and ended up closing at around 206.
The game went into the 4th quarter with the Sixers up 85-80 and with a little over six minutes left in regulation, Philadelphia had their largest lead of the quarter at 91-83.
The game came to a head with a minute left in regulation, the Sixers up 4 and the Magic coming out of a timeout. Aaron Afflalo hit a 3-pointer to reduce the Sixers’ lead to one, 102-101 and 15 seconds later, Thaddeus Young came right down the floor and drained six-foot jump shot of his own to extend the lead to three.
Then, the bizarro began …
Glen Davis, who has six career 3-pointers in 40 attempts over six-plus seasons, mailed a 3 to tie it, and Evan Turner missed a layup at the end of regulation to force overtime. The score of the game previous to Davis’ 3 was 104-101 (205 total points), which meant his “miraculous” three not only put the game into overtime, but took the point total from under to over.
The Sixers led by five with a minute and a half to go in overtime and ended up fouling Aaron Afflalo attempting a 3-pointer, down three, with 12 seconds left Afflalo made all three free throws and the game went to double-overtime. The Sixers again had a five-point lead, but this time with 20 seconds left in double-overtime, Andrew Nicholson hit a two-point field goal to bring the lead to three before the Magic fouled James Anderson, who missed both free throws for the Sixers.
Afflalo then missed a 3-point field goal attempt, the Sixers rebounded the ball and were fouled, Anderson then hit one of two free throws and “magic” happened for Orlando bettors. After a 20-second timeout with around one second left on the clock, Afflalo hit a 25-foot 3-pointer to make the final score 126-125 Sixers, instead of 126-122, which shifted the cover from Philadelphia to Orlando in under a second.
Welcome to the ups and downs of NBA gambling.
Later Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors traveled to Golden State to face the Warriors.
The line at LVH opened at -7.5 in favor of Golden State and closed at -8 before tip-off.
The game started out pretty normal, with about four minutes left in the first quarter, the Raptors were beating the Warriors 16-14 and by the time the whistle had blown four minutes later, Toronto led Golden State 36-19 and the Warriors were 25 points away from covering through just 12 minutes of play.
By the time halftime hit, Toronto was up on Golden State by a score of 65-48 (again, 25 points away from covering for the Warriors). The Raptors kept up the pace and their superior play and took an 88-70 lead into the 4th.
The lead dwindled from 17 to 10 in less than four minutes, from 10 to tied in another four minutes, and with 47 seconds left, Harrison Barnes hit a 3-pointer to put Golden State up 109-103. After two misses from DeMar DeRozan, a miss from Steve Novak and three free throws from Stephen Curry, the Warriors won the game 112-103…and covered the game by one point after a 42-15 4th quarter.
After all of that, what is the point?
Gamblers had to roll through the ups and downs of those games and not drop dead from the crazy swings. It is not a life for the feeble.
Anyway, it’s time to take a look at which teams have been the best bets … and which teams haven’t.
Against The Spread Standings
If you are familiar with the regular NBA standings, the top of the ATS (Against The Spread) standings should come as no shock to you with the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers leading the way with 14 ATS wins so far this season.
The two teams collided earlier this week in Portland for one of the best games of the year. Portland come out on top and showed that they should be taken very seriously across the league this season. (Check out where LeMarcus Aldridge is ranked in Chris Sheridan’s latest MVP rankings.)
Some of the more surprising teams on this list have to be the top Eastern Conference teams; here are the top 5 in the ATS East: Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics. With the Knicks, Nets and Bulls near the bottom of the list, the entire conference has been turned upside down just a quarter into the season. My particular surprise team on this list has to be the Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. is 11-6-1 ATS for 4th place in the NBA, and they are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games.
Looking Forward: Against The Spread
I have said it since the beginning of the season and I will reiterate it now. I personally believe the Orlando Magic will have a bit of a successful season if you are using their preseason win total (24.5) line as the barometer. The Magic are currently 9-9 ATS through 18 games and 6-12 overall. As long as the books do not look at Orlando as a threa, I believe they will do a good job at covering numbers as underdogs against some of the better teams in the league.
Over the summer, I pinpointed four teams (three of which had 100/1 odds or greater) I personally liked to place future wagers on: Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and my favorite, the Indiana Pacers. Based on what we have seen so far, I am not upset with any of those picks for a few different reasons. The Pacers own the best record in the NBA both straight up and ATS, and the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Pistons all have nine wins and are basically playing .500 basketball through a 1/4 of the season.
Update on Individual Awards
I am referencing the column I wrote on Sheridan Hoops about a week before the season started on the odds on such awards as the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Scoring leader as well as a few proposition bets. When accessing the rookie class so far, lets start with Chris Bernucca‘s Week 5 Rookie Rankings, which puts Michael Carter-Williams 1st (8/1), Victor Oladipo 2nd (4/1), Trey Burke 3rd (5/1), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 4th (20/1) and Ben McLemore 5th (7/1). I personally believe it will be a two-horse race between Oladipo and Carter-Williams, but given the lack of scoring around Burke and the fact he didn’t have as much of a head start as the other two players may not make a difference if he stays healthy.
Next, we will dive into the current MVP race in the NBA. We will start by referencing Chris Sheridan‘s column earlier this week on the MVP award and its current participants a 1/4 of the way through the season. Here are Sheridan’s top five current candidates for the award: Paul George (35/1), LaMarcus Aldridge (125/1), Kevin Durant (3.5/1), LeBron James (1.4/1) and Tony Parker (30/1). The prices on the first two players on this list are very, very intriguing if you were able to grab tickets on them before the season started, but it is still very hard for me to believe that anyone else but LeBron James will ultimately win this award.
In my opinion, Paul George may have an actual shot to win this award if the Pacers can keep up their win pace to a degree for the remainder of the season. That would mean having to win 60+ games and keeping the remainder of the Eastern Conference a bunch of games behind them to make it look good compared to the absurd numbers James will put up by seasons end.
Nothing is too shocking when you are looking at the early numbers for scoring, rebounding and assist leaders in the clubhouse. Here are the top 5 players in each category, their preseason odds to lead the league in those statistical categories, and then I will throw in a dark-horse or two to watch as the season moves along.
Kevin Durant was the favorite at 6/5, and he is atop the league at 28.5 ppg. LeBron James is third at 25.7, and if he avoids any more of the energy voids like the one that plagued him in last night’s 20-point loss to Chicago, he can make a run for this distinction. (Check out this Chris Bernucca column on how James is doing things that even Michael Jordan didn’t do.) Carmelo Anthony went off at 3.15/1, and he is currently second at 25.9.
Only one rebound separates the top four players, led by the 13.6 of Kevin Love (1.5/1) followed by DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard, who was the preseason favorite at even money. Jordan and Drummond were 6-1 “field” bets.
Chris Paul went off at 1.5 to 1 in the preseason, and John Wall, who is trailing him 11.8 to 9.2, should hang onto the league lead for the remainder of the season barring an injury. If that should happen, those who wagered on Wall at 9-1 or Ricky Rubio at 15/2 will have some nice action.
The Futures Market
The play of the two New York teams really sent a shock wave through the east coast. The Knicks and Nets were a combined 39/1 to win the NBA Championship if you added up both teams average odds before the season started. Now, they are a combined 128/1 and both in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, currently outside of the playoffs looking in. Injuries have been a big factor for both teams early in the season with Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler and Deron Williams missing extended periods of time through the first quarter of the season.
The Blazers and Timberwolves look to have made the biggest jump to the list of contenders based on their future odds before the season started. Portland was between 100/1 and 200/1 depending on if you shopped in Las Vegas or offshore, and Minnesota was between 100/1 and 175/1, which makes both a pretty good investment at the current moment if you own their preseason tickets.
If I were to wager at the current moment, it would be very hard for me to resist taking the New York Knicks at 100/1 at the LVH knowing they are getting Tyson Chandler back, and I just do not believe it will get much worse for them.
They will make the playoffs and having a team like the Knicks, with what the remainder of the Eastern Conference looks like, I think a wager on 100/1 is hard to avoid.
I am not too sure what to do with this news, but either way, the Raptors are 60/1 in Las Vegas, but 275/1 offshore.
With the Atlantic Division looking so poor early on and the Celtics, 76ers and Raptors at the top of the division by a few games, the odds of the teams near the top just need to come down a bit. I do not think the Raptors are a threat to do anything of note, but the difference is noteworthy.
The current issue with betting futures on teams like the Hawks, Wizards and Pistons purely based on the standings is the fact that teams like the Magic, Raptors and Cavaliers are only two to three games back with only around 20 games having been played already.
Don’t judge a team based on the standings, but what you have seen from them on the floor and what you think the potential of that team is going forward.
Evan Abrams writes about basketball gambling for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter @Betropolitan.
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