The Golden State Warriors found themselves in familiar territory on Thursday night: short-handed and trailing in the second half. With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out, they ultimately won 112-97 and covered as 10-point home favorites over the Dallas Mavericks.
While the Warriors' preseason over/under of 67.5 wins and title odds of -200 (next-best team is Cleveland at 5-1) indicate how oddsmakers feel about Golden State's chances of repeating, it doesn't reveal how confounding the team has been this regular season for bookmakers and bettors alike.
"It's a headache," professional bettor Erin Rynning told ESPN. "You do all this research, and you want to think you're going to get 100 percent effort. That's the frustrating thing with the Warriors. They are bored. They have bigger fish to fry."
Statistically, the Warriors are among the NBA's most unpredictable teams this season. On average, their final scores land 10.5 points away from the point spread, according to Rob Nelson of ESPN Stats & Information.
"The one-seed means nothing [to them]," Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook head NBA oddsmaker and manager Jeff Sherman said. "The regular season is the preseason to these guys."
Golden State began this year by covering just one of its first seven games. Following that, it covered six straight, only to lose the next five against the point spread. The Warriors have lost twice outright as double-digit home favorites.
"What everyone forgets is they're one of the top defensive teams," Rynning said. "Sometimes you get their full throttle effort, and that is tough to beat."
And therein lies the dilemma: Professional bettors typically target heavy underdogs facing this type of a disinterested team. But no ticket is safe with the peak Warriors lurking, as Mavericks backers painfully learned on Thursday night. Plus, Golden State has already set an NBA single-season record this season, rallying to win from two halftime deficits of at least 20 points.
"I've been doing this a long time, but I don't have an answer for you," South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro told ESPN, citing his four decades in Las Vegas. "I have never seen anything like it. I don't know how they never seem to get disturbed when they're down."
This erratic style also skews traditional halftime lines and in-game wagering, which are adjusted point spreads offered during commercial breaks.
"They can bomb for a couple minutes and rip off a 14-0 run," one longtime professional bettor told ESPN. "It throws off the market."
All of this variance in effort and offensive potential forces the house and betting public to assess Golden State differently than they do the other 29 teams.
"If they are trailing, we are not going to put a similar line as [we would] another team," Sherman said. "The bettor is going to get less on the dollar."
How the overnight line is made
The near nightly roller coaster of creating a line for the Warriors begins offshore at the Bookmaker headquarters in San Juan, Costa Rica. Bookmaker is the first sportsbook to post overnight lines for the next day's games and thus dictates millions of dollars for its own operation and the entire global betting market that follows its initial point spread.
"We do it very carefully. We know people are going to be watching and waiting," Bookmaker odds consultant and spokesman Scott Cooley told ESPN. "We are trying to post a number that we think is the right pricing for the public bettors but not expose us to the sharps."
Determining that opening number requires a grasp of their unprecedented combination of historic shooting and occasional apathy, in addition to the modern-day version of a crystal ball: social media.
"We have about five guys watching everything and monitoring Twitter," Cooley noted, explaining how they track injuries and prevent bettors from snagging a stale line.
Another part of the issue is the blurred line of resting stars on the league's most talented team, one with its sights not necessarily set on winning every regular-season game, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr conceded this summer. Curry, Kevin Durant, Green and Andre Iguodala already have missed a combined 19 games.
"They're going to be doing this all year," Sherman said. "With the new rule, they're going to blame a hangnail."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently implemented six-figure fines for any team resting healthy players on the road or in nationally televised games. That initiated a cat-and-mouse that has further complicated oddsmakers' daily grind.
"I know every single game, one of their main guys will be listed as questionable with a random injury just to avoid a fine that night or maybe the next game," Westgate Las Vegas Superbook oddsmaker and manager John Murray said. "It's very annoying. No doubt there may be a bettor who has his Tweetdeck available, and he'll get a good number."
Golden State played without three starters against Dallas. Curry missed his fourth straight game with an ankle injury. Green and Zaza Pachulia were both listed as doubtful with shoulder injuries and ultimately did not dress.
"We assign player values for the stars, but it's not exact. A lot depends on other factors," Cooley said.
Those factors include Golden State's impressive depth, multiple injuries for the same game and the quality of the opponent. Against a top team like Cleveland, Curry's absence may account for a 3-point adjustment. Also, there is a gigantic difference in value adjusting a double-digit point spread and one that might have Golden State favored by only one or two possessions.
"Golden State doesn't compare to any team ever," Cooley said. "We are always adjusting our ratings and algorithms to offset the perception and performance."
So far, sportsbooks have navigated the waters appropriately. Golden State is only 14-15 against the point spread after Thursday night's 15-point win. And while the Warriors lead the NBA in scoring at 117 PPG, they are only 14-15 going over the posted total.
"We're getting the mixed results we need," Sherman said.
To maintain those desired results, oddsmakers must continue to apply the necessary effort and energy, trying to forecast Golden State's perpetual inconsistency of lineups, execution and focus.