Sports Betting Strategy - Betting the NBA playoffs


1. Introduction

This article will teach you two betting strategies to profit from the NBA playoffs as a sports bettor.

The first approach looks at how teams respond after getting blown out in the most recent games of the series.

Meanwhile, the second technique to beat your bookie during the NBA postseason will show you precisely how to bet Game 7s.

The betting systems presented in this article rely on a statistical analysis based on 27 years of NBA playoff games. The data covers the 1990/91 to 2016/17 seasons. In total, we have data on 2072 postseason games!

Don’t rely on picks made by scammers who only use their subjective opinions! Instead, why not use betting strategies that have proven to work over the long haul?

2. Winning or Losing Against the Spread (ATS)

Before we dive into the main content I need to explain a very important concept, otherwise you won’t fully understand the rest of the article.

What does it mean when someone says that a certain team won by 12 points against the spread (ATS), or that they lost by 5 points ATS?

Based on many comments I have read under my YouTube videos, many people don’t completely understand what it means.

In summary, the number of points by which a team won or lost against the spread is the difference between the actual result and the pregame point spread.

Let’s do three quick examples:

  • Example #1: Suppose Team A was a 6-point favorite and they ended up winning the game by 9 points. In this case, Team A won by 3 points ATS. Indeed, they were expected to win by a 6-point margin, and they exceeded expectations by winning by an additional three points.
  • Example #2: Suppose Team A was a 10-point underdog and they ended up losing the game by just 2 points. Even though they lost straight up, they were still a winning bet. As a matter of fact, they were expected to lose by 10, but kept it close and only lost by a couple of points. In the end, we can affirm that Team A won by 8 points ATS.
  • Example #3: Suppose Team A was a 5-point favorite and they ended up being the victim of a 10-point loss. Under this setting, Team A lost by 15 points ATS. This time, Vegas expected them to win by a 5-point margin, but they disappointed in a big way by dropping the game by 10.

Got it?

Now we’re ready to unveil great NBA playoffs betting systems!

3. NBA Playoffs Betting Strategy #1: The Blown Out Team

You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself in the NBA playoffs. Do teams historically tend to bounce back in their next game after getting embarrassed against the spread (ATS)? The short answer is yes!

That fits perfectly with my contrarian approach to sports betting. I like to go against the grain because that’s where we find good value wagers.

In this case, if a team does badly in a given game I would expect most of the public to bet AGAINST them in the following match of the series. That forces sportsbooks to adjust their odds and it creates good opportunities for contrarians like us!

Obviously, as a statistician, I need data to back up my intuitions.


3.1 Getting Blown Out in the Previous Game

First, let’s have a look at the number of wagers won/lost when betting on teams that lost the previous game of the series by a certain margin ATS (in our 27-year dataset):

The overall record of the strategy is good, but nothing to write home about: 839-755.

Still, a 52.6% win percentage is enough to overcome the vigorish since you need to win at least 52.4% of your bets when betting at -110 odds, or at least 51.2% when betting at -105 odds.

Also, I was STUNNED not to observe a single row where the win percentage went below 50%. That’s truly amazing!

Notice how the win percentages generally increase as we move down the table. More specifically, teams that have lost the past game by 12.5+ points ATS hold a 271-213 record ATS: that’s a 56% success rate and a 9.2% ROI (Return on Investment)!

If it got destroyed by 22.5+ points ATS, you get a 67-45 record (59.8% success rate, 16.7% ROI). That’s an incredible betting angle, isn’t it?

Those are pretty convincing numbers over a large sample. And it goes in accordance with my initial intuition, so we have a perfect mix for a betting system that we can actually trust in the future.

3.2 Getting Blown Out in the Previous 2 Games

Next, I wondered if I could find a nice trend by looking at the previous two games. I did!

In the table below, we are betting teams that lost the two most recent games of the series ATS (which does not necessarily mean they lost those games straight up! Remember what we saw in Section #2 of this article!).

Each row specifies the number of points by which the team in question lost the previous game of the series. As for columns, they indicate the same information, but this time relative to what happened two games ago.

Overall, teams losing against the spread on two straight occasions in a series have gone 278-251 (52.6%) in the following game since the 1990/91 playoffs.

We observe a funny coincidence: the win percentage, 52.6%, is exactly the same as the one we obtained earlier when focusing on the previous game only (instead of the last two)!

Now, if you impose the restriction of only betting teams that have lost by at least 4.5 points ATS in both of their previous meetings, you get a 141-106 record (57.1%). The corresponding ROI turns out to be 11.3% when betting at -105 lines.

3.3 Current Point Spread a Factor?

So far we have developed two terrific betting strategies that recommend backing teams coming off one or two disappointing performances during the NBA playoffs.

My next intuition was as follows: Is it possible that we do better when betting favorites?

Here was my reasoning. Suppose Team A is stronger than Team B. For instance, Team A might be the #2 seed, while Team B may have finished as the #7 seed.

Now, it is possible that Team A plays a sloppier game because they feel overconfident and take their opponents lightly. After a bad performance, they will be ready to roll and have a much higher motivation level. Sounds logical, right?

Again, let’s take a look at the numbers because I don’t want to risk money based on ideas that sound smart. I need strong numbers backing it up!

Let’s revisit the first betting strategy we came up with earlier: Betting teams that have lost the past game by 12.5+ points ATS. Remember that we posted a nice 271-213 record from using this system.

This time, let’s break down the results as a function of the current game’s point spread:

It looks like my instinct was right!

If we focus on teams favored by at least 8 points (i.e. the first two rows in the table), we get an astounding 36-18 record!

Alternatively, you might want to back teams that were favorites or small underdogs, where a “small dog” would be 4 points or less. That corresponds to the first eight rows of the table, where the cumulative record stands at 191-143. The 57.2% winning rate improves a little bit upon the overall 56.0%.

Let’s now revisit the second strategy: Betting teams that have lost the previous 2 games of the series by at least 4.5 points ATS. Under such circumstances, recall that we picked up a 141-106 record ATS.

Once again, let’s break down this record depending on today’s point spread:

The idea that favorites do better does not appear to be particularly true here.

Sure, teams favored by 6 points or more (i.e. the first three rows of the table) did better than the overall winning rate of 57.1%. Indeed, such teams turned out to be winning bets on 27 occasions versus 19 losses, which amounts to 58.7%.

However, notice how big underdogs also did well. If you combine the last three rows of the table (underdogs by 6.5 points or more), the betting record stands at 15-5!

    3.4 Final Betting Strategy I am Adopting (Teams Getting Blown Out)

    Feel free to select your own betting criteria after taking a careful look at the tables above, but here is what I have personally chosen:

    • Bet teams that have lost the previous game of the series by 12.5+ points ATS (bet more if the team in question is favored by 8 points or more);
    • Bet teams that have lost the previous 2 games of the series, both by 4.5+ points ATS (bet more if the team in question is favored by 6 points or more).

    4. NBA Playoffs Betting Strategy #2: How to Bet Game 7s

    Game sevens are always exciting. They are even more interesting if you can profit from them! I have found some great trends by digging into 27 past NBA postseasons (1991 to 2017).

    Here are the factors I decided to consider:

    1. Home-court advantage;
    2. Rest;
    3. Outcome of Game #6.

    Let’s investigate them one-by-one.

    4.1 Home-Court Advantage

    Obviously, being at home for this critical game is a big boost. But does it lead to more wins from a betting perspective?

    It does.

    Over the 27-year period covered by my dataset, there were 65 Game sevens. In those pivotal matchups, the home team posted the following record against the spread: 37-27-1 (a 57.8% winning percentage).

    4.2 The Rest Factor

    You would expect the more rested team to have a better chance of winning this decisive game to conclude a grueling series. But does data support that theory?

    If we are talking about a first-round Game 7, both teams are usually equally rested, so there is nothing to explore here.

    However, from the second round and up, let’s call the “more rested team” the squad that eliminated its previous opponent in fewer games than their Game 7 rivals.

    In other words, we are focusing on teams that are coming off an easier series.

    Did the extra rest prove to be an advantage? It looks like it because such teams picked up a 20-13 record ATS in Game sevens (a 60.6% winning percentage).

    4.3 The Outcome of Game #6

    Earlier we found out that it was a smart idea to bet teams coming off one or two bad performances. Does it hold true for Game sevens? Does the outcome of the previous game have an effect on the decisive game of the series?

    The short answer is: no!

    Indeed, teams coming off a loss ATS in Game #6 generated a 32-31-2 record against the spread.

    So, this factor seems irrelevant here.

    4.4 Final Betting Strategy I am Adopting (How to Bet Game 7s)

    After analyzing 27 years of data, we found out that the home team won 57.8% of the time against the spread.

    Another nice finding was the fact that the more rested team produced a 60.6% winning rate ATS.

    Now, what if we combine those two determining factors together?

    More specifically, what if the home team was also coming off an easier series than their opponent?

    In this ideal case, the team in question yielded a 12-5 record ATS over 27 years. This 70.6% success rate is even higher that everything we’ve seen so far!

    For this reason, my ultimate recommendations pertaining to NBA’s Game sevens are:

    • If the home team is coming off a longer series than its opponent, stay away;
    • If both the road and home teams are equally rested, bet the home team;
    • If the home team is coming off an easier series than its opponent, bet an increased amount.

    5. How to Bet the NHL Playoffs

    Would you like to know how to profit from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the National Hockey League?

    See what I found after analyzing data on 708 NHL postseason games!

    Enjoy the read!

    Professor MJ

    (Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in Statistics)