NBA seeding-game win totals squishy

We are finally here!

The NBA regular season will resume next week in Orlando, Fla., and what happens once this experiment begins is anyone’s guess. Bettors will have many options, but one of the most intriguing markets available is the seeding-game win totals being offered by most online sportsbooks in the U.S.

Evaluating win totals and searching for value in them is not a new exercise for bettors, but doing so with win totals such as these is unique. So many external factors are in play, and so much of the evaluation of these factors is subjective. What is a certain team’s motivation? How much time will stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James play if their teams have nothing to play for?

The answers cannot be found in numbers or statistics. Bettors can make educated guesses and apply that to their handicapping of these win totals. 

For me, this has meant that initially the value in these win totals was scant. However, the betting market has shaped these totals over the last two weeks, and some value has emerged.

New Orleans Pelicans (via PointsBet)

Open: 4.5 (+ 105/-130)

Current: 5.5 (+ 165/-209)

The betting market cannot get enough of the Pelicans. It started during their 11-9 SU/10-9-1 ATS stretch since Zion Williamson’s debut and has carried over to the Orlando bubble. The Pelicans opened as one-point underdogs to the Jazz when the seeding-game schedule was announced, and that line has since been adjusted to New Orleans as a two-point favorite. Most will cite the Pelicans’ strength of schedule as a key reason they will surpass their win total, but should traditional strength of schedule have value in Orlando? Look at the Sacramento Kings, a franchise New Orleans will face twice in its seeding games. If you use winning percentage, Sacramento is a lowly opponent with a 28-36 record, but cumulative win percentage does not account for change. Before the hiatus, the Kings made a change in their starting lineup, moving Buddy Hield to the bench and starting Bogdan Bogdanovic in his place. In the 20 games that followed, Sacramento went 13-7 SU with a closing stretch of 10 wins in 15 games. That’s a winning percentage of 65% over those 20 games compared with New Orleans’ 52.6 winning percentage in 19 games with Williamson. It is just one example, but it is a massive reason I believe strength of schedule is almost useless for evaluating how a team will perform in the bubble. In the end, there is just no value in betting on New Orleans. There is none in the futures market, none in the game line with Utah and none in betting this team over its win total in Orlando. In fact, if a bettor is looking for value with the Pelicans, it is in betting this win total Under.

Milwaukee Bucks (via PointsBet)

Open: 5.5 (-135/+ 110)

Current: 6.5 (+ 160/-223)

This is the win total in which I see the biggest advantage for bettors, and we have this advantage thanks to the market. Milwaukee is the best team in the league in power ratings and is more than capable of winning seven of its eight seeding games. However, the Bucks have no motivation to win. The Bucks hold a 6.5-game lead over the Raptors for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and one win in a seeding game all but guarantees that spot. Among their opponents for the seeding games are Boston, Houston, Miami, Toronto and Memphis, all of which have much larger seeding implications at stake than Milwaukee. I thought this number should have been 5.5 shaded to the Under and was surprised to learn the market had bet this up a full game. Value still exists in laying prices in the minus-220 range if the advantage is big enough, and that is the case here. And by the way, Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton have tested positive for the coronavirus and were quarantining away from the team. It is unknown how long the two will be out, but even if they’re back in time, is there a point in risking them or other key players like Antetokounmpo in eight meaningless games? This was the betting market’s mistake, in my opinion. This line moved like Milwaukee had to win all eight games to lock up a top seed when in reality it needs just one. Implied probability on laying this price is about 69%, which I would say is lower than the actual probability that Milwaukee wins fewer than 6.5 games, so another Under is the selection here.



Biggest moves on win totals


Washington Wizards (via PointsBet)


Open: 2.5 (OV: + 160 / UN: -200)


Current: 1.5 (OV: + 115 / UN: -150)


Denver Nuggets (via PointsBet)


Open: 4.5 (OV: + 150 / UN: -185)


Current: 3.5 (OV: -167 / UN: + 133)


Miami Heat (via PointsBet)


Open: 3.5 (OV: -115 / UN: -110)


Current: 4.5 (OV: + 155 / UN: 200)


Orlando Magic (via DraftKings)


Open: 2.5 (OV: -238 / UN: + 175)


Current: 3.5 (OV: + 100 / UN: -134)



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