Thursday, May 28, 2009

NBA Playoff thoughts

Going into game 5 I really thought the Lakers were in trouble.  They had been outscored up to that point in the playoffs.  And that is not a good thing.  I'm not sure but they still might have been outscored through five games.  I definitely thought they could lose the series.  

However they have won game five and will likely advance to the Finals.  There they meet a juggernaut of a team.  The Orlando Magic.  They have a good center and good perimeter players.  They are just putting the finishing touches on dismantling the Cavaliers.  They are shooting really well right now though, so they  may cool off and struggle by the time they face the Lakers or Nuggets.  

Have to like their chances against the Lakers though.  But they won't have home court advantage.  And that hurts their chances.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Whats the deal with facial expressions

I watched the highlights of Lakers/Nuggets game 3.  With a minute to go, and the Lakers down by two, Kobe Bryant has the ball at the 3-point line, dribbles about three times, and then makes a three pointer.  

It was dramatic.  It was a game winner.  And then he did something totally surprising.  He made a facial expression that I'm still trying to understand the meaning of.  He glared and jutted his lower jaw out while huffing air pretty hard.  And I just can't figure out the mindset that would make that expression.  

Its a fun game to try to mimic someones facial expressions; it really gives you an idea of the emotions they are feeling.  It is a useful tool for figuring out how people really feel about a situation.  Words say one thing.  The face tells reality.  One can pick up on subtle emotions, signs of defeat, of defiance, etc.  

And Kobes facial expression?  I have no idea what it means.  

The closest thing I can think of is that of a wounded animal, or a person who was just tackled and hit but is now on his feet after fighting off an attacker.  That same glaring, defiant, but also scared? look.  

Predicting Playoff Series Outcomes

I think that the main tool for predicting playoff outcomes is a position by position comparison.  People always do the same thing when predicting a playoff series.  They pick the higher seed.  That is a quick and easy way to tell who will likely win.  

But every playoff upset is caused by the same problem: bad match-ups.  The biggest upset I've seen was the Warriors over the Mavericks in round one of the 2007 playoffs.  And there were matchup problems all over the court.  It was like the Warriors had the athletic advantage at nearly every position.  When the Pistons beat the Lakers in 2004?  They had better players at 3 of 5 positions.  

So the key to evaluating a playoff series is to trust your analysis and go with whoever has the 3 of 5 advantage.  Or 2 of 1 in case of two ties.  Etc.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why don't we have ties like hockey??

I have read all about the first four games of the conferences finals (two for the east, two for the west).  And the result of all four games so far would have to be correctly called a tie.  So who wins when its a tie?  
Well, if the first four games of the conference finals are any suggestion, pretty much anybody can win.  The outcome is random.  The first two games can of each series were played to standstills.  And each team came away with a win.  

How does one classify a good team?  A good playoff team?  I think a good playoff team can be classified as one that closes out an opponent on the road.  That is the standard.  Orlando and Cleveland are both good playoff teams.  So neither of these good teams will suffer on the road or benefit from being at home.
I'd define a team's "normal" game as what happens at home.  And they may suffer on the road.  So Cleveland fans shouldn't worry about facing a better Orlando team at home, they need to worry about the Cavs playing worse.  But they have proven to be a good road team this postseason (4-0) on the road.  So they shouldn't drop off too much.  I think the blowout wins at Orlando may have been a case of "mistaken identity".
A game of "mistaken identity" means that Orlando circled it on the schedule and made it a huge game for them.  And Cleveland considered their big road games to be at L.A. and at Boston.  And certainly not at Orlando.  
A basketball game is only 48 minutes long.  And if 24 minutes through you realize you are in a huge battle  and are already losing, you simply don't have enough time to come back.  

Lets say that Cleveland is two points better than Orlando over 48 minutes.  If Cleveland and Orlando played forty games, each one serious, they would outscore Orlando by an average of two points.  If half the game has gone by, they are only one point better on average for the rest of the game.  And if they are losing at the half by twenty, well they simply don't have much time to come back.  They have to play wayy above average to come back.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lakers/Rockets game 5 and Streak update

Game 5 of the Lakers/Rockets series was a complete blowout.  The final margin was forty points.  The spread was twelve.  So that is a major, major difference.  And I thought that spread was high but my quick analysis was that it would be a close game.  Boy was I wrong.  I wonder a few things.  Namely, what is home court advantage worth?  These two games occured on different home courts; Houston blew out LA in game 4 only to fly to LA and get blown out over there.  

What happened?  

Well the Yao Ming injury happened, which forced Houston into a smaller lineup and totally changed their style of play.  They also had the home crowd and played extremely motivated, worried about the loss of Yao Ming.  Conversely, the Lakers seemed to think the series was over (it is) and didn't come out with any passion and intensity.  

So those two factors: the energy and effort disparity, plus Houston playing a style that was completely different and unexpected from what the Lakers had seen and prepared for, combined to make them lose the game.  

Also, games happen quickly.  That was one thing that I noticed; there aren't chances for many major in-game adjustments.  If the other team is doing something totally different than expected it can really throw a team off.  The Lakers were ready to play a methodical, slowed-down game tempo;  and that just never happened.  Houston was ready to play fast, had early success, and played even faster, urged on by the home crowd.  

Streak update:  record is 3-3.  I lost my third pick, Orlando to beat Boston, and then lost two random picks trying to get a win so I could start a new streak.  Finally got it on the Dodgers-Phillies game today.  And I don't think its possible to pick 27 baseball games in a row.  

Monday, May 11, 2009

Streak for the Cash

I watched the Lakers/Rockets game yesterday, and Lakers just gave the game away.  From the first possession to the last possession, it really seemed like no one gave a crap.  It was astonishing.  And I don't think they will win the championship.  They almost looked bored with the game.  I've never seen anything like it.  And I haven't spent that much time watching games this season or over the course of my life, but it was really, really bad.  

Contrasted to the Celtics last season in the finals, who were also leading a series 2-1, who were also down by about 20 at half time, and who came roaring back to seal the series with a 3-1 lead.  That was amazing to see the difference.

Also, I'm starting to play the "streak for the cash" on ESPN.  Its a lot of fun.  This is a great way to practice making picks and work on my theories that is free with a small chance at reward. 

And I noticed that the crowd is usually wrong, so no surprise there.  I would have picked Rashard Lewis to outscore Ray Allen (he did) but I picked a minute too late so I randomly picked the Red Sox to beat Tampa Bay at home to start my streak out.  And they won!  So hurray for that!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thoughts on Yao Ming's injury and the next game

This is so far shaping up to be a classic motivational game.  A star player is injured for the home team.  The team is down and struggling in the playoffs.  

The other team has a strong offense and mediocre defense.  

And everyone thinks that because the star is injured the series is over.  And it probably is.  

But the next game?  The home team has started ferociously and is winning by 16.  It hasn't been close the entire game.  

Warren Buffet

I continue to be fascinated by Warren Buffet and all he has accomplished.  He lives in Omaha, NE and has consistently outperformed the market.  Efficient market hypothesis claims that this should be impossible.

Yet he has done it.  Despite living away from New York, using just simple logic and trusting to his own opinions, he has succeeded.  And the one professional sports bettor I have read about, Haralobos Voulgaris, has done the same. 

They both isolated themselves from other people and trusted their own decisions and instincts.  They refined their skills and methods until they were able to consistently beat the average.

This next season of basketball I can do that for the NBA.  It is time for me to get an account at an online sports betting place and start placing bets and continuing to work on my theories.  I also need to get more formal and structured in general but I've been having trouble focusing lately.   

One theory of mine would be to track media-exposure to certain teams and correlate that to a rising or lowering pointspread.  

Another would be to create power-rankings based on the point spread for the NBA, and look then for differences in the spread.  Essentially, using past point-spreads to predict future point spreads.  And where there is a discrepancy, searching for the reason.  

Thats a very interesting concept.  

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Patterns in a playoff series in the NBA

I really am convinced that there are patterns in an NBA playoff series.  That who wins which game, and how easily, can give you a lot of data as to how the series will go and who will ultimately win.  \

Unfortunately, I have no data.  I also think that I could write good articles on BR using literary teachers and stuff as examples.  Again, no time.  How the hell can I be unemployed and have no time?  I don't know.  

Thoughts on the Playoffs

My first thought is about Stephon Marbury, the second about Mikki Moore.  I read on Wages of Win that Mikki Moore was not a very good player; he simply played more minutes and his productivity was up because of it.  

Also, Stephon Marbury came out of a one and a half year hiatus to play for the Celtics and is not nearly as productive as he was.  And I don't think that should be surprising.  If you don't play NBA level basketball, or any level basketball, for 18 months, you can't come back and be an impact player as a guard.  Maybe a big man could do it, but not a small player who relies on quickness, speed, and shooting touch/shooting confidence.  

Are there counter examples?  BR article, perhaps?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Periodic Update #1

This is the first of my periodic updates that I will be doing to summarize whats been going on with my blog and provide me with some sort of reference point for further activities.  

Blog stats:  
Approximately 270 profile views.
Adsense:  160 views (since April 22).  
Posts:  143

Bleacher Report:  
5,747 article reads
10 articles written
1 pick of the day vote
40 comments posted/  143 comments received

Research Topics:
Looking at win and loss streaks against the spread.  I have currently catalogued the Eastern Conference 2008-2009 performance ATS.

Sports Betting Scandal Update!

I just read the following article on ESPN,  and I will summarize the main points for my lazy readers.

The article is alleging that former Toledo University football and basketball players were recruited into a point-shaving scheme by some local businessmen-turned-crooks.  The amounts bet were interesting and I've listed them below.  

The games involving Toledo

The indictment alleges Ghazi [Gary] Manni and Mitchell Karam used interstate telephone facilities to place bets knowing the games were fixed, including these Toledo basketball games:
• 11/20/05: $42,000 vs. South Carolina
• 11/27/05: $10,000 vs. SMU
• 12/3/05: $10,000 vs. Northern Illinois
• 12/17/05: $44,000 vs. St. Bonaventure
• 12/21/05: $21,000 vs. East Carolina
• 1/4/06: $10,000 vs. Kent State
• 1/7/06: $15,000 vs. Akron
• 1/15/06: $17,000 vs. Bowling Green
• 1/18/06: $21,000 vs. Miami [Ohio]
• 1/24/06: $40,000 vs. Northern Illinois
• 2/1/06: $40,000 vs. Western Michigan
• 2/4/06: $20,500 vs. Central Michigan
• 2/7/06: $20,000 vs. Kent State
• 2/18/06: $30,000 vs. Detroit Mercy
• 11/20/06: $25,000 vs. Va. Commonwealth
• 12/2/06: $21,000 vs. Vanderbilt
• 12/19/06: $21,000 vs. Detroit Mercy

This is a good amount of money.  I'd be very curious to know their winning percentage for that run of games .  The article is interesting as much for what it mentioned as for what it didn't mention.  It didn't mention how many of those bets they won.  But they did bet on roughly 17 games, averaging around $30,000 per game.  If they won 80% of their games, they would have made a profit of roughly $300,000.  Thats a nice profit!

Its too bad the article doesn't go into details of games won or lost.  But I think that if the players are trying to lose a game on purpose then that is definitely possible to win 80% of one's bets.  

The First Game of a Series

Monitoring the second round of the NBA post-season has continued to get me thinking about the different forms that NBA play-off rounds take.  I think there are patterns that evolve and the preliminary results can tell you a lot about the different strengths of the teams involved and what is going to happen in the long term.

For instance, the Rockets game in and played physical and won game one.  In the second game the teams matched physicality and LA won.  What will happen in game three?  Well only time will tell, but history is a good place to start looking if you want to know the outcome.  Unfortunately, I'm completely ignorant of the history of the NBA.  

Like most everyone else.  A good sports bettor and analyst needs to be known as a historian of the game.  And not just knowing box scores and numbers and statistical data on "which teams win a series which percentage of the time depending on which game they won" but also keeping into context how  the game was won, if it was a blowout, etc.  

Another note is that I think Dwight Howard might be the next Shaq in one critical area: motivation.  While he lacks the physical tools and passing ability of Shaq in his prime, he does bring that lack of motivation and killer instinct that is typical of guys who have the physical greatness to show up and don't have to practice a thousand jumpers a day to stay in the league.  

While Ray Allen's game requires him to be a great shooter, constantly monitoring his form and percentages, Dwight Howard or Shaq don't have to focus with determination.  It makes them less tough, so to speak.  They don't have the mental toughness of an MJ, a Pipper, or even a Ray Allen.  Why?  Because when Dwight's game is off, he just has to get more physical and emotional.  But for Ray Allen, that won't help.  He has to get more focused, more calm, and more "in the zone".  There's a big difference with those things and how they play out with effort and championship level basketball.

Maybe thats why MJ won so much.  Because he was only 6'6".  And LeBron might not win as much because he is taller and has more physical gifts?  Interesting question.  Could height be a hindrance?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Could the Magic beat the C's?

Could the Magic beat the Celtics...and the Cavaliers?

The Celtics, without Garnett, are basically a 50-win team.  Thats too bad because with Garnett they were one of the best teams around in a long time.  Or were they?  I don't know!  

Anyways, I think Orlando will beat the Celtics, Cavs will beat the Hawks, Lakers beat the Rockets, and Denver beat Dallas.  

In the next round though?  Orlando could very well beat the Cavs.  They beat them twice in Orlando (both times pretty badly) and almost won in Cleveland.  The Magic are a good team.  They have power forwards of height 6-10 and 6-10, and a 6-11 center.  And one of their forwards is a great three point shooter.  

Cleveland is good and plays very hard; but their undersized guards will be a liability in challenging their perimenter players.  And if the guards penetrate they will have to deal with the Defensive Player of Year Dwight Howard, who is quite good at blocking shots (lead the league this year).  

But they still have to get past the Celtics.  

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Research Points and further thoughts

One interesting thing to look at would be how did teams fare when covering the spread as "favorites" or as "underdogs". 

A team that is "on the up and up" as I like to say, like that Cavs this year, the Celtics last year, the Nuggets and Blazers this year, the Hornets last year, is likely to cover the spread in a lot of games against weaker opponents.  

The winning is new for them, the success, being the front runner, and that positive emotion feeds their bodies and energy.  They are more focused, more consistent, and less emotionally.  And I believe that a big factor in covering the spread is emotional factors and intensity.

Also, for a big spread versus a little spread, that might have to do with if the teams are really motivated or not.  Just some thoughts.  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thoughts on the data I collected on pointspreads

Well I've been mulling the data over in my head for a few days, looking for patterns and causes of said patterns.  The Cavaliers went 53-33 against the spread through the first round of the playoffs.  Detroit went only 40%, or 34-52.  Orlando went 51-35 over the season.  The Wizards went 35-51 for the season.  But the Celtics went 44-42, or .51 for the season.  

What can I conclude from this?  A theory of mine is developing for the NBA regular season.  Take a look at the 1) expectations for a team for the season and 2) their effort level.  

That seems to account for most of the variability in spread-covering percentages for each team.  

Essentially, if a team is expected to be very good and they are very good, and they try at the same level of effort as before, they will go roughly fifty percent.  

But if a team exceeds expectations, then when?  Well they are likely to cover more than their share of spreads.  If a team drops below expectations, they will do less.  

The Cavs tried really hard and got a high level of effort from each player.  Thus they covered more spreads.  Orlando also (seemingly) tried hard this season.  The Pistons?  They didn't try hard at all.  And they failed to cover the spreads because they had an established identity as a hard-working team. 

Interesting that these patterns for season-long betting emerge.  Other research points would include how long into the season do winning percentages and records solidify?  I mean how long into the season, if a team has a record of say, .400, will they finish the season with roughly that record?  Ten games?  Twenty?  Or forty?  

And once that record is roughly locked in, do the betting lines reflect the point spread from the start of the seasons's expectations?  Because what matters is how quickly and accurately the lines can reflect changes.

What I've read about NFL or NCAA football, and NBA basketball, indicates that once people know how good a team is they are very good at predicting point spreads and who will win.  So what matters is when their is a change in a teams skill level whoever can identify it fast enough, and accurately, stands to make the most money.  It doesn't matter if they get better or worse, what matters is accurately detecting change.  And being able to disregard statistical noise.  

More Thoughts on Human Memory

Our memory is an imperfect mechanism.  It is possibly our greatest asset and our greatest liability as a species.  

If it were greater, if we remembered with more accuracy, as a group we would not be as susceptible to mistakes of judgement, or irrational exuberance, of all the mistakes that young persons tend to make.  

If it were worse, if we all knew our memories were bad and we misremembered details, then we would not hold grudges as much, we would not list crimes our grandparents commited on one another as reasons for fighting today.  

Fights and actions forty years ago would have less bearing on events today.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have ended; the U.S. might be friendlier with Cuba.  And social problems like racism might be dampened.

The same is true in the smaller world of sports.  The critical issue is what happens when a teams skill level changes.  The Detroit Pistons went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals.  They won a title, and routinely competed with the best teams in the league.  This year they were horrible.  They traded their best player; they took on a notoriously bad team mate; and they were older.  

One can never over-estimate the power of age.  It slowly saps the energy and will of a team.  It makes them incrementally slowers, a little longer to recover, slightly less excited over a game. 

And the Pistons fought through those factors the last season or two.  And this year, after building up and building up, the effects of age and trades broke through.  And the Pistons went from 2nd to 8th in the league.  A precipitous drop.  

If my and everyone else's memory wasn't so bad, we would have quickly realized that the Pistons were worse.  They lost a lot of games.  And that is what happens to mediocre teams.  They lose games.  

Specifically, although I haven't analyzed their schedule, what type of situations does a good team do better than average in.  Is it all road games?  Or is it the second night of back to backs?  Or do they not lose to crappy teams?  Or do they beat the good teams on the road?  Or simply hold court against top teams at home?  These are valid indicators of a good team.

What I want to remember from this post is that when a team drops considerably, from top team to mid-level, from a mid-level team to a worst-in-the-league team, how long does it take to realize that?  There can be a lot of money made because people's expectations change slowly and it usually takes a post-season flame out, or really bad end-of-year ranking to change peoples consideration of a team.  

We really need to see the brutal results to change our opinions.  We'd rather disbelieve our eyes than change our opinions.

notes on Sports Betting situations

This year the Pistons were swept in the playoffs.  They didn't cover the point spread for a single game.  They lost every game by at least ten points.

The Pistons.  I mean THE Pistons.  The franchise that year four years ago beat Kobe, Shaq, Malone, Gary Payton, and Phil Jackson for an NBA title.  Reduced to getting swept.  A footnote in the playoffs.  

Observers agree that they didn't put up a fight in a single game.  Rasheed Wallace was disengaged and didn't care.  Tayshuan Prince played horribly.  The team had a horrible season and will be losing some more keys players to free agency.  

But sports bettors and lines-makers kept expecting the Pistons to fight back.  And they never did.  

Was this predictable?  I think it definitely could have been.  After all, it was a major event, happened consistently, and after the fact some data becomes clearer and more visible.  Like how the Pistons genuinely struggled all season.  How they weren't very good.  How they had serious chemistry problem.  

So why was the spread so high?  Why had a team that always fought back, that never said die, decided to quit playing?  I don't know.  But I know it happened.  

And no one could believe it.  No one could believe that a dynasty was ending; and it wasn't ending with a bang, but a wimper.  People couldn't accept the change they saw with their eyes.

The problem with being a human is that we have imperfect memory.  If what we see doesn't agree with what we saw before, we just discount what we are seeing.  

We literally disbelieve our senses in order to stop a conflict in our reality.  If we had perfect memory, or complete knowledge, we would know that this his how team's runs end.  They get swept.  They know it.  A year after winning the title, the Heat were swept in the first round.  With virtually the same lineup.  They reached a level of fatigue, exhaustion, and simply couldn't compete with a younger, more fired up team.  Two years later the Pistons as we knew them wimpered out of the playoffs, losing to a younger, more aggressive team.  And they knew it.  They knew they couldn't win.  And they didn't bother fighting.  

Its this knowledge of defeat on the part of the loser that is so intriguing.  When teams give up.  When they've met their expectations for success and then give in to another team.  

It is this failure that I need to investigate.  The Knicks of 2007-2008.  The Clippers of 2008-2009.  A team that just lets itself get trampled.  Every once in a while they rise up to meet some new level of expectation that they have.  

Thats the key fact: the Piston's expectations for the season, the level of success that was acceptable for them, had changed.  And none of us knew it.  They were fighting to make the playoffs.  A team that won a championship, played in another Finals, and made six straight Eastern Finals, knew they weren't as good.  

They knew in their hearts they weren't making any waves.  So they just gave up.  

Friday, May 1, 2009

Is Phil Jackson a Liability for Lakers in the Playoffs?

In my mind I was thinking about what a horrible Coach Don Nelson of the Warriors is.  He is inattentive, old, rich, and coaching a team with no Championship potential.  I thought of some of the younger coaches in the league, guys who are breaking their backs watching film until 3 in the morning, drawing up lots of plays, obsessing over minor details; and know I knew from the look on Don Nelson's face that he wasn't doing any of that.  

And that got me thinking about Coach Phil Jackson.  Now I have nothing against him.  He is more successful as a coach in the NBA than I ever will be at anything.  But when it comes right down to it, Phil Jackson won't be giving the kind of effort his opponents will.  He won't be "slacking off" but he won't be giving max effort.

I think that the kind of effort a coach gives can help with game planning and substitutions; and preparing plays for the ends of close games and out of timeouts.  I don't think Phil's plays will be as sharp as they could be and that could be a major liability in a close game.

Phil is 66 years old.  He has a hurting hip.  He's a legend.  He isn't desperate.  He isn't hungry; he won't work feverishly.  And that could cost his team.  

The game that comes to mind is the 76ers game where Coach Jackson said he thought he made it clear to Trevor Ariza to deny iguodala the three.  Ariza didn't and Iguodala made the game-winning three.  

Now was that Ariza's fault?  Or could it have been Jacksons?  

A hyper-active, energetic, fearful-for-his-job coach would have made damn sure Ariza knew.  But Phil?  Making 10,000,000 a year?  He simply isn't concerned as much.  He can't be.  

The game that comes to mind