By the time the All-Star break rolls around in the NBA there are at least eight or ten teams most years that clearly and obviously have no chance of making the playoffs – or even coming close. Their seasons might essentially be over, but that doesn’t mean that we can or should quit betting on them. You do need to look at these basketball teams differently than you would one that is contending. A team that is eliminated from the NBA playoffs but still plays well can provide excellent betting value if you stay on the right side of the basketball point spreads. Here are six factors that can help you determine how likely a team is to play well down the stretch:
Coach stability – If a coach is likely to be fired at the end of the season, or if he has already been fired and an interim is in place, then it is unlikely that the team is going to pay a whole lot of attention to the coaching down the stretch. Strong coaching can lift a team, but the absence of coaching can be a disaster. On the other hand, if a coach is well established and is showing progress and accomplishing things with his team then he could easily get strong efforts down the stretch regardless of how far out of contention the team is. That could be significant depending upon the point spread and opponent.
Contract status of key players – If the players that are at the heart of the team are under contract and stable then they know that the team is their own, and they will buy into what happens. That can lead to strong efforts – as long as the player is reasonably happy were he is. If the players are pending free agents, though, then their focus is going to more intensely be on getting out of town as the season progresses, and they may not be as likely to work hard for a win. Other players on the team feed off the contract status of the stars as well. If they know the star is likely to stick around then they can feel some optimism about their team, and they could be positive about their future. If they know that the star is out of town and things aren’t likely to be any better next year then they are very likely to be frustrated.
Expectations – The mental state of a NBA team is what you need to focus on in this situation. That mental state has a lot to do with what the season was supposed to look like. If the team came into the season knowing that they were going to struggle then their problems don’t come as a surprise, and they probably aren’t that hard to take. It could even be a positive thing – 20 wins doesn’t seem so bad if you only expected to get 15. On the other hand, if a team was supposed to be a potential contender but nothing has gone right all season then they are sure to get more and more frustrated as the season progresses, and effort levels are unlikely to increase. That could be important when handicapping the team.
Prospects for the future – It can be easier to handle being lousy now if you know that you are likely to be much better in the future. A team built around young players – like the Bulls or the Thunder in recent years – know that current struggles are just means of gaining experience on the road to future success. A basketball team in that situation, then, could be relied upon to perform solidly down the stretch. If things are bleak in town, though, and a lack of talent or an obvious bright future means that the future isn’t likely to be much better than the present – or even worse – then it can be awfully hard to be motivated, and it’s reasonable to think that effort levels aren’t likely to suddenly get much better.
Trend – Sometimes a team isn’t as bad at this time as their overall record appears. Perhaps their play in the last 20 games has been solidly better, or they are scoring more points now than they were at the beginning of the season. In other cases, though, a team is getting weaker as the season progresses. Breaking the season down into smaller portions and comparing the records for each portion are a great way to spot teams that are better – or potentially even worse – than their record or the NBA odds suggests. The betting public isn’t likely to look beyond overall record for lousy teams, so these differences can provide real value for the smart sports bettor.
Milestones or accomplishments still to play for – For some NBA teams making the playoffs was never a realistic goal at the start of the season, so it can’t be viewed as a shock or disappointment when they are eliminated. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those teams have nothing to play for, though. Maybe their goal is to win more games than they did last year, or to reach a particular milestone – maybe 20, 30, or 35 wins, or maybe a winning record on the home hardwood. The more things a team has to play for down the stretch, the more likely they are to play with solid effort, so you need to be creative in analyzing what milestones could be motivating them to win and for you to bet on them.