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NBA First-Round Playoff Betting Trends

By Steve Makinen  () 

It is playoff time once again in the NBA with a full slate of first-round Game 1s scheduled for Saturday and Sunday this weekend. For most NBA fans, this is the best time of the year. For NBA bettors, it can be as well, especially when armed with logic-based historical trends & systems. In this article, I am going to help uncover some of that information, sharing some of the most prominent recent betting data that has affected the NBA playoffs, in particular the first round. I will be doing this same type of analysis for each of the rounds as the postseason progresses. Look for the second-round analysis in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, let’s get to breaking down the opening round. As much as many people believe this round is far too prolonged and even a waste of time, there have been 11 lower-seeded teams advance in the last six years of the playoffs, so nearly two per season. Eight of them have been #5 seeds, meaning they are actually 8-4 versus the #4’s in the last 12 series. Incidentally, the three others were #6 seeds, including New Orleans, who swept Portland a year ago. Accurately spotting potential “upsets” is a good start to making profits in your postseason wagering. Hopefully some of what I unveil coming up will help you do that. Even if not, there are still plenty of other key systems that should assist in navigating the first-round action, not only by series, but on a game-by-game basis as well.

SERIES TRENDS

Naturally being able to predict an upset in a series will give you a leg up on a game-by-game wagering basis as well, but perhaps equally important is being able to find the heavier underdogs that wind up being more competitive than expected and push the favorites to the limit in series. Of course, vice versa can be equally profitable, finding favorites that will sweep through a first-round series easily. Take a look at some of these series trends based upon won-lost records at various time lengths of the regular season.

• There have been nine first-round sweeps, all by #1 or #2 seeds, over the L6 playoff seasons. Interestingly, in seven of those, the better-seeded team had a worse ATS record over the last half season, last 20 games, AND, last 10 games time periods. In other words, ignore any late-season ATS trend data that might have you considering a potential upset or longer series.

• There is actually a better chance that a #1-#8 or #2-#7 series goes longer if the better seed had a better ATS record in the latter parts of the season. In fact, in seven of the L11 series of these seed types that went six or seven games, the better seed had a better ATS record in the last half season, last 20 games, AND, last 10 games time periods.

• The L10 games outright records can also be an indicator of a #1-#8 or #2-#7 series that could go longer. In seven of the L11 matchups of those seeds to go six games or longer, the worse seed had an equal or better record in the L10 games of the regular season. The same count, seven of those 11 teams also finished .500 or worse against the spread for the season. In other words, they may have underperformed during the season but closed strong.

• In 10 of the L12 #4-5 & #3-6 series that ended in upsets (worse seeded team winning), the teams had overall won-lost records within four games of one another. In eight of the L12 #4-5 & #3-6 series that ended with better seed winning, the better seed won at least five more games in the regular season than the opponent.

• There has been a significant benchmark in the success of the lower-seeded team at 10 wins less than the opponent over the L6 playoff years. If more than 10 regular-season wins separate the teams, the worse-seeded team won an average of 1.27 games per series, including eight sweeps in 22 series. Only four of those teams pushed a series to seven games. If 10 or less wins separated the teams, the worse-seeded team won an average of 2.92 games per series, including 12 of those 26 series wins. Only once did a team get swept, and only three other times did it win just a single game.

• Only two of the L18 playoff better seeds that won at least four more games against the spread in the regular season has lost a series. The 16 winning teams lost only 1.69 games per series as well.

• Using the records from the second half of the season has also revealed quality underdogs. When the worse-seeded team had an equal or better record in the second half of the season, they won six of 13 series while going 38-38 outright.

• Alternatively, when there was six games or better record in the second half for the better seed, those teams lost just one of 19 series while going 74-27 SU.

GAME TRENDS BY LINE RANGE

• Big home favorites almost always win – Since the start of the 2014 playoffs, NBA first-round home favorites of 8.5 points or more are 39-1 SU & 22-18 ATS. The only team to lose during that span was Oklahoma City in Game 2 of the 2016 first round, to Dallas.

• Bigger road favorites are also a solid bet - Only four of the last 27 road favorites of 4.5 points or more have lost outright, going 23-4 SU & 18-8-1 ATS.

• First-round home favorites of 4 points or less have proven to be a bad investment lately, as  BY STEVE MAKINEN NBA First-Round Playoff Betting Trends 9 AUGUST 30 – SEPTEMBER 3 over the last five playoff seasons, they are just 22-21 SU & 16-26-1 ATS. However, they were 6-1 SU & 5-1-1 ATS, so perhaps this trend is turning, as all home favorites fared well last season with a record of 30-5 SU & 22-12-1 ATS.

LAST GAME TRENDS

• Home teams are a better wager when coming off a win in a series – Home teams coming off a win in the prior game of a series are 67-36 SU & 50-52-1 ATS. Those coming off a loss are 65-53 SU & 49-64-5 ATS. Naturally, the latter are usually the lower-seeded team in a series, but this is a good indication of how momentum aids a team.

• Blowout losses carry over – There is a bit of misconception when it comes to teams “bouncing back” from rough first-round losses. In fact, teams that lost their previous game by 10 points or more are just 40-67 SU & 44-62-1 ATS in the next contest.

• Heartbreaking losses have a galvanizing effect – Teams that lose close games, or those decided by 3 points or less, in the first round of the NBA playoffs have bounced back with a 28-10 SU & 24-12-2 ATS mark in the next game. In the underdog role, these teams are on an amazing 10-4 SU & 11-3 ATS surge!

TRENDS BY GAME NUMBER

• Three of every four home teams win opening game – Home teams have gone 36-12 SU & 26-22 ATS over the last six seasons.

• Upsets occur in Game 1s with lines of -7.5 or less – Of the last 20 first-round Game 1s with home favorites of 8 points or more, there has only been one upset. However, in Game 1s with home favorites of 7.5 points or less, hosts are only 12-11 SU & 11-12 ATS over the L5 playoff seasons.

• Opening game home losers are not a good game 2 bet – Contrary to popular “ying-and-yang” bettors’ beliefs, home teams that lost in Game 1 of a first-round series are not a good bet in Game 2 either, as they are just 7-5 SU & 3-8-1 ATS since ’13.

• The Best Game 3 home teams are those that split their first two games – Game 3 home teams that split their first two games on the road are 10-5 SU & 8-6-1 ATS since 2013, while those that were either up 2-0 or down 2-0 are collectively just 14- 29 SU & 15-17-1 ATS in that same span.

• Game 4s most often go to the team looking to even the series – An interesting trend finds that teams that are down 2-1 in a first-round series are an 20-9 SU & 18-10-1 ATS run in Game 4s.

• Game 5s lean to a road team wager – Game 5s tend to be tight, as home teams, while 26-11 SU, are just 16-20-1 ATS over the L6 playoff seasons. Those home teams attempting to close out a series in Game 5 are just 4-6-1 ATS in their L11.

• Game 6s are road domination – Road teams in NBA first-round Game 6s are 17-11 SU & 20-8 ATS in the last six seasons. Defense is usually the key, as they are holding home teams to just 94.0 PPG, and have gone UNDER the total in 20 of those 28 contests. Road teams in this scenario looking to close out a series are 11-6 SU & ATS.

• Game 7s are competitive – Every fan loves a big Game 7, and NBA fans should even more, as the first-round Game 7s are not automatic for hosts. In fact, home teams are 9-3 SU but 5-7 ATS in their L12.

TRENDS BY SEED NUMBER

• #1 seeds are fantastic when underrated - #1 seeds when in the small favorite (-2.5 or less) or underdog role are 7-4 SU & ATS since 2013 in the first round of the playoffs. They are also 9-2 UNDER the total in those games while allowing just 98.2 PPG. Similarly, #1 seeds are 6-1 SU & 5-2 ATS in their L7 first-round games when trailing in a series.

• #1 seeds close out series…period – Top seeded teams are on a 10-game winning streak in closeout first-round playoff games, going 9-1 ATS in the process.

• #2 seeds have been crazy good as bigger chalk - #2 seeded teams are on a strong run of 37-6 SU & 28-15 ATS when favored by 4.5 points or more.

• #2 seeds start fast - #2 seeded teams are on a run of 22-2 SU & 17-7 ATS in the first two games of first-round series over the last six years.

• #3 seeds’ totals dichotomy is interesting - #3 seeds have trended OVER the total (29-21) the last six years as favorites, but UNDER the total (15- 6) as underdogs.

• #3 seeds bounce back on the road after losses – Third-seeded teams are on a run of 8-3 SU & ATS on the road after losing the prior game in a first round series.

• #4 seeds have been brutal in games 3 & 4 – Fourth-seeded teams have struggled with a 5-19 SU & 7-16-1 ATS record in Games 3 & 4 of the firstround series.

• #4 seeds are simply a bad bet lately – Other than in the role of favorites of 6 points or more (10-3 SU & 6-7 ATS L10), #4 seeds have been a terrible wager the last six years, going 18-40 SU & 20-36-2 ATS in all other line scenarios.

• #4 seeds have tended to stack losses – Among the many scenarios in which #4 seeds in the NBA playoffs have struggled lately, bouncing back from losses is near the top. They are just 13-21 SU & 11-23 ATS since 2013 in the game following a loss.

TRENDS BY TEAMS CLOSING OUT SERIES’ OR FACING ELIMINATION

• Big road favorites closing out series are $$$ - Road favorites of 4.5 points or more in a series closeout scenario are 10-1 SU & 9-2 ATS since the start of the ’13 postseason. However, Golden State did lose in this scenario last year, a Game 4 opportunity at San Antonio.

• Small favorites/underdogs closing out series are not $$$ - teams attempting to close out a series in a non-Game 7 scenario and playing as underdogs or favorites of 2 points or less are just 6-15 SU & 7-14 ATS in their L21 tries.

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