I’ve been betting on the NBA since the Bulls’ era of domination in the early 90s. I’ve only been betting on postseason NBA games for about five years, after a long time of ignoring the obvious value available in betting on the NBA postseason and NBA Finals.
Postseason betting is a completely different animal compared to bets on regular-season games. The trends are different, player matchups change in meaning, and even coaching strategy becomes unpredictable. Parity increases, generally, though individual performances by players have a much greater impact on betting outcomes than during the regular season slog.
This post is designed to entice people to consider making postseason NBA bets. I’ve identified some common mistakes to help people identify and stay away from the confidence-destroying tendency of these wagers and provided some NBA playoff betting tips to get people started forming their own pro basketball playoff bet strategy.
3 Common NBA Playoff Betting Mistakes
Having talked to and worked with dozens of newcomers to playoff betting, I feel pretty confident offering advice to counter three common mistakes.
#1 – Recency Bias
NBA postseason bettors aren’t alone in falling prey to recency bias.
When you see a team lose game one by double digits, it makes sense to immediately write them off in game two. Statistically speaking, this would be a huge gambling mistake that helps pay the oddsmaker’s mortgage and drains your bankroll. More on that later.
I look for value in fading the public on teams that lost big in the previous playoff game. This runs counter to the consensus opinion that a team that’s been blown out in game one is going to get blown out again in game two. Use the public’s own recency bias tendency against the book and look for good lines on teams coming off a big loss in a playoff game.
#2 – Undervaluing Head-to-Head Matchups
You can’t just make chalk picks in the NBA playoffs, not without looking at how the team’s rosters match up one-on-one. A big man may dominate a small lineup – or that small lineup could use speed and strategic fouls to silence him. The way that scenario plays out depends on how you handicap a given matchup for a given contest.
Generally speaking, modern NBA champions depend on stretch fours, athletic forwards, and longer guard and wing players that matchup well against any scheme. Teams that deploy this strategy successfully tend to win.
Look at how Giannis matches up against Ben Simmons, a long and athletic defender that muzzles him more effectively than smaller/faster squads.
This head-to-head matchup may not be as big of a part of my betting strategy during a regular-season game. These matchups become vastly more important when athletes are given time to shine in games that “matter.”
#3 – Betting Too Many Overs
Fans like high-scoring games. Bettors sometimes get sucked into this way of thinking, especially during the high-emotion playoffs, and overvalue the over-on-game totals. It feels weird to place a bet which will only pay off if a playoff game turns out to be a defensive snooze fest.
Truly, betting on emotion is a minefield in any sports betting context. During the playoffs, our emotions are often disguised as general knowledge.
Everybody knows the playoffs are high-scoring games, right? The average score for all teams in any game seven is 96.2 points – how many playoff game totals are set at 192? These days, they rarely get below 198, a testament to the betting public’s belief in the scoring potential of NBA playoff teams.
Be careful of taking too many overs in NBA playoff game totals betting.
Simple and Effective NBA Playoff Betting Tips
I’m not going to promise you a “can’t-lose” betting strategy for the NBA postseason. Anyone promising you that is looking for your wallet.
I can, however, point people in the direction of common-sense betting advice that can actually give you some insight into the wagers you’re making.
Below are three NBA playoff betting tips based on years of experience betting all the way through to the NBA Finals.
#1 – Don’t Ignore Home-Court Advantage
In the entire history of the modern NBA playoffs, going back to the 1940s, home teams win 64% of the time. That’s a significant statistical anomaly for sports bettors.
If you don’t mind spending a few minutes online looking at home and away records, you can add a layer of knowledge to this “home teams usually win in the playoffs” adage.
Understand that this is a long-term trend and doesn’t always apply in every postseason. The 2020-2021 Bucks had a 90% win-at-home rate during the playoffs, even better than their 71% home win rate during the regular season. The Clippers had a 50% win-at-home rate during the playoffs, though they had an identical home win percentage as the Bucks during the regular season.
#2 – Look at Past Playoff Performance Trends
We have great freely available statistics on the NBA playoffs going back decades. You may as well use this information to inform your postseason NBA betting strategy.
After some time spent researching these trends and applying them to your NBA bets, you’ll start to identify your own trends. Below are a couple of NBA playoff performance trends I’ve noticed and used to bolster my postseason wagers.
- Here are one lot of bettors know about already – the outcome of game two in an NBA playoff series is somewhat predictable, more so than a regular-season game. Home teams win game two even more frequently than they win game one. Going back twenty years, the team that loses the first game of a playoff series is 49-10 in game two, for a win rate of 83%. You could set your watch by that rate.
- Here’s another example looking at 2-0 playoff series. Teams down 2-0 generate a lot of “looking down the barrel of a gun” type headlines, but statistically, they’re not that bad off. Going back 14 years, a higher-seeded team with a 2-0 advantage is only 48-63 in the next game. That’s a win rate of just 43%, a vulnerable number. Combine that with reduced juice and you’ve got a great bet with very little time spent handicapping.
#3 – Look for Value in Player Props
This piece of advice probably runs counter to everything you’ve heard about sports betting. Lots of bettors are scared to go near player props, and for good reason. These are usually some of the longest odds bets you can make, and they’re seen as a trashy way to wager, even by guys I would consider degenerate gamblers.
I don’t follow that line of thinking, not all the way at least. And during the NBA playoffs, I think there’s lots of value to be found in player props.
During the playoffs, the defensive strategy is usually “keep their best player from beating us.” Superstars are handcuffed more frequently in playoff situations, giving rise to opportunities for their #2 and #3 players to shine.
If you can find a decent line on a scoring prop for a team’s second-best player – think -110 or better – you should probably take the over. This is especially true after a teams’ best player has a dominant performance.
That’s just one example of a strategy involving NBA playoff player props. This is normally verboten territory for advantage gamblers, but with a good line and an eye toward NBA playoff defensive strategy, you can usually find a good bet on a scoring total player prop. Branch out and look for other prop situations that are easier to handicap during the league’s postseason.
Obviously, the months of May and June are the most exciting time to be an NBA fan. Betting volume in the NBA playoffs is a strange thing – dropping considerably right up until the Finals, when it’s as high as it ever is. I don’t think bettors should quiet placing NBA wagers just because the playoffs begin. I think there’s plenty of value in placing bets on the NBA playoffs.
Successful NBA betting requires more analysis than the regular season, and your betting styles and budget will probably change to suit the differences between the regular season and postseason basketball play.
I hope this post helps prepare someone to add a postseason NBA betting plank to their annual sports betting budget.