Last week I waxed poetic about my Los Angeles Clippers, and they proceeded to fall into another 2-0 hole in their series with the Utah Jazz. They have since bounced back, but I do not want to bore you with more words on how great I think the Clippers are. Instead, let us discuss a couple of things that have popped up as the second round nears its conclusion.
Bettors Willingly Betting Into Inflated Lines
Have you heard about this dynamite trend? If a team is down 2-0 in a series and heading back home, it is a surefire play in the first half! In fact, the trend was allegedly 29-6 ATS since the 2015-16 season heading into this postseason. That is as close to a lock as I have ever seen, so there is surely a ton of value betting into a trend hitting at an 82.8% rate, right?
Well, if you went that route this season, you’re sitting on a 2-3 record and slightly in the red. One might argue that a five-game sample size is nowhere near enough to ignore such a great trend, but look at what is being bet into here. The Nuggets returned home Friday down 2-0 in their series against the Suns. Despite sitting at -2 for the game, the Nuggets were -2.5 or -3 for the first half at most shops. Denver went on to lose the first half outright, but the result is not the problem here — it’s the number. The Nuggets were laying a half-point more in the first half, and the market was still laying into the number as much as it could. Where is the value in a line like that? The same situation unfolded the next night, when the Clippers closed as 4.5-point favorites for Game 3 against the Jazz and -4 in the first half. Yes, Los Angeles covered the first half, but again, the result is not important.
Listen to any bit of sports betting content and you will surely hear the word “value.” Is there value in betting into a trend that has clearly been accounted for by oddsmakers? I do not believe that to be the case, and this trend has bled into the spreads for entire games as well. Let’s take Game 3 between Milwaukee and Brooklyn as an example. The Bucks went home down 2-0 in the series, and after losing in blowout fashion as road favorites, they were 3.5-point favorites at home. They won the game but failed to cover the spread. The market went on to open Brooklyn at -1 for Game 4 in Milwaukee. What changed? Did the Nets suddenly become the better team? No. The oddsmakers just knew they could charge bettors who would bet the desperation angle willingly. The same situation unfolded with the Nuggets and Suns between Games 3 and 4. Denver closed at -2 in Game 3, was throttled and the Suns emerged at -2 for the open of Game 4 at Ball Arena.
There might be something to a team feeling desperate down two games and heading back home, but you as a bettor have to realize those situations are factored into the line. There is little to no value in following that trend anymore, so do not willingly bet into bad numbers for the sake of an anecdotal trend that has been weeded out by oddsmakers.
Philadelphia’s Offense Is Very Flawed
At almost every turn this season, the betting market rated the Philadelphia 76ers as the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. On Monday night we saw why, as the 76ers’ most crucial flaw was on display in their loss to the Hawks. In the second half Philadelphia was held to 0.809 points per possession, due in large part to Joel Embiid going 0 of 12. It was clear that Embiid was hampered by the knee injury that caused him to miss Game 4 of the first-round series against the Wizards, but the reliance on Embiid for offense is a massive issue for Philadelphia, which is hurting for shot creators on this roster.
To no one’s surprise, the 76ers lead postseason teams in frequency of post-ups (11.0%) and offensive efficiency out of those post-ups at 1.16 points per possession. For sure, Embiid is an effective weapon. Before Monday he had gouged the Hawks for 35.3 points per game on 53.3% shooting. But when Embiid is struggling or unavailable, you get an offense that blows a 13-point halftime lead and scores just 38 points over two quarters. In a series against an outmatched opponent like Washington, that gets you a win. But against better teams like Atlanta, Milwaukee or Brooklyn, it puts you in a bad spot.
Philadelphia’s ball-handlers are averaging just 0.99 points per possession in pick-and-rolls during the postseason, according to the NBA’s tracking data. That figure is second to last among currently active teams. No dynamic pick-and-roll game exists with this team. The offense relies on Embiid post-ups or transitions, in which the Sixers have averaged 1.25 points per possession in the postseason. The 76ers’ efficiency is very good in those two areas, but transition possessions are not as frequent as half-court possessions. And when games slow down, pick-and-roll offenses tend to thrive, and Philadelphia does not have one. Look at Milwaukee, which is averaging an abhorrent 0.79 points per possession with its ball-handlers in pick-and-roll situations in the postseason. That has led to an offense managing 97.2 points per 100 possessions in its series with Brooklyn. Is that an offense you want?
The 76ers are still a very good team with a fantastic opportunity at a title, but Embiid needs to be healthy. If not, this offense breaks down, and when you’re among the best teams in the league, an offense as simple and inefficient as the one in Atlanta on Monday night will not get it done.