Several times each year teams in the NBA are forced to play two games on consecutive nights. That situation can be particularly challenging for teams – they are typically played on the road, so teams face tough travel on a short schedule between challenging games. It rarely brings out the best in basketball teams and players, and it can really make some teams look awful. For sports bettors these games can create a headache. You can’t simply assume that the team playing the back-to-back will be in rough shape in the second game and will find it hard to cover the spread. If it was that easy we would all be rich. Instead, you have to consider what the impact will be, and how that affects the team’s ability to cover spreads. Here are six factors to consider when looking at back-to-back games in the NBA:
Travel – When a NBA team plays back-to-back games they are usually on the road for at least one of those games. It only makes sense, then, that you need to consider the impact of the travel on the team in these games. Are the two games relatively close together, or is it a long flight? Are they forced to travel through the night, or can it be more relaxed? Are they traveling into hostile territory, or will the crowd be relatively apathetic? It goes beyond just the travel between the games, too. Have they been facing grueling travel before the series, or do they come into this challenge reasonably well rested? Have they been playing on their home court, or does this come in the midst of a long road trip? Are they going to be looking forward to playing in their home arena after the second game, or will they be focused?
History – History can be a powerful teacher in situations like this. A team that has been effective in the past in these situations is far more likely to be successful now than a team that has struggled in the same situations. To get a really good sense of what is likely it can be worthwhile going beyond just the surface. Instead of just looking at the record of the basketball team in back-to-back games look at the team in situations like they are facing now – similar amounts of travel, similar recent form, similar caliber of opponents, and so on.
Opponents – Style of play and the way that the games have played out leading into the back-to-back is important to consider. If the first game of the series was very physical or high tempo then the team could struggle in the second game. If the game was slow, though, or if they won the game easily and beat the spread and were able to rest starters down the stretch, then the team may not feel the impact of the consecutive games significantly. You also need to consider the style of play of the two opponents in the series. If they both play a similar style then it can be much easier for the team to prepare for the second game than if they have to adjust to an entirely different style of play. A dramatic adjustment in styles can cause a team to feel mentally exhausted before the second game even gets rolling.
Schedule – What a NBA team has had to endure before the back-to-back series has a lot to do with how they will fare. Have they played a lot of games in a short time before, or are they reasonably rested coming in? Have they had to travel heavily, or has it been a relaxed schedule? Have they been playing particularly tough teams that bang the boards and play tough in the paint, or has it been a soft spot in the schedule? Do they have any reason to be looking past this game towards what is still to come? The other factor you don’t want to overlook is what the schedule of the opponent has looked like. If they are likely to be tired as well then the impact of the back-to-back games could be minimized. If the opponent is well rested, though, then there could be a real issue. Always consider this when handicapping the game.
Health – When teams have to play consecutive games their depth is very important. Their star players likely will be unable to play at full capacity for two full games in two days, so the bench needs to step up and eat up some minutes effectively. That means that it is important that a NBA team is healthy enough to have the depth they need, and healthy enough that they can still find ways to play to their strengths under the challenges they are presented with.
Public perception – When the public is faced with a situation like this they are quick to jump to conclusions. Those conclusions will likely be based more on assumptions and stereotypes than on hard facts and direct observations and analysis of the team in question. Because of that it is important to not only look at what the stats and the situation tells us, but what the media coverage tells us about what the public is likely to think in a situation. When a team in the NBA faces a challenge like games on consecutive nights the public is inclined to overreact – they’ll overvalue a strong win in the first game, and panic more than necessary to an injury, for example. If the public seems likely to overreact in a situation then there can be a real opportunity for value when it comes to finding point spreads that favor you.