Betting the NBA Playoffs by Jim Feist

The NBA playoffs are here and I have been asked if betting the playoffs is the same as betting the regular season.  My answer is a simple one, NO!   The playoffs are very different from what you’ve seen in the regular season. In the regular season many of the coaches and players pace themselves so that they avoid injuries and fatigue with the sheer intention of being ready for the playoffs which are much more important to them. Based on current odds the Golden State Warriors are the favorite to win the championship with Houston the second choice. Because of this pacing and not putting full effort into each game, it’s more difficult to measure the quality of each team based on regular-season play.

Don’t put too much emphasis into how teams did against each other during the regular season. When those teams met during the regular season, maybe one team rested some players or was nursing injuries.  There could have been many factors that lead to misleading head-to-head results during the season.

I suggest that we approach the NBA playoffs cautiously because of the above mentioned difficulty in grading each team’s ability. For example, the Golden State Warriors come into the playoffs a bit banged up as Stephan Curry will not play the first round games. The Boston Celtics were also banged up entering the playoffs as are the San Antonio Spurs who played the entire season without Leonard, their star player. In my opinion, the cautious approach is the best way to go.

Looking at the first round match ups, San Antonio Spurs visit the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are an 8-point favorite.  Greg Popovich is a great coach and he brings the Spurs in here to take on the Champions. I’m going to watch this game without getting involved, though I lean to the underdog Spurs.

Washington visits the Toronto Raptors. Toronto is an 8-point favorite.  Miami visits Philadelphia, with the red hot 76ers a 6 1/2 or 7-point favorite. New Orleans visits Portland with the Blazers a5 1/2 or 6-point favorite. Sunday Milwaukee visits Boston; the Celtics opened 2-points and is now for 4-point favorite.  Indian plays at Cleveland, the Cavaliers are a 6 1/2 point favorite.  Utah visits Oklahoma City, the Thunder are a 3 1/2 point favorite. Minnesota visits Houston, with the Rockets a 11 ½-point favorite.

Typically in the NBA playoffs you’ll see much more intensity on the defense end of the court. For example, already in the San Antonio vs Golden State game, which opened with a total of 211, has dropped to 206. This is a combination of the defensive oriented Spurs and the Curry-less Warriors. For the Spurs to have any chance against the Warriors, they will have to control the pace of the game.

Looking at each match up and trying to find a niche prior to the series beginning is a little bit more difficult however.  Toronto is a deeper team then Washington. What Toronto should do is continue to play tough defense and use their bench as they did the regular season to wear down the shorter rotations of the Wizards. I will keep a close eye on this as it could develop into a good betting edge.

In several of the other matchup’s pace will determine the outcome in point spread decisions and the over and under betting. There is no way that Miami will try to keep pace with Philadelphia. Whichever of these teams that win that pace battle will determine the total and the point spread cover.  You can also expect the same thing will happen with Utah vs Oklahoma City.

Finally, one popular postseason betting pattern is called the “Zig-Zag” theory. That theory says to go against whatever happened in the last game. If the Rockets covered game one, bet against them in game two. If the game went over, bet the under the next game.  Because these teams could see each other up to seven times a series, the theory is that the oddsmakers will overcompensate for the last game and thus you get an edge going the opposite or Zig-Zag the next game.  I personally do not adhere to this theory as I believe it’s old and antiquated, but some people still swear by it.

Just remember that as you watch and bet in the NBA post season, you should look to change your betting from what you did in the regular season.  The postseason is all about adapting. Teams that looked mediocre during the regular season may look great during the postseason and visa versa.  It’s a long postseason so pay attention and good luck!