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Effects of NBA Overtime Games

   by Al McMordie - 03/01/2007


Overtime games in the NBA are fun to watch, but not as much fun to play in. Basketball is a grueling, demanding sport on the body, requiring athletes to run up and down the court for 30-40 minutes. That’s why you can find hockey and baseball players performing into their late 30s and 40s at a high level, but this almost never happens in the NBA. Like football, the sport wears down a body fast. In football it’s from all the physical pounding, and basketball it’s the toll taken on the legs and heart, constantly running.

Here’s an NBA totals trend to keep in mind. Anytime a visiting NBA team is involved in an overtime game, if they are a road favorite in their next game, the OVER is 24-12 in that second game since the start of the 2003 season. In fact, the OVER is 15-4 the last 19 times that situation has occurred. You can understand what is happening. Playing on the road is tough enough. Playing an overtime game on the road is even more so. And when the team is a road favorite the next game, generally speaking that is probably a good team, because it’s not easy to be a road favorite.

However, what happens is the road team that just played overtime is often at a disadvantage defensively. Overtime games can tax legs and force coaches to go to the bench, draining reserve strength. The next road game can mean tired starters and an absence of fresh legs off the bench. While the system doesn’t correspond to whether that team wins, loses or covers the number, there is a strong correlation with respect to the total. In short, there is less defense and more scoring.

This just happened to the Spurs. On January 28th the Spurs won 96-94 in overtime at the Lakers. Two nights later they were a road favorite at Utah. The game went over the total in a 97-93 Utah win. The Spurs didn’t have their usual glass dominance, as the Jazz killed them on the boards 50-32, with a +10 edge in offensive rebounds.

“We made too many mistakes," said Tim Duncan. "We're giving up too many things in different areas, whether it be offensive rebounds or defensive mistakes late in the game.â€쳌 He didn’t use the previous overtime game as an excuse, of course, but recent history shows that it can be a significant factor to a team’s defensive ability.

It also happened to the defending champion Miami Heat that same week. After a 96-94 OT loss at Indiana, Miami was a road favorite at New York two nights later. The Heat played a terrible game, and allowed 53% shooting and 116 points in a loss to the Knicks. That game sailed over the total by double digits. Miami’s defense was so poor, Jamal Crawford connected on 16 straight shots from the field and scored a career-high 52 points! “It's embarrassing,â€쳌 said Shaq afterward.

Overtime road games are demanding on the players, especially when you consider the team often has to change travel plans or hurry out of the arena to get to the next city. It’s taxing physically and mentally on players and coaches. That’s why it’s important from a handicapping perspective to pay close attention to overtime road games and whether that potentially tired team is a favorite the next road game. Good luck, as always, Al McMordie.

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