Bet 'em or Fade 'em: What We've Learned in the First Week of NBA Basketball

Basketball Dec 28, 2020

The 2020-21 NBA regular season began seven days ago.  Based on each team having played at least a few games, we've already learned several things about what might be expected the remainder of the season.

For those with a gambling interest, let's also label each of these opinions with a BET 'EM or FADE 'EM tag:

(1) Toronto is in serious trouble – Perhaps the opening night loss to New Orleans can be forgiven, but the way the Raptors lost their next game, to San Antonio, is a clear indication that this team is completely out of sync.  Toronto played poorly in the shortened preseason and many expected this talented young squad would turn things around quickly when the games really mattered.  But that hasn't been the case, so far.  Perhaps the relocation to Tampa has contributed to the Raptors feeling like nomads – a team with no home base at the moment and little cohesiveness.  We've yet to see a good game by the Raptors since all the way back to September (last season).  It's panic time in Toront.....oops, Tampa.  FADE 'EM!

(2) The NBA's biggest surprise team is Cleveland – The young Cavs were expected to be a bottom dweller in the Eastern Conference (125-1 odds to win the East), but they roared out of the gate to a shocking 3-0 start.  No way Cleveland keeps up this pace over 72 games, but credit the Cavs with a solid effort in Week 1.  Beating the Pistons and Hornets might not have been that impressive, but Cleveland upsetting the 76ers, which are forecast as on of the better teams in the East, is a big reason for optimism.  BET 'EM!

(3) Houston is the NBA's most intriguing fishbowl – The Rockets have been an off-season soap opera, and then got slammed with COVID-19 protocols, losing several key players for the first week of games.  Meanwhile, James Harden's trade bait saga continues, while ownership apparently released damning evidence about the unusual off-the-court dysfunctions of the NBA superstar MVP who is dangling himself to multiple other teams.  Losing to the talented Blazers in OT is nothing to be ashamed of, but Houston looks like a mess until they resolve their many roster questions.  FADE 'EM!

(4) There's a youth transition happening in San Antonio – Pop's team looked old and worn out by season's end in 2020.  Now, just a few months later, the Spurs' new youth movement is in full bloom.  Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker IV are all in the starting lineup, and the team responded with a 2-1 record in the first week of play.  Another interesting transition – Spurs will likely become a faster-paced team, since their two wins averaged 125 PPG while the loss held the Spurs to under 100.  San Antonio faces tough opposition in the West, but could continue making strides to getting back to the league's elite.  BET 'EM!

(5) Indiana is a team to watch, and fear – We noted the Cavaliers as the big" surprise" in the East, but let's not shaft the Indiana Pacers, who are also off to a 3-0 start.  There's lots of energy on the court.  The Pacer's playing style has completely has changed with the new coach, and the up tempo pace should fit Indiana’s players better than last year’s system.  This team is on the rise.  BET 'EM!

(6) The Los Angeles Clippers....are still the Clippers – Fresh off a 2-0 start, including impressive wins versus the tough competition – the Lakers and Trailblazers – the Clippers were on their way to making opening week's biggest statement.  Then, the staggeringly stunning first half against the Dallas Mavericks happened.  [Mavericks Smash NBA Record with 50-Point Halftime Lead]  What do we now make of the Clippers going forward?  Tuesday night's game versus Minnesota may tell us a lot.  BET? or FADE? – it's impossible to say at the moment.

(7) Beast of the East?  Is Brooklyn the real favourite to win the East? – Beating Boston by 28 points and posting a 2-1 record is impressive, even though this rising team lost a nail-bitter to the Hornets.  The Nets are suddenly the "sexy pick" to win the Eastern Conference given their aggressive and talented lineup, combined with the apparent waffling mediocrity of other top contenders in the East (Milwaukee, Toronto, and Boston).  Brooklyn deserves its trendy tag now, but the problem is – they won't be a value for bettors laying points in most of their games.  FADE 'EM, especially when laying large spreads.

(8) Milwaukee is overrated – Picked once again to win the East, the Bucks fell off the top spot with a lackluster effort.  Opening week, Milwaukee went 1-2, including a 20-point loss to the dreadful Knicks.  The Knicks!  Let's be clear:  The Bucks were the best team in the NBA during the 2019-20 regular season, and the key pieces of that roster return for another run, including MVP Antetokounmpo, who averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists last season.  But when it's crunch time, this isn't the team I want to back with my money.  FADE 'EM

(9) The NBA's TV ratings are tanking – This is a major slump for the NBA.  There's way too much going on right now, including the NFL which seems to have a game every night of the week.  So, who's watching basketball?  Apparently, fewer fans.  The NBA's Christmas Day games tanked this year, as viewers presumably are distracted or simply not as in tune with early-season basketball.  Ratings fell last season as well, when games were played in the bubble.  It's clear that the NBA desperately needs fans in the arenas, probably more than any other sport.  The energy of live basketball (on TV) simply isn't there.  Detractors will also point to the politicization of basketball, which likely has also contributed to a ratings decline.  FADE 'EM

(10) The Lakers are still kings – After losing the season opener to the Clippers, the defending champion Lakers throttled both the Mavericks and T-Wolves, walloping both opponents with easy wins and covers.  Many bettors might be writing off the Lakers a bit too quick, when the obvious pedigree is in place to repeat.  It sounds insane to suggest there's every any value when betting a popular public team like Lakers, especially now.  However, this could be a 60-win team (72 games) with no speedbumps headed back to the finals.  BET 'EM