Market Mis-reading the NBA East
Even though I've been handicapping sports for decades, The Dean of Sports Handicapping still runs into things I've never seen before on a regular basis. That's certainly the case right now in the NBA Playoffs, particularly the Eastern Conference. Oddsmakers, many so-called "sharps," many math guys, and many in the general wagering public have completely misread the second round series featuring Cleveland vs. Toronto and Boston vs. Philadelphia.
*Toronto was favored by anywhere from -200 to -240 to advance past Cleveland. The Raptors were around -7 at home in the first two games of that series. Cleveland won them both OUTRIGHT, getting the money by 8 and 25 points. The market misread the personnel matchups and importance of playoff experience. And, many REALLY misread the zig-zag or bounce potential of Toronto after dropping the opener. There's still time for Toronto to get its act together and win the series. But, the initial prices were horrible.
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*Philadelphia was favored at up around -400 to advance past Boston. That means backers would have to better than an 80% win scenario for the Sixers for it to be a worthwhile bet. Philly was around -4 in both of the games in Boston. As you know, the Celtics won the first game easily (covering by 20 points), then rallied from behind to sweep the home pair (covering the second game by 9 points). Philadelphia is still technically "on serve" with two road losses. Also time to rally here. But, the belief that the Sixers were championship material has been exposed as a pipe dream.
Talk about missing the boat! What was particularly striking here in Las Vegas was that many current and former oddsmakers were on broadcasts talking about how Philadelphia was now the best team in the East. Joel Embiid was supposedly worth 4-5 points all by himself (which is impossible if you understand how power ratings work in the NBA). After the Sixers lost the first game, that was called a fluke with the certainty that Philly would come back strong in the rematch. They did for awhile, until Boston went on a 50-20 run to come all the way back and win.
I personally am very happy with the underdog covers the past few days. I released both Cleveland (+) and Boston (+) to my clients Thursday night, after winning with Utah (+) and New Orleans (+) the night before. That doesn't mean I'll always be backing underdogs game-by-game in the second round. But, I was fully confident that those lines were too high. Three of those dogs won outright.
Here's your homework for today or early Saturday. Make your own assessment of how the four teams left in the Eastern Conference "really" stand against each other. Build a power rating scale that represents the difference between the teams. You can start by asking...
*What should the "neutral court" line be when Philadelphia plays Boston?
*What should the "neutral court" line be when Toronto plays Cleveland?
*What would the right "neutral court" number be in all four possible Eastern Finals matchups...meaning Cleveland-Philadelphia, Cleveland-Boston, Toronto-Philadelphia, and Toronto-Boston?
So far, the consensus read of the market has been off by a mile. Maybe it's still off in Philadelphia/Boston. We haven't seen an adjustment beyond the home court flip for Game Three. Philadelphia was around -4 on the road, and is around -9.5 at home Saturday. That's a standard move for a site switch that isn't far apart geographically. Those numbers are telling you Philadelphia should be about -5.5 on a neutral court. Do you agree with that after watching the first two games?
The market has adjusted with Cleveland, who absolutely crushed Toronto Thursday night. Cleveland is laying slightly more than the standard value of home court advantage Saturday. And that's with Toronto in the classic bounce-back spot with its season on the line. That said, do you believe the market has it right? Would Cleveland now be about -1 on a neutral court? After being the equivalent of about +4 based on the lines in Toronto?
Who do YOU think is the best team in the East? Is it now Cleveland because they've found that playoff gear? Is it actually Philadelphia because there's no way Boston can keep shooting three-pointers so well? Does Toronto still deserve respect after being the #1 seed in the brackets initially?
Build your scale using projected neutral court point differences, and then use that as a handicapping guide for the rest of the second round. This kind of exercise is always helpful to handicappers, particularly those who are relatively new to the field. It's particularly important RIGHT NOW because the market feels fairly lost in the Eastern Conference. Proper reads can make you big money immediately if you can capture these teams properly.
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Thanks to all of you who have signed up for service, and to all of you regular students here in my Advanced College of Sports Betting and Handicapping for your continued attendance. I'll see you again Monday for more course work. We'll be focusing on baseball every Monday, the NBA Playoffs every Friday through this month and much of June.