Thursday, April 18th at 8:00 PM ET
LAS VEGAS – After a tumultuous offseason, the NBA has rebounded with an intriguing regular season for fans and, for our purposes, bettors alike.
The season being condensed to 66 games has led to an increase in interest with each game meaning more and also there being big betting menus just about every night. Even with the NHL playoffs going on and the MLB season in full swing (and NFL Week 1 lines going up), the NBA will still get its share of attention during this final week of the regular season.
The drive for division titles and subsequent playoff seeding are always a big part of the focus and we certainly have that with the Spurs and Thunder battling for the No 1 seed in the Western Conference (as well as the Lakers trying to hold off the Clippers in the Pacific Division for the No. 3 seed and in case they meet in the playoffs) and the Bulls trying to hold off the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But we also have teams fighting for their playoff lives such as the Nuggets, Jazz, Suns, Rockets, Knicks and 76ers.
Let the bettor beware in backing any of those teams as oddsmakers will definitely make you pay a premium. They know which teams “must win” and will shade those numbers.
On the flip side, the last week of the season is also a time when people talk about teams tanking for better draft picks, or in the case of the NBA, more lottery balls (the system that was put in place to discourage teams from losing intentionally down the stretch).
“No one is going to admit to tanking games, but we’ve all seen teams with nothing to play for – or with an incentive to improve draft position give a less-than-all-out effort,” said Jay Kornegay, director of race & sports book operations at the LVH SuperBook (formerly Hilton). "It’s our job to look at particular games when teams might not be giving 100% effort and adjust accordingly."
This happens in all sports. Week 17 of the NFL. MLB in September. I assume it’s the same in the NHL, though I don’t pay as much attention to that until the playoffs start. The more obvious times you’ll see people accuse teams of tanking is when the best player (or players) are given more nights off with unexplained injuries or given more time on the bench. There’s some logic to a coach doing that to protect a team’s investment in their top players and not risking them for next year, plus it can also be justified by saying they’re giving young players a chance to prove themselves under game conditions. It can definitely be a gray area.
The thing that makes it tougher for oddsmakers is even if everything is on the up-and-up and everyone is trying their best, if the betting public thinks a team is tanking and loads up against that team, the oddsmaker still has to adjust.
"Some bettors bet against teams they think are tanking because they see them keep losing, but we’re more interested in what the sharps are doing," Kornegay said. “If they see a weak line, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first week or the last week. We’re more concerned with them getting information on players sitting out before we do than we are about someone just coming to the counter to bet against a team because they suck.”
That adjustment has already been made.
So, yes, if you think a team has nothing to play for and might be more interested in their postseason tee times, go ahead and bet against them. But keep in mind that the oddsmakers have probably already factored that into the line as well.
NBA future-book reset
Here are the odds to win the NBA Finals from the LVH heading into the final week. You’ll note 19 teams are still on the betting boards with 16 playoff spots available. The Bucks appear to be the odd team out in the Eastern Conference as they would pretty much need to run the table AND have an utter collapse from the 76ers or Knicks. In the Western Conference, only one of the three bottom teams (Rockets, Suns, Jazz) will make it to the postseason, but none of that is expected to affect the odds of the top contenders, so this is pretty much the same list you’ll see next weekend:
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 45, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.