How the lack of fans will impact NBA betting

LeBron James (23) is defended by LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2)
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Matt Wiesenfeld


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I have been an active handicapper and content provider covering sports betting for more than a decade. Hailing from Canada, but I am definitely no puck head, preferring to build my bankroll with the NFL, MLB, NBA and NCAAs. Always looking for the underdogs that win outright. They are way more fun to root for too.

We are living in unprecedented times. By now I hate reading that and hate writing that even more but when it comes to sports that is probably the most accurate way to describe things. Things are happening now in a way that they have never happened before, it’s that simple.

This article is starting with no fans being at the game but it essentially is about the playing environment. I have tried to list all of the things that are going to be different in the arena and let’s see if we can break them down and find some edges.

No fans – Maybe in a week, or a month this will seem more normal but as I have been watching other sports the only way to describe it is…weird. I think this aspect is going to have the greatest impact on NBA games where fan support can definitely be a factor, especially in the playoffs.  The energy in an arena is palpable and can have simple impacts, like missing free throws, and huge impacts like spurring a home team on a run.

In terms of betting, I think no fans will influence in-game wagering more than the standard pre-game wagering.  Sometimes people are doing in-game wagering algorithmically but there is also an opportunity to read the situation and play accordingly.  For me, a home team with good fans that was down early might have been an easy one to jump on but without that emotional support, I am not expecting those situations to present themselves. Especially in the playoffs.

No home court – This is a bit of an extension of the above but also there will be no comfort advantage for teams, underdogs or favorites, so you can throw out all that stuff about sleeping in your own bed etc. Those things might have been overrated to begin with but they are part of the equation for playing on neutral courts and in a bubble no less.

For betting purposes, the thing to remember is to model your pre-game handicapping appropriately. Hopefully, you can figure out the talent piece but so much of handicapping is situational and home court and travel is definitely a part of that.  To play this factor you might want to focus in on a team or two whose home court is being overrated, or underrated.

No familiarity – Similar to the above there is a connection between these first three factors.  Whenever there is a college hoops game not on campus they like to reference that there can be an adjustment period for the rims, shooting backgrounds, even where the coaches stand.  I think there is going to be a similar effect here.  Sure it is going to be somewhat even for both teams but there has to be something.  More importantly, I am not sure which teams are going to be best prepared to adjust. Will it be the ones with “better coaches”?  The ones with more experienced players? Or will lack of experience be of benefit as it is not far from the gym feel to some of these AAU games.

For college hoops, it is usually recommended to bet first half under as teams adjust to their surroundings over the course of the game.  With pro players obviously being more talented and better equipped they should adjust more quickly but there is still something to be mined there.

New Players – By new players, I am putting it out there that there is going to be playing time distributed to some players who otherwise would not be seeing much action.  Some of that could be due to the virus, players that basically said they are done with the season, some teams having not much to play for, and expanded rosters.  It is really difficult to know what players are going to be on the court and what we can expect from them the way we might under more normal conditions.

The impact of this might be looking more at first-half numbers instead of the whole game and or checking rotation patterns early to see if there is anything that can be gleaned. My general instinct for this one is that scoring is going to take a hit as a result. The best players were already in the league and giving a chance to some new guys is not going to help much.

These are just a few factors to consider as the NBA gets ready to roll again. Someone is going to win some money so it might as well be you. I hope this helps.

Want more expert NBA picks throughout the 2020 season? Make sure to check out our NBA picks page for breakdowns and picks for every regular season game.

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