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NBA Markets Are Slow To React

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/26/2009

Because pro basketball ranks below football and college hoops in the Las Vegas pantheon, the betting markets in that sport can be slow to react to new developments.

Oddsmakers will catch onto something after a few games. The general public is often a few weeks behind.

Take the Minnesota Timberwolves for example. They've had one of the most amazing turnarounds any sport has ever seen. Even though I saw it happen with my own eyes, I still don't believe it!

Minnesota started the season 4-23. And, it wasn't a misleading record. They really were that bad. They had some athletes. Athletic ability alone isn't enough at the professional level. Chemistry was bad. Hustle stats were poor. Whatever image you have in your head of a 4-23 type team - that was Minnesota through and through.

Through this past weekend, Minnesota was 11-4 its last 15 games, with impressive victories over New Orleans and Phoenix. The schedule hasn't been particularly grueling. But, they're beating up on bad teams when they used to lose to them. Literally, in a finger snap, Minnesota went from a 4-23 caliber team to somebody who could go 11-4. That's supposed to be impossible!

Oddsmakers noticed the turnaround after a few games, and started adjusting the lines. The public didn't really start noticing until THIS sequence:

*On MLK Day, Minnesota was a 7-point road favorite against the injured Los Angeles Clippers. I must have heard 10 different people asking that day "How could somebody like Minnesota be a 7-point road favorite over anybody?" Remember, that was the FIRST day that a lot of gamblers started paying attention to pro basketball because it was the day after the NFL Conference championships were played. People were stunned that Minnesota would be that kind of favorite. Minnesota won and covered.

*The night after, Minnesota was on the road at Utah. Many average bettors assume you're supposed to go against tired teams playing in a back-to-back spot. Minnesota was supposedly BAD and tired! Utah was a popular bet for both the public and professional wagerers that night because of the scheduling situation. The Timberwolves took the Jazz right down to the wire and covered in a close game.

*This past Friday night, Minnesota was -1 at home against New Orleans. Again, SHOCK from the gambling public! How could Minnesota be favored over a playoff team led by Chris Paul? Beating the Clippers is one thing - losing a close game is fine too. But should Minnesota be FAVORED over New Orleans? Minnesota won and covered.

It's a new team! The oddsmakers noticed first and moved the lines. They didn't move them enough because Minnesota kept right on covering. In fact, the Timberwolves were 12-2-1 ATS over a 15 game stretch ending with that win over the Hornets. But that pointspread record wasn't hurting the sportsbooks because hardly anyone was betting on Minnesota anyway! Everyone surprised by the lines kept betting the wrong teams and the sportsbooks found themselves rooting for a hot team to keep winning.

Stuff like this happens all the time in the NBA. You don't have to love the sport, memorize a million stats, or be in a fantasy league to pay enough attention to catch turnarounds. You just have to watch the scoreboard, read the news, and use some common sense.

Here are some of the triggers I've found for positive turnarounds:

*A coaching change, where a group of players starts playing for the new guy after having tuned out his predecessor.

*An injury-riddled team suddenly gets healthy.

*A young star finds himself (as Randy Foye may be doing in Minnesota), and plays at a whole new level for a sustained period. Russell Westbrook triggered a similar great pointspread run for Oklahoma City.

*A team with chemistry and hustle keeps up the intensity at a time when a lot of losing teams just start going through the motions. The team doesn't so much take a step forward as much as stand pat while a bunch of others move backwards. Still, the confidence from their newfound success often triggers a long stretch of wins and covers. You saw that with the Philadelphia 76ers last season.

The great thing about the NBA is that you can profit from these things for weeks if you can find them. It's not a top priority betting market for the sportsbooks, so the lines tend to lag reality.

*Orlando had covered about 70% of its games for the whole season up through last week. It's taken that long for the market to adjust to the improved Magic.

*Cleveland started the season 21-5 ATS even though everyone was watching them post big victory margins every night. That included an 11-0 streak at one point. It took forever for the lines to finally catch up.

*I mentioned Oklahoma City a second ago. They had a 13-2 ATS stretch over 15 games recently, and nobody seemed to notice!

I strongly encourage you to start paying attention to the NBA. It can be a handicapper's paradise if you enjoy studying the teams in depth. But if you don't, it can still be relatively easy to pick winners just by using common sense and watching what happens on the floor. No other betting market is this ripe for the picking!

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