Handicapping Basketball Runs

People talk a lot about the value and merits of momentum in sports. This applies double to the NBA, a league with games predicated on ebbs and flows. Advanced-numbers analysts will argue against reading into perceptions of momentum and runs and individual hot hands. These events cannot actually be quantified, so they're rejected as a solid betting premise. Really, though, they shouldn't be. As long as you indulge momentum in the right way, it can end up being a useful tool.

How Do You Handicap Basketball Momentum?

Whenever you hear about momentum and runs in basketball, you're almost always hearing about a type of reaction to live-betting procedure.

As a refresher for those who don't know: Live betting is a form of single-game wagering that takes place after the competition on which you're gambling has already started. You are not investing in pre-game lines, but rather, you are making decisions based off what you have seen thus far. 

That's where momentum comes in. 

Bettors will notice that one team is really giving it to another and react accordingly. That could entail them investing in single-quarter spreads or odds for the rest of the game. It doesn't matter. Handicapping streaks is all about singling out isolated runs within a game and drawing a bigger-picture conclusion. 

Momentum NBA Betting In Action

Assume the Chicago Bulls are squaring off against the Toronto Raptors. Entering the game, they were a +7.5, meaning they would need to lose by fewer than eight points or win for a bet in their favor to pan out.

Rather than invest in their lines prior to tip-off, you decide to wait for the first quarter unfold. At the end of those initial 12 minutes, however, the Bulls are up by six points over the Raptors. Live game lines have now moved Chicago's spread to a -3.5.

There are two things you can do here: You can place stock in the Bulls' first-quarter tear, or you can play to the original favorite with the Raptors, who will now be laying a +3.5 along with a moneyline that pays out more than even money.

No one approach is wrong. It depends on how you feel about the way the game has unfolded. Momentum betting is valuable both for favorite and underdog betting. By waiting until the game starts, you will either confirm suspicions you had about the underdog being a better-than-normal bet, or you will find cause to believe even further in the preordained favorite.

Now, with that said, live betting is usually best used to capitalize on opportunistic odds. These can be an array of things: favorites turned underdogs after the first quarter or second half, underdogs who remain underdogs but are playing their opponent tighter than expected, etc. Keeping with this theme, it's normally not worth your time to bet on favorites who remain favorites. If the spread becomes more appetizing to your tastes, then that's fine. But when games reinforce the public's pre-tip opinion, you're not going to make too much of a profit investing in the favorite.

Momentum Betting On NBA Futures

Not enough sites acknowledge this approach exists. But believe us when we say it does.

Betting on NBA futures is a popular approach to basketball wagering. Momentum has a way of impacting the championship odds in a manner that bodes well for your wallet. The same can technically be said for win totals, but those are glorified over/under bets, which means you're looking at a return between -110 and +110—essentially even money—no matter how much a team's win-total line might move.

NBA Finals odds are a lot different. They wax and wane, sometimes drastically, as the season soldiers onward. Sportsbooks, remember, provide lines that are, in addition to algorithm-based projections, adjusted and tweaked based off what the general population is betting on.

Placing championship bets before the season officially tips off is the traditionally endorsed advice. We are not here to refute that. You guarantee yourself the most balanced, often best, odds possible by making your decision earlier than the majority of other bettors.

But waiting until the middle of the season will permit you to take a chance on fading favorites or rising underdogs.

We will start with the fading favorites. Assume the Golden State Warriors enter the regular season with +100 championship odds. You decide that's not worth your time. You want something more lucrative if you're going to wager on an outcome that will not be determined for another nine months. While you are free to move your action elsewhere, to a team that's closer to an underdog, you can also sit on the Warriors' line. There's a chance they could move down the totem pole after suffering a three-game losing streak or something like that.

All of sudden, at that time, they could be laying a +250 or +300. And while uneducated wagerers will be avoiding them during this cold streak, you will know better. You understand that they are still the same team, and that they are going through a temporary hardship that should pass.

This approach works in reverse as well. Let's say an odds-on championship favorite, such as the Warriors, suffers a devastating injury that clearly torpedoes their title chances. As a result of them falling off the pedestal, other teams will move up the NBA's championship ladder. 

Perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers were laying the 10th-best odds in the league. The possibility exists that they could vault into the top five after the Warriors drop off because these two teams play in the same conference. If you hit the sportsbooks early enough after the Warriors' season-altering injury, you should be able to get the original price that the Lakers were laying. 

That doesn't seem like much, and yet, it often can be. It could be the difference between betting on the Lakers at +1,500 and +750. Seriously, that happens. And it doesn't transpire just during the season either. The offseason is a hotbed for momentum betting.

Sportsbooks for the most part release the following season's championship odds as soon as the current campaign ends. Those lines are subject to change substantially over the course of the summer, as NBA teams sign free agents, make trades and just generally tinker with their roster. Oddsmakers will also overreact to certain news items, such as a report that alleges a star player will sign in a certain place. 

You can, and should, consider investing in the relatively unaffected teams in these cases. If the rumors have LeBron James, a free agent, joining the San Antonio Spurs, their championship odds will diminish in value. But nothing is for certain at the time of the news break, and other teams' odds will remain intact or receive a boon in curb appeal because they're then considered underdogs.

Basically, take a lay of the futures land whenever something major happens or is possibly about to happen in the NBA. You might stumble upon opportunities you didn't have at your disposal before. 

Risks Of Momentum Betting

This should be obvious.

Since momentum cannot be quantified, you are taking a unstable, albeit calculated, gamble by reading into a singular or small series of events. Just because the Bulls enter as underdogs but then outscore the Raptors by seven points in the first quarter doesn't mean they're going to win the game. There is a lot of basketball left to play after the opening period.

Similarly, on the futures front, investing in the Warriors while they're enduring a tough losing streak guarantees you nothing. Yes, Golden State's cold stretch could be innocent. It could also be something significant—a harbinger of an inescapable rough patch or profound weakness that does, in fact, cost them the championship race later on.

Bear all this in mind while you are trying to juggle the immediate with the big picture. Momentum betting can be valuable, but if you lean on it too heavily, too often, you're liable to overreact one way or another to something that doesn't warrant such a response. As always, there is no substitute for understanding the subject of your bet—like how a team plays.

Lessons Learned About Handicapping Momentum In The NBA

  • Momentum betting is usually a form of single-game live betting
  • Momentum betting can also be applied to NBA futures (i.e. wagering on championship odds amid a team's winning or losing streak)
  • Check out the NBA's championship-odds picture after a contender suffers a major injury loss, since their misfortune could allow you to invest in a dark horse that's no longer as steep of a long shot
  • Keep your eyes out for offseason opportunities in which you spot long-term wagers that have been impacted by certain transactions
  • Be careful not to overreact to mid-game runs or mid-season streaks, as they could be telltale of nothing or the opposite of what you think they are