Evaluating Match-ups and Isolating Situations to Produce Profit in the NBA Playoffs
More than any other sport, the home court advantage is dominant in the NBA playoffs. However, many bettors fail to recognize that handicapping the NBA playoffs is an entirely different process than the grind and situations that arise throughout the regular season. What works situationally during the regular season does not necessarily transfer to the playoffs when the intensity level is far greater game after game.
You're going to hear the 'talking heads' talk over and over about home court, streaks and dominance by teams like Golden State and San Antonio. The Spurs are off to a 2-0 SU/ATS start in the playoffs with big double-digit wins over Memphis. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 2-0 against Indiana, but 0-2 ATS which is a continuance of a losing against the spread (ATS) record during the regular season. The defending NBA champion Cavs went 51-31 straight up (SU) including 31-10 at home, but lost money for their betting backers.
As each series go deeper into the playoffs, the home court edge becomes less except for situations in Game 7. Recall that Golden State was 36-5 SU at home this season and 39-2 at home each of the previous two seasons. However, the Warriors lost two playoff games in 2015 on their way to winning the championship, and were just 5-6 ATS in the playoffs. Last year, the Warriors went 11-3 SU in the playoffs and lost games 5 and 7 at home in the NBA finals to Cleveland. The Warriors started last year's playoffs 5-0 SU/ATS and finished 10-4 ATS but the last two losses were crushing defeats to the Cavs to lose the NBA championship after leading 3 games to 1.
So it's clear that with stronger teams across the board in the playoffs, we see a better brand of basketball and increased intensity. With that greater intensity comes the dissolution of much of a team's personality that has evolved during the course of the regular season. For starters, the defense becomes much more intense. The individual player match-ups become key over the course of the 7-game series.
On the opening weekend of round 1 in this year's playoffs, the underdogs showed some bite at the sports books. The 'Dogs went 2-2 SU and 3-1 ATS Saturday with the Milwaukee Bucks (+7.5) trouncing Toronto 97-83 and the Utah Jazz (+5.5) clipping the LA Clippers 97-95. The Indiana Pacers (+9) just missed pulling the biggest surprise in their 109-108 loss to defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sunday was a break even day at the sports books for the underdogs (1-3 SU/2-2 ATS) with Portland (+15) covering as a big 'Dog at Golden State in a 121-109 Warriors win. But the Boston Celtics were stunned by the Chicago Bulls (+6.5) 106-102, making it three outright 'Dog winners on the opening games of Round 1.
Interesting situation to note is that Round 1 Game 2 home teams favored to -13 who lost the 1st game of the playoffs but won at least 50 games during the regular season are a solid and proven situation to bounce back big in Game 2. That profitable profile applies to all three home favorites on April 18 as Toronto, Boston and the LA Clippers all lost their playoff opener. The Clippers (-9) are the least appealing and less profitable profile as they play a Jazz team that was greater than .600 with 51 regular season wins and also top-3 in defensive efficiency.
Coaches find ways to isolate key mismatches and substitute at certain positions. No longer do the coaches have to worry about battling lengthy road trips or jockeying for playoff position like so many teams faced in the closing weeks of this year's regular season.
Continuity is key and that's what has propelled the Spurs and Warriors to elite status in recent seasons and really San Antonio's dominance for over a decade. Yet key injuries can impact continuity and performance as we saw with the Warriors while Kevin Durant was out.
As we look forward to the remaining games in Round 1 and two full months of NBA playoff action, there are some other proven and profitable situations that may direct you to more winners.
Another Round 1 situation we look at revolves around a venue change. The key contest is Game 3, and also Game 5 with the 2-2-1-1-1 format. In last year's 2016 playoffs, Game 3's went 6-2 UNDER the total and 9-5 UNDER combined in Games 3 and 5. This has proven to be a stronger 'under' the total profile when the games are more competitively priced (6 or less). That will definitely apply to the Bucks/Raptors, Bulls/Celtics and Jazz/Clippers when the venues change to Milwaukee, Chicago and Utah for Game 3.
There are four Class A teams in this year's playoffs that won at least 53 games during the regular season – Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Boston. Four teams won 51 games – Cleveland, Toronto, Utah and the LA Clippers. Should those teams win more games into Rounds 2, 3 or 4 in the NBA finals, there will be even more proven profiles and situations to review including totals when Class A teams meet deeper in the playoffs.
There is no substantive advantage for one team to blowout the other or win by bigger margins, realizing that they can save energy and potential embarrassment when facing the same opponent in the next 2-3 days. Some solid situations will evolve with some of these big 'Dogs, and you must also understand the coaching personalities, profiles and proven performances by the bench bosses and their teams.
Many bettors love to also follow the 'zig zag' theory in the NBA playoffs; betting on the team that lost the last game. But over time the linemaker has adjusted to many of the once proven theories, and those edges, situations and much of the success evaporated over five years ago.
There is much to evaluate and consider as you handicap the playoff match-ups and watch, wager and hopefully win. NBA playoff winners have proven to be teams with not only top talent, but plenty of experience with the ability to raise their game and performance with improved intensity and determined defense.
Similar experience comes with handicapping and isolating proven profiles that produce profit. That includes seeing the total picture and the entire court as you analyze the match-ups and watch the games unfold.
Best wishes as you hit the hardwood and push through the NBA playoffs in search of more profit.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay