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Historically dominant, just not against the spread: Las Vegas Aces’ cover rate similar to the 2013 Miami Heat

The reigning-champion Las Vegas Aces have enjoyed a historically dominant start to the 2023 WNBA season, cruising to a 22-2 record and an unfathomable +370 point differential. Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson and company don’t just appear destined for another championship run — they seem poised for a collision course with the record books along the way.

However, the defending champs’ .917 winning percentage and 15.4-point average margin of victory haven’t exactly translated to success for bettors backing Vegas. In many ways, the Aces remind us of the 2013 defending-champion Miami Heat, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — easily the best squad in pro hoops but only slightly above .500 against the spread.

We all remember Miami’s “Superteam” that included James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, and Mario Chalmers. Like the current Aces with Wilson, Plum, Jackie Young, and Chelsea Gray, the 2012-13 Heat were stacked at the top.

At one point in that season, Miami went on a 27-game winning streak, third-best of all time behind only the Lakers’ 33-game streak in 1971-72 and the Warriors’ 28-game streak in 2014-15. That’s some fantastic company to be in, so we decided to look specifically at the Heat’s 27-game win streak and find the similarities between that squad and today’s Aces.

Historically dominant, just not against the spread

As we mentioned in the intro, Las Vegas has been nearly flawless offensively. The Aces average 94.1 points per game and have three players putting up 19-plus PPG. They’re shooting 50.3 percent from the floor and 37.6 percent from three-point land. They log the second-most assists per game (22.4) while averaging the fewest turnovers per game (12.3). They pace the WNBA in blocks per game (5.2) and rank second in steals (8.0).

Wilson might be the LeBron of the W. She ranks among the top five in points, rebounds, and blocks per game while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. She has dominated the opposition, most recently putting together three consecutive games with at least 20 points on 60 percent shooting and 10 rebounds. She scored a whopping 35 points on just 17 shots against the Lynx over the weekend, further proof that she’s still firmly in the MVP discussion despite the Aces’ embarrassment of riches around her.

However, despite its stellar 22-2 start to the season, Vegas has covered just 13 of 24 spreads in that span. You read that right, bettors — the Aces are 22-2 straight up but just 13-11 against the spread. That’s a .917 winning percentage with a .541 cover rate. How is that possible?

Well, for one, oddsmakers remain extremely good at setting lines for games, regardless of the talent levels of the favorites or feeble natures of the underdogs. The more Las Vegas wins by 15-plus, which it just did a record-tying five straight times and has done 13 times so far this season, the easier the job gets for sportsbooks. 

We saw basically the same thing back in 2013 when the Heat were untouchable between early February and late March. LeBron, D-Wade, and the Boshstrich broke off 27 consecutive wins, including 17 double-digit victories. They led or ranked top five in the NBA in nearly every statistical category. Yet, despite their 1.000 SU winning percentage during that historic two-month run, they maintained just a 16-11 cover rate (.592). Hold up, this calls for a graph:

Team Rec. Win % Avg. Spread ATS Cover % 
2023 Aces — May 20-July 26 22-2 .916 -13.5 13-11 .541
2013 Heat — Feb. 3-March 25 27-0 1.000 -8.4 16-11 .592

That’s uncanny. The Aces’ cover rate is a whopping .375 worse than its winning percentage, while the Heat’s cover rate during its magical run was .408 lower than its winning percentage. How often do you think casual bettors have put their money against Las Vegas? How often do you think hoops fans were betting on the underdogs to cover against Miami 10 years ago?

This is all further proof that the sportsbooks can scrape money out of every team in every sport, regardless of how incredibly talented and seemingly unbeatable certain teams look. That’s why hopping on the bandwagon of a historically dominant squad — while fun as a fan — can be dangerous as a bettor. Just because a team is imposing its will on virtually all of its opponents doesn’t mean it’s crushing the sportsbooks. In fact, the books probably love when teams go on blisteringly hot streaks and garner the public’s attention.

Most people can’t afford to bet on Las Vegas’s moneylines. Their ML was -1600 against the Sky on Tuesday, so a $100 bet would have netted you $6.25 in profit. Moreover, the Aces have failed to cover the spread in 11 of the past 22 games in which they were double-digit favorites. As Admiral Ackbar of Star Wars once said, “It’s a trap!” 

The Heat’s ATS record when favored by double-digits was eerily similar during their 27-0 run: 3-7. The Aces are a coin-flip as double-digit favorites. Miami was worse than a coin-flip despite being more dominant record-wise. No matter what, you’re not making money in the long term if you simply bet on a team because they’re extremely good.

We still have to do our due diligence as bettors. In fact, with larger spreads, we almost have to do more research. If we fall victim to the hype and bet with our hearts and not our heads, then we will probably wind up losing more wagers than we win. And if we don’t understand that the best teams aren’t necessarily the best teams to bet on, we might need to go back to sports betting 101 and do a hard reset.

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