Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell
- One of the most popular betting strategies in the NBA is to fade teams on the second game of a back to back.
- Is it a good strategy? Or do bookmakers already bake rest situations into the cake?
This is a post about nothing.
A lot of the content built around gambling is finding edges. “Teams in this spot are (X) against the spread,” etc. However, there are often assumptions made that casual gamblers may not realize.
So nothing in here, dear devoted serious gamblers, will shock or surprise you. You will know this already, and that’s OK. For you, this post is about nothing.
For everyone else, however, this post is about how we tend to think of what lines should be without realizing those factors have already been squeezed within an inch of their lives.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Rest has become the most talked about NBA league-wide issue related to performance over the past five years. There are sleep studies and studies on the impact of flying, and injury correlational studies and hyperbaric chambers and sleep therapists and the whole thing. And all of it’s valid, all of it is backed by credible, substantial science.
So this is not at all a discussion of whether or not rest affects performance. It absolutely, objectively does, no matter how much Jeff Van Gundy complains about the idea. However, what gets lost is that the rest factor is absolutely 100% already baked into the line.
To Bet Labs!
The following chart shows against the spread performance for home teams with at least two days of rest vs. teams on the second game of a back to back (or as we call it, SEGABABA, a phrase coined by Spurs blog Pounding The Rock).
The lone exception is the “SEGABABA vs. SEGABABA” field which looks at when both teams are on a back to back. The ROI field is for return on investment, and the “Fade ROI” field is if you were to take the same system and bet against it.
That’s all those different permutations of back to back splits, and among all of them, the range is a win percentage between 48 and 52 percent, with an ROI across both using and fading the system between -6.4% and 1.9%.
This thing has been sharped within an inch of its life. You are not getting value, in general, going into things with “oh, that team’s on a back to back.”
Now, that doesn’t mean these kinds of signals aren’t contextual. For example, the most dreaded back to back in the league is the Utah-Denver back to back, the Mile High Misery.
Two games, in altitude, often scheduled on consecutive nights to get teams to or from California. You’re flying through there, it’s a short flight, might as well hit it on the way out.
Teams on a back to back in most time zones don’t have any sort of performance differential. But teams in the Mountain Time Zone hosting a team on a SEGABABA have covered 57% of the time with a 5% ROI.
That’s way better than any other split. That specific situation is tough, in large part because not only is the back to back brutal, but Utah and Denver historically have been decent-to-good teams for much of the past 15 years.
There are definitely times when the specific situation calls for using that information. For example, Brad Stevens has made specific to note through the years of the emphasis he places on winning back to backs.
It turns a schedule loss into a win and that helps build a win profile. Stevens’ teams are 33-23 against the spread on the second night of a back to back.
These are the areas, contextually, where there’s value.
But if you’re looking at a line and think “Oh, and they’re on a back to back,” just realize going in that the bookmakers are already substantially ahead of you.