Night three in the 2017-18 NBA season features two games with big favorites. The Toronto Raptors are 12.5-point favorites at home against the Chicago Bulls (lowest win total in the league) and the Oklahoma City Thunder, in Carmelo Anthony’s first game against his old team, are 12-point favorites over the New York Knicks. Clearly, the Raps and Thunder are the better teams in these matchups but can bettors trust big NBA favorites early in the season?

Favorites of 10 or more points are not that common in the NBA. Since 2005, there have been 2,444 games (or 16.2% of all regular season contests) that feature a team favored by double-digits. In those matchups, the favorite has gone 1146-1253-45 (47.8%) ATS. Betting big favorites has not been a profitable strategy.

The trend holds if we look at early season games, which we will define as Games 1 to 10.

However, the matchup is key in determining if you should bet or fade big favorites early in the season. In non-conference games, favorites of 10 or more points have gone 45-32-2 (58.2%) ATS while double-digit favorites against conference foes are 65-90-1 (42.0%) ATS.

Why such a sharp divide? Familiarity with an opponent is a big advantage. Teams play 52 of 82 games against conference teams. Players and coaches are much more likely to understand an opposing team’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies if they face them on a regular basis.

At the beginning of the season, bettors can trust big NBA favorites if they are in an out of conference matchup (Thunder-Knicks) but might consider fading a team laying 10 or more points against a conference rival (Raptors-Bulls).

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