The Blueprint: How to Bet on the NBA Playoffs

Joe Osborne
It’s playoff time, and if you’re a hoops head who surrounds yourself with other hoops heads, you’ve likely heard remarks such as, “Can we just fast-forward to Warriors vs Cavs?” Hopefully, your response was to dismiss the question and eliminate this person from your life, because there’s a gold mine of money to be won on the way to the Finals, and I’m here to hook you up with some tips on how to do it. I was prompted to write this article when I discovered the zigzag theory which is a handicapping strategy based on the idea that each game in a playoff series is affected by the result of the pr

It’s playoff time, and if you’re a hoops head who surrounds yourself with other hoops heads, you’ve likely heard remarks such as, “Can we just fast-forward to Warriors vs Cavs?” Hopefully, your response was to dismiss the question and eliminate this person from your life, because there’s a gold mine of money to be won on the way to the Finals, and I’m here to hook you up with some tips on how to do it.

I was prompted to write this article when I discovered the zigzag theory which is a handicapping strategy based on the idea that each game in a playoff series is affected by the result of the previous game. From there, I dug up some numbers from previous seasons that support the theory and the revelation opened a can of worms that led to multiple stats requests for our data science team, which uncovered information that could be very useful for bettors both before and during the playoffs.

Let’s get to it. This is The Blueprint: How to Bet During the NBA Playoffs

Did I upset you? I won’t do it again

Pay very close attention to what happens in the first game of a series, especially if the home team loses. Since 2003, home teams who lose Game 1 have gone 49-10 in Game 2, good enough for an 83.1 win percentage. This makes home teams in this spot an excellent moneyline option in the second game of a series.

Also, road teams are unlikely to earn a series split unless they win the opening game of a series. During that same span since 2003, road teams who lose Game 1 went just 40-111 in Game 2. So basically, either way it shakes out, home teams are money on the moneyline in Game 2 of a series. If using this strategy, just be sure to monitor player injuries.

Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures

We all perform differently when put in a desperate situation. Some of us fall flat on our faces and bring great shame on ourselves and our families, while others are able to rise above adversity and humiliate anything standing in our way. In the case of the NBA playoffs, teams who are desperate might also offer excellent underdog value for bettors and this is a spot to be on the lookout for, especially when a lower-seeded team goes down 0-2 in a series.

Higher-seeded teams who are up 2-0 in a series have gone just 48-63 (43.2%) in Game 3s since 2003. This makes the lower-seeded team — likely an underdog — worth a look on a moneyline bet and especially on the spread. I usually prefer to promote more lopsided win percentages, especially for straight-up results, but since this one favors the probable plus-money side, it’s a useful number to keep in mind.

That’s Just the Way it is

If you are placing a Finals futures bet, don’t bother betting on any seed that isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2. This means don’t even think of placing a bet on anyone other than the Warriors, Spurs, Celtics or Cavaliers. Teams outside of those four obviously offer juicier odds, but history isn’t on their side. A No. 1 seed has won the title in four straight years, with the last non-No. 1 seed to win the title being the No. 2-seeded Miami Heat in 2012. With the lack of parity the NBA offers in the ‘Super Team’ era, look for this trend to continue and don’t expect any major upsets.

Other advice to follow for Finals futures betting is to place your bets before the playoffs begin. Using the Cavaliers as an example, they entered the playoffs last year with odds of +400 to win the whole damn thing and saw their odds improve right up until the NBA Finals. It will likely be the same case this year, as their value will shrink with each passing win, so get those bets in now.

My Finals PickWarriors over Cavaliers. Really going out on a limb, I know, but the Warriors are absolutely buzzing right now with wins in 15 of their last 16 games and should peak during the playoffs once Kevin Durant works out any kinks after missing 19 games due to injury.