NBA Betting: How Would Books React to Shorter Games?

Jason Lake

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 4:03 PM UTC

Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 4:03 PM UTC

The NBA just played a 44-minute exhibition game. How did the sportbooks respond, and what changes can we expect to see with the NBA odds if/when the league decides to make shorter games the new normal? 

There’s too much NBA going on. We’re in the 2014 preseason right now, with an 82-game regular season on the doorstep and the playoffs after that. Don’t forget about international events like the recent FIBA World Cup – forgettable as those games have deservedly become. Players these days are being put through the wringer, and they’re breaking down at what should be an alarming rate.

Good thing the NBA cares. Not enough to shorten the season to a more respectable 70 games, of course. That would cost money. Instead, the league has just conducted an experiment in shortening the length of a regulation NBA game from 48 to 44 minutes, with two of the 12 mandatory time-outs eliminated for good measure. This past Sunday, the Boston Celtics visited the Brooklyn Nets and played four 11-minute quarters, losing 95-90 in a game that lasted a tidy one hour and 58 minutes. So how did the NBA odds handle it? And what does the future hold?


More Sleep in Brooklyn
The obvious change was with the NBA betting totals. Sunday’s game opened with the over/under at 178 points and closed at 179.5; when Brooklyn and Boston met in the 2013 preseason, the highest total on the NBA odds board was 190.5. That’s a reasonable deduction for four missing minutes of play.

According to our consensus reports from Sunday, the OVER was the unanimous choice of early bettors, eventually settling in at 59 percent once the total was raised. We would generally expect the NBA betting public to overbet the OVER, but shortening the game might encourage that behaviour – if you saw a total as low as 178, your conditioned response would be to bet the OVER, too. By the way, as we go to press, the OVER is 41-40 in preseason action this year, thanks to six games going into overtime.


It’s Good To Be 44
But what about the longer-term effects if the NBA were to adopt the 44-minute game? Taken in a vacuum, we should expect per-minute scoring to rise. Players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant might not play four minutes less per game, but they would almost certainly play fewer minutes overall, as would everybody on the court. Less wear and tear, fewer injuries, more production.

The NBA could take it a step further and adopt the international format of two 20-minute halves, which is also used in college. That would naturally bring totals down even further; for example, the over/under at Bovada for Wednesday’s slate of Euroleague games ranges between 141.5 and 164.5. And that’s in a league with a shorter 3-point line and fewer defensive goaltending calls.


I’ll Trade You Two Hickmans for a LeBron
Mind you, they also play a shorter season across the pond. Let’s consider last year’s Euroleague champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv. They played 28 regular-season games in the Israeli Super League and another 10 in the postseason en route to the title. They also went to the Euroleague and played another 30 times. Ricky Hickman played all 68 games and logged just under 1,800 minutes of floor time. Compare that workload to LeBron James, who played 77 of 82 regular season games for the Miami Heat, plus 20 playoff games, for a grand total of over 3,600 minutes. That’s twice as much basketball.

No wonder James and his cohorts want the NBA season shortened. It’s not likely to happen any time soon, not with North American sports teams operating as franchises and not as clubs. There may come a time when the 44-minute game becomes a reality – it fits nicely into a television window, after all. But don’t lose too much sleep over it, and no need to change your mind on your NBA picks. The NBA says there are no long-term plans to make that change, and as we’ve learned from Major League Baseball, talk about shortening games is just that: talk.


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