Do NBA Teams Really Play Better Defense in the Playoffs?

Throughout the regular season, NBA highlights are dominated by dunks, buzzer-beaters and the obligatory JaVale McGee “Bonehead Play of the Day.”

Sometimes a ferocious rejection gets sprinkled in, but for the most part, highlights focus on offense. Do you remember the last time Sportscenter’s Top 10 included a fundamentally sound boxout or some solid help defense? I didn’t think so.

While offense rules the regular season, the perception among fans is that once the playoffs begin, teams turn up the defensive pressure. We’ve all heard it before, defense wins championships, right?

But is that perception a reality? We looked back in our archives to answer the question, Do NBA teams really clamp down defensively once the Larry O’Brien Trophy is within reach?

The table below compares the percentage of NBA games that have gone Under the total since the start of the 2005-06 season.

Season Type Under Record Under % Units Won/Lost ROI
Regular Season 4167-4202 49.8% -213.3 -2.5%
Playoffs 281-244 53.5% +22.8 +4.3%

*Pinnacle’s closing lines were used to determine O/U records, Units Won/Lost and Return on Investment (ROI).

Our data shows that since the 2005-06 season tipped off, playoff games have gone Under the total at a higher rate than regular season games.

With 53.5% of games going Under, the playoffs also provided good value for sports bettors over that span, producing a profit of 22.8 units and a 4.3% Return on Investment (ROI).

We also analyzed the current NBA season to see if these trends have continued through the first round of the playoffs.

The table below compares the percentage of NBA games that have gone Under the total (as of 5/9) since the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

Season Type Under Record Under % Units Won/Lost ROI
Regular Season 504-484 51.0% -6.17 -0.6%
Playoffs 15-10 60.0% +4.42 +17.7%

While the percentage of regular season games that went Under this year (51%) is a bit higher than the average since 2005 (49.8%), betting every Under still would have lost just over 6 units.

Conversely, betting the Under for every 2012 playoff game (as of 5/9) would have produced a profit of 4.42 units and a nice ROI of 17.7%.

There are certainly other factors that can contribute to these numbers, but at the very least, sports bettors should be aware of this trend going forward in order to maximize value when wagering on the NBA.

*Pinnacle’s closing lines were used to determine O/U records, Units Won/Lost and Return on Investment.

 

 

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