Sheridan: Betting The Under Has Been The Smart NBA Preseason Play

Posted By Chris Sheridan on December 17, 2020
NBA over under total basketball

Only a knucklehead would bet on NBA preseason basketball, correct?

Well, maybe not.

Going into Thursday night’s slate of seven games, there is a discernible trend emerging. The Under has hit in seven of the last eight NBA preseason games, with the only exception coming when the Bulls and Thunder combined for 64 fourth quarter points Wednesday night to hit the Over, which was 218 (the final tally was 227).

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Defense rules the preseason

These preseason Over/Unders seem about right for regular season matchups, but what makes the Under a tantalizing choice in preseason wagering is the fact that nearly every NBA coach is using these final exhibition games to give minutes to players trying to secure the 13th, 14th and 15th roster spots, and those players will distinguish themselves in the eyes of their coaches not with what they do on the offensive end, but by what they do on defense.

On Wednesday, the Under covered in the Knicks versus Cavs game by 19 points, the Under was hit in the Lakers versus Suns game by three points, and in the Nuggets versus Trail Blazers game by a point and a half.

On Tuesday, Boston and Philadelphia missed the Over by 9.5 points, San Antonio and Houston missed by 14.5 points, and Golden State and Sacramento finished a point below the number, which was 228.

Also, there has not been a single overtime played in 31 preseason games. Nor has anyone other than Talen Horton-Tucker of the Lakers scored 30 or more points. This all bears watching because trends are what distinguish “sharp” bettors from “public” bettors, and trends such as the one involving the Unders give the oddsmakers fits because the moment they are posted, the sharps lay their money where they believe the easier wins can be had. The low totals could also be a tell of how teams will fare offensively early in the regular season, which starts on Tuesday.

The sharps have been missing at FanDuel Sportsbook, where 63% of the Over/Unders have been on the “Over.” At DraftKings Sportsbook as of noon Eastern time today, the opposite was true. The “Under” was being bet hard in five of six games, with Minnesota versus Dallas getting equal action on both, DK spokeswoman Remington Parker said.

In the Washington versus Detroit, and Sacramento versus Golden State games, every single Over/Under bet was on the “Under.” For the entire preseason, DK has taken 55% of wagers on the Over, although 53% of the handle has been on the Under.

Over at BetMGM, spokesman John Ewing said the book will not adjust odds based upon short-term trends.

Tonight’s slate

The Over/Unders for tonight’s games range from a low of 215 for Detroit at Washington to a high of 226.5 for Golden State versus Sacramento at FanDuel Sportsbook. Here’s is a look at those totals, and how these teams have been handling the preseason thus far:

Charlotte at Orlando (Over/Under ): Hornets coach James Borrego just lost Gordon Hayward, and he has 129 other players on his roster. In Charlotte’s last game, 16 players got court time, including 16 minutes for Bismack Biyombo and 9 for Nick Richards. Both are centers, and one will likely be starting against Nikola Vucevic, who logged 33 minutes and had 14 points and 15 rebounds Monday against Atlanta. Magic coach Steve Clifford went only 10 deep and played his starters major minutes, in part because five players were injured. Orlando is a 3.5-point favorite.

Detroit at Washington (Over/Under ): Pistons coach Dwane Casey went 17 deep in a 99-91 victory over the Knicks in Detroit’s last game, and 15 deep in the previous game when the Pistons scored just 84 points. The Wizards have played only one game and scored 114 against Brooklyn despite the absences of Russell Westbrook, Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal, all of whom will likely be dusted off by Scott Brooks tonight. The line is Washington by 4.

San Antonio at Houston (Over/Under is ): After James Harden broke all records for being disingenuous as he spoke to the media for the first time yesterday, what we may see tonight is his final game in a Houston uniform before they trade him. That means coach Stephen Silas may be under orders to yank him after a particularly productive stretch, because what the Rockets need more than anything now is for Harden’s value to be boosted so that they can get a fair deal on the trade market. The Spurs scored just 98 points and went 12 deep (five players were injured) in their previous game, and no one has lower regard for preseason games than coach Gregg Popovich. The Rockets are favored by 5.

Atlanta at Memphis (Over/Under is ): The Hawks have averaged 114 points in their two preseason games, with Lloyd Pierce using seven members of what will be his 10-man rotation that he’ll use in the regular season. The only surprise last game was Kevin Huerter starting over Bogdan Bogdanovic. (Rajon Rondo, Cam Reddish and Kris Dunn have been injured.) The Grizzlies put up 123 and 103 against the TerribleWolves, with coach Taylor Jenkins shortening his rotation last game. These are two young and up-and-coming teams, and this may be the best watch of the bunch tonight, crazy as that sounds. The Grizzlies are favored by 2.

Minnesota at Dallas (Over/Under is ): Mavs owner Mark Cuban plans to be in attendance, which means coach Rick Carlisle may try to please him by giving Luka Doncic a chance to get his first triple-double of the preseason. The Slovenian MVP favorite had 27 points in just 29 minutes as the Mavs dropped 128 points on the Bucks a couple nights ago, making 22 3-pointers as Carlisle went 15 players deep. The T-Wolves have lost twice and have scored 30 or more points just once in eight quarters. Somehow, the line on this game is only Mavs by 6.

Golden State at Sacramento (Over/Under is ): We had a buzzer beater between these teams two nights ago, which made Kyle Guy a trending topic on social media. Heck, six treys including the game-winner and 20 total points, a team-high, will do that in a battle of NoCal rivals. Coach Steve Kerr used Steph Curry for 28 minutes, rested James Wiseman and still went 15 deep, while Sacramento coach Luke Walton also went 15 deep in his team’s third preseason game. This is the Kings’ finale, so expect Walton to use a regular-season rotation. The Kings are favored by 2.

Utah at Los Angeles Clippers (Over/under is ): The Clippers have been horrific in the preseason, scoring just 81 points in their opener and then losing to the Lakers by 25 in their second game. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George logged just 18 minutes each last game, and this is their preseason finale. That begs the question: Didn’t Ty Lue learn anything from watching Doc Rivers go overboard on load management? The Jazz scored 111 and 118 on a pair of victories over the Suns, and this is the final tuneup for Quin Snyder’s team, which is a four-point underdog for reasons which defy explanation given what we have seen in the preseason thus far.

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