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Situational Hoops Handicapping

   by Bryan Leonard - 02/01/2011

Situations can be just as important as matchups or trends when analyzing basketball games. Sometimes even more so. For instance, a team with outstanding rebounding ability, like the Magic, Lakers or Spurs, matchup-wise might have a clear defensive and rebounding edge going against an opponent with an undersized frontcourt, such as the Cavs or Raptors. However, if the Lakers are playing at Toronto in the second of a back to back spot, or playing their third road game in four nights, that is a situation that can present a large obstacle for the Lakers, and the betting value could then shift to the rested home dog given the circumstances.
This was brought up a lot when an aging Shaq was with the Lakers a few years ago. Shaq was very effective with one of more days rest, but his performance (particularly in the playoffs) dropped statistically when playing with no rest. Shaq took offense at being asked about age or being out of shape, but the questions were justified. These are all factors a good handicapper must balance when assessing each game. Here are some other facets of situational hoops handicapping.

1. Travel: How far does a team have to travel for this game? And how far have they traveled over the last few games? I adjust my power ratings if a team is flying across the country playing in the second of a back to back situation. A road trip from Miami to Atlanta, for example, is not that long a trip, but from Miami to Sacramento is a long flight crossing several time zones.
2. Final Game of a Long Trip: Sometimes teams play their worst game at the end of a long road trip. Road travel can be a grind for college and pro teams, and at the end of a six-game trip, for instance, a team can many times be more interested in getting this game over with rather than putting forth an outstanding effort.
3. Second Game of a Back to Back Road Spot: A team is more likely to play a better game with one or more days of rest, than the second of a back to back spot, especially on the road.
4. First Game Home: Contrary to what you might think, a team doesn’t always play its best game when they come home after a road trip of three or more games. Many times there are problems or decisions in family matters that are awaiting players. Wives have several things to run by their athlete-husbands, such as agents calling, or the kids are having problems in school and they need to meet with a school supervisor. Players may be glad a long trip is over, of course, but there can also be many headaches and decisions awaiting at home to take players’ minds away from his work
5. High Scoring Games: Since defense takes a lot of hard work, a team in the second of a back to back road spot is more likely to put forth a weaker effort defensively than when they are rested. If you’re a totals player, look for spots where a team that likes to run is facing an opponent in the second of a back to back spot. If their strategy in the past has been to run at an opponent’s tired legs, it could be a spot to look at over the total.

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