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NBA Playoff Betting Trends

April 19, 2023
NBA playoffs trends and stats

The playoffs are underway and there have been some early surprises. The Heat took Game 1 from Milwaukee, but Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 11 minutes before exiting the game with an injury. The Lakers looked good in beating Memphis in Game 1 while a few other series – notably Boston-Atlanta and Philly-Brooklyn – are going just as expected.

If you’re interested in betting on the NBA playoffs, it might help to be aware of some interesting trends. We can start with the Bucks, one of the favorites to win it all this year.

Favorites in the Futures Market

The Celtics are the current favorite to win the NBA championship. Boston is given +275 odds. The Bucks are next on the board at +335 at online sportsbooks

Over the last 47 seasons, 24 teams entered the postseason as a favorite and then went on to capture the NBA title. That is just over half. The last team that entered the playoffs as the NBA favorite and then won the championship was Golden State. The Warriors did it three times in 2015, 2017, and 2018.

Of those 47 NBA Finals, another nine favorites played for the championship. That means 33 of 47 favorites at least made the NBA Finals. What’s interesting is that in each of the last three seasons, the overall favorite to win it all has not advanced to the NBA Finals (2020 Clippers, 2021 Nets, 2022 Suns).

Not Looking Good for Underdogs

The Sacramento Kings had their best season in a long time. The result was the team’s first playoff berth since the 2005-06 season. The Kings earned a No. 3 seed with a 48-34 record. Sacramento is currently given +2200 odds to win the NBA championship.

Since the NBA expanded the playoffs to 16 teams in 1984, Sacramento will be the 30th team to go to the playoffs given odds of +2000 or higher. None of the previous 29 teams advanced to the NBA Finals. Ten of those 29 teams made it to the conference finals before dropping out. The most recent to do so was the 2020 Denver Nuggets. 

Portland was +5800 and a top-3 seed in 2018. The Trail Blazers lost in the first round.

Speaking of Underdogs

Don’t fall for the trendy underdog either. Since 2005, underdogs that have gotten 66 percent or more of the tickets are only 29-43-1 ATS. Since 2015, those dogs are 6-12 ATS.

Now, one way you might be able to use underdogs to your advantage is in this situation. In games where you have a short home underdog, the game is usually played out a certain way. Look at the total. Oddsmakers expect a close game and typically, these games don’t disappoint. In 247 such NBA playoff games, the Under is 145-101-1. That’s a winning percentage of 59 percent.

The Thing With Unders

So, Unders seem to be the popular bet in the playoffs. Teams cherish each possession and tend to play slower than in the regular season. Last playoff season, Unders went 58-35. That’s 62.4 percent!

In four of the past five playoff seasons, Unders have been over .500. Bettors can actually drill down a little deeper and take their Under betting to the next level.

In Games 1 through 4 since 2005, the Under wins 51.1 percent of the time (548-525-20). In Games 5 through 7, the Under is 235-192-2 for a winning percentage of 55. Where the real value can be found is in Games 6 and 7. 

The Under is 121-86 (58.5%) since 2005. Those games have gone Under by an average of 2.7 points.

Win or Cover?

How about this one? Over the last three seasons, there have been 188 NBA playoff games. Favorites won 124 while underdogs won 64. What’s really interesting is that of the 124 wins by favorites, those teams covered 107 times. Add those to the rest of the covers by favorites and you get 171. That’s right. Favorites are 171-17 ATS in the last three NBA postseasons.

Final Note

Over the last 40 years, only three NBA teams have won the title without a top-10 defense (in terms of points allowed). The most recent was the 2018 Golden State Warriors. The other two were the Lakers in 2001 and the Houston Rockets in 1995. Seven of the top-10 defensive teams in the league remain in this year’s postseason.