HomeNBATuley's Takes: NBA After the All-Star Break

    Tuley’s Takes: NBA After the All-Star Break

    VSiN Analyst Dave Tuley looks for value plays as he handicaps the second half of the NBA season.

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    Finding Value Bets in the NBA Second Half

    As a kid, I used to love the Major League Baseball All-Star Break. Growing up as a boy of the 1970s and a teenager of the 80s in the Chicago suburb of Glendale Heights, I was a die-hard Cubs fan by birth and blood. Each spring, just like a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love (credit to Alfred, Lord Tennyson), hope would spring eternal in the Tuley household for our lovable losers, that this would be the year.

    More often than not, they would suck. And if they got off to a promising start, they would usually have their patented “June swoon,” and only the most extreme optimist would still have playoff dreams when the All-Star Break rolled around in July

     

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    So, even though I was an eternal optimist at that naive age, I usually took the break to try to predict who would be the top contenders to win each division (NL East, NL West, AL East, AL West at the time). I would then follow those teams down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs and World Series, in addition to still watching my Cubbies on WGN during the summer and still rushing home after school to catch the last few innings of their games in September to see any signs of improvements or late-season call-ups of minor-leaguers who could make the Cubbies contenders. There’s always next year, right?

    All of the above is meant to say that I have the same feeling about the NBA All-Star Break. However, in this case, my focus during the first half of the regular season was on the pro and college football seasons and the handicapping contests here in Las Vegas that I cover and serve as a proxy for out-of-state entrants. In the first few months of the NBA season, I bet very few games (2-3 a week on average). I’ve been following a lot closer since the NFL regular season ended, especially now after the Super Bowl.

    So, just like with MLB at its break, my mind turns to the rest of the NBA season, except unlike when I was a young boy turning into a man, I can now wager on my mid-season opinions.

    Cleveland Cavaliers 20-1 to Win Finals

    I was able to grab this at 50-1 last month, but it still looks like value to me, and I’ll probably re-up at least a little at 20-1 or better (though, as my mama told me, you better shop around!) as well as +650 or so to win the Eastern Conference.

    The East-leading Celtics are around +110 to win the conference and +250 to win the NBA Finals, but those prices are too short even if they’re the “best team,” right? Meanwhile, the Cavs are just six games behind the Celtics and 2.5 ahead of the Bucks but still with much juicier odds. The Eastern Conference is pretty wide-open, with all the contenders having flaws, so Cleveland looks like the value play.

    I guess you’d call the Cavaliers a “defense wins championships” kind of team, as they’re No. 2 in The Association in adjusted defense rating (111) and can shoot from 3-point range like the other contenders.

    I’m not one to make bets with the intention to hedge later, but this might be an exception (especially holding that 50-1 ticket). The only downside to these wagers is that Boston is likely to get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and favored by the time we’re looking to make any hedge bets, though the hope is that cost wouldn’t be too prohibitive if the Cavaliers continue to play well and a legit threat.

    Minnesota Timberwolves 18-1 to Win Finals, 8-1 to Win West

    Like my MLB picks at the All-Star Break, I also want a horse in the NBA’s Western Conference. But this side of the league is different, not just because it’s stronger overall.

    The Timberwolves currently hold the No. 1 spot out west, 1.5 games ahead of the Thunder, two ahead of the Clippers and three ahead of the defending champion Nuggets.

    Normally, I would be licking my lips at the thought of a juicy price on the No. 4 team, but the Nuggets are the +225 co-favorites to win the West along with the Clippers, so the oddsmakers haven’t been fooled into raising the Nuggets’ price.

    The Thunder are also tempting at 9-1 to win the conference, but again, we side with the defense-minded Timberwolves led by Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert. Being exiled in Minnesota and nowhere near the media attention as either coast, the T-wolves still aren’t a public team and are still flying under the radar, which is why we’re still able to get a fair price on them despite being the West leaders at the break.

    Again, I’m not against making this bet now while being more than open to hedging at some point. The Timberwolves have already made me decent money this season in individual games; I haven’t been tracking my spot plays. As I said, they’ve been few and far between overall in the NBA, but they’re 10-5 ATS in the underdog role. However, I’m not counting on as many individual game spots in the second half with oddsmakers adjusting and more of the public getting on the bandwagon.

    Betting Individual NBA Spot Plays

    I’m no longer doing the daily “Tuley’s Takes” pieces here at VSiN with my Best Bets each day, so I’ve been having some readers reach out to me occasionally for my plays or my thoughts on a daily card. I’ve always been happy to share with my loyal longtime readers, but often, I just tell them that most of my spot plays come from my old “swagger” and “anti-swagger” systems.

    For the uninitiated, a “swagger” play is when a team snaps a long losing streak to “get its swagger” back and often bounces back with a good performance. Since these teams are undervalued by oddsmakers and bettors alike during their slumps, we almost always get these teams at plus-money as underdogs. (Tuley Noted: the standard has evolved into six games to be considered long enough.)

    Conversely, an “anti-swagger” play is when a team has a winning streak of six or more games snapped and often has a letdown in the following game, so we fade them in those spots. Again, since everyone has been how well that team has been playing recently, they’re almost always a substantial favorite in that letdown spot, so even if they bounce back with a victory, there’s a great chance for the dog to at least cover.

    Just last Wednesday, I cashed a nice anti-swagger bet against the Cavaliers (yes, even though I love them overall and have future-book bets on them, I’m not going to pass up betting them in individual games when they’ve overpriced). That Monday, they had their nine-game winning streak snapped in a 123-121 home loss vs. the 76ers, so they were fadeable two nights later when hosting the Bulls as 9.5-point home favorites in their last game before the All-Star Break (which also could have been seen as a letdown spot), We were happy to see the Bulls were clearly the right side the entire game as they led by seven points, 32-25, after the first quarter and by as much as 17 before the Cavaliers rallied to win 108-105, but we easily cashed our bets.

    The following night (Thursday, the overall last night before the break), we had another easy winner with the Grizzlies in the swagger role. They had snapped a nine-game losing streak the night before in a 121-113 home win vs. the Rockets and were made 14-point home dogs vs. the Bucks (see what I said earlier about the market overadjusting on these teams on winning/losing streaks and being able to take advantage of that in these spots). Again, another rocking-chair win as the Grizzlies led 29-26 after the first quarter and were in position for the outright upset the entire game (with the spread cover never in doubt) and pulling out the 113-110 straight-up victory.

    Granted, these swagger/anti-swagger aren’t automatic plays for me coming out of the All-Star Break since having a full week or more between games for these teams certainly minimizes any impact usually in these swagger/anti-swagger spots. However, the players certainly still know if their team is on a streak, so I will play these on occasion, but more of a case-by-case basis.

    For those interested, the 76ers did have a six-game winning streak snapped in their last game before the break, so I am considering fading them in the anti-swagger role with the Knicks +1.5 on Thursday night. The teams on winning streaks heading into the break were the Mavericks (six), Celtics and Timberwolves (four), so we’ll be looking to see if it’s worth fading them after their next loss.

    As for teams on losing streaks, the Wizards dropped their last 8 games before the break while the Blazers are on a six-game skid, so they could be worth plays if they get their swagger back with a win.

    Good luck, everybody, and enjoy the rest of the NBA season and playoffs as we have nearly four more months of pro basketball action.

    Dave Tuley
    Dave Tuley
    Dave Tuley was VSiN.com senior reporter from 2017-2023 and is currently a contributing columnist and occasional on-air guest on the network. Tuley is also widely known as one of the foremost writers in the horse racing and sports betting industries from his previous jobs at Daily Racing Form (Las Vegas correspondent from 2000-2014) and ESPN Chalk (recurring writer from 2011 through 2017).

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