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Good Teams Win, Great Teams Cover: Analyzing NBA Spread Trends

Bet on the Thunder but fade the Nets. Seriously. An in-depth look at which NBA teams rewarded bettors and those that burned their backers.

The Thunder landed on the wrong side of history last Thursday against the Grizzlies, with its 73-point loss setting an NBA record.

Memphis covered by a comfortable 62 points.

But don’t let that game scare you off betting on Oklahoma City.

Backing the seemingly hapless Thunder (7-16) is actually a profitable endeavor  through the first quarter of the NBA season.

(Editor's note: All records and trends include games played through Dec. 7)

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Dec 6, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) dribbles on Detroit Pistons guard Saben Lee (38) in the first half at Little Caesars Arena.

Oklahoma City is 14-9 Against the Spread (ATS) this season, covering 61% of the time. Only four teams have better cover percentages, according to Teamrankings.com, and they’re all playoff teams—Cavaliers, Warriors, Bulls and Grizzlies.

The Thunder are not the only team with lottery balls in their future who have been surprisingly profitable for betters, with the Spurs (8-15) posting a 13-10 ATS mark

The Rockets (7-16) and league-worst Pistons (4-19) cover much more often than they win. Houston is 11-11-1 ATS, while Detroit is 11-12.

On the flip side, betting on some of the league’s best teams has not been a sound strategy. The Lakers (13-12) and Nets (17-7), preseason favorites to meet in the NBA Finals, are the two of the worst teams ATS at 9-16 and 9-14-1, respectively.

But that’s not to say picking against good teams and backing bad teams is a recipe for success. Golden State (20-4) holds up ATS (17-6-1), while the Pelicans (7-19), the worst team in the Western Conference (7-19) also have a poor ATS record (11-15).

Which brings us to the teams that invoke a famous betting phrase: Good teams win, great teams cover.

Bad Teams That Cover

The Thunder have been favored in two games—both against the Rockets. Oklahoma City is often a double-digit underdog, getting as many as 14 points the Jazz on two occasions. The Thunder are 5-3 ATS when they are 10-plus-point underdogs.

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San Antonio also isn’t laying points very often. The Spurs are 3-1 ATS as a favorite and 9-8 as an underdog. Their ATS record hasn’t been cushioned by massive spreads like OKC, topping out as 9-point underdogs to the Warriors. They covered, losing 112-107.

The Rockets had five straight games earlier in the season where they were 10-plus-point underdogs and they went 3-1-1 ATS. Five straight games where Houston failed to cover followed, but the team is now 6-2 ATS in its last eight games.

The Pistons are 11-12 ATS despite owning the NBA’s worst record. Detroit is 5-4 ATS during its nine-game losing streak. Receiving an average of +8.05 points during that stretch certainly helps.

So, those are the poor teams that cover. They’re also the teams that would be thrilled to sneak into the play-in tournament. 

Dec 7, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) reacts after the game against the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.The Lakers defeated the Celtics 117-102.

Good Teams That Don't Cover

Now, for the title favorites that perform poorly ATS.

The Lakers have disappointed ATS as much as they have in their actual record. L.A. is one game above .500 and is tied with the Trail Blazers for the worst ATS record (9-16) in the NBA. Somewhat surprisingly, Los Angeles has been an underdog in 10 games . Less surprisingly, the team has fared much better in such contests, going 5-5.

The Lakers have been favored by at least 10 points four times and failed to cover each time. One was an outright loss as a 10.5-point home favorite against the Thunder.

Brooklyn is the top team in the Eastern Conference, living up to the preseason hype in a way the Lakers have completely failed to. But Nets bettors have not been pleased with the manner in which the team has been winning. When you’re favored in 92% of your games, narrow victories are going to hurt your ATS record. Brooklyn is 9-14-1.

The Nets are 6-2 in their last six games, but 2-6 ATS during that run with five wins coming by five points or fewer. They’re winning, just not by enough points.

Moral of the story: Don’t always jump to bet on a star-studded team like the Lakers or Nets with lofty title expectations. And don’t turn your nose up at putting money on a team like the Thunder, even if they’re prone to lose by a record-breaking margin.

NBA Teams Against The Spread Records as of Dec. 8 (via teamrankings.com)

TeamRecordAgainst The Spread Record

Oklahoma City Thunder

7-16

14-9

San Antonio Spurs

8-15

13-10

Houston Rockets

7-16

11-11-1

Detroit Pistons

4-19

11-12

Los Angeles Lakers

13-12

9-16

Brooklyn Nets

17-7

9-14-1

Golden State Warriors

20-4

17-6-1

New Orleans Pelicans

7-19

11-15

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