Be smart, sit out the preseason

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It’s a good thing that the NBA bubble managed to crown a champion as recently as Oct. 11, just two short months ago, and that the college basketball season is already in full swing. You therefore should have enough to occupy yourself with to avoid wagering on the preseason altogether.

Games open on Friday, and many will be televised, so there will be plenty of bets laid down. People bet on coin flips and Gatorade colors too. Books will throw up lines, typically making the better teams slight favorites unless it becomes public knowledge that stars of the magnitude of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden are sitting out or playing 5-10 minutes.

Unless coaches divulge exactly what they’re thinking in terms of getting specific players minutes or working on a specific aspect in terms of preparation, you’ll never be able to put together an educated guess as to how an NBA preseason might unfold.

This isn’t even Summer League, where you can at least usually count on a team’s most talented young players getting the bulk of the minutes. Coaches tinker during preseason games. They get most of their real work done in practices and don’t show many of their cards in exhibitions. Even pulling the trigger when news leaks out that a superstar type is going to sit out isn’t advisable because younger guys attempting to make a team tend to try harder than those who are assured a roster spot. Outside of the usual unpredictability associated with the preseason, we’re also throwing COVID-19 into the equation.

I love handicapping the NFL preseason – when they have it – because there are many angles to examine and exploit. Baseball’s spring training also delivers opportunities because you typically know who is pitching and for how long. If Shane Bieber was getting his arm stretched out in preparation for Opening Day, you can sprinkle. Trust me, as someone who covered the NBA on a national beat and has talked to countless coaches and executives, the thought of betting on basketball games that don’t count in the standings would be met with either incredulous wide eyes or raucous laughter.

You may win, but if you do so consistently you should be playing the lottery too since your luck is clearly operating at a high level.

ESPN is televising the Kings and Blazers on Dec. 11 to tip off 2020-21 coverage but may have to make other arrangements since Portland was forced to shut down its facility this week due to three positive tests. Between now and the Dec. 22 season opener, we’ll likely see a few more shutdowns and postponements.

By the way, even if it leaks that a team’s best players are stricken with coronavirus and in self-quarantine, you still don’t have my approval to wager on the NBA preseason. You wouldn’t be able to account for how hard the remaining guys will play given a chance to impress with their increased minutes and won’t know how their opponents will play it, perhaps limiting their own top players out of fear they’ll catch something. Count on them experimenting freely and you having no idea how.

In a word, if you’re thinking of betting the preseason, don’t. The only exception is if you hear that both head coaches have agreed to a dress rehearsal game, but there probably will only be one of those per team and won’t come until next week, if at all. There are only going to be three to four preseason games per team, but don’t expect a major sense of urgency. The top priority is to stay healthy and positive while testing negative.

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That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to monitor and even enjoy over the next two weeks. Kevin Durant has battled back from an Achilles tear and will suit up for Brooklyn. John Wall will make his long-awaited return in a Rockets uniform. Russell Westbrook looks to fit in with the Wizards. James Harden is doing everything in his power to get himself traded out of Houston. Rookies expected to play major roles like Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball will debut.

Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ Ty Lue, Brooklyn’s Steve Nash, New York’s Tom Thibodeau, New Orleans’ Stan Van Gundy, Chicago’s Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault and Indiana’s Nate Bjorkgren will take the reins as head coaches. Teams will be back in their arenas and facilities. Others that didn’t work in Orlando’s Disney bubble will be back at it for the first time since March 9-11. In 2020, that’s a lifetime.

Speaking of Central Florida, the Raptors have temporarily moved down, playing the beginning of their schedule in Tampa’s Amalie Arena, home of the NHL’s Lightning. That experiment begins on Dec. 18 against the Heat.

No, you shouldn’t bet on that either.

Another unique season awaits. The champion Lakers have a number of new faces in Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews. Preseason games won’t help them mesh. Teams will prepare on the fly and should realistically utilize the early portion of the regular season to truly get up to speed. There will be plenty to take advantage of. Just wait until Dec. 22.

About the Author

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national sportswriter for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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