Submitted by Richie B. Oddsmakers Consensus on Friday, April 20, 2018 at 1:00 PM
If you’ve been paying attention to early betting in the NBA Playoffs so far, you’ve already noticed a continuation of the general “Pros vs. Joes” tendency in other sports. The public loves betting favorites. Sharps prefer backing underdogs.
While it’s obviously true that a big part of the reason for that is that public money drives lines higher than they should be…creating an additional half-point to a point (or more) of value, there are other reasons why sharps prefer fading the chalk. I wanted to discuss those with you today.
First of all, it’s a common phenomenon in ALL sports for dominant teams to post impressive final scores and stats by crushing weak teams. They’re slightly better than the other “good” teams. But, what separates them in the minds of oddsmakers and the public is how often they run up the score in blowouts. Once you get to the playoffs, there are no weak teams left! It’s “very good” vs. “pretty good,” and those games often go right down to the wire.
The most recent Super Bowl is a great example of that. New England was seen as superior to Philadelphia largely because of “air” in the numbers. Once they were on the field going head-to-head, it was hard to see why anyone though the Patriots were so superior. Maybe those teams trade coin flips if they play 10 times. Maybe the Eagles were actually the better side. This happens a lot in college football bowl games too. Pretenders get exposed in the postseason. Those pretenders are usually favorites.
Now, we do have some overmatched underdogs in the NBA brackets this season. Sharps may decide to bet more aggressively on dogs in later rounds than out of the gate. Be sure you monitor line movements this weekend to get a read on that.
Secondly, motivation often favors the underdog. Who’s going to be flat for a big game? The team that’s already assuming it’s going to win? Or, the team that nobody’s giving much of a chance to? It’s usually the favorite that’s going to be flat, and the underdog that has a greater sense of urgency to make adjustments, come up with creative plans of attack, or is more likely to bring peak intensity.
Though, I have to admit that many of the younger sharp quants don’t focus as much on this as the old school guys. I’m more of an old-school guy! Long time winners at the counter know that betting on underdogs will often give you the team that’s going to bring more effort to win your bet. Quants just want to find a number that represents “true talent.” I believe the numbers-guys will eventually do a better job of quantifying motivation. Right now, if you see sharp syndicates on different sides of a game…it’s the quants who bet the favorite at the opener, and the old school guys who waited later to get the dog at a good price. Both are in “with the best of it” in their own eyes.
Thirdly, garbage time in the NBA often favors teams who have fallen behind. Teams with a lead worry about running the clock out. Teams who are behind have good three-point shooters coming in off the bench who can make a couple of bombs to get you back to the number. In the past, there weren’t as many good shooters around the league who could do this. These days, American and European kids start shooting three-pointers right out of their playpens.
Plus, in the closing minutes, the trailers can charge at the rim for relatively uncontested layups. And, we’ve seen the acceptance of a “gentlemen’s agreement” with spreads in the 7-10 range where the dog doesn’t foul and the favorite just dribbles out the clock. That happens enough to swing percentages even more in favor of sharp dog bettors.
Finally, sharps prefer betting underdogs because it works! The number of sharps is relatively small compared to the huge size of the betting market. But, it consists of guys who have successfully made a living as bettors. The number of squares keeps churning because of tourists who lose while betting too many favorites, or overenthusiastic young men who move to Vegas with a wad of cash and lose it the hard way. In any field, copying what worked for proven veterans is a better approach than coming in with no experience and assuming you’re smarter than everyone else.
I can tell you from experience that sports books LOVE taking big bets from brash young men who are laying points or parlaying favorites. Some long-time underdog bettors have been known to wear disguises because their action isn’t as welcome. You want to bet like the guys who scare sports books, not like the guys who keep casinos profitable and thriving.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you ONLY bet underdogs in the NBA Playoffs, or that your friend behind the line will only be releasing underdogs to his clients. There are spots where the favorite makes sense, particularly these days when league powers try to get early rounds over with as quickly as possible. But, you’re much more likely to be on the side of the sharps if you shade your action heavily in the favor of underdogs.
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Thanks for reading. I’ll see you again next week for more market coverage direct from the sports betting capital of the world.