Makinen: NBA playoff second-round trends

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The NBA first round had an array of interesting results, on and off-the-court stories, and intriguing betting trends, namely winners continuing to cover point spreads at unprecedented levels. Some of this was expected, some of it not, particularly the upset in the first round finding #8 Miami knocking out #1 Milwaukee. Thankfully, all of it was a far cry from what we have become accustomed to in this “tournament.” That said, the competitiveness tends to ramp up with the stakes, and when the second round tips off this weekend, it should present four fairly intriguing matchups. As the NBA playoffs move into their second round, so does my analysis of the betting trends and systems affecting them.

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Many of the trends I offered up a couple of weeks ago for the first-round action proved fruitful for bettors. Hopefully, the stuff you’re about to read also pays off handsomely for you. Be sure to check back in two weeks when I will break down the conference championship trends.

Before getting into the specific trends, you should know that the percentage of series upsets in the second round is actually much higher than in the first. If you recall, only 13 out of 80 lower-seeded teams, or 16.3% were able to pull off upsets in the first round. In the second round, it has been 13 out of 40, or 32.6%, essentially double the amount. There have been six teams seeded worse than 3rd to pull off this feat (most recently, the Mavericks over Phoenix last year). It has now happened three times in the last two years, all four victims being #1 seeds. In all, there have been five #1 seeds to lose a series in this round in the last five playoff seasons. With Milwaukee already out, does that leave Denver vulnerable here? In a word, yes.

 

Series Trends

As I reasoned in the first-round article, being able to predict 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 on won-lost records at various time lengths of the regular season.

 There have been 16 second-round series over the last 10 playoff seasons to last five games or less, only three in upset fashion. In all but one of those 20 series, the winning team won at least 50 games in the regular season.

–  There have been 18 second-round series over the last 10 playoff seasons that involved teams squaring off whose regular season win totals were within 5 of one another. Those series have been almost toss-ups, with the higher-seeded team winning 10 times (59 individual wins) and the lower-seed winning 8 times (50 individual wins).

–  In the 21 other series where the regular season won-lost total is +6 or higher for the better seed, that team is 17-5 in series wins and 76-44 in individual wins. However, one of those five series losses did occur a year ago, when Dallas edged Phoenix 4-3.

–  Excluding the results of the 2020 season which had a shortened regular season and postseason played entirely in Orlando, 53 regular season wins is a good benchmark for projecting success in the second round. Teams that won 52 games or fewer, when taking on teams that won 53 games or more, are just 5-19 in series and 50-85 in individual games since 2013.

–  There is an advantage to playing shorter series in the first round. Teams that played two or more fewer games in the first round boast a second-round series record of 10-4 since 2013, with an individual game mark of 47-29.

–  It hasn’t been a real detriment to see a first-round series be pushed to seven games for teams in the second round. These teams are 6-6 in series and 33-33 in individual games since 2013. No first-round series went seven games in 2022.

 

Scoring Trends

–  It was in the 2016-17 season in which scoring really started to balloon in the NBA. Since then, it’s been proven to be that 112 points is the benchmark for second-round success. Teams that score 112 points or more in a second-round playoff game have gone 84-19 SU and 79-23-1 ATS (77.5%).

–  Lack of success accompanies failing to reach the 103-point mark. Second-round playoff teams scoring 102 points or less own a record of just 19-85 SU and 24-79-1 ATS (23.3%) over the last six seasons.

 

Trends by Line Range

–  Laying big points with home teams has not worked out well for bettors in the second round recently, as hosts laying 8 points or more have gone 23-8 SU but just 12-19 ATS (38.7%) since ’13. This is in direct contrast to the first-round numbers we saw a couple of weeks ago. All other home favorites are 74-63-1 ATS (54%) in that span.

–  Big road favorites win and cover. Since the start of the 2013 playoffs, NBA second-round road favorites of 5 points or more are 10-0 SU and 8-1-1 ATS (88.9%). Interestingly, there hasn’t been one of these since 2018!

–  Second-round road favorites have struggled in the last three non-neutral playoff formats, having gone 4-12 SU and 3-13 ATS (18.8%) in the 2019, 2021, and 2022 postseasons combined.

 

Last Game Trends

–  Teams have struggled in the second round when coming off of same series losses and playing on the road, having gone just 5-16 SU and 6-15 ATS (28.6%) in the follow-up contests in their last 21 playoff tries.

–  Teams coming off a win in a second-round series game and playing at home struggled badly last year, 2-11 SU and 3-10 ATS (23.1%).

–  There is a very interesting totals trend that has developed lately in competitive contests, as when games have been decided by 10 points or fewer, the follow-up second round same series game is 23-8-1 UNDER (74.2%) the total in the last 32.

–  Close games have a galvanizing effect for road teams. Teams involved in close games decided by 3 points or less, win or lose, bounce back well when playing on the road in the follow-up game. In that scenario, these teams are on a 15-9 SU and 16-8 ATS (66.7%) run.

 

Trends by Game Number

–  Home teams have won nearly three of every four Game Ones of the second-round series since 2016, going 17-7 SU and 15-8-1 ATS (65.2%). There have only been two road favorites during that span.

–  In 11 of the last 16 opening games of the second round, (68.8%) have gone UNDER the total.

–  The best Game One favorites have been the biggest favorites, as though laying 6 points or more are on a 16-5 SU and 4-7 ATS (66.7%) surge.

–  Upsets occur in Game One with lines of -5.5 or less. Favorites of 5.5 points or less are 6-16 SU and 3-18-1 ATS (14.3%).

–  Home teams have swept the last two years of Game Two second-round action, going 8-0 SU and ATS.

–  Smaller home favorites get it done in Game Two. Home favorites of 7 points or less have gone 16-2 SU and 14-4 ATS (77.8%) in their last 18 chances.

–  Home teams were 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS in Game Three for the second rounds of 2022, stopping a skid of 6-14 ATS over the prior five non-neutral playoff seasons.

–  Game 2 winners are on an 11-6 ATS (64.7%) run in Game Three of a second-round series.

–  Change of venue has changed the scoring trend recently. With more Game Twos going OVER than not, the scoring pace slows for Game 3s, as they are 14-6 UNDER in the last 20.

–  In the last 14 Game Threes featuring one of the teams up 2-0 already in the series, 12 have gone UNDER the total (85.7%).

–  Oddsmakers pave the road for Game Four profits. An interesting trend that has developed over the last 7 playoff seasons finds that second-round Game Four favorites are on a surge of 23-9 SU and 19-12-1 ATS (61.3%).

–  Game Three winners have most often become Game 4 winners as well, as they are 11-3 SU and 10-4 ATS (71.4%) in their last 14 tries.

–  Teams up in the series are just 12-17 SU and 9-19-1 ATS (32.1%) in their last 29 Game Four tries.

–  Expect Game Fives to be tight. Favorites are 25-10 SU but just 15-20 ATS (42.9%) since 2013. In games with lines of 5.5 points or more, they are just 9-15 ATS (37.5%).

–  Teams that lost big in Game Four, by points or more, come back very competitively in Game Five, going 13-9 SU and 16-6 ATS (72.7%) in their last 22 tries.

–  Game Six has swung towards underdogs, 14-7 SU and 15-6 ATS (71.4%) since 2014.

–  Teams looking to close out a series in Game Six have struggled, going just 5-10 SU and 6-9 ATS (40%) in their last 15 opportunities, including 1-5 SU and ATS as chalk.

–  Six of the seven (85.7%) Game Six matches that have been played in the last two playoff seasons have gone UNDER the total

–  Favorites have been far from automatic lately in Game Seven, going just 4-5 SU and 3-6 ATS (33.3%) in their last nine tries.

–  Winning Game Six has provided a good boost for Game Seven, as these teams riding the positive momentum have gone 6-3 SU and 7-2 ATS (77.8%) in their last nine chances.

 

Trends by Seed Number

–  After a long run of dominance prior, #1 seeds are just 40-31 SU and 34-36-1 ATS (48.6%) in their last 71 second-round playoff games.

–  #1 seeds went 6-1 SU and ATS at home last season in the second round, slowing a trend that saw them go just 9-8 SU and 5-11-1 ATS (31.3%) prior.

–  #1 seeds have capitalized on momentum well going 17-10 SU and ATS (63%) when coming off a same-series win.

–  #1 seeds are on a 4-12 SU and 6-10 ATS (37.5%) skid as underdogs in the second round.

–  #2 seeds have been very competitive in the underdog role in the second round, going 21-16 SU and 26-11 ATS (70.3%) in that role since 2015.

–  #2 seeds have not closed out opponents well in the second round, going just 5-10 SU and 3-12 ATS (20%) when given that chance since 2018. However, Boston did get the job done versus Milwaukee in its chance last year.

–  #3 seeds have meant UNDERs in second-round games of late, 28-12-1 (70%) in the last 41.

–  Teams seeded at #3 in the NBA playoffs have been awful on the road in the second round of late, winning just 8 of their last 31 games while going 9-22 ATS (29%).

–  #3 seeds are on a phenomenal second-round run of 9-3 SU and 10-2 ATS (83.3%) when trying to stave off elimination in a series.

–  Teams seeded #4 tend to be overmatched in the underdog role, owning a record of 10-28 SU and 13-24-1 ATS (35.1%) since 2015.

–  The last 13 #4 seeds trying to fend off elimination in a second-round series are just 5-8 SU and ATS (38.5%).

–  Losses compound for #4 seeds in the second round, as they are just 9-20 SU and ATS (31%) coming back after a same-series defeat since 2014.

–  Upset winners of the first round don’t win much in the second round, with teams seeded #5 or worse going 14-30 SU and 21-23 ATS (47.7%) in their second-round games over the last eight seasons.

–  First-round upset winners are also brutal as large underdogs, as teams seeded 5th or lower have gone 3-27 SU and 11-19 ATS (36.7%) when playing as dogs of 6 points or more. Included in that is a 0-7 SU and ATS record at home.

–  Winning doesn’t provide a whole lot of momentum for the second-round teams “not supposed to be there,” as they are just 6-12 SU and ATS when coming off a same-series victory since ’13.

 

Trends by teams closing out series or facing elimination

–  Strangely, in closeout games, teams looking to finish a series have been far more successful against the spread on the road (8-4 ATS in the last 12) as compared to at home (5-9 ATS in the last 14).

–  There is a certain level of pressure that comes with being a heavy favorite in a closeout game. Teams looking to finish a series and favored by 5.5 points or more are 16-9 SU but just 8-16-1 ATS (33.3%) since 2013 (4-7 SU in the last 11).

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Steve Makinen
As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.