I've always believed that there is no general blanket type of approach to handicapping sports. Each season in each sport has many different segments to it which dictate the processes and angles I go through to handicap games. The NBA is no different. The beginning of the season is a time when every team wants to get out of the gate quickly and thus puts their best foot forward. Once you get into the season, injuries along with schedule situation have a lot to do with how I view games. Heading out of the All-Star break, certain teams are ready and eager to make a run while others begin to wilt so it's important to identify individual team mindsets and capabilities. And then of course there is the final 10 game regular season stretch drive where team motivation may be the most important factor of all. And then, we reach the point we're at now, the post season. How should this time of the NBA year be handicapped? I'll go through my approach which next to the very beginning of the season is the purest handicapping of any time frame during the near eight month grind.
First off, let me say that as a sports handicapper I believe you need to have a set foundation of where to begin the process off attempting to pick winners against the point spread. For me, that starting point is fundamental. A fundamental handicapper concerns him or herself with the personnel and matchups that are going to take place on the field or floor in a particular game. When the NBA season begins, I feel the fundamentals are at their strongest. You have lineups, matchups and coaching philosophies that you know. This knowledge allows you to make very solid evaluations of what will happen in a game. There are no travel worries because everyone is fresh and eager to play even if it is in a “back to back” or “fourth in five nights” situation. Injury concerns are few and far between immediately out of the gate so you have a good feel for the cohesiveness of personnel. Philosophy adjustments by coaching staffs are not made right away as those take about a third of the season or a major rash of injuries to be implemented. This time of year is where I take the purest fundamental handicapping approach because there just isn't much else, early on, to complicate things. I keep a strong set of home and away power ratings which allow me to gauge line value and handicap games along with totals based on fundamentals and where I perceive there to be pointspread advantages. I also begin to develop each team's back to back power rating which comes into play later on.
The playoffs are almost a carbon copy of the season's beginning because we have complete knowledge of the starting lineups and rotations, plus we know the team's strengths & weaknesses along with the style philosophies of each head coach. Simple, pure, fundamental, just the way I prefer to handicap. Take a look at the personnel on the floor, the matchups and seek any line value I feel I can capitalize on whether it be side or total. Because of the extended time frame between games in the playoffs there are no fatigue or scheduling concerns like there are during the regular season. Injuries only need to be factored in if they occur during the post season. Motivation and focus are easy to gauge as each side, for the most part, comes to win every game.
The only general situational handicap applied in the post season is the ever popular “zig-zag” theory which, simply put, suggests that a team down 1 game to none and on their home floor is in an absolute must win spot and therefore becomes a mechanical type play. The problem with the zig-zag in recent years is that the oddsmakers are just as aware as the betting public is of this situation and they subsequently pad the line toward the team in need which extracts almost all of the value. There are certain series situations that will come into play each post season but I always analyze these on an individual basis and never create a blanket type rule to follow.
We'll hear a thousand times between now and the end of the playoffs about how defenses show up for the post season and the intensity increases which subsequently makes the “unders” on playoff game an immediate place to look if you intend on having bankroll success over these next six weeks. Again, that is purely a general theory applied by many who feel they have some great advantage playing the under. The fact of the matter is this theory will apply in some games and in some series but it won't apply at all in others. One more time, the linesmaker is fully aware of this short sighted generic theory and they will in many cases decrease their opening numbers on totals which eats up the value a lot of people would like you to believe is there. I have always firmly believed that you handicap each game as an individual entity and the NBA Playoffs are no different.
In all, the NBA playoffs are as true a set of games as we see all season and with my personal handicapping theories in tow, I'll begin my assault on the lines this Saturday. Off of a phenomenal regular season, I look to continue that right through this postseason and make the entire 2006-'07 campaign a memorable one. Good luck to everyone who ventures into the NBA ‘s crowning time of year and I hope all of your plays are profitable ones.
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