It seems like every year in the NBA playoffs there are one or two games that turn into epic overtime battles – three or four periods of heart stopping thrill rides. Since overtime is so rare in the NBA, and so different than it is in other sports, it provides a bit of a challenge for sports handicappers. In hockey overtimes can go forever in the playoffs, and they are common enough that we are experienced dealing with them. Extra innings in baseball are almost as common, and we know how to deal with those well. NBA overtime is different, though, and it can be easy to deal with incorrectly if you aren’t careful. The epic overtime battles are rare enough – and inherently full of drama – that they get heavily covered, and that means that they are in the consciousness of the betting public. The public loves to react to big stories like this, and they will often do it with enthusiasm. To handicap how NBA teams will respond after an overtime game here are six questions to ask yourself:
Did one player or more player carry an extra burden in playing time? – In an overtime game a NBA team can sometimes get themselves in trouble with a player or two. A key player will typically play more than his share of time during regulation if the game is close. As long as he’s not in foul trouble it is very unlikely that he is going to be on the bench for any significant amount of time in overtime, either. That means that a superstar could easily play an hour or more of game time in a triple overtime game. That’s more than they are obviously used to playing, and could really be a factor if he is a particularly physical or high tempo player. If the player is young and healthy then that’s probably not a big issue. If he is already a bit banged up, or if he needs to conserve himself to be at his best, though, then this could really be a problem for him and for his team.
Is there enough recovery time? – The NBA playoffs try to stick to a pretty normal schedule – games every other night for teams. Sometimes, though, that gets thrown off. Games on back to back nights can happen from time to time, or a late evening game can be followed by an afternoon game with travel in between. If rest is compromised for some reason then the impact could be significant. It could be felt more by a team that relies on speed and movement, or on an older team. On the flip side, if the space between games is longer than normal – two nights off instead of one, for example – then there is ample time to recover and the impact of the overtime would likely be minimal – and hopefully less than the public will think it is.
Did the losing team gain a moral victory? – Losing after a battle like this is going to be hard on a team. Sometimes, though, the loss could actually be something to build on and gain momentum from. Say, for example, that it is the first game of a series, and and the losing team was a low seed – like a seven or eight – playing in the building of a top seed. They may not have won, but by playing the team so tough in difficult circumstances they could have delivered the message that they don’t intend to lie down and let the opponent roll over them.
Was the final result lopsided? Why? – It’s surprising how often it winds up that an overtime game is decided by eight or 10 points when the dust settles. The teams can play so tight and so close for so long, and then it opens up wide at the end. Sometimes there is a clear explanation for this – a team was finally able to spot and exploit a particular situation that gave them an advantage from the perimeter or under the hoop or one team may have gotten into foul trouble, sending the other to the foul line numerous times. If it is clear what happened to cause the lopsided result then that could be a good indicator of a potential edge that could emerge and widen as the series progresses.
What came before? – An epic NBA overtime game is going to have more of an impact on teams late in a tough series than it is at the outset – physically, at least. It’s going to be harder on a team in the third round than the first. It will be tougher on a team that has played 13 games in their first two series than one that played nine. You get the point – you need to judge the impact of the overtime based on the context surrounding it and utilize it in your playoff handicapping.
Does it really matter? – This is ultimately the question that all of these other questions have led to. A great deal of the time the true impact of an overtime game on the next game in the NBA playoffs is, at best, negligible. If you don’t see a big reason to be concerned or a big edge for one team over another, then you are probably best to not factor it in at all when you’re handicapping the next contest.