6 Helpful Tips to Nailing NBA Upset Picks

by Kevin Roberts
on March 17, 2017

The one thing every NBA bettor wants to do is nail the perfect upset to win big. Not every single night offers enough upside or opportunities in general to attack upsets in order to gain a big profit, though, which makes locating those special bets all the more important.

In some cases, the Moneyline that the top NBA betting sites provide is simply too good to pass up. Even if all of the logic in the world is working against your underdog pick – the Nets are on the road, they’re facing the Cavs and all of their starters are hurt – you’re not going to just ignore a sick Moneyline at +450 or better.

It might not even need to be that tempting. The point is, nobody would blame you for taking a shot in the dark like that, but the trick is gauging when your best chance is to actually feel good about coming through on top in that bet.

There are actually a lot of telling signs that can help project an upset pick like that, and can also of course be used for smaller scale upsets. Here are the five most helpful tips to help you figure that out on a nightly basis when making NBA upset bets:

Injuries, Scratches and Playing Hurt

This is the most obvious tip – especially when it comes to professional basketball. The NBA is notorious for either getting player injury news out late or simply getting it wrong. All of the games each night do not start at the same time and the players typically will test out a lingering injury leading into the game, so this can really jumble up reports and also sway games depending on a star player’s status.

For example, we could hear all day that Chris Paul won’t play because a bum ankle. Just say he sat out the last two games and his Clippers are 0-2 during that stretch. For this given night, CP3 and the Clippers are in San Antonio against the Spurs and this is a game they’d normally be the underdog in, regardless. But suddenly Paul is announced as the starter and the Clippers go from being severe underdogs to either mild underdogs or possibly even favorites.

It can work the other way, too. Injuries alone can really mess up the way you place NBA bets, so you need to make sure you have a pretty good grasp on any ailments all of the top players are dealing with. All of this rolls into one category, but really, it’s a layered part of the NBA betting world.

You want to know what all of the injuries are way ahead of the game, which players would be in any risk of sitting out or being random late scratches and which players are already primed to player with an injury. How those injuries can impact a player’s effectiveness or the chances of getting hurt further – to the point where they’re forced to exit a game – also will be good to know.

Simply, make sure you know who is playing and what their overall status is from a physical perspective. If the team you are betting on is in a good spot and we know their main guys are healthy and active, then you’re good to go. If not, you may want to avoid or change a bet. On the other side, some injury related news could make a team worth targeting.

What Does Vegas Say?

Knowing the players, various situations and statuses is probably the best place to start, as you will personally already have a head start over the oddsmakers before you even look at the opening NBA betting lines for the day.

But that’s where you can immediately put your knowledge to the test. Say you wake up and the Cavs are favorites on the road against the Timberwolves, but LeBron James might be rested on the second game of a back-to-back set or maybe Kevin Love is dealing with back spasms and has yet to be ruled out for this specific games. That could lead to you betting against Cleveland in a spot where Vegas or other bettors is currently favoring them.

As the news changes throughout the course of the day, the bet will evolve, too.

Getting ahead of those bets or taking sharp stances can give you distinct advantages.

You also want to check the early lines just to see who might be worth a flier bet. If the Moneyline or spread is so out of this world crazy that your jaw drops, it’s probably worth considering betting on.

For example, the Warriors are at home against a really bad Nets team, but Brooklyn is actually playing pretty well and Golden State hasn’t exactly been in top form. Those two pieces of information, accompanied by a really ambitious 17-point spread favoring the Dubs could lead you to favor those crummy Nets. A straight up bet in favor of the Nets still feels strikingly bold in this spot, but a pick for the Nets to beat the spread certainly would have some logic behind it.

Matchup Central

That Nets vs. Warriors example is actually perfect as we bleed from what Vegas says about games, into the actual games themselves. Matchups tend to be a pretty big deal in most sports, but in pro basketball they really are massive.

You can use a team’s size against them or pit two bad defenses or two amazing offenses against each other. In this spot, Brooklyn is among the fastest teams in the league in pace and they also shoot pretty well from long range. Wouldn’t you know it; so do the Warriors.

Brooklyn is not good and most nights even in their home stadium they’re going to get smoked by a team as talented as the Warriors, but they do matchup well here. They play virtually the same style of basketball, they’ll certainly get up to play such a superior squad and if they get hot – who knows?

How teams matchup will naturally dictate how confident we feel in an upset pick a lot of the time. Some teams have tall, long and athletic players that make it harder to move the ball and score, while other teams don’t need to worry so much about defense because they have an elite scorer and 4-5 other guys around him that can hit the outside shot.

You’re either looking for a situation where two teams play a very similar style (grind games out and play defense vs. pushing the pace and shooting jumpers) or are severe mismatches. Those mismatch situations often produce huge upsets, because a team like the Wizards will get out and run and could quickly blow a game open against a slower team like the Grizzlies.

Of course, we need to be careful when hinging bets strictly to matchup research, as those can also backfire and work directly against us, just as easily.

Narrative Street

Going back to the Nets vs. Warriors example, one very simple and normally meaningless reason to rally behind a certain underdog bet can be because a team either will play hard or has nothing to lose.

That’s just one example of a narrative taking over a game that seems easy to call at first, but we might look at the wrong way initially.

Golden State at home against the Nets is an easy call on paper, but the Nets could be up to face such a good team, while in a lost season they also have nothing to lose at this point.

Teams with targets on their back on always at risk of being upset, whether it’s because they have superstar talent, won a title, have a great record, are cocky – you name it. If there is extra motivation for a team to get fired up and storm the castle, we need to consider the plausibility behind them accessing that and getting a win.

This can obviously start with individual players and leak out into the rest of the team. Players playing on their birthdays, in their hometowns, before or after a trade, against a team they used to play for and if they got publicly snubbed (rankings, All-Star games, etc.); these are all good reasons for any one player to raise their level of play for one night.

Depending on who that player is and how well they play, they just might help their underdog squad to a big win. And if you gauge that correctly at the right time, you just might win big cash because of your awesome upset pick.

Home vs. Away and All of the Splits

Some of the things you will want to consider before making an upset pick are complex, and some are really simple. One really simple approach is just starting with how teams play on the road, at home, in specific situations and in certain stadiums.

There are a lot of teams that are amazing on their home floor. They are extremely loyal to their fan base, they take defending their home turf seriously and they just don’t want to lose in front of their fans at home. Those teams that churn out the really impressive home records are naturally going to be tough to bet against when they’re at home. This obviously can make them upset targets at times, but the real play will be when they’re listed as underdogs at home.

It’s the reverse for teams on the road, as most teams aren’t very good with all of the traveling in the league, but some are severely worse than others. You typically will not want to target those awful road teams, but in the event they’re actually favored on the road, that could be a great spot to bet big against them.

They usually are horrendous away from home, so no matter who they’re playing, why not toss a bet against them if they’re favored?

You don’t want to only make bets based on how teams fare at home or away, nor do you want to rely strictly on any kind of team or player splits. They do come in handy, however, and if you need something to break a tie with yourself, this can be an easy asset.

Fatigue and NBA Scheduling

Another huge aspect of NBA betting that often correlates strongly with how you’ll use home/away data is how tired a team is and why they’re tired. How much a team travels and how much they play can tell you a lot about how they’ll perform in the coming days, if not weeks from now.

Teams often go on long road trips, and even the best teams are going to be bad bets to win for long stretches when they’re away from home. Traveling tires players out and in addition to the natural traveling fatigue, they’re playing games and often those games are in weird time zone not like their own, or even really late at night.

Just imagine how bad it can be if you throw in a couple of games against opponents that happen to be the best in the league, and/or a few games that go into extra periods (overtime).

Fatigue is such a massive part of the process, so if we can look ahead and gauge really tough spots where we can safely assume players will be too tired to play at a high level, we might be able to manipulate the betting lines well before Vegas even knows there’s a potential handicap.

Who are we kidding? Vegas seems to know everything.

All jokes aside, all of these betting tips should be rolled together and dropped into a knowledge blender so they can create one awesome and layered NBA betting tips smoothie.

You can’t rely on one stat, injury or piece of data, but each thing individually is still very important. If you use these tips, you won’t for sure always make the right NBA upset picks, but you’ll surely be on your way to getting more right than you get wrong.

Of course, we should remind you that NBA betting certainly isn’t just about scoring those huge upsets. They’re still very tough to predict and the better play most of the time will be making safer bets. That should include home teams and favorites a lot of the time. Most sports betting is a process and even a bit of a grind, so it’s important to expect that and embrace it.

If you can hit up a few underdog specials and win big here and there along the way, though, it certainly makes your NBA betting experience all the more fun.

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