There’s no “I” in team. You win as a team, you lose as a team. It’s a game of inches. These quotes rank within the pantheon of great sports clichés, but perhaps nothing tops these three immortal words; “defense wins championships.”
From recent stars like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal, to specialists like Ben Wallace and Chris Anderson, to all-time greats like Hakeem Olajuwon and Bill Russell, elite defensive big men have anchored title teams throughout history.
In fact, since the start of the 2005 NBA season the average playoff total is roughly 5.2 points lower than the average regular season total. Despite these lower postseason totals, the under has gone 5,974-5,916 (50.2%) during the regular season while playoff unders have been significantly better with a 420-394 (51.6%) record.
|Year||Avg Reg Season O/U||Reg Season Unders||Avg Playoff O/U||Playoff Unders|
|2015||200.1||626-587 (51.6%)||200.9||34-31 (52.3%)|
|2014||200.9||587-620 (48.6%)||196.4||38-51 (42.7%)|
|2013||196.0||597-612 (49.4%)||189.3||41-41 (50%)|
|2012||192.1||504-470 (51.7%)||186.3||41-43 (48.8%)|
|2011||199.4||640-584 (52.3%)||188.2||41-39 (51.3%)|
|2010||200.8||616-595 (50.9%)||196.1||41-37 (52.6%)|
|2009||199.4||603-611 (49.7%)||193.7||47-38 (55.3%)|
|2008||199.5||613-599 (50.6%)||191.0||49-35 (58.3%)|
|2007||196.7||591-624 (48.6%)||191.2||42-36 (53.8%)|
|2006||193.6||597-614 (49.3%)||192.9||46-43 (51.7%)|
It’s apparent to any casual NBA viewer that players amp up their defensive intensity during the postseason, but it’s always nice to have these observations validated by the numbers. With the knowledge that scoring wanes during the playoffs, we wanted to know how this information could be exploited.
Historically underdogs have offered additional value in games with low totals, so you would assume that this decrease in scoring would lead to greater profits for playoff dogs. Not so much. Since 2005, underdogs have posted a winning percentage of 50.2% during the regular season but just 48.9% during the postseason. Playoff betting trends are drastically due in large part due to the increase of public money hitting the market, but if dogs with low totals aren’t profitable we wanted to determine the sweet spot for playoff betting.
Our hypothesis was that the league’s top defensive teams would be particularly lucrative for spread bettors. To test this, we utilized the “defensive points streak” filter within our Bet Labs software, and we were surprised to find that teams who held their opponent to 100 points or fewer in their most recent outing have gone just 146-160 ATS. When this streak reaches two games the record creeps to 171-174 ATS, but the real value comes when this defensive streak reaches three games (170-148, +14.19 units).
The issue with these records is that many duplicate system matches needed to be hidden since there are a number of games in which both teams scored 100 points or fewer in the previous game (meaning you would have bet both sides of the same game). However, we noticed that by focusing solely on favorites, this basic system jumps to 175-139 ATS with +27.81 units won. This falls in line with our past research which indicates that although underdogs are undervalued during the regular season, favorites tend to be more profitable during the postseason.
Knowing that underdogs tend to have additional value in low-scoring games, we opted to exclude totals of 177 or less. It’s rare to see an over/under this low, but historically ‘dogs have performed exceptionally well when the total closes in this range. Since this system focuses solely on favorites, it’s important to steer clear from this underdog sweet spot.
With a solid sample size, double-digit return on investment and consistent year-to-year returns, this features all of the criteria that we look for in a winning betting system. However, seeing these results made me pause and wonder: Are good defensive teams undervalued or are inept offenses simply undervalued?
Instead of betting on teams who have held their opponent to 100 points or fewer in three straight games, we wanted to know whether it would be profitable to fade (bet against) teams who had scored less than 100 points in three straight games. In fact, teams fitting this criteria went 176-127 ATS (+41.71 units won, 13.8% ROI) since the start of the 2006 playoffs.
To correlate this fade system with our initial defensive points system, we highlighted the same closing total range. Since our first system involved taking the favorite, the fade system focuses on betting against the underdog.
As you can see, fading low scoring playoff underdogs has produced a 145-92 ATS record with +46.78 units won. That includes an 84-48 mark (+32.58 units, 24.7% ROI) since the start of the 2010 postseason.
There are no current game matches, but with two high-scoring offenses squaring off in the Western Conference Finals, it’s far more likely that our next system match will involve the Hawks/Cavaliers series.
Bet Labs members can view all system matches and receive email/text alerts by copying this system from the Think Tank. Bettors can also track the latest odds and public betting trends by visiting our free NBA odds page.
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David Solar is the Content Manager for Sports Insights and can be reached directly at David@sportsinsights.com.