Makinen: NBA playoff conference final trends

May 12, 2023 04:55 PM


As we reach the Conference Finals portion of the NBA playoff schedule, so does my coverage of the top betting trends and systems for the round, looking at both series and game-by-game wagering options. This is part three of a four-part series, with just the NBA Finals segment to go. We already know that the Finals are scheduled to tip off on Thursday, June 1st, so you will see that last piece in a little under three weeks.

Series Trends

As I reasoned in the first two articles of this package, predicting an upset in a series will give you a leg up on a game-by-game wagering basis. Accurately projecting which underdogs will push a series deep, or alternatively which favorites will end a series quickly, can really boost your wagering profit in this round and all others. Take a look at some of these series trends based upon won-lost records at various time lengths of the regular season and in the playoffs to date.

-  There have been 20 conference finals series over the last 10 playoff seasons, and the better seeds own a 12-8 edge in series wins and a 33-26 game wins edge during that span. There have been four sweeps, three by the better seed.

-  There have been seven conference finals series over the last 10 playoff seasons that involved teams squaring off whose regular season win totals were within two of one another, including both of last year’s matchups. Those series have been almost toss-ups, with the better-seeded team winning three times (20 individual wins) and the lesser seed winning four times (19 individual wins).

-  Winning 70%+ of regular season games is a key benchmark of conference championship series success for better seeds. Those that did and weren’t facing a 70%+ win team are 8-1 in series and 32-16 in individual games. Those that won fewer than 70% of their regular season games are just 2-5 in their last seven conference finals series (19-23 in games).

-  There has been a massive advantage of late in analyzing the earlier playoff round performances of the teams in a conference finals series. Teams that played fewer games in the first two rounds, or essentially lost fewer games in those series, are on a 16-1 conference finals series run! Three of the 20 series matched teams that played equal games. The only team to lose after playing fewer games was Milwaukee in 2019. Considering this information for 2023, Denver will own an edge in the West.

-  Teams that faced a Game Seven matchup in either of their first two rounds series have won just two of their last 12 conference finals series when not matched up against an opponent that faced a Game Seven itself.

Scoring Trends

I’ve discovered that 94 points are a low benchmark for conference finals success. Teams that score 94 points or less in a conference finals playoff game have struggled badly, going just 10-50 SU and 11-49 ATS since 2013.

Success accompanies reaching the 116-point mark. Conference finals playoff teams scoring 116 points or more boast a record of 43-2 SU and 42-1-2 ATS over the last 10 seasons. That sole ATS loss came last year, however, as Dallas dropped a 126-117 decision to Golden State in Game Two.

Trends by Line Range

Big favorites are slowing.

From 2013-2018 in the NBA playoffs, conference finals favorites of five points or more were 35-6 SU and 28-13 ATS. Since then, they are just 12-8 SU and 9-10-1 ATS.

Small home favorites have been solid, but small road favorites have been very vulnerable.

Home favorites of 4.5 points or less are on a 10-5 SU and 9-6 ATS surge. Road favorites in the same line range are just 7-9 SU and 6-9-1 ATS in their last 16 tries, although they did win both tries a year ago.

High totals have meant UNDERs.

Of the 38 games in the last eight conference finals seasons with totals of 216.5 or higher, 25 of them have gone UNDER the total (65.8%). There’s a chance the West Finals of 2023 could get into this range.

Totals in the 209-216 range have been most apt to see OVER results.

There have been 26 games in the last nine conference finals series that have seen totals in this range, and 20 of them have gone OVER (76.9%).

Last Game Trends

Zig-zag theory is alive and well in conference finals.

Over the last three conference finals seasons, teams coming off outright losses in conference finals games are 20-9 SU and 21-7-1 ATS (75%) in their 29 follow-up games. Those that lost by single digits are 16-5 UNDER (76.2%) the total in their next game.

Close losses and playing on the road have been bad scenarios.

Teams coming off losses of 10 points or less and playing on the road are just 2-11 SU and 4-9 ATS (30.8%) in conference finals games dating back to 2014.

Trends by Game Number

Conference finals series-opening games have gone to the home team of late.

Home teams hold a 5-1 SU and ATS edge in conference finals Game Ones since 2019.

The last six conference finals opening games have been offensive explosions.

Five of the last six conference finals Game Ones have gone OVER the total, producing 226.3 PPG, surpassing posted totals by almost 13 PPG!

Home teams that won the opening game usually win Game Two as well.

In the last 10 conference finals, Game Two home teams that won Game One are 9-1 SU and 6-4 ATS (60%) in the follow-up contest.

2-0 leads aren’t security in a conference finals series.

Game Three conference finals teams are up 2-0 in the series and are just 4-7 SU and 3-8 ATS (27.3%) in their last 11 tries.

Teams that lost big in Game Two bounce back well in Game Three.

An interesting trend that has developed over the last nine playoff seasons finds that conference finals Game Three teams that lost Game Two by double-digits are on a surge of 7-3 SU and 8-2 ATS (80%).

Home team Game Fours NOT down 0-3 are strong plays.

Home teams not facing elimination in Game Four have fared very well of late, going 11-2 SU and 10-3 ATS (76.9%), including five straight outright upsets.

Teams facing elimination already in Game Four have generally laid down.

Conference finals Game Four teams that are facing elimination have gone just 2-4 SU and 2-3-1 ATS (40%) in their last six tries and have allowed 118 PPG in the most recent five contests. However, Dallas did stave off elimination against the Warriors last year.

Home teams that won Game Three are also good Game Four bets.

Conference finals hosts that won Game Three are also on a 7-2 SU and ATS (77.7%) run in Game Four.

Simply put, the better seeds win Game Five

The better-seeded teams have dominated the game 5 action in conference finals series’ of late, going 12-4 SU & ATS (75%) since 2013. In all 16 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 13-3 SU and ATS (81.3%) in conference finals  Game Fives, including 2-0 a year ago.

The team that lost Game Four is a solid Game Five play.

Teams that lost Game Four are on an 11-5 SU and ATS (68.8%) run in Game 5 of the conference finals.

Game Fives with closeout implications have been high scoring.

Since 2016, conference finals Game Fives have gone 6-0 OVER when one of the teams attempts to close out the series, with games producing 228.2 PPG.

Game Six has trended OVER the total.

Eight of the last 12 Game Six conference finals matches have gone OVER the total.

Teams have capitalized on Game Six closeout opportunities.

Four of the last five conference finals teams attempting to close out a series have won SU and ATS, with the victories by an average of 14 PPG. Two of the wins were outright upsets.

Game Seven has trended UNDER.

All five Game Sevens over the last 10 seasons have gone UNDER the total by a margin of 17.6 PPG!

Game Six wins have provided momentum for Game Seven.

Teams that won Game Six to force a Game Seven have gone 3-2 SU and ATS (60%) in the last five series-deciding contests.

Trends by Seed Number

#1 seeds struggle as small favorites and/or underdogs.

In their last 39 conference finals games when playing as underdogs or favorites of 4.5 points or less, #1 seeds are just 14-27 SU and 15-25-1 ATS (37.5%).

Lay the wood with #1 seeds.

Top-seeded teams have been stellar at covering big point spreads, going 23-3 SU and 17-9 ATS in the conference finals when favored by 6.5 points or more.

#1 seeds thrive after close wins.

Top-seeded teams are on an 8-5 SU and 9-4 ATS (69.2%) conference finals run when coming off a same-series single-digit win.

#1 seeds are solid bets late in a series.

In their last 20 games 5-7, #1 seeds are 14-9 SU and ATS (60.9%), with outright winners going a perfect 23-0 ATS in those games.

#2 seeds are solid chalk wagers.

Conference finals #2 seeds are on a 29-11 SU and 25-15 ATS (62.5%) run as favorites.

#2 seeds are tempting as large dogs but they have struggled.

#2 seeded teams are on a slide of 3-19 SU and 6-16 ATS as underdogs of 5 points or more in the conference finals series over the last nine years.

Teams seeded #3 or worse bounce back well from losses.

Teams seeded #3 or lower are on a 12-7 SU and 14-5 ATS (73.6%) surge in their 19 conference finals games when coming off a loss.

#3 and lower-seeded teams struggle to put back-to-back wins together.

Teams seeded #3 seeds or worse and coming off a win in a conference finals series game are just 8-18 SU and 8-17-1 ATS (32%) in the follow-up contest.

Trends by teams closing out series or facing elimination

Low seeds struggle defensively in elimination games.

Teams seeded #3 or worse have gone just 3-6 SU and 3-5-1 ATS (37.5%) in their last nine tries when facing elimination in the conference finals, allowing 116.4 PPG in such contests.

Road teams looking to close out the series have fared well.

Six of the last seven teams looking to close out a conference finals series on the road have done so, going 6-1 SU and 5-1-1 ATS (83.3%).

Lay the points in closeout games.

Conference finals teams looking to close out a series have gone 10-2 SU and ATS (83.3%) when favored by more than 4.5 points since ’13, outscoring opponents by 14.2 PPG.

Closeout games have been definitive.

There have been 32 different potential series closeout games in the conference finals in the last 10 seasons and outright winners are 31-0-1 ATS.

Closeout games have been high scoring.

In the last 10 conference finals games in which a team had the chance to close out a series, OVER the total is 9-1 (90%), producing 223.5 PPG on totals averaging 212.3.

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