When the odds were posted for the 2021-22 NBA Finals winner, two teams were the clear favorites at BetMGM. The Brooklyn Nets had the shortest odds at +225 and the Los Angeles Lakers weren't far behind at +450.
Hopefully, you didn't follow that mindset throughout the season. You'd have lost a lot of money.
When you look at the end-of-season records against the spread for NBA teams, it's stunning to see which two teams were among the worst for bettors. That's right, the Lakers and Nets had two of the worst records against the spread of any NBA teams this season, according to BetMGM data analyst John Ewing.
Hey, at least the Nets are in the play-in tournament. The Lakers couldn't even manage that. Only the Jazz — another playoff team — and the Wizards and tanking Blazers had worse records ATS than the two preseason favorites.
Lakers, Nets had miserable seasons
Here are the five worst teams against the spread this season with their ATS records, via Ewing:
Part of the problem with betting the Nets and Lakers was their preseason expectations, and that plays into their ATS records. The Nets, who started the season with Kevin Durant, James Harden and (for home games) Kyrie Irving were expected to be a great team and their point spreads were inflated. The same went for the Lakers, with their big three of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis.
Both teams had reasonable excuses for poor seasons. The Lakers dealt with injuries to James and Davis, and Westbrook never quite fit. The Lakers went 33-49, which nobody saw coming. Even when oddsmakers adjusted and the Lakers were getting plenty of points in games late in the season, they still rarely covered. Fading the Lakers was a bettor's dream all season.
The Nets were a weird case. Harden was shipped off in a trade, Durant was hurt, and not having Irving for home games most of the season due to his vaccination status was really bad for the Nets. As a home favorite this season the Nets were an astonishing 5-26-1, according to TeamRankings.com. The Nets finished the season by failing to cover 22 of their last 24 games in which they were home favorites, one of the craziest trends in sports betting this year.
It was not a good year to be betting on the two chalkiest teams of the preseason.
Grizzlies had a great season against the spread
On the flip side, a few teams were great to bettors this season. The best team, by a few games, was the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies covered the spread an impressive 51 times this season. Here are the top teams against the spread, via Ewing:
There are a lot of surprise teams on that list. The Heat had the best preseason championship odds among that entire group, and their +3500 odds were tied for 11th.
The Grizzlies had a fine season all around. The Mavericks played very well after the Kristaps Porzingis trade to shoot up the ATS standings. The Thunder weren't expected to be very good, but they covered a lot of huge spreads despite going just 24-58. If you caught on to some of those breakout teams early on, you won quite a few bets.
Sometimes, preseason favorites live up to the hype. This NBA season wasn't a lesson to always fade preseason chalk and bet on the teams that aren't expected to be good. It doesn't always work out that way.
But this season it was wise to turn the odds upside down. Betting the two biggest favorites this season was a very quick way to lose money.