Bet sustainable trends in NBA playoffs

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On their way to last season’s NBA championship, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated their competition. They rolled through the Western Conference playoffs with a 12-3 record, ousting each conference foe in five games en route to the NBA Finals. Looking back with this macro view, it seems like it was an easy road toward Los Angeles’ 17th championship, but we know that was not the case.

 

The Lakers lost the first game in the first two series they played, and the takes flowed after each loss. But betting is not about hot takes. It is about making observations, turning those into educated hypotheses as to why an event went the way it did and then acting on those in hopes that they will play out the way the data tells us it should. Even though we have only two series with multiple games played, bettors learned valuable lessons Monday about not overreacting to a result, and many opportunities to learn even more are coming.

 

When Miami lost to Milwaukee in overtime of Game 1, many believed the loss was a positive for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo had combined to go 8-for-37 for only 26 points, and the Bucks needed overtime to beat them. Surely the two stars would perform better, and Miami would win Game 2. However, that simplistic analysis is flawed. It ignored the fact Milwaukee won despite shooting 16.1% from deep and dominated at the rim by going 22 of 29 within 4 feet against a rim defense that ranked 17th during the season and 26th in the second half.

 

What would really be more likely to happen? That Butler and Adebayo would have better scoring nights and Miami could maintain shooting 40% on 50 3-point attempts, or that Milwaukee’s shooting would revert to the mean while it continued to exploit a weak rim defense? To me, it seemed like the latter option would be more likely, and sure enough it was. The Bucks continued to thrive inside 4 feet by going 15 of 19, and the shooting corrected itself in a big way. Milwaukee hit 47.4% of its 3-pointers in non-garbage time and blew out Miami 132-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.

 

A similar situation unfolded in the nightcap Monday. Denver had performed admirably in its loss to Portland on Saturday night, averaging 1.198 points per possession while dismantling a soft interior defense by hitting 21 of 27 shots within 4 feet. However, the Nuggets lost 123-109 because they hit just 31.4% of their attempts from deep while the Trail Blazers hit 19 of 39 2-pointers in non-garbage time. Denver’s performance inside 4 feet was likely to repeat itself against an interior defense that gave up the eighth-most attempts at the rim in the regular season, so all it needed was a better shooting night. That is exactly what happened. The Nuggets posted a 138.9 offensive rating and tied the series while going a combined 35 of 54 (64.8%) at the rim and beyond the arc.

 

When evaluating these box scores, it is important to value things that can be replicated consistently in a series, not the anomalies that took place in a single game. The Los Angeles Clippers are another fantastic example.

 

As the world celebrated the Clippers’ fifth consecutive playoff loss, the masses ignored many obvious positives for Los Angeles. For one, the Clippers, who finished first in every 3-point-shooting category, shot 11 of 40 (27.5%) from beyond the arc and still posted an offensive rating of 121.2 in non-garbage time against the Mavericks. They also turned it over on only 4.7% of their possessions, a trend that is likely to maintain itself against the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers. Thus, Los Angeles was a live candidate to not only bounce back in Game 2 but to win the series. It’s why I bet them at -145 and likely why the market has jumped to as high as -180 at most shops.

 

We saw countless examples across the board last weekend of performances that would likely revert to the mean. Memphis will not hit 43.4% of its midrange attempts over its series against Utah, and the Jazz will not shoot 25.5% from deep. The Knicks’ bench will not average 60 points per game against the Hawks. Identifying which performances are sustainable and acting on them is the key to any bettor’s success in the NBA playoffs.

On their way to last season’s NBA championship, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated their competition. They rolled through the Western Conference playoffs with a 12-3 record, ousting each conference foe in five games en route to the NBA Finals. Looking back with this macro view, it seems like it was an easy road toward Los Angeles’ 17th championship, but we know that was not the case.

 

The Lakers lost the first game in the first two series they played, and the takes flowed after each loss. But betting is not about hot takes. It is about making observations, turning those into educated hypotheses as to why an event went the way it did and then acting on those in hopes that they will play out the way the data tells us it should. Even though we have only two series with multiple games played, bettors learned valuable lessons Monday about not overreacting to a result, and many opportunities to learn even more are coming.

 

When Miami lost to Milwaukee in overtime of Game 1, many believed the loss was a positive for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo had combined to go 8-for-37 for only 26 points, and the Bucks needed overtime to beat them. Surely the two stars would perform better, and Miami would win Game 2. However, that simplistic analysis is flawed. It ignored the fact Milwaukee won despite shooting 16.1% from deep and dominated at the rim by going 22 of 29 within 4 feet against a rim defense that ranked 17th during the season and 26th in the second half.

 

What would really be more likely to happen? That Butler and Adebayo would have better scoring nights and Miami could maintain shooting 40% on 50 3-point attempts, or that Milwaukee’s shooting would revert to the mean while it continued to exploit a weak rim defense? To me, it seemed like the latter option would be more likely, and sure enough it was. The Bucks continued to thrive inside 4 feet by going 15 of 19, and the shooting corrected itself in a big way. Milwaukee hit 47.4% of its 3-pointers in non-garbage time and blew out Miami 132-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.

 

A similar situation unfolded in the nightcap Monday. Denver had performed admirably in its loss to Portland on Saturday night, averaging 1.198 points per possession while dismantling a soft interior defense by hitting 21 of 27 shots within 4 feet. However, the Nuggets lost 123-109 because they hit just 31.4% of their attempts from deep while the Trail Blazers hit 19 of 39 2-pointers in non-garbage time. Denver’s performance inside 4 feet was likely to repeat itself against an interior defense that gave up the eighth-most attempts at the rim in the regular season, so all it needed was a better shooting night. That is exactly what happened. The Nuggets posted a 138.9 offensive rating and tied the series while going a combined 35 of 54 (64.8%) at the rim and beyond the arc.

 

When evaluating these box scores, it is important to value things that can be replicated consistently in a series, not the anomalies that took place in a single game. The Los Angeles Clippers are another fantastic example.

 

As the world celebrated the Clippers’ fifth consecutive playoff loss, the masses ignored many obvious positives for Los Angeles. For one, the Clippers, who finished first in every 3-point-shooting category, shot 11 of 40 (27.5%) from beyond the arc and still posted an offensive rating of 121.2 in non-garbage time against the Mavericks. They also turned it over on only 4.7% of their possessions, a trend that is likely to maintain itself against the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers. Thus, Los Angeles was a live candidate to not only bounce back in Game 2 but to win the series. It’s why I bet them at -145 and likely why the market has jumped to as high as -180 at most shops.

 

We saw countless examples across the board last weekend of performances that would likely revert to the mean. Memphis will not hit 43.4% of its midrange attempts over its series against Utah, and the Jazz will not shoot 25.5% from deep. The Knicks’ bench will not average 60 points per game against the Hawks. Identifying which performances are sustainable and acting on them is the key to any bettor’s success in the NBA playoffs.

 

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