Kevin Davis takes a look at the brand new ‘NBA Bubble’ competition format and advises on what to look out for before placing your wagers on the action.
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What is the NBA Bubble?
For the NBA season to resume this week after not playing since March, the NBA and the players had to agree to play in a so-called bubble. Once a player enters the bubble they must be tested regularly, and you cannot leave unless you have an excused reason.
One player Lou Williams who left with an excused reason, was caught going to a strip club. He claims that he went there because of they have great chicken wings, but this was not Hooters. When you get a bunch of young millionaires in a place where there are too many rules, that is bound to affect their performance on the court.
The Remaining Eight Regular Season Games
The NBA is like a youth sports league, everybody gets a trophy. There are 30 teams, and 16 of them make the playoffs each year. For teams that are marginal playoff teams, they do not want to admit that they are mediocre. If they were to skip to the rest of the regular season and jump directly to the playoffs, the Sacramento Kings would have to admit that they are a bottom feeder in the NBA.
As a result, they agreed to have eight regular season games to close out the regular season to figure out who is going to make the playoffs. There are eight teams that are so bad that they were not invited so there are only 22 teams in the bubble.
To make the playoffs, a team typically must finish in the top 8 of their conference. This year, if they are in 9th place and behind the 8th place team by four games or less there is a play-in tournament between the two teams to make the playoffs.
In the Eastern conference there are nine teams competing for eight playoffs spots. The 9th place Washington Wizards are 5.5 games behind the 8th place Orlando Magic.
The Western Conference on the other hand is more clogged than the east as six teams are competing for the final 8th place seed. The 8th place Memphis Grizzlies are currently only 3.5 games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings. If any of those teams finish in 9th place are less than 4 games behind the Grizzlies than there will be a play-in tournament for the final seed.
Bubble Betting Strategy
What to do when the games are inconsequential
The NBA will not admit it, but the eight remaining regular season games are inconsequential. 14 out of 16 teams are going to make the playoffs regardless of what happens in these games. Typically, during the regular season good teams will play well at the end of the season so they can get a better seed. The better the seed you have in the playoffs, the more games that are played at home. However, all the playoff games are going to be played in Orlando in the bubble. The seeding does not matter for anything other than bragging rights this year.
As for even making the playoffs, whoever is the 8th place seed in the Western Conference is likely to get swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. For the Eastern Conference, it does not matter if the Wizards or Magic make the playoffs because the Milwaukee Bucks will sweep them in the first round as well. As a result of these games not mattering for any of the teams, I am targeting underdogs for the best value.
If a team is an 8.5 point underdog you can bet on the spread and win your bet if they lose the game by 8 points or less or if they win. However, that would not be any fun and not as profitable. There is no way to predict what is going to happen in the bubble because this has never happened before. Out of pure speculation I am willing to bet that underdogs will either lose by larger margins than usual or they will win games in which they have no business winning.
Most of the time the point total for NBA games is set at a number that is extremely accurate. Millions of dollars are wagered on these bets and the sportsbooks hire talented statisticans to make sure that we the sport bettors lose our money. However, no Harvard or MIT math class could prepare any oddsmaker for the NBA bubble.
This has never happened before; we have no idea what will happen. I am willing to speculate that many of these players have gotten out of shape during quarantine. How many of these players have gyms in their homes? Which players ate salads in lockdown, and which ones ate McDonalds delivered by Grubhub? If players are out of shape, it is going to result in bad defense which only means one thing, more scoring. Keep this in mind when looking for the best totals to bet over on.
In addition to betting on the total points for both teams, you can also bet on the amount of points that one team scores in the game. For the bubble, I am going to target underdogs whose point total is set too low and bet the over. If the game were to get out of hand, the other team may play lazy defense at the end and the losing team (usually the underdog) can go over their team total. Additionally, the underdog could surprisingly win and if that were to happen, they are also likely to go over their team total as well.