There is probably no other league that changes more in the postseason than the regular season than the NBA. Considering that the playoffs drag on for two months or so, it essentially is a second season, and unfortunately, with the enhanced stakes as compared to the regular season, there are a lot of different factors that go into handicapping the proceedings.

For one, with the series aspect, you have a situation where teams are facing one another up to seven consecutive times. This leads to a lot of ebb and flow, and thus knowing how teams react to wins and losses at this time of year is key.

 

Second, the crucial thing at this point is simply winning games. Unlike the regular season, individual stats, contract incentives, and perhaps point spreads even, don’t tend to matter.

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Thirdly, and this can’t be overstated, if players can play, they usually will. Unlike the regular season where injuries and workload days off run disturbingly rampant, you’ll typically get the best a team has to offer for every game.

After what was a far from satisfying regular season, for most NBA apologists, this is the time of year when they are supposedly validated. For NBA bettors, it can be a tricky time as well, as they are finally getting to utilize trends and systems that come when teams are playing with equal motivation.

One of the things that I feel is most important when analyzing the games over the next couple of months is to arm yourself with logic-based historical trends and systems from recent playoff action. In this article, the first of what will be a round-based series, I will help uncover some of that information, sharing some of the most prominent recent betting data that has affected the NBA playoffs, particularly the first round. I will do this same type of analysis for each round as the postseason progresses. Look for the second-round analysis in a couple of weeks.

Looking back quickly at some recent playoff results, one should first acknowledge the success of outright winners in postseason games. In fact, after last year’s 74-10 ATS record for outright winners, they are now on a four-year run of 301-33-6 ATS, a winning percentage of 90.1%. The numbers are noticeably less in a league like the NFL for the playoffs. With that noted, if you believe an underdog has a chance to cover a point spread, you should also consider their ability to win outright.

Alternatively, rather than buying lines down, or backing favorites on moneylines, laying the actual point spread has proven a better strategy. In addition, for those interested in overall home/road trends in recent playoff action, note that hosts are 150-106 SU and 132-123-1 ATS (51.8%) in the last three postseasons, noteworthy since those are the three “normal” postseasons since the league orchestrated its playoffs in “the bubble” at Orlando in 2020.

For the many people who believe this round is far too prolonged and even a waste of time, there have been 17 lower-seeded teams to advance in the last 11 years of the playoffs, including four of them last year! However, 11 of the 17 “upsets” were #5 seeds beating #4 seeds, and four others being a #6 over a #3. Last year was the first time that saw a #2 (Memphis) lose to a #7 (LA Lakers) and a #1 (Milwaukee) lose to a #8 (Miami).

Prior to that, the last “seed upset” of that magnitude came in 2012 when #8 Philadelphia knocked out #1 Chicago. Accurately spotting potential “upsets” is a good start to making profits in your postseason wagering. Hopefully some of what I unveil coming up will help you do that. Even if not, there are still plenty of other key systems that should assist in navigating the first-round action, not only by series, but on a game-by-game basis as well.

Naturally, being able to predict an upset in a series will give you a leg up on a game-by-game wagering basis as well, but perhaps equally important is being able to find the heavier underdogs that wind up being more competitive than expected and push the favorites to the limit in series. Of course, vice versa can be equally profitable, finding favorites that easily sweep through a first-round series. 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 17 first-round sweeps over the last 10 playoff seasons, with three coming by lesser-seeded teams. Interestingly, in eight of the 14 favored sweeps, the better-seeded team had a worse ATS record over the last half season, and 10 of them had even or lesser ATS records in the last 20 games and last 10-game time periods. In other words, ignore any late-season ATS trend data that might have you considering a potential upset or longer series. In many cases, these better teams spend the last quarter regular season on cruise control, more interested in ensuring health than winning and covering games.
  • There is actually a better chance that a #1-#8 or #2-#7 series goes longer if the better seed had a better ATS record in the latter parts of the season. In fact, in 13 of the last 17 series of these seed types that went six or seven games, the better seed had an ever or better ATS record in the last 10 games time period. Watch out for Philadelphia in this scenario, as the 76ers won their final 10 games against the Vegas number. Also, both Chicago and Miami had better last 10 ATS records than Boston and New York. In the West, Sacramento was the only potential playoff qualifier that had a better last-10 record than its would-be first-round opponent.
  • The last 10 games outright records can also be an indicator of a #1-#8 or #2-#7 series that could go longer. In ten of the last 17 matchups of those seeds to go six games or longer, the worse seed had an equal or better record in the last 10 games of the regular season. Again, this could be an issue for New York against Philadelphia. The LA Lakers also enjoy this edge over Denver.
  • In 12 of the last 13 #4-5 and #3-6 series that ended in upsets (worse-seeded team winning), the teams had overall won-lost records within four games of one another. This is in play for all but the Minnesota-Phoenix series in the West for 2024.
  • There has been a significant benchmark in the success of the lower seeded team at 10 wins less than the opponent over the last 10 playoff years. If more than 10 regular season wins separate the teams, only Miami in 2023 has won a series, and the lesser seeds are averaging just 1.26 game wins per series, with eight sweeps in 32 series. Additionally, only four other teams pushed a series to seven games. For 2024, the Celtics and potentially Oklahoma City (should it face Sacramento) are the would-be qualifiers.
  • When 10 or fewer wins have separated the teams, the worse-seeded team won an average of 2.313 games per series, including 14 of those 48 series wins. Only six times did a team get swept, and only ten other times did it win just a single game. The #5-#7 seeds in both conferences would appear to have the potential to win at least two games in their respective series.
  • Only four of the last 27 playoff better seeds that won at least four more games against the spread in the regular season have lost a series. The 23 winning teams lost only 1.35 games per series as well. In essence, it is important that teams played well against the spread in the regular season. The Minnesota-Phoenix matchup is the only one that qualifies as of Thursday 4/18. However, an Oklahoma City-Sacramento would also meet the criteria.
  • Using the records from the second half of the season has also revealed quality underdogs. When the worse-seeded team had an equal or better record in the second half of the season, they won eight of the last 17 series while going 53-48 outright in games. This included series wins by the Knicks and Lakers last year. There are three “underdogs” that hold this edge for 2024: Indiana, Orlando, and Dallas.
  • Alternatively, when there was five games or better record in the second half of the season for the better seed, all but one of 35 won their series while going 137-42 SU. Furthermore, only one other of the 35 worse-seeded teams pushed the series to seven games. Of course, the lone winner in this trend was Miami in 2023. Boston will hold this edge over any of its first-round opponents, while OKC would own it over Sacramento. New York would have it over Philadelphia.
  • There is an interesting benchmark for worse-seeded teams at 48 wins (59%+) or more. Those that reach that regular season mark have gone 6-19 in series, and 63-84 (42.9%) in individual games over the last 10 postseasons. Those with 58% or less (47-35 in full season) are just 9-46 in series and 91-198 (31.5%) in individual games. All the potential first-round “underdogs” that won 48 games are in the West: New Orleans, LA Lakers, Dallas, and Phoenix.
  • Of the last 13 better seed sweeps, all 13 had better records in the second half of the season, only one had a worse record in the last 20 games, and only three won fewer of their last 10 games. According to this, Boston and Oklahoma City have the best chance at first-round sweeps, as they are the only teams with advantages over their opponents in all three varying time ranges.
  • Big favorites have held a significant edge – Since the start of the 2014 playoffs, NBA first-round favorites of 8.5 points or more are 83-13 SU and 57-39 ATS (59.4%).
  • Bigger road favorites are also a solid bet – Only 10 of the last 52 road favorites of 4.5 points or more have lost outright, going 42-10 SU and 34-17-1 ATS (66.7%).
  • First-round home favorites of 4 points or less have proven to be a bad investment lately, as over the last 10 playoff seasons, they are just 36-33 SU and 27-39-1 ATS (40.9%).
  • The last two NBA first-round playoffs saw 49 Unders, 37 Overs – (57%)
  • With the meteoric rise in scoring over the last few years in the NBA, it is interesting to note that in the lowest totaled first-round playoff games over the last five postseasons, 218 or less, Under the total is 53-31-3 (63.1%). In all games with totals above 218, Over the total is 68-55-2 (55.3%).
  • Home teams are a better wager when coming off a win in a series. Home teams coming off a win in the prior game of a series are 68-37 SU and 57-48 ATS (54.3%) since 2016. Those coming off a loss are 77-65 SU and 65-74-3 ATS (46.8%) in that same span. Naturally, the latter are often the lower-seeded team in a series, but this is a good indication of how momentum aids a team.
  • Blowout losses carry over – There is a bit of misconception when it comes to teams “bouncing back” from rough first-round losses. In fact, teams that lost their previous game by 10 points or more are just 72-130 SU and 85-114-3 ATS (42.7%) in the next contest since 2013. However, they were 11-7 ATS last year, including 8-1 ATS at home.
  • Heartbreaking losses have a galvanizing effect – Teams that lose close games, or those decided by 3-points or less, in the first round of the NBA playoffs have bounced back with a 37-12 SU and 33-14-2 ATS (70.2%) mark in the next game since 2014. In the line range of +5 to -5, these teams are on an amazing 23-5 SU and 20-6-2 ATS (83.3%) surge! Of note, only three of last season’s 43 first-round games were decided by 3 points or fewer.
  • Nearly three of every four home teams win the opening game. Home teams have gone 55-25 SU and 41-39 ATS (51.3%) over the last 11 seasons. However, they were just 4-4 SU and ATS in 2023.
  • Upsets occur in Game One with lines of -7.5 or less. Of the last 34 first-round Game Ones with home favorites of 8 points or more, there have only been six upsets. However, in Game Ones with home favorites of 7.5 points or less, hosts are only 22-19 SU and 19-22 ATS (46.3%) over the last 11 playoff seasons.
  • In the last four playoff seasons played at home courts, Game Ones have gone Under the total at a 21-11 (65.6%) rate.
  • Over the last four non-neutral playoff seasons, first-round Game Two hosts are on a 21-3 SU and ATS (81.3%) run! This includes a perfect 8-0 SU and ATS mark last year.
  • Opening game home winners are a solid Game Two bet. Contrary to popular “ying-and-yang” bettors’ beliefs, home teams that won in Game One of a first round series are 30-7 SU and 28-9 ATS (75.7%) since 2016.
  • Game Twos with double-digit home favorites have gone Under the total at a 14-3 (82.4%) clip since 2013, with only five of the visiting foes eclipsing 100 points.
  • First-round Game Three home teams are just 11-21 SU and 13-19 ATS (40.6%) since 2019. However, the 5-3 SU and 6-2 ATS performance in 2023 was their best in several years.
  • The better Game Three home teams are those coming off a win in Game Two. They are 9-9 SU and 8-10 ATS (44.4%) in their last 18 tries, while those that lost in Game Two are on a 9-17 SU and 11-15 ATS (42.3%) skid.
  • Game Three point spreads most often tell the story, as hosts of 4.5 points or more are on a 13-1 SU and 12-2 ATS (85.7%) stretch since 2013, while home dogs of 4.5 points or more are just 3-16 SU and 7-11-1 ATS (38.9%) in that same span.
  • Game Three home teams in the +4 to -4 line range are currently on a brutal skid of 7-17 SU and 6-17-1 ATS (26.1%) since 2017.
  • Game Four home teams in the +3 to -3 line range have fared well recently, going 19-9 SU and 19-8-1 ATS (70.4%) since 2013.
  • Game Four home underdogs of 3.5 points or more are just 9-26 SU and 12-22-1 ATS (35.3%) since 2013.
  • Teams down 0-3 in a first-round series are just 11-22 SU and 14-18-1 ATS (43.8%) in their last 33 Game Four tries.
  • Game Fives have belonged to the home teams over the last four non-neutral court playoff seasons, as they are 31-9 SU (just 20-20 ATS – 50%) since 2017.
  • Non-neutral Game Fives have been defensive focused of late, going 22-12 Under the total (64.7%) since 2018, with road teams putting up just 104.2 PPG.
  • Game Sixes are road domination. Road teams in NBA first-round Game Sixes are 26-13 SU & 29-10 ATS (74.4%) in the last 11 seasons. Defense is usually the key, as they are holding home teams to just 97.1 PPG, and have gone Under the total in 25 of those 39 contests (64.1%).
  • Road teams looking to close out a series in game 6 of the first round are 18-7 SU and ATS (72%) in their last 25 tries. Outright winners are 25-0 ATS in those games.
  • Game Sevens are usually competitive – Every fan loves a big Game Seven, and NBA fans should even more, as although the first-round Game Sevens have gone heavily to the favorites (13-4 SU), they are just 6-10-1 ATS (37.5%) in those 17 do-or-die contests.
  • #1 seeds are good bets when underrated – #1 seeds when in the small favorite (-2.5 or less) or underdog role are 9-7 SU & ATS (56.3%) since 2013 in the first round of the playoffs. They are also 11-5 Under the total (68.8%) in those games.
  • #1 seeds are 10-3 SU and 9-4 ATS (69.2%) in their last 13 first-round games when trailing in a series.
  • #1 seeds close out series… period. They are 19-3 SU and 15-7 ATS (68.2%) in their last 22 first-round playoff closeout tries. This is a big reason they haven’t been pushed to a Game Seven since 2014.
  • #2 seeds have been crazy good as bigger chalk. #2 seeded teams are on a strong run of 64-15 SU and 51-28 ATS (64.6%) when favored by 4.5 points or more.
  • #2 seeds start fast. #2 seeded teams are on a run of 35-7 SU and 28-14 ATS (66.7%) in the first two games of the first-round series over the last 11 years.
  • #2 seeds have also bounced back quickly from losses, 18-3 SU and 16-5 ATS (76.2%) in their last 21.
  • #3 seeds bounce back on the road after losses – Third-seeded teams are on a run of 11-4 SU and 12-3 ATS (80%) on the road after losing the prior game in a first-round series.
  • #4 seeds have been brutal in Games Three and Four, with a 14-30 SU and 16-27-1 ATS (37.2%) record in such games of their first-round series since 2013.
  • #4 seeds have tended to stack losses, as they are just 25-31 SU and 20-36 ATS (35.7%) since 2013 in same series games following a loss.
  • Big road favorites of 5 points or more looking to close out series are money, showing a record of 13-2 SU and 12-3 ATS (80%) since the start of the 2013 postseason.
  • Small favorites/underdogs closing out series have also been solid of late. Teams attempting to close out a series in a non-Game Seven scenario and playing as underdogs or favorites of 2 points or less are on an 11-5 SU and 12-4 ATS (75%) run in their last 16 tries.
  • Teams getting a second (or third) closeout opportunity after losing the prior chance are 22-10 SU but 11-19-2 ATS (36.7%) in their last 32 tries.
  • Success in NBA playoff first-round games comes with topping the 117-point mark, as teams that have scored 118 points or more are on a 99-27 SU and 98-28 ATS (77.8%) run over the last five postseasons.
  • In terms of points allowed, 99 points is the key benchmark. Teams that have allowed 98 points or fewer in the last five first-round playoff seasons are 71-10 SU and 68-11-2 ATS (86.1%).