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A role reversal in the NBA as favorites have a big night

By Adam Burke  ( 

November 16, 2021 11:02 AM

One of the things that I’ve covered a lot recently has been the surge of underdogs, seemingly across all sports. Last night in the NBA became the exception to the norm, as favorite won straight up in all 11 games and covered 10 of them. The lone cover for underdogs was a one-point ATS victory from Minnesota ( 4) in a 99-96 loss.

Otherwise, chalk won the day and did so in a big way. Just about every favorite got bet up, with the exception of the Miami Heat, who actually went from -9 to -6.5 and then won by 13.

This may be something to watch as we go forward. In most sports, underdogs tend to do pretty well over the first 4-6 weeks of the season. Every team, even the good ones, tries to get into the rhythm of the season. In small sample sizes, anything can happen. As sample sizes increase, the better teams often rise above the issues they had in the early going and start to look like the teams that everybody expected.

That isn’t always true of a sport like the NFL or college football, where each team plays one game per week. In the NHL, NBA and college basketball, though, more reps, a higher sample size and the natures of the games are going to foster an environment where water eventually finds its level.

With the NFL, you probably have an average of maybe 10-12 possessions for each team. College football varies greatly, but falls in a similar range. In the NHL, there are a ton of puck possession changes. College basketball games have a wide range, but each team will get the ball at least 60 times on the absolute low end and upwards of 85 to 90 times on the high end. NBA teams are averaging nearly 89 shots per game, so that gives you an idea of how many possessions are there.

The higher the sample size, the more opportunities the better team has to be the better team. Early in the season, as teams are trying to gel and get accustomed to new faces, new players, new schemes, etc., you get a higher-variance environment. As the season goes along, you typically get a little bit less variance because talent and depth start to win out.

In a long-winded way, what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t surprise me if the NBA tilts to the favorite side for the next little while, at least until some of those teams disengage in the middle part of the season and go through the lulls that good teams are prone to have in that league.

We see a lot of this in baseball, where the teams believed to be bad are actually decent in April, but we start to see them fall off the pace in mid-May. Every team has a sense of belief to start the year. Reality sets in after a little while, not necessarily because of a lack of belief, but a lack of talent and depth.

As long as injuries aren’t involved, this is around the time I would expect proven, quality teams to really pick up the pace, if they haven’t already.

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