Finally, after what seems like an eternity since the NBA was shut down in early March, some good news greeted NBA fans on Wednesday. A sense of optimism had prevailed in an NBA Board of Governors conference call the prior day.
There still is no decision on the form that would take with the 30 NBA teams. The league hasn’t worked through the details on whether regular-season games would be played or if perhaps there would be a play-in tournament to give more teams a chance to make the 16-team playoff field, sources told ESPN.com.
The NBA is being forced to tip-toe forward, given the daily pandemic changes associated with COVID-19, and decreased paychecks are coming this Friday for the players. But Commissioner Adam Silver has been steadfast in his belief that a season can be salvaged, and now it appears we will have basketball to help us through the summer.
So, how does this impact the sports gambling world?
Let’s have a look at ways the NBA betting odds and outcomes will be impacted when the league returns.
The bubble market
The chances are that games will be played in Las Vegas and/or Orlando with no fans in attendance, at least at the start. This will create a surreal experience for players and viewers alike. However, if 2020 has taught us anything, we should expect the unexpected and learn how to deal with it.
NBA players play in empty gyms all the time. Heck, they practice in empty gyms at 30 different practice facilities. Remember when LeBron James said there was no way in heck he’d ever play in an empty arena? Yeah, that was a loooooong two months ago before the whole country shut down.
The absence of fans will make for a strange dynamic, and it will remove much of the home-court advantage. Lest we all forget, the Miami Heat had the NBA’s best against-the-spread record (20-12) at home, and the best over/under record at home belonged to the Heat, too (22-10).
At a neutral site, the home-court advantage is gone, and if no more NBA regular-season games are played, one of the most interesting first-round matchups could be Miami against Brooklyn in the East’s 2 vs. 7 pairing.
The Heat are on the board at +2700 to win the title at FanDuel Sportsbook, +2000 at DraftKings Sportsbook, and +3000 at PointsBet. The Nets, who may or may not have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back if and when the playoffs begin, are at +6000 at DraftKings, +6000 at FanDuel, and +4000 at PointsBet.
“Players are keying on the Nets, so much so that they are one of the top two teams in terms of bets taken to win the NBA championship,” said Johnny Avello, head of the sportsbook at DraftKings. “And let’s not forget, they were 200-to-1 about six weeks ago.
“There is a good chance Durant is not coming back, but if he does come back, put him and Irving together — that’s a hell of a tandem. The Lakers have taken over one-third of the money, and the Nets and Clippers are at 15% each.”
What also will be interesting to watch as the playoffs evolve is how the league and the players and, especially, the coaches react if somebody becomes infected with coronavirus, which ESPN says will not cause the postseason to be halted.
Coaches and other high-risk candidates
The NBA’s oldest coach, Gregg Popovich, 71, of the San Antonio Spurs, will not be qualifying for the postseason unless the Spurs somehow leapfrogged three other Western Conference teams. Statistics have shown that COVID-19 is particularly harsh on the elderly.
The NBA would likely not even allow anyone at high risk to put themselves at a higher risk, so this is a tricky one to look at from a gambling angle.
But there is this: The NBA’s hottest team when the season was suspended was the Toronto Raptors, who were available at 40-1 in February, the glory days of basketball being played.
Toronto is now listed at +1800 at DraftKings. For what is it is worth, coach Nick Nurse is a mere 52 years old. If any NBA coaches have tested positive for COVID-19, that information has not been made public.
Time to heal
Injured players have had time to heal. Although Durant is the most high-profile, most remain convinced there is no way he will play. But the final word on that decision will be KD’s. Who is to say that if he does not play in the first round, it would also mean that he would not play in the second round? At the end of the day, the guy plays basketball for a living. By the time the NBA resumes, it will have been more than 12 months since he was injured in last year’s NBA Finals.
“To your point, 30% of all bets in the past seven days have been on the Brooklyn Nets, which is substantial given their position in the market (+6000),” FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessey said.
The injury factor also impacts the Sixers, with Ben Simmons fully recovered from a back injury. Lest we forget, Joel Embiid returned from a shoulder injury and was dominant on the night of March 11 – the night the NBA shut down.
So as any gambler knows, Durant, Simmons, or anyone associated with Pat Riley, never, ever counts out a fierce competitor.
As the events of this year have shown us, things can change in a major way in an eyeblink. And we will apparently see more of that on the basketball court sometime in the next few weeks. Sportsbooks will be happy, NBA owners and players and fans will be happy, bar and restaurant owners who survived the coronavirus lockdown will be happy, and life will seem somewhat normal again.
Hang in there, folks.