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NBA schedule quirks can offer value over long season

It was a perfect time for Dwyane Wade to rest his sore knees, or so it seemed. On the second day of the NBA season, with the Miami Heat playing back-to-back games, Wade took a vacation day.

The rest of the Heat players followed his lead, and the league’s top team got chopped down by the league’s worst team.

Miami was a 10-point favorite in a 114-110 loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday, a day after the Heat buried the Chicago Bulls in the opener. The 76ers’ upset underscored the unpredictable nature of the NBA while also offering a handicapping lesson.

“It’s a very difficult sport to bet,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said.

It was a bad spot for the Heat, off an emotional home win and on the road less than 24 hours later. The decision to sit Wade indicated Miami might be taking its opponent less than seriously.

The rebuilding 76ers, meanwhile, were riding an emotional high in their opener under first-year coach Brett Brown. Philadelphia seized a 19-0 lead while LeBron James and the two-time defending champions were hitting the snooze button.

At the LVH sports book, the Heat’s regular-season win total was set at 61½, and the 76ers’ total was 16½. Go figure.

“Flat spots abound on the NBA schedule,” said Sportsmemo.com handicapper Erin Rynning, who dedicates half of his year to NBA wagering. “The ebb and flow of a season provides many different streaks over the long campaign. Teams will change over the season from a chemistry standpoint, player movement and coaching changes.

“The seasoned handicapper can use a proactive approach to pad his bankroll. Following the sport in-depth from season to season can provide a firm understanding of teams and the value pertaining to them.”

On opening night in the Western Conference, the hyped-up Los Angeles Clippers got ambushed in a 116-103 loss to the Lakers, 10-point underdogs. But the buzz around the Lakers was killed Wednesday when they hit the road and were routed 125-94 by Golden State, a 12-point favorite, despite a quiet night from Stephen Curry.

Rynning digs deep into the research and attacks the NBA’s high-volume schedule, but most bettors should move forward cautiously.

“It’s mostly the public that bets it,” Sherman said. “We’ve seen less and less sharp play. It’s been good for the book. The sharp groups have not had much success with the NBA the past few years.”

Those who play it will find few uncontested layups. How do you handicap the NBA? Here are five points of emphasis:

■ Stress the situational handicapping aspect and search for good, bad and ugly scheduling spots.

“The schedule in a marathon NBA season with around 1,300 games should serve as a handicapper’s friend,” Rynning said. “First, with all the games every day, a bettor can pick his spots, while using a selective style to hit a higher percentage of plays. In addition, the schedule is full of tough traveling situations a bettor can take advantage of, and we’ve already seen perfect examples in the early season.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni could be leading a weary team on the road next week, with three games in four days on a trip through Dallas, Houston and New Orleans.

“A team might play four games in five nights. That’s a thing you have to look for,” Sherman said. “There’s so much work that goes into it.”

■ Remember that emotion, or lack of it, often plays a big role in which side covers.

Just as the Lakers were jacked up to beat the Clippers, Dwight Howard and the Rockets will be waiting to crush the Lakers. Just as Miami was fired up for the Bulls, the 76ers were ready for a flat Heat team.

■ Look to ride undervalued teams in the right spots.

Cleveland, Minnesota and Orlando are a few young and hungry teams likely to play with more energy. The Timberwolves are guided by a talented point guard, Ricky Rubio, and a dominant rebounder, power forward Kevin Love.

“The Timberwolves will provide an opportunity this season,” Rynning said. “Last year was a disaster from a health standpoint while their roster missed 346 games to injury. Love played in just 18 games, and Rubio played in 41, while not at full health for many of those. Moving forward to this season, you could project career seasons for both players and also a firm feel of wanting to prove themselves.”

■ Beware of high-profile teams that might be overhyped early.

The Brooklyn Nets, with inexperienced coach Jason Kidd, need time to find their identity after adding veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Clippers coach Doc Rivers has work to do with a talented but soft team.

■ Don’t ride the roller-coaster of emotions to and from the betting window.

Wagers rarely are won or lost in the first quarter, no lead feels safe, and free throws and 3-pointers in the final minute sometimes create random results. The swings within a game can be volatile, and a 20-point lead can be reduced to dust in minutes.

“It’s so arbitrary, and so many runs happen in games,” Sherman said. “It’s so difficult. It could give you a heart attack.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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