Revisiting NBA Preseason Over/Unders: How did teams fare?

Revisiting NBA Preseason Over/Unders: How did teams fare?

Folks who thought the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat would be among the winningest teams in the NBA were wrong (by a lot, in some cases).

And if they wagered “over” on the preseason over/under win totals, the sportsbooks in the legalized U.S. sports gambling market padded their profits with that misspent money.

The pandemic-altered 2020-21 NBA season has 16 days remaining, and only six teams have clinched the “over” on their preseason win totals:

• The Utah Jazz had a preseason over/under win total of 41.5. The Jazz enter the weekend 45-18 following their loss to the Phoenix Suns last night.

• The Phoenix Suns had a preseason over/under win total of 38.5 and have blown past it. The Suns’ 121-100 home victory over Utah last night put them in first place in the West at 45-18 (since they own the tiebreaker with Utah).

• The New York Knicks had a preseason over/under of just 21.5 wins. The Knicks covered that number way back on March 23, and currently sit fourth in the East at 35-28.

• The Charlotte Hornets had a preseason over/under win total of 26.5 and are now 30-32 with LaMelo Ball returning tonight.

• The Memphis Grizzlies had a preseason over/under win total of 31.5 and picked up win No. 32 last night with a 17-point victory over the Orlando Magic.  

• The San Antonio Spurs had a preseason win total of 28.5 and have covered, sitting at 31-31 with Pop’s play-in worthy edition of the Spurs.

Nobody else has hit the over yet, but the Atlanta Hawks (34-30) are one victory away, while the Philadelphia 76ers (42-21), Cleveland Cavaliers (21-42) and Oklahoma City Thunder (21-42) are two victories away. The Brooklyn Nets (43-21), Sacramento Kings (26-37) and Denver Nuggets (42-21) are three victories away, and the Los Angeles Clippers (43-21), Chicago Bulls (26-37) and Washington Wizards (29-34) are four victories away.

Teams that have no chance of going over include the Bucks, who had the highest over/under (49.5), but are 39-24 with nine games left; the Lakers, who were second-highest at (47.5), but are 36-27 after a loss to the Sacramento Kings last night in LeBron James’ return; the Celtics, who are 34-30 and cannot reach their number of 44.5; the Heat (33-30), who are 11 wins shy of covering with nine games left; the Toronto Raptors, who are 17 games shy of covering; the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-44), who are 10 games shy of covering, and the Orlando Magic (19-44), who are 13 games short of covering.

The Indiana Pacers need to finish 10-0 to cover, and the New Orleans Pelicans need to finish 9-0 to cover, while the Dallas Mavericks would need to finish 8-2 to cover. The Portland Trail Blazers need six wins to cover.

The Houston Rockets (16-47) take the prize for coming up shortest, needing 19 wins to cover their preseason over/under of 34.5.

That makes it likely that fewer than half of the NBA’s 30 teams will hit their preseason number, which tells you two things: A ton of teams have underperformed, and there is a reason why they build huge hotels in places like Las Vegas.

“Generally when there are more unders than overs, that is good for the books,” said one of the most esteemed oddsmakers in the business, Jeff Sherman of LV Sportsbook. “The public likes to bet overs, because people like to wager on positives. An example would be an over/under game line on a football or basketball game. More points is a positive, but only the sharp bettors wager on things not happening.”

“We set lines looking for balanced action,” Sherman said, adding that this season’s NHL hockey over/under win totals will not be good for the books, but NBA over/unders will.

Even though only a handful of NBA teams have already hit the “over,” it is still a huge increase over last season when all win total over/unders were voided because of the coronavirus pandemic. Those lines were set with the expectation that an 82-game season would be played.

Going back to the 2018-19 season, there were 15 teams that hit the “over” and 15 that hit the “under.” That 15-15 record was not determined until the final day of the season when the Pacers won their 48th game and the Thunder won their 49th.

The previous season, 14 teams went over and 16 went under, and in 2016-17 there were four teams – Atlanta, Toronto, Boston and Golden State – whose over/under was not decided until the 82nd game of the season. That, too, was a 15-15 season in terms of teams hitting the “over” or the “under,” as was the 2015-16 season.

You have to go back to 2013-14 to find a season similar to this one. In that campaign, 10 teams hit the over, 19 were under and one team, Golden State, pushed with 51 victories.

The last time more “overs” than “unders” hit was 2012-13, when the tally was 16-14.

We are still a month away from the best teams beginning their postseasons, and the teams that survive the play-in tournament will be going up against higher-seeded opponents who will have been sitting idle for a week. So if you are a believer in overachievers, there are some enticing odds out there.

The Knicks are currently 40-1 to win the East, and the Grizzlies are 80-1 to win the West. Seems unlikely, but just remember that very few people expected Miami to come out of the East last season.

Right now, the Heat are 12-1 to come out of the East while the team 2.5 games behind them, the Hornets, are 250-1 to make it to the Finals.

Just an educated guess, but Michael Jordan would probably like those odds.

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