How is NBA Playoff Betting Different from the Regular Season?

NBA Playoff Betting Preview 2013
How is NBA Playoff Betting Different from the Regular Season?

March Madness may have come to a thrilling conclusion with Louisville’s National Championship victory, but April Absurdity is on the horizon with the NBA postseason set to tip off on April 20th. The playoffs may not have the shocking upsets that run rampant throughout the tournament, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less value for NBA playoff betting. In fact, using our BetLabs software we are able to determine which games to target as teams battle for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

For starters, NBA playoff betting is far different than regular season action. Since 2003, home teams during the postseason have gone 299-263 with +22.24 units won and a 4% return on investment (ROI). This runs in direct opposition to regular season NBA betting where home teams have posted a losing record of 5,015-5,212.

Another strange difference in NBA playoff betting is the value of underdogs. During the regular season, dogs are typically undervalued as the public typically pounds the favorite — thus artificially moving the line and creating value on the other side. However, during the postseason, the value is flipped with favorites covering the spread at a much higher rate. In 562 games, the favored team has gone 295-267 with +14.95 units earned and a 2.7% ROI.

Of course after seeing these two flip-flopped trends, we were curious how home favorites had performed during the NBA playoffs. During the regular season, teams fitting this criterion have a -4% ROI, but during the postseason they have gone 249-217 with +20.44 units won and a 4.4% ROI.

(Click each of the images below to enlarge) 

NBA Playoff Betting Home Favorites

We were also curious about how these teams performed when the public was against them, as betting against the public has been one of our most consistently profitable betting strategies. We found that over the past decade, home favorites receiving less than 40% of spread bets have gone 60-37 for +19.8 units and an impressive 20.4% ROI. This was intriguing to us for multiple reasons. For starters, it was fascinating to see how the frequency of bettors taking road dogs changes from the regular season to postseason.

*Note: Spread percentage range begins at 23% because it is the lowest betting percentage in our database for home favorites during the postseason.

NBA Playoffs Under 40


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In 7,149 regular season games, home favorites have received less than 40% of public bets just 790 times (roughly 11% of the time). In those games, the home favorite has performed admirably with a 412-378 record. Yet during the postseason, the rate at which these home favorites receive less than 40% of spread bets rises to 17% (97/562). We have noticed a similar trend during March Madness, and the basic reasoning seems to be that bettors believe upsets are more likely in the postseason when both teams are giving 110% (to steal the overused cliché).

Lastly, we were curious about the zig zag theory in the NBA which speculates that you should simply bet on whichever team lost in their previous game. The reasoning behind this system is quite logical — a team is likely to play harder after a loss especially as they look to avoid digging themselves in a deep hole for the series. Since 2003, we have found that teams coming off an Against the Spread (ATS) loss have gone 71-56 ATS for +11.9 units and a 9.4% ROI. Those numbers jump to 102-78 ATS with +19.1 units won and a 10.6% ROI when the team has lost one or two consecutive games straight up.

As always, we encourage you to check in with our NBA Betting Trends for all of the latest odds and public betting data. We also want to know who you like this postseason. Are the Heat a shoe-in for back-to-back titles? Are there any sleeper teams that we are overlooking? Make sure to leave any thoughts or comments in the section below.

David Solar

David was the Content Manager at Sports Insights. He has since moved on to greener pastures.

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