Should Bettors Be Wary of Tired LeBron in the NBA Playoffs?
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Following Sunday’s Game 7 closeout win against Indiana, LeBron James revealed his level of exhaustion in the postgame press conference. Playoff series that go the distance are grueling, and King James is certainly feeling the effects after carrying the Cavaliers into the conference semifinals.
As bettors, we’re always looking for an edge, and it’s reasonable to question whether LeBron can pull off another superhuman task of single-handedly willing the Cavs into the conference finals, especially against tougher competition. (Cleveland is +166 to win the series against Toronto)
To answer this question, I fired up the software at BetLabsSports.com and ran the numbers to determine whether bettors can use LeBron and the Cavs’ fatigue when betting Tuesday’s Game 1 at Toronto (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
Since the start of the 2005 postseason, 36 games have featured a team with two or fewer days between games against opponents with four or more days of rest.
In those games, teams with less time to rest and recover are 12-23-1 (34.3%) against the spread for a loss of 11.41 units and a -31.7% return on investment. While it’s not the largest of samples, it does make sense that teams with extra rest outperform betting market expectations.
To test this edge over a larger sample size, I also analyzed regular-season matchups with the same criteria. Interestingly, teams in similar situations slightly underperform in the regular season as well, covering the spread 49.3% (545-560-17) of the time.
It’s reasonable to assume that rest is more important in the playoffs, considering teams have already run through an 82-game regular-season gantlet. If this theory truly has merit, the regular-season ATS performance of tired teams should decline as the season progresses and players experience more wear and tear.
Tired NBA teams do underperform more as the season goes on when facing rested opponents, evidenced by a drop-off in a cover rate of 50.6% during the first half of the season, compared to only 47.8% from game 42 on.
Does this mean that LeBron can’t carry Cleveland to a Game 1 cover as a 6.5-point underdog? Absolutely not. But history tells us that a worn-out Cavs squad has a tough test looming.
Top Photo: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts to a call in the first half of Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs