Big favorites in the NBA are far from uncommon. There is a massive gap between the best teams in the league and those in the cellar, so double digit point spreads in the NBA are far from uncommon. Needless to say, though, the favorites don’t always cover the spread, and they don’t even win these seemingly lopsided games all the time. Sometimes a big favorite just isn’t ready to put forward a complete effort on the court, and their inferior effort isn’t enough to get them the win. If in your sports handicapping you can spot heavy favorites that may not be ready to play to their potential in a given situation then you could have a very profitable, value packed betting opportunity on your hands if you bet against them. Here are five possible reasons that a team might not be at their best:
Matchup issues – Sometimes a team will have a massive talent advantage in a game but the playing style of their opponent is such that they are unable to exploit that advantage on the hardwood. For example, if a NBA team is far faster and more athletic than their opponent then they could be frustrated if that opponent plays a very low tempo, ball control clock management type of system. If a team excels at shooting the ball from almost anywhere then they might struggle against a team that plays relentless defense and makes it hard to find an open shot. If a team is able to force a team that likes to penetrate to shoot from the outside and take a lot of three-point shots then they are going to have problems – no matter how effective they might be inside. I could go on, but you get the point. Creating challenging matchups are the best way that an outmatched team can even the playing field, and the coaches of underdogs – if they are any good – are going to try to do so. If you think that they could succeed – if they have done so in the past against this team or other strong opponents, for example – then you might have a situation where a heavy favorite could be more vulnerable than most people expect and betting against them may make sense.
Low motivation – 82 games is a lot to play in the regular basketball season, and heavy favorites will know that they have more to play in the playoffs as well – hopefully a lot more. It’s just not possible for a professional player or a team to play at full intensity for everyone of those games. If they did then they would be physically and emotionally spent before the regular season ended. Inevitably there are games in which a team goes into the arena and plays at far below their potential. Quite often those games will come against opponents who don’t offer much excitement to them. If a NBA team is relatively secure in their playoff position – or expects to be – then they might not be at full intensity against a team they know they can beat. The national media won’t pay much attention to the game, and the fans aren’t going to be nearly as excited as they would be against an elite opponent. When you are looking at a game with a heavy favorite like expert sports handicappers you need to play amateur psychologist to try to figure out whether a team is likely to show up or not.
Tired team – Sometimes a heavy favorite doesn’t play at their best not because they are disinterested in the game but because they are too tired to fire on all cylinders. If they have been playing several games in a short time frame, are on a long road trip, or have played several elite opponents in a row then they may be physically incapable of playing at their best. Match up a tired team against a well rested, fresh opponent and you could have a very different outcome than you might normally expect.
Looking ahead – If you are playing a lousy team in a relatively meaningless game that no one cares about on a Tuesday night but you have a high profile, crucial game against a bitter divisional rival on Friday night then it is quite possible that you would be more engaged by the game on the horizon than the current game. The reason NBA coaches always talk about only focusing on their next game is because they need to talk about it all the time to remind their players to do it. If the schedule sets up an obvious distraction like this then the favorite could be vulnerable. In most cases the lack of focus on the part of the favorite will be accompanied by extra focus on the part of the underdog because they would very much like to make a statement by beating a big team. In other words, the favorite could be on the hardwood looking past the game while it could be a contest that the underdog has long had circled on the schedule. That’s a potent situation.
Deceptively strong underdog – If the heavy favorite is a powerful public team then sports handicappers aren’t going to spend a lot of time considering the opponent – the reputation of the favorite will be enough to draw heavy support. If the opponent is a team that travels particularly under the radar because of geography, a lack of national exposure, a shortage of star players, and so on, then they are almost certain to get less respect than they deserve against a public favorite. It’s crucial any time you look at these games that you consider the real strength of the underdog. Are they playing poorly, or are they quietly playing well? Do they create matchup problems on a consistent basis? Are they well coached? Are their best players guys who don’t get enough credit nationally? Maybe they have a point guard who can penetrate and score or a superior center who plays well in the paint. Remember, when handicapping a NBA game a point spread that makes one club a double digit underdog is not always deserved. You can play that line and make a winning sports pick because it offers value.