Before every season, I like to peruse the Vegas NBA win-total lines, with an eye towards picking up lost money in search of a home. My record on these picks is 10-1-1 since I began posting them for readers three seasons ago. Let’s see how I did this season, when I gave you these three Western Conference picks, and these four Eastern Conference picks:
I recommended these seven bets to my readers. The result is highlighted.
1) Rockets over 49.5 wins. Actual wins: 56.
2) Grizzlies over 49 wins. 55.
3) TWolves over 26.5 wins. 16.
4) Hawks over 41 wins. 60.
5) Bucks over 24 wins. 41.
6) Wizards UNDER 49.5 wins. 46.
7) Bulls record against the Cavs record, getting 4 games: Bulls 50 wins, Cavs 53 wins.
As you can see, my record on these wagers was 6-1, bringing my three season total record to 16-2-1.
Rockets: I was expecting a significant defensive improvement from the Rockets due to the Trevor Ariza for Chandler Parsons substitution. And I got it, despite the fact that the Rockets lost three of their best defenders – Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley – for most of the season.
Quite clearly, this was a mispriced line. What would the Rockets’ record have been if they’d stayed healthy?
Grizzlies: Another clearly mispriced line, as the Grizzlies beat it by 6 games despite barely playing .500 ball since the All-Star break. Gasol, Randolph and Conley all wore down as the season went on, but they were healthier than the previous year, they were more comfortable with Coach Joerger in his second season, and that’s all it took.
Win totals lines are frequently set by the enthusiasms of fans. Who wants to bet on the Grizzlies? That’s why lines like this one are available year after year.
Timberwolves: Ouch. And I’m not just referring to my pain. The TWolves had a terrible injury season. Ricky Rubio played 10 games before getting injured, and played 22 games total. Pekovich played 31 games. Kevin Martin broke his hand, 39 games. Shabazz Muhammad was having a breakout second season, then got injured, 39 games. Thad Young suffered a concussion and a bereavement. Mo Williams got injured when they needed him most.
And then what I feared might happen after a slow start occurred: Flip Saunders started dumping his veterans and tanking. Thad Young, Corey Brewer, Mo Williams and JJ Barea were all given away.
I made this bet because the TWolves had a solid veteran core in addition to their youngsters Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Muhammad, and 26.5 wins is an extremely low bar. Was it a good bet? I’m not entirely sure, and we’ll never really know. But if it was a mistake, it’s the kind of mistake I’ll make again.
Hawks: I don’t have much to say about my easiest win, except that I am as baffled by this line now as I was before the season. All it took was for Horford to stay healthy.
Bucks: A lot went wrong for this bet — Larry Sanders melted down, Jabari Parker blew out his knee — and yet it crushed. A sign of a very good price, and a very good coach. I feel about Jason Kidd much as I did about Don Nelson: He will find a way to win with whatever roster you hand him. And I intend to bet on him whenever possible.
Wizards: It looked like I was going to lose this bet at midseason. Did I get lucky? I really don’t think so. In fact, I think I got unlucky in the Wizards’ hot start. I thought they were really going to miss Ariza and Bradley Beal to start the season, and I was right that Martell Webster and Otto Porter weren’t the answer. What I didn’t see happening was 35 yr. old Rasual Butler coming to the rescue with the hottest stretch of his career. He literally saved the early part of the Wizard’s season.
Other things I got wrong: Nene stayed healthier than he has in several seasons. Paul Pierce was actually better defensively at small forward than I believed he would be at age 37, a year after Jason Kidd had moved him to the power forward for defensive reasons. Proving again what a great champion he is.
What this came down to in the end was price. It’s really, really hard to get 50 wins in the NBA. This one was close, but I still like the bet.
Bulls vs. Cavs: This was my favorite bet of the season, for three reasons. First, because I liked the Bulls’ upside, but there was no way I could bet them against the Vegas line: 54 wins was a joke. Second, because I got to hedge the Bulls’ performance against a team that I thought was grossly overhyped and overpriced. And third, because I made the bet with a very good friend who happens to be a more sophisticated overall bettor than I am. Ship it, Corlan!
My preseason analysis was on the money: the Cavs were completely dysfunctional to start the year. And despite the fact that the Bulls had myriad injury woes, I was crushing this bet right up until the trading deadline.
Then it all fell apart. The Cavs found a sucker for Dion Waiters, and were simply handed a decent two-way starting center (Mozgov), a 3 and D shooting guard (JR Smith), and a defensive stopper off the bench (Shumpert). I’m not sure I’ve ever before seen a team fix so many major holes so quickly and effectively. And the Bulls, of course, lost Derrick Rose to add to all of their other injury problems.
Was I lucky to wind up winning this bet by one game? You might want to think that, but to me, when everything goes wrong, and I still wind up winning, it’s a vindication.
The price was right.