NBA Totals Betting
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions
By the time you reach this point in the NBA season you may be ready to do something different. Though betting on the NBA is very popular, falling only behind the NFL and college football, it is also very difficult. Many seasoned bettors will tell you that there is nothing consistently harder to make a profit in than the NBA. If you're struggling to pick a side then maybe you should looked at NBA totals. As opposed to the sides, NBA totals are among the least profitable offerings for sportsbooks, and therefore the most profitable for bettors. Books hope to make a slim profit from offering totals, but losses are not uncommon. They can do this because they do well from the sides, and the betting volume is substantially higher on those sides, so the totals aren't disastrous for the bottom line. The public at large hasn't yet discovered NBA totals betting, which means that there is still an opportunity for people who want to put the time and effort into playing them.
A big reason why totals aren't nearly as popular as sides is that they take more work. It doesn't take much information or research to develop a feeling about which team will win a game or cover a spread. It might not always be accurate, but someone who watches sports on T.V., reads the newspaper, or surfs some sports websites stands at least a fighting chance of making a reasonable pick in a game. Totals are much more difficult for the casual fan, though. People usually don't have an innate sense of how many points a team scores, or even of the style of game they play and how that affects the totals. To make it even more difficult, the stats and information that good totals handicappers use aren't found in the pop-culture sports sources. Totals are beatable, but not by accident.
A challenge for the sportsbooks is the amount that NBA totals move. Though you can see totals as low as 165, they are usually significantly higher, and totals over 200 aren't uncommon. With numbers that high, a move of a few points in the total is reasonably insignificant. It is not uncommon to see NBA totals move by seven or eight points, or even more, between the time they are released and tip-off. This is very advantageous for bettors because it means that, with patience and attention, you can often find a number that makes you even more confident with your bet. Swings of that size also present solid middling opportunities for astute bettors.
Though it takes work and study to become proficient at playing totals, there are a few key concepts that you need to pay attention to, and which can significantly improve your success on totals:
1) It's all about tempo - It's relatively easy to come to an opinion on a total when two teams of a very similar style are playing. Two tight defenses aren't going to put up a lot of points, while two run-and-gun offenses will light up the scoreboard. What is much more difficult, but is crucial for long-term profitability, is to determine what will happen when two teams of very different styles meet. When a run-and-gun offense meets a lockdown defense, what happens? Both styles can't co-exist, so does the offensive team have to slow down, or does the defensive team have to give up their style and match their opponents shot for shot? Obviously, there isn't one answer that applies in each situation. The job of the handicapper is to decide which team is more generally dominant, and if that team will be able to impose their game on the opponent. In situations like this the total is often missed by several points on one side or the other depending on the theme of play. With study and research you stand a better than average chance of determining which side of the total the game is likely to fall on.
2) Don't play tight games - Regardless of how you come to your opinion, you are going to come up with your estimation of what the total will be in the game as part of your handicapping. If your expected total is very close - within two or three points - of the posted total then you probably don't want to play the game. When you are talking about 200 points, two or three points are very insignificant. If you play totals long enough you will notice that the games that you win are most often the ones in which the totals seem completely skewed to you. Playing totals is just the same as any other kind of successful betting - you only want to make the bets in which you have a significant edge.
3) Look for small changes that can make a difference - There are some injuries that a team can face that will have a dramatic impact on the scoring potential of the team. When Steve Nash is out, for example, then the Phoenix Suns can be expected to score significantly less. Injuries of that magnitude are obviously built into the totals, so they provide little edge for the gambler. Where you can identify an edge, though, is by spotting smaller changes that could impact the total enough to send it to one side or other of the posted total. A sixth man who is relied upon to contribute offensively could have an impact if he is injured, or even if he is unable to perform at his best for some reason. Several players on a team struggling with a flu could lead to fewer points. Spending the time to follow the tiny details that could make a difference, and then understanding what that difference could be, can be very worth your time.