Sense and Exponents

In the past few sessions, I’ve strung together 9 consecutive successful wagers, boosting my stake by a hypothetical $1000 in the process. The bets have been modest–all between $100 and $150, and I’ve never wagered more than 45% of whatever my starting position was at the time. A wonderful run of savvy and luck, from which I’ve made a nice return.

But not a spectacular one. Allowing for a moment of hindsight, it’s true that several of those wagers came in overlapping games, so let’s say conservatively my streak of winners stands at 5, with each in a time frame distinct from the others.

Had I wagered $100 on each pick, then reinvested both the principal and the return 5 times in a row, I’d have won $3200. Almost double my current stake after 26 tries.

But it is hindsight, and what I’m proposing next is preposterous: I’m going for another 5 in a row and all that lovely doubling.

Which means that I’ll have to extend my current winning streak to 14. Nine games into the run, there’s roughly a 3% chance of that happening, but 14 in a row is still 14 in a row, and the odds against are 16,383 to 1. Which puts it somewhere between being struck by lightning and understanding what the hell happened on the first viewing of Mulholland Drive.

Then again, I’m going to start with a modest $50 wager–and take only two or three chances at the brass ring–so I’m really only risking a maximum of $150 plus the vig. With the regular season drawing to a close, the likely worst case is that I’ll conclude my NBA wagering with a stake that’s roughly 50% higher than when I started. Not bad, considering the hole I dug with my first five picks.

And because I doubt I’ll wager on the playoffs (where Very Good meets Even Better every night, with all teams equally rested, prepared and motivated), this looks like an entertaining, inexpensive and possibly lucrative way to end my first tour through the NBA.

So tonight, the bets:

  • $55 to win $50 on Oklahoma City giving 10 to visiting Utah.
  • $55 to win $50 on Indiana getting 1.5 from host Charlotte.

Each of these is the beginning of a separate 5-pick attempt. The thought with the Thunder is that the sting of their last home performance (a debacle against Toronto) will spur a rout; that, plus Utah is a shadow of its former self, stumbling into town on a 9-22 bender, and likely without the services of Devin Harris. And the absence of Stephen Jackson (Charlotte’s only clutch offensive threat) plus the Pacers’ need to step on the neck of its closest rival for the East’s last playoff spot will spark an Indy road win.

The temptation passed is Miami on the road giving 8.5 to Detroit. I’m expecting a Heat blowout, but then again…I’ve also gone back through this blog and tallied up my calls on the games that caught my eye but didn’t coax a wager. I’m a thoroughly underwhelming 7-28-2 in that department, so the counterargument looks uncomfortably compelling.

Go Pacers. Go Thunder.

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Notes to Self

Apparently, it will never stop raining.

Denver looks serious. Another spread-obliterating road shellacking of a good team. They’re now 8-2 post-Melo, and because they go 11-deep (including two young, quick, capable point guards), it just may be they have no off switch. One to watch for wagering.

I’m 1-1 for the evening as I write, with Phoenix hanging in there as the fourth quarter begins. Pleased to be right about New Jersey, and don’t know if I learned anything from San Antonio deciding it couldn’t win, oh, sometime around the six-minute mark of the third quarter, then feeding the ball to George Hill as if the trip to Miami were nothing more than a lab experiment. The 54-13 Spurs have earned that luxury, I guess. But it’s still exasperating to see a premier team rolling over a week after stomping the stomper. Not a headscratcher, but one to remember in future wagers. I should have stayed away from Very Good versus Even Better. I plead Vegas–I couldn’t resist the points.

Meanwhile, an object lesson in rest and concentration in the NBA, from the also-ran division: Golden State hits 21 of 35 from three-point land against Orlando at home, rests a day, then stops Kevin Love’s double-double diaspora for a resounding win, and 24 hours later takes what may be the shortest, easiest road trip in the NBA today, up to Sacramento for the accomodating Kings. The Warriors open with a trey, then surrender a 19-0 run (which has to be the Kings’ best sequence of the season), and now find themselves down 26 early in the second quarter.

Phoenix loses in the last moments, but covers. A mildly profitable 2-1 night. I’m 5-2 in the last three wagering sessions. Still underwater, but rising.

I mean me. Not the water.

Then again, it won’t stop raining.

Monday Monday

Rain, rain, rain, and three road dogs get wagers tonight:

  • $110 to win $100 on the Spurs getting 4.5 in Miami
  • $110 to win $100 on the Suns getting 7 in Houston
  • $110 to win $100 on the Nets getting 5.5 at home against Boston

Here’s hoping the coaching and depth of San Antonio carries them on the road with the points, the anger, speed, and inside knowledge of Aaron Brooks keeps Phoenix in the game against his former teammates, and a rested Deron Williams gives Boston fits in its second game in 30 hours.

There’s been enough evidence to counter the road dogs theory already (routs all over the place covering big spreads this weekend), but I happen to like the odds and setups in these three games. The Spurs almost never get points, and they’re a better team, though not star-laden. The Suns scrap every night, Frye is back, and Aaron Brooks isn’t a step down against Houston (shhh). And the Nets…it’s just a feeling. I think Boston showcased itself yesterday, all of its centers are benched with injuries, and New Jersey will look to impress at home.

I know, I know. It’s just a hunch. But then, that’s part of the fun too.

Good Charlotte?

A 1-1 night: Portland loses, and Sacramento covers. I’m down $10 overall. The game I felt more confident about winning, I lost. Portland, having reeled off six in a row on the road (including a win in Miami), not far removed from a 93-69 blasting of the Bobcan’ts in Portland, and allegedly bringing a stung and motivated ex-Charlotte star into the arena (Gerald Wallace), couldn’t stop Stephen Jackson from taking the game away from them in the fourth quarter, enabling the Bobs to snap a five-game losing streak. Portland remains the better team, but the lesson may be that Friday nights at home with a single reliable player may be enough for mediocre teams in these contests. As impressive as Portland has been lately, it’s still a team that essentially wins 4 of 7 squaring off against a team that wins 3 of every 7 contests; which is to say both teams lose with some frequency, and this may be the kind of game a team like Portland is inclined to lose, road streak or no road streak.

Can’t see any bets at the moment for tomorrow, though it’s tempting to think the Clips will cover, and so might the Grizzlies and Pistons. As it stands, I’m waiting for next week’s games.

Go West, Young Man

Two bets tonight:

  • $110 to win $100 on Sacramento getting 11.5 in San Antonio
  • $110 to win $100 on Portland giving 4.5 in Charlotte

Glad I skipped the games I did last night–injuries to Billups and Channing Frye affected both outcomes. But then I missed both bits of news because I never really considered wagering on either contest–I didn’t like the spreads, and I didn’t have confident guesses as to what might happen. Denver might just be turning into something not seen in the NBA outside of San Antonio–a deep, complete, unselfish team. Frye or no Frye, that was an impressive road dismantling of a Suns squad that’s scrambling for wins every night. The Nuggets are 6-2 sans Carmelo Anthony, who’s discovering what Miami’s stars already know: fantasy basketball stats aren’t enough against the league’s top echelon. Dallas kicked its transition game into high gear to rout the Melobockers Thursday night, largely because New York no longer has any depth, nor any starters capable of playing both ends of the floor.

Tonight’s nervousness stems from Stephen Jackson’s return to physical health (if not sanity), and what appears to be the eternal war between Sacramento’s talent and psyche. But I’m betting that Charlotte is still a team that will play as if it were sandbagged by management (it was), Portland will expend a lot of energy to win on the road (as moderately good teams must), and Sacramento will cosmetically cover up the truth: that San Antonio plays the kind of heady, devastating team basketball the Kings never will.

Small bets, still underwater, still learning, and only a 25% chance of a meaningfully negative outcome for my stake tonight.

Go Kings. Go Blazers.

Standing on a Whale, Fishing for Minnows

Last night, Golden State stomped Washington for three quarters, then imploded in the fourth. A romp turned into a nailbiter with a minute to go, and I was lucky to win a money line bet on the Warriors.

Then Houston (winners of five in a row) lost to the L.A. Clippers (losers of five in a row) by three points–the oddsmakers’ line when I decided to bet.

I finished 1-1 on wagers and cleared $5 last night.

Meanwhile, Indiana flew to Oklahoma City a few hours after beating the Warriors at home, for the privilege of being demolished by the Thunder, 113-89.

And Charlotte, a team whose management threw in the towel at the trade deadline, careened into Denver for a 120-80 whupping.

Why did I skip these blowouts? Because the spreads were 8-9 points, and my early wagering losses put me off the scent.

Maybe the focus is on bad teams first.

Maybe they stink in that first road game, should it happen to be against a good team waiting at the end of a comparatively lengthy flight.

I’m going to look at some schedules and see.

Because I think I’m onto something.

Because I’m not placing any bets on a two-game NBA Thursday.

Because I started this project with a blowout-seeking theory, and now I’m thinking I didn’t look hard enough for an NBA-specific pattern.

Stay tuned.

Not Exactly the Thrill of Victory

Boston 107 Utah 102 

A win for me, with the Celts covering by half a point.

You’ll have to take my word for this: I’m still having fun, and I enjoy working my way through a mystery. It’s also fair to say that playing, watching and talking basketball has taken up an indefensible number of my leisure hours for decades. So it’s even more engaging to think about risk in a field that has many happy memories.

That said…yeesh. Last night didn’t feel like a win. I thought Boston would cover easily, and they did anything but. Another game in which the oddsmakers were dead right. Another in which the superior team either couldn’t put its rival away, or opted to conserve energy for tougher games ahead. The former explanation seems like storytelling (Richard Jefferson playing with unusual fire and focus against his former team), an entertaining yarn for the sports section; the latter feels closer to the truth.

The difference between understanding and feeling an idea; I knew NBA teams don’t give a maximum effort every minute, because of the rigors of the long season. But before I started thinking about spreads, I didn’t grasp how that affected the progression of games in terms of leads, surges, and quarter-to-quarter strategy. I think I understood how good teams target the third quarter to put away inferior opponents–especially on the road–but I never kept track of the cumulative effect that conservation of energy has on the margins of games. Great teams are comfortable cutting it close. Uncomfortably close.

Last night, Utah opened with a 10-4 burst; the kind of crowd-pleasing home start that doesn’t mean much in a professional game. What followed, however, was telling: Boston responded with a 23-4 blitz. A squad in college or even high school might survive that kind of lull and still win, but in the NBA, it meant Utah couldn’t keep up with Boston, and barring injuries and/or imbalanced refereeing, it signalled a Jazz defeat was almost certainly 40 minutes away. The game ended in the NBA form I’ve only just grasped: the five-point rout. A contest whose math suggested it hung in the balance until the final minute (when Utah had possession down a basket and failed to convert), but whose reality was all but controlled by the superior team.

More to ponder. In the meantime, I’m glad I made good calls on Denver/Atlanta and Phoenix/New Jersey last night, and I’m chastened by the fact that the sting of early wagering losses caused me to overlook Washington regressing to its lowly mean at home against Chicago. Note to self: maybe the key is small, consistent bets on great defenses asserting themselves against dysfunctional offenses. Which might explain how the Bullets can beat the spread against offensive juggernauts like Miami and Dallas, but not against a Chicago squad with Noah back in the starting lineup.

For tonight, I’m mulling Dallas giving 1.5 at Philly, Golden State getting 6.5 at Indiana, and travelling San Antonio without its point guard getting 1 in Memphis.

I like Golden State to cover in the wake of a last-second loss to Minnesota and facing an overnight to D.C. for a back-to-backer at the Verizon Center and faux Boston Garden in the next three days. Having just kicked off a run of 12 road games in 15 starts, the Warriors almost have to target tonight’s scuffle for a maximum effort to avoid a long losing streak.

And I suspect either Philly or Memphis will win at home against a superior opponent. The trouble is, I don’t know which one, and they’re on opposite sides of the spreads and money lines.

For now, all bets are off. If I change my mind, you’ll be the second to know.

Try to contain your excitement.