In the later rounds of the NBA playoffs it often seems as if the media has a clear bias – a strong lean towards one team in a series and against the other. If that media bias is strong, consistent and logical at least on the surface then it could have a strong impact on the betting public, and therefore on the betting lines and the value on the series. Dealing with these biases can be a challenge for handicappers, but they can also potentially offer real value. Here are four things to consider when thinking about media bias in the NBA playoffs:
Is the bias really national, or is it regional? – There are really two aspects to these questions. First of all, national sports websites are getting more regional as they open sites to serve particular markets. Before you react strongly to a bias, then, you need to be sure that it is actually a national bias, and not just one that is targeted at your particular region. Obviously the national bias will have much more of an impact on lines than the regional one because the regional action is already likely to be tilted heavily towards the local team. The second issue to consider is whether the bias is towards a team that is likely to be of national interest. There are some teams that are always a national story – the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, and so on. Other teams – like the Hawks, Nuggets, or Thunder – are not nearly as interesting to the average basketball fan, so the impact of the increased media coverage isn’t as likely to be significant. You also need to make sure that the bias is widely held. If ESPN is blindly supporting one team, but SI is blindly on the other team then the impacts could cancel themselves out.
Is the public likely to share the bias? – There are NBA teams that the public will always be in love with, those that they could easily develop a crush on, and those that just aren’t going to capture any significant interest no matter how good they are. Jordan’s Bulls or Kobe’s Lakers are always going to be huge public teams no matter whom or how they are playing. Teams like the Knicks haven’t been in the public’s heart for the last few years, but it wouldn’t take much for them to get back there. A team like Milwaukee, on the other hand, would have to get a superstar or win a whole lot of games before people really cared about them, and then that love would likely be very fickle – just like it was for Cleveland. The more likely the public is to embrace a team, the more significant the impact of media bias could be.
Is the bias justified? – When the media gets on board with a team they will be blindly enthusiastic about that team. If they really fall for a team then logic doesn’t matter when it comes to making arguments and gushing about teams. Before you get too carried away by the media’s bias and start betting on their favorite team, then, you need to evaluate whether the media’s opinion actually makes sense. Sometimes they will be strongly on one team over another because of flashiness and big names and not fundamentals or matchups. In that case you can likely exploit that bias because the unpopular but well situated team will be available at a very attractive price. Sometimes, though, the media has a strong bias towards a particular team for a really good reason – that NBA team is just dramatically better than the opponent. It’s often possible for one team to be dramatically more talented than the opponent, or to have matchups that are incredibly advantageous. The bias may force the NBA odds on the better team higher than they would ideally be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean in this case that you can’t justify betting on them, or that there is value on the other team.
Is the bias likely to remain stable? – The media can be very fickle. They can be wildly in love with a team, but then dump them after a bad loss or an inexplicable performance. Before you get too excited about a bias and the impact it could have and the value it could create you need to make sure that the bias is likely to remain throughout the playoff series, and that the public is likely to be influenced by that continuing bias. If the media keeps changing their opinion, or even strengthening and weakening an opinion, then they aren’t going to have as much of an impact on the betting public as they would if the opinion was strong and consistent. Weigh media bias carefully and accordingly when wagering on the NBA playoffs.