Hoops Hysteria

Handicapping the NBA Playoffs

Photo by Balazs Toth/

“In a shortened season, it’s going to be almost a war of attrition,” explains Todd Fuhrman, Caesars Entertainment senior race and sports analyst, of this year’s 66-game NBA season. “It will be a sprint to the finish.”

And with more games per week and fewer off days, the season “could take a [physical] toll on veteran teams,” says Fuhrman, but he warns that those who do survive could be dangerous in the playoffs. “They’re not going to have the same condensed schedule in the playoffs, so you can throw out some of the things you’ve seen in the regular season.”

Fuhrman offers these handicapping fundamentals to consider before stepping up to the window at the sports book.

Bench Depth Sure, star power helps, but “they can’t do it alone.” Look for a team with “good, steady guard play and bench depth,” he says, adding that “if a team’s second unit isn’t there, they will give back leads,” putting pressure on the starters to perform flawlessly.

Free-Throw Shooting When betting favorites, Fuhrman says, put your money on a good free-throw-shooting team; they are more likely to cover the spread late in the game. “The difference between laying four points and a game going three or five is going to be a couple of made or missed free throws.”

Buckle-Down Defense “You always want to look at defensive efficiency as much as anything else—to see which teams can get stops when a game is going down to the wire. If a team can’t keep the other team from scoring in crunch time, it’s not going to be a good betting scenario.”

Inside Play vs. Long-Range Shooters
“Look for teams that can score in the paint because a team’s shooting percentage from inside six to eight feet will be a heck of a lot higher than if they’re settling for 18- to 20-foot jump shots on a routine basis.”

Are Seedings Overrated?
”Don’t get caught up with playoff seedings” this year, Fuhrman says, and he points to the shortened 1998–99 season as an example. That year, the New York Knicks were an eight seed and beat the top-seeded Miami Heat in the first round. It could happen again. “Over a 66-game schedule [this year] it may take some teams a little longer to hit their stride. So teams that finish fifth or sixth may be the third-best team in the may be the third-best team in the conference. It’s a different game.”

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