In the NBA there are a few different tiers of teams each season. There are those teams that just aren’t very good. They aren’t going to make the playoffs, or if they do they won’t be above .500 and they won’t be particularly competitive. There are teams that are pretty good. They’ll win more games than they lose, and they will be fun to watch, but they aren’t likely to win the NBA Championship unless something extreme happens. Then there are the elite professional basketball teams – those that have more talent than everyone else, and which are very likely to be among the last teams standing when the playoffs roll around. Several times a year those elite teams will play each other. Those games will get more attention than most regular season games, and the players on both teams will likely be more focused on the games than they would on a regular game because they want to prove themselves against a worthy rival. Whenever one of those games happens it is important for NBA handicappers to look at what the result means, and what can be learned going forward about both elite teams. Here are six factors to consider when analyzing the results of these marquee mid-season games:
How healthy were both teams? – It’s not an accurate measure of both teams if one of them isn’t playing at full strength – or especially if neither team is at full strength. If a star player or a key role player is missing from one side then the result doesn’t really have a lot of lasting meaning. If both sides played with all of their starters but one side saw one or more players play limited minutes because they are banged up then it is similarly tough to trust the result. Basically, unless both teams are putting forth their best possible lineup – or at least the same one that they will likely be using in the playoffs – the results of the game are more misleading than meaningful and they would be difficult to use in analyzing future lines.
How rested were the teams? – It’s hard to accurately judge the teams if both of them come into the game off of little rest and are both tired. They will be facing the same challenges, but neither will be at their best, and some NBA teams can handle the exhaustion better than others. You especially need to be concerned if one of the teams is well rested while the other has played several games in a short time. If the tired team wins then that’s probably not good news for the rested team, but if the tired team loses then they have a strong excuse.
Where was the game played? – The home court advantage in the NBA is very significant, and it is going to be at its height during these games because the home crowd will be especially fired up for the big opponent. It’s important, then, to discount the performance of the home teams to some extent, and to excuse a loss by the road team if they play well. You really need to look at what impact the home arena had, and try to determine the extent to which the setting affected the game. If you don’t do that then it would be easy to get a skewed picture of how the two teams really stack up.
What was the statistical story? – The score doesn’t tell the whole story in a game. A game that was very close can look somewhat one-sided if free throws late in the game opened the gap. A game can look close because of a late rally, but if that rally came against the bench players for the winning team then it means little. More significant than the final score, then, is what story the statistics in the game can tell us. Did one team struggle to rebound effectively against the opponent? Was one team unable to get open shots so their shooting percentage was low? Did one team really assert themselves defensively, stacking up the steals and blocks? How did each team do when attempting foul shots? The more accurate the picture of the game you can draw, the better your understanding of the teams going forward will be.
Was the win dominating? – This is really just an extension of the last point, but it is important enough to consider on its own. Some wins are very dominating and impressive – one team was just clearly better than the other that day. Other times, though, one basketball team wins just because one team has to win every game. The conclusions drawn from a dominating win are likely much more meaningful to sports bettors than the ones drawn from a close one – unless the team that loses in overwhelming fashion has clear excuses as we have discussed.
What did the public think? – The best way to get a sense of this is by checking out what the national sports columnists have to say about the game. If they have strong reactions to the game then the general betting public will almost certainly have those same reactions to what happened. That can give you a pretty good clue about what impression people will have of the teams involved going forward. If you have good reasons not to agree with what the public is thinking then you could have an opportunity for nice value the next time the sports odds for that NBA team are posted by the bookies.