There are two kinds of NBA games – those that are nationally televised, and those that aren’t. The ones that are on TV – like on ESPN or TNT - often feature more popular teams playing more interesting matchups. Combine that with the added attention the media gives a televised game and you have a game that is potentially quite different for sports handicappers to deal with than a normal one. Here are five ways in which nationally televised games could be different for bettors and affect the spread:
Betting volume could be higher – More accurately, betting volume is very likely to be higher. The betting public is drawn to games that get the most attention and feature the most interesting games, so that will be nationally televised games in most cases. The more attention that the public pays to a NBA game the bigger potential impact they can have on lines. Most significantly, if the public is very likely to have a strong preference for one team over the other than the line for that team is likely to be higher than it might otherwise be in order for the books to maximize their profit. That means that you have to be particularly certain of your pick before you bet on the public team because there is going to be less value than their might otherwise be because of the inflated point spread. On the other hand, you might find it easier than normal to find value when betting on the underdog. Higher betting volume also means that the lines are likely to be even tighter than normal because the oddsmakers know that volume will be heavy so they will be especially focused on setting a strong line. The higher the betting volume is, then, the harder you have to work to find value in order to secure a long term profit, and the more willing you have to be to pass on the game if it doesn’t set up in your favor. There is one real positive about higher betting volume and increased public involvement. The more public money there is, the more dumb money there is. The public is far from sophisticated when it comes to picking teams and making winning sports bets, so if you are smart about it then you can often find that being on the opposite side of the public is a very good place to be. That doesn’t mean that you should blindly bet against the public – and the public is generally on the favorite and the over – but it does mean that when you are on the other side you should be happy about it.
Analysts have more of an impact on public opinion – Analysts, experts and talking heads are paid to have opinions, and the more outlandish or bold those opinions are the more they get listened to. When a NBA game is nationally televised it will draw the attention of more analysts, and there will be more for people to listen to. The public doesn’t like to do their own research or form their own opinions, so the opinions of these experts is very influential. It is very important, then, for handicappers to be aware of what the bigger, more popular analysts are saying, and what impact that could have on the lines and the opinions of the public. The best possible scenario – and one that can be found with surprising regularity if you work hard enough – is when a popular national opinion is, in your opinion, contrary to what is actually likely to happen in the game. When that happens you have a strong chance at finding some nice value.
Teams are probably reasonably good – There is a big gap in talent levels in the NBA. The elite teams in the league are dramatically better than the worst. It’s not even close. Quite often, then, you will find games in which the teams are mismatched and the outcome is quite obvious. When the networks pick the games they choose to broadcast nationally, though, there is a pretty good chance that the teams are both quite good, or at least that they are popular public teams. The better that two teams are matched up the more you have to work to find a clear edge – something that differentiates two teams that otherwise seem to be on the same level. Depending on your viewpoint that extra sports handicapping challenge can make these games a more interesting puzzle, or it can make them a less attractive bet.