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NBA FINALS - MAKING AN ACCURATE TOTALS LINE
With three games gone in the NBA Championship series, there have been more than a few surprises. Even casual NBA followers were surprised at how low scoring the first two games were. Game 1 had a total of 170 points scored (with a total of 192.5), whereas Game 2 had 183 points scored (with the total at 188). Only Game 3 went over as 194 points were scored while the total closed at 189.5.
While many can set a basketball total line based on “feel”, the deadliest totals players at Pinnacle Sportsbook combine statistical analysis with a subjective understanding of the teams. If you want to set a baseline, you should begin analysis by looking at five statistics: each team’s average points scored, average points allowed by each team, and the league scoring average.
During the regular season, Dallas scored an average of 99.1 points per game while allowing 93.1 points per game. Miami scored 99.9 points per game and allowed 96. An inexperienced bettor might use just those four numbers and assume their average (96.8 per team, or 193.7 per game) will carry forward. The problem with using straight averages is that it dilutes the affects of high or low statistics.
If team “A” scores five points more than the league average, and this team plays a team with an average defense, you’d expect it to score five points more than average. If you take a straight average of these two statistics, you would predict team “A” to only score 2.5 points better than average, which is the wrong way to go about things.
A better way to set a baseline for a total is to compare a team’s statistics to the league average. For example, Dallas’s average of 99.1 points per game was 1.9 higher than the league average. The Mavericks’ defense (93.1 compared to NBA average of 97.2) was 4.1 lower than the NBA average. Miami scored 2.7 more per game (99.9 versus NBA average 97.2), while allowing 1.2 less (96 versus NBA avg. 97.2).
You now have four “totals adjusters”: Dallas has +1.9 (offense) and -4.1 (defense); Miami has +2.7 (offense) and -1.2 (defense). Add them all up, and your “team total adjustment” is (1.9-4.1+2.7-1.2) = -0.7. Add this to the NBA game average (97.2 * 2), and you get a “baseline total” of 193.7 (which is close to the game 1 total of 192.5). This method is particularly accurate when you have two influential statistics that would move the line in the same direction – e.g. a team with a strong defense versus a weak offense.
The baseline gives a good general measure of a match-up, but coaching decisions can cause some significant changes. One of the biggest factors is the pace of a game. In general, the superior team will benefit from a faster pace. The more possessions in a game, the more likely the law of large numbers will win out. Most games have about 85-95 possessions per team. If you look at a box score, the number of possessions = field goal attempts – offensive rebounds + turnovers + 0.4 * free throw attempts. This same formula can be used to evaluate the normal “pace” of a team by reviewing its season-long statistics.
Plugging in the regular season stats and using the pace formula, will show that Dallas averages 90 possessions per game, while Miami averages 93 possessions. With the first two games of the series going under, you might have examined their pace. Did a coaching strategy slow the game down?
Using the possessions formula, Game 1 offered 89 possessions each, while Game 2 offered 90 each. This pace was fairly typical of these teams. To understand why these games went under (especially Game 1, which went under by 22½ points), look at another statistic: offensive efficiency.
Offensive efficiency is simply the average number of points scored by a team per 100 possessions. In the regular season, Dallas scored 99.1 points on 90 possessions per game for an offensive rating of 110. Miami allowed 93 points on 93 possessions, for a defensive rating of 100. One should be cautious using season averages because a lineup change or coaching philosophy can drastically change a team’s performance. Therefore, using stats from the last 10 games rather than the whole season may be better.
In Game 1, Dallas scored 90 points on 90 possessions, which was about five points less than one would guess looking at the teams’ ratings. Similarly, Miami only scored 80 points in 90 possessions, whereas the statistics of the two teams predict about 92.5 points. In Game 2, both teams again scored slightly less than their offensive efficiencies would suggest.
When a game result is a far call from what’s expected, the box-score can tell a lot. The first thing to check (both after an unusual result and before doing analysis) are player injuries. A starter getting a lot fewer minutes than normal in a competitive game is one indicator. Maybe the game played at a different pace than expected. Neither of these factors were the main cause in Game 1 – just poor shooting. If there’s no fundamental change in team tactics, shooting will revert to the mean (as it did in Game 2).
There is another factor to consider. Everyone has seen the frantic pace of the last minute of a close game. In Game 6 of the Dallas-Phoenix series, there were 10 possessions in the last 60 seconds as Phoenix pressed to equalize. In the first two Miami-Dallas games, there were only four possessions in the last minute of each blowout-game. It was a different story in Game 3 where there was no more than a two point difference between the teams at any stage during the last minute of the game. When handicapping the total, consider the spread as well. The closer the match, the more likely a frantic final minute or overtime is likely to occur.
Another important factor to consider when betting a total or any sport is the juice or ‘vig’ – the bookmaker's cut for taking a bet. All professional bettors know what a huge impact it has on whether you have won or lost at the end of the season. If a player wants to win $100 betting a total, he risks $110 with a traditional bookie. That extra $10 is the bookmaker's commission for taking the bet. This is known as -110 pricing.
At Pinnacle Sports Book, we don't charge the retail -110 price for placing bets on totals. On NBA totals, we use -105 style pricing instead which offers up to 50% better value than other sportsbooks and saves any player $5 on every $100 wager they make.
Put another way, a player has to win close to 53% of their totals just to break even at traditonal -110 pricing. At a low juice sports book like Pinnacle Sportsbetting, you only need to win just 51% of your plays to break even. Something to think about!