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Value Handicapping

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/13/2010

Handicappers across the board look for value. There are many different variations of value, but the bottom line is finding a betting number that is not what you think it should be, or one that varies from your own power rankings. When examining basketball teams, I group NBA teams in four categories, A, B, C and D.
Those in group A, for example, would be a healthy team that is the elite of the NBA, such as the San Antonio Spurs, Celtics, Lakers and Magic.
The Cavaliers, T-Wolves and Wizards would be teams in the D category, ones with limited talent who are usually underdogs. These groupings shift during the course of a season depending on injuries or suspensions. If Tim Duncan were to get hurt for two weeks with an ankle injury, the Spurs would drop down into the B category for two weeks, for example.
I categorize all NBA teams in one of those four groupings and then compare what the number might be before each game, even before I look at the actual betting number. Those that don't match my number, I then investigate as to why my number is off. If I find reasons why the actual betting line is more accurate, I make adjustments. If I don't find reasons, then it's usually a play for me.
One season I had a play on the Houston Rockets at Miami. Both those teams had a superstar out with an injury. Tracy McGrady was out for Houston because of a spine injury, while Shaq was still out recovering from an ankle injury last week. Both those teams dropped from category A to B because of the key injuries. I had the Rockets as a 3 to 4-point underdog at Miami, yet the Heat were a 7-point favorite. To me, this was a significant difference offering value with the Rockets. But I didn't make it a play based solely on the differences in betting lines.
When looking at the game closer, I found that the Rockets were rested. Even though it was on the road, Houston had been a terrific road for a full year, both straight up and against the number. In addition, it was a bad situation scheduling-wise for Miami, playing their third game in four nights and the second of a back to back spot. Miami had played at then-East rival Indiana the night before, so they were more likely to be tired after taking on such a hard-working, defensive team like the Pacers.
So, piecing all this information together, Houston as a +7 dog was too high and worth a play. If you look at the final results, the game was relatively even the whole way, with both teams bringing the defense allowing 42% and 43% shooting. Miami had to rally from an 8-point fourth quarter deficit just to squeeze out a 4-point win.
Miami was also playing its sixth game in nine nights. The Heat also had several new players to their roster after an off-season of changes, so I couldn't expect them to be in mid-season form without Shaq AND with so many new faces. One player said after the game, "I don't know if I'm 100 percent comfortable yet playing with these guys. But each game, I just try to get better." Sports handicapping is not guesswork. There are a lot of pieces to juggle and investigate before placing down a wager. But the rewards are very real, and profitable.

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