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The Art of Basketball Handicapping
by Bryan Leonard - 11/05/2005
I remember 1984 well growing up in Cleveland. The Browns were struggling, the young Cavaliers hoped they had found a shining star in the NBA draft, and the Indians were still searching for their first World Series title since 1948. How times have changed! While the year might have been a bit thin on hope for Cleveland's pro franchises, '84 was more enriching for me. That's when I began my sports handicapping career examining basketball sides and totals. I started out strictly as a basketball bettor, doing very well, so much so that people in the sports information business began encouraging me to expand my talent, which eventually led to my moving to Las Vegas.
Since then I've made basketball betting lines for a top offshore sports book, and the last three years I've been documented by the Sports Monitor as one of the Top 3 in combined college and pro basketball selections. Two weeks ago on a nationally syndicated radio show, a competitor mentioned how difficult it can be to win picking basketball games, adding â€œwith the exception of Bryan Leonard, who is the only one I've seen beat basketball on a consistent basis.â€쳌
It's not easy. However, oddsmakers do make errors on lines, and there are many situational angles that can one can use to identify winning edges in hoops. Many bettors are overwhelmed by the amount of basketball games each season that it can sometimes get discouraging. I look at it very differently: So many games in both the colleges and the pros provide more opportunities for peaks, hot streaks and bad lines to pounce on each week. You just have to know how, and where, to look.
NBA scheduling is very important. One angle I look at is road favorites playing their first game in a back-to-back situation. What you have here is a potential play on the home dog for several reasons. Coaches of road favorites in that situation often look to rest players in the second half for two reasons. One is that if they get a big lead early, as a road favorite is expected to, then they start thinking about the next game, which is tomorrow night. Coaches will look to rest starters more than normal in that situation because he knows he has to play the next night. Other than the Phoenix Suns, who seem to ride its top four starters all the time, those teams are likely to not play as well in the second half. If they have a big lead, the back-door cover is a strong possibility because the visiting coach is resting key players.
The second part of that is: What happens if the road favorite finds itself trailing instead of leading? If they are way behind on the road, a coach can do the same strategy, bench his best players late. Not because he has a lead, of course, but because he's writing the game off, in a sense, to save his best for a better effort the next night. The home dog has several edges taking on a team playing the first game of a back-to-back spot.
I incorporated pieces of this in my Friday NBA release on the Seattle SuperSonics. Minnesota was in the first of a difficult back-to-back road spot, playing at Seattle and then at LA the next night. The Sonics got the money and notice the T-Wolves appeared to tire out late, with the Sonics outscoring them 34-24 down the stretch.
Don't get discouraged! It's not easy, but winning at basketball is very possible. And don't take my word for it: Ask some of my competitors, or examine my record. There's an old saying, â€œTake your job seriously but not yourself.â€쳌 I would have to admit I'm guilty of both!