After what was one of the more competitive and thrilling NBA second round playoffs in recent memory, the league quickly moves on to the conference finals. Three of the remaining teams in the proceedings are top two seeds, so they were expected to be here. The other, Portland, is a #3 seed, so just a small surprise. Although my updated article on the Conference Finals Betting Trends missed Tuesday’s West opener between Golden State & the Trail Blazers, you should still be able to take advantage of the findings for the rest of the action, starting Wednesday in Milwaukee, where the top seeded Bucks host the Raptors in Game 1 of the East Finals. This is part three of a 4-part series, with just the NBA Finals segment to go. We already know that the Finals are scheduled to tip off on May 30, so you will see that last piece in Issue #40 of the Point Spread Weekly.
Before getting into the specific trends, you should know that of the last six seasons, there have been five so-called upsets, where the lower seeded team won, including both series’ a year ago. That upset percentage (41.7%) is easily the highest thus far of the playoff rounds, as both the first & second rounds were 22% or less. An upset in either series this year would be significant, as Golden State opened as a 5-1 favorite, and Milwaukee was a near 3-1 choice over Toronto. Last year’s East & West Finals both went to Game 7’s, marking the first time that had happened since 1979. Hopefully this year’s action will be as competitive.
• 92 points is a low benchmark for conference finals success: Teams that score 92 points or less in a conference finals playoff game have struggled badly, going just 4-36 SU & 5-35 ATS over the L6 seasons.
• Success accompanies reaching the 112-point mark: Conference finals playoff teams scoring 112 points or more boast a record of 30-2 SU & 27-5 ATS over the L6 seasons. If you recall, the magic number for the second round was just 106 points, clearly a much lower number.
TRENDS BY LINE RANGE
• Big favorites get it done: Since the start of the 2013 playoffs, NBA conference finals favorites of 5 points or more are 35-6 SU & 28-13 ATS. Road & home favorites have both been remarkably successful.
• Small favorites have been very vulnerable: The combined record of the L27 small favorites (-4.5 points or less) overall in the conference finals of the NBA playoffs is just 11-16 SU & ATS.
• High totals have meant UNDER’s: Of the 20 games in the L6 conference finals seasons with totals of 216.5 or higher, 15 of them have gone UNDER the total. Keep any eye on this trend as both series showed Game 1 totals of 218 or higher.
LAST GAME TRENDS
• Losses have tended to stack in recent years: Teams coming off outright losses in conference finals games are just 9-13 SU & 8-14 ATS in their L22 follow-up games. Those that lost by single digits are 13-4 UNDER the total in their next game.
• Close losses and playing on the road make matters even worse: Teams coming off losses of 10 points or less and are playing on the road are just 0-7 SU & 1-6 ATS in their L7 conference finals games.
TRENDS BY GAME NUMBER
• Conference finals series’ opening games have sided with the road teams of late: Road teams, while just 4-4 SU, are on a 6-2 ATS run over the L4 seasons in conference finals Game 1’s.
• UNDER’s have prevailed in Game 2’s lately: Eight of the L10 conference finals Game 2’s with totals of 184 or higher have gone UNDER the total. Only two visiting teams in those games topped the 100-point mark.
• Home teams that won opening game usually win Game 2’s as well: The L5 conference finals Game 2 home teams that won Game 1 are 5-0 SU & 4-1 ATS in the follow up contest.
• The best Game 3 home teams are those that split the first two games: Game 3 conference finals home teams that split the first two games are 3-1 SU & ATS over the L5 seasons, while those down or up 2-0 have combined to go 3-5 ATS.
• Teams that lost big in Game 2 bounce back well in Game 3: An interesting trend that has developed over the L6 playoff seasons finds that conference finals Game 3 teams that lost Game 2 by doubledigits are on a surge of 6-2 SU & 7-1 ATS.
• Game 3’s are higher scoring: After lower scoring Game 2’s, scoring is up in Game 3’s with eight of the L12 conference finals games going OVER the total
• Home team Game 4’s not down 0-3 are strong plays: Home teams not facing elimination in Game 4 have fared very well of late, going 8-1 SU & 7-2 ATS, including three straight outright upsets.
• Home teams in Game 4 that won Game 3 make it two-in-a-row: Conference finals Game 4 home teams that won their Game 3’s are on a 6-1 SU & ATS winning surge, with an average scoring differential of 9.9 PPG.
• Simply put, the better seeds win Games 5-7: The better seeded teams have dominated the late action in conference finals series’ of late, going 13-7 SU & ATS collectively since 2013. In all 20 of those games the outright winner covered the point spread as well.
• Favorites are on a huge Game 5 run: Teams laying the points have gone 8-1 SU & ATS in conference finals’ Game 5’s. Golden State was the one loser a year ago at Houston. All eight winners also lost ATS in the prior contest.
• Game 7’s have trended UNDER: All four Game 7’s over the L6 seasons have gone UNDER the total, by a margin of 21.5 PPG!
TRENDS BY SEED NUMBER
• #1 seeds struggle as small favorites and/or underdogs: In their L26 conference finals games when playing as underdogs or favorites of 4.5 points or less, #1 seeds are just 10-23 SU & 12-21 ATS.
• Lay the wood again with #1 seeds: Top-seeded teams have been stellar at covering big point spreads, going 17-2 SU & 13-6 ATS in the conference finals when favored by 6.5 points or more.
• #2 seeds finish slow: #2 seeded teams are on a slide of 5-10 ATS in Games 5 & later in the conference finals series’ over the last six years.
• Teams seeded #3 or worse are in over their heads?: Teams seeded #3 or lower are just 10-14 SU & 12-12 ATS in the 24 conference finals games they have played since 2013, including 1-3 SU & ATS in closeout situations.
• #3 & lower seeded teams struggle to put backto-back wins together: Teams seeded #3 or worse and coming off a win in a conference finals series game are just 3-6 SU & ATS in the follow-up contest.
TRENDS BY TEAMS CLOSING OUT SERIES OR FACING ELIMINATION
• Home court is advantageous to teams looking to close out series: Teams looking to close out conference finals series at home have gone 5-3 SU & ATS since 2013 as opposed to 7-8 SU & ATS on the road.
• Lay the points in closeout games: Conference finals teams looking to close out a series have won nine straight games outright & ATS when favored by more than 4.5 points.
• Closeout games have been definitive: There have been 18 different potential series closeout games in the conference finals in the L6 seasons and outright winners are 18-0 ATS.