Handicapping Teams on Long Losing Streaks

In the 2010-11 NBA season the Cleveland Cavaliers lost 26 games in a row. The longest losing streak in the history of the NBA – a streak that looked like it may never end. While we had never seen a streak this long we often see extended periods of futility from teams in the league. One great way to find massive value when betting on the NBA is to correctly identify when these streaks will end and bet accordingly. The longer a losing streak gets the more negative the betting public gets about a team and the less likely they are to back that team no matter what the circumstances are.

The trick, of course, is to be able to effectively spot the potential end of streaks. Here are five signs that a losing team might finally be able to win again:

Roster returns to normal – One of the biggest and most obvious causes of a losing streak is when the players that play best together can’t all be on the court at the same time. Injuries or suspensions can rob a NBA team of productivity. More significantly, if the player or players that are out of action are clearly the best on the team then their absence can have a huge psychological impact on the basketball team – and usually not a positive one. The return of the player can have a direct impact on the scoresheet, and a bigger impact on the mental health of the team – and the effort they put into the game as a result. It’s important to remember here that the player who has the biggest impact on a team isn’t always the best player on the team – leaders come in many different shapes.

End of a long road trip – The NBA often sends team on trips that seem to last forever. Teams travel is style, but sleeping in strange beds every night and playing in front of hostile crowds can still wear on a team. The biggest reason teams go on losing streaks is because they have losing attitudes, and a long, monotonous road trip can add to a losing attitude like few other things. Coming home again – seeing families, sleeping in their own beds, and playing on the home hardwood – can have a big impact on those attitudes, as friendly fans can provide a real boost.

End of a long home stand – Playing away from home can be tough when you are losing, but people forget that playing on the home court can be just as tough. If you are playing and losing at home regularly then the crowd is, at best, going to be disinterested. They could easily become hostile as well. The newspapers and radio and TV stations will be down on the team, and everywhere the players go fans will recognize them and remind them that they aren’t winning. It can be very hard for a team to take. A road trip means that players can remove themselves from all of those distractions and spend more time together as a team. Sometimes just what the doctor ordered is a new city.

Opponent in questionable form – This one, like the rest of the items on this list, seem obvious. When it comes to losing streaks, though, it’s amazing how often the most obvious things are completely overlooked by sports bettors. No matter how long a losing streak is the opponent is still a significant factor in handicapping. How well is the opponent playing right now? Are they dealing with injuries or absences? Are they distracted? Could they be looking past the struggling opponent? Do they have matchup issues in the game that could be hard to overcome? The longer a losing streaks becomes, the more pressure their is on opponents to not be the team that ends the streak, and the tighter the opponents are likely to be coming into the game as a result. The tighter a NBA team is, the more of an impact problems like we listed above can have.

Deceptive losses – In the eyes of the betting public a loss is a loss, and they all just serve to make the streak longer. More savvy NBA handicappers know, though, that some losses are far better than others. What you really want to be on the lookout for is a team which, while still losing, is clearly getting better as the streak goes along. A team that wasn’t covering spreads early in the streak but is now could be ready to take the next step and win outright. Similarly, if a basketball team is losing but consistently putting up strong statistical showings – beating their opponents in rebounding, turnovers, and the like – then they are just a lucky bounce or two away from finally getting a win. The biggest mistake handicappers can make when it comes to making picks on the NBA is assuming that teams are losing because they are bad teams and making their sports bets based on that belief.

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