What Does NBA History Say About Postseason Betting?


Take a deep breathe, NBA bettors. It’s been a wild playoff ride, hasn’t it?

After just a few weeks of postseason basketball, the NBA landscape flipped upside down with the amount of nail-biting finishes, crazy plays and unforgettable playoff upsets. Every remaining teams’ odds to win the NBA Finals changes by the day. Get your bets in now!

(Note: speaking of upsets, can we give a quick moment of silence to Memphis and Milwaukee real quick?)

And, speaking of Milwaukee, Miami pulled off one of the most improbable playoff upsets by NBA standards. The 2023 Bucks — according to — became the third team ever since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-1977 to lose in the first round as a conference one seed and pre-postseason title favorite. The rest of the list isn’t pretty: the ’07 Mavs and the ’94 Sonics.

Talk about making history for all the wrong reasons. The Heat entered the series versus the Bucks as +750 to win, making it the fifth-longest outcome in an upset since the 1976-1977 season.

Even moving away from that series, however, top seeds struggled in this year’s playoffs. Memphis flamed out in embarrassing fashion in Game 6 versus the L.A. Lakers, the Cavs fell off a planet versus the Knicks and Sacramento nearly diced up Golden State’s championship-repeat hopes in the first round.

Clearly, this postseason remains a wild one. But history says a lot about how to bet in the NBA postseason (and equally as important: what not to do).

Here are some tips to keep in mind as the NBA postseason continues.

Superstar power matters

For starters, title contention compares to a pizza pie. How much of a slice do you have? Does your franchise possess a legitimate MVP candidate, or a collection of fringe All-NBA selections?

The biggest takeaway: each team possesses 240 minutes of on-court playing time. Rotations are reduced, intensity ramps up, and the pressure builds. When in doubt, avoid betting against a team in a series with the best player.

Look back at all the NBA champions since the 1999-2000 season. With the exception of the 2003-04 Pistons and maybe the 2010-11 Mavs, nearly every team possessed an MVP, an MVP-like player or someone within that ballpark of stardom.

By that list alone, focus your championship bets on teams who possess that caliber of player. Your best odds as of today are clearly Denver, who own a commanding 2-0 lead over Phoenix with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic continuing to dominate. Even with questionable depth, don’t count out LeBron and Anthony Davis— who’s looking more and more like a top-ten player as the postseason continues.

Don’t ignore the two-way numbers

The past decade’s worth of NBA champions (mostly) ranked top-ten in both offensive and defensive rating. If you’re focusing on championship outlook, owning a superstar-quality player with a two-way team tends to end up as the league champion.

The exceptions: Golden State ranked 17th in offensive rating in 2022 (note: Curry dealt with injury in the back-half of that season). The 2020 Lakers (11th in offensive rating) fell just outside the top-ten mark, and ditto for the 2018 Warriors who ranked 11th in defensive rating. In other words, a team needs to rank solidly in the top-ten or as close as possible.

As of now, only Boston and Philly ranked top-ten in both metrics this regular season. The Knicks, Nuggets and Warriors all placed top-ten in offensive rating but fell short on defense, while teams like the Heat and Suns excelled defensively but lacked enough offensive firepower.

Of course, looking at a team over the course of the postseason matters too. Miami ranks second in offensive rating partly due to their smoking-hot shooting from three. Denver’s defensive allowed it to hold the Kevin Durant and Devin Booker-led Suns to an offensive dud in Game 2. A team can improve on its weaknesses during the playoffs, especially with how fast shooting percentages can move up and down.

Find confidence in the eight-man rotation

Yes, possessing a franchise cornerstone with a playoff resume matters, but beware of banking solely on that.

The playoffs ultimately come down to opting for the franchise who knows their identity. Even with their legitimate holes, the Lakers know who they are. Ditto for the Nuggets and Celtics. On the flip side, look to Cleveland as a team who could barely put out a five-man rotation.

Phoenix represents another great example this postseason: loaded with top-end talent, but lacking in the bench rotation category.

Beware of the injury bug

On a similar note, try to avoid betting on teams with rosters who possess an injury-plagued star. Chris Paul and Joel Embiid are the obvious examples to point to. Durability, both with a player’s resume and looking at how a player can handle a month-plus worth of competitive postseason basketball, is an important must to watch for. Keep tabs with the latest NBA injury rumors to make your best bets.

Don’t overlook pace and postseason context

As our friends at explains, don’t overthink it:

“Nevertheless, stay calm and rational when conducting your NBA betting or any other kind of sports betting. You may have heard a story or two about someone betting everything on an underdog team and seeing a big win from it, but the odds simply aren’t there.”

Besides offensive and defensive ratings, adapting to pace remains another indicator for postseason success. Transition points are limited and half-court possessions become more common. At the end of the day, teams who possess skilled offensive creators are hard to bet against.

Especially for over/under total points bets, I recommend usually taking the under. Shot selection becomes increasingly difficult over the course of a series. Why?

  1. Teams adapt defensively over the course of a series.
  2. Pace tends to slow down in the playoffs.
  3. Fastbreak opportunities and turnovers tend to decline in the postseason.
  4. Half-court possessions tend to increase.
  5. Intensity usually leads to sloppy play.

The other tip: bet on the earlier side. You can find great value betting on a game or series before the line adjusts. The Lakers leaned more as underdogs before their Game 1 win over the Warriors. Now, it’s a 50-50 series and the odds possess less value.

Best of luck to all the NBA bettors out there.

About Dominic Chiappone

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