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The Fatman Speaks
A Primer on Basketball Handicapping
by Ernie Kaufman

Hi Gambling Times readers. Happy New Year! It’s a great time of year for those of us who partake in sports betting. The serious onset of the basketball season gives us many interesting wagering situations and basketball is a great sport to handicap!

The major element that brings about basketball’s handicapping excellence is the fact that the actual pointspread outcomes of the games are not at the mercy of luck—bad or good—to the same degree that other sports tend to be. Please allow me to explain.

Let us suppose that we have wagered on a football game and our team has the ball with a first down and goal situation on their opponent’s one-inch line. Fortunately, as we have a big, strong running back on our team there’s a pretty good chance of his scoring a touchdown if we give him the ball for four consecutive running plays up the middle. However, on first down our big fella fumbles the ball and it bounces right into the hands of one of the players on the other team. He scampers down the field some 99 yards the other way for a touchdown against us. O-U-C-H!

What happened in the above example is a very simple 14 point switch on pure luck! We were about to get 7 points but instead we gave 7 points—and it all happened on sheer bad luck. If we think about what a 14 point switch means to us in terms of our wager, the average team in pro football only scores around 21 points per game. What’s happening to us when we suffer through a 14 point switch is that we are giving up approximately 2/3 of a team’s game scoring capacity on something unforeseen. It’s very difficult to overcome that kind of spot (handicap) in the course of a game.

A similar analogy can be made with baseball. Let’s suppose that the team we wager against has two men on base with two outs. There’s a routine groundball hit to the shortstop who kicks the ball around the field, thus enabling the opposition to load the bases. The next guy up smacks a grand slam. That computes to 4 runs against us when we should have been out of the inning! Once again, we’re looking at too big a give-away to overcome in a nine inning (or less) game.

The two above excruciating examples of hard luck are the types of elements that no handicapping system can take into account. Granted that such breaks will go both ways and, in the long run, luck is a 50/50 proposition—but what a terrible element to be at the mercy of when you’re chasing a good size wager.

The beauty of basketball is, of course, that you’re not left at the mercy of lady luck to the same extent as in the previously mentioned sports. There are obviously many instances of good and bad breaks in basketball, but the end result of such events is not as taxing as with baseball and football.

For example, let’s suppose that our team is going in for an uncontested lay-up and our players blows the shot. A quick rebound by the oppositions with a baseball-type pass down the length of the court leaves our defense napping as the other team gets a quick deuce. This little dandy comes out to a 4 point switch for our team. Since pro basketball teams are currently averaging 90 points per game, the overall effect of 4 points is not critical in terms of the actual outcome of the game. The only time that the basketball bettor is very vulnerable to luck is the last 30 seconds of the game—and only if the contest is hanging around the point spread at the time.

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