The parity found in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and MLB Playoffs, and to a lesser extent the NFL Playoffs, is far less common than the NBA Playoffs.
In a league dominated by top-tiered talent, where individuals have far more impact, the best teams win more times than not. First-round upsets are rare and regular-season success correlates to success in the postseason.
From 2010 to 2018, favorites were 527-222 in the postseason, a combined winning percentage of 70.3%. That’s equivalent to a 58-win regular season.
Those favorites covered, too. In that same span, favorites covered more times than not in each of the four rounds, combining to go 393-342-14, a win percentage of 53.4%, meaning betting the favorites has made bettors money the past nine NBA Playoffs.
2019 was pegged as a top-heavy postseason, with three teams in the East that barely got to .500 and perennial, experienced powerhouses leading the way in the West. The first round was essentially a breeze. Favorites covered a whopping 60.7% of the time and only two series went past five games.
The second round saw a shake-up, with favorites covering just 40 percent of the time, but the respective conference finals have both those numbers trending toward what we’ve seen in the past. And if past NBA Finals are any indications, the favorites will also perform well there.
NBA Playoff 2019 Betting Trends
|1||25-16-1 (61%)||17-24-1 (42%)||32-10 (73%)|
|2||10-15 (40%)||13-12 (52%)||14-11 (56%)|
|3||4-3-1 (56%)||5-3 (63%)||6-2 (75%)|
|Total||39-34-2 (53%)||35-39-1 (47%)||52-23 (69%)|
2019 NBA Playoffs Betting Breakdown
Three teams went into Game 1 as road underdogs and won straight-up in the first round, leading some to believe we were in for a much closer playoffs than anticipated. But that didn’t last long.
After those three Game 1 upsets, favorites were dominant in eight matchups that weren’t all that close on paper.
Perhaps it was the number of teams who rested star players during the regular season so they were ready to roll in the playoffs, but the favorites owned the first round. They covered nearly 61% of the 42 games, the second highest mark of the last 10 postseasons.
Chaotic Second Round for Bettors
Whereas the first round was bound to be a snoozer, the second round was pegged as one of the more intriguing in recent memory.
That was fun for viewers, who saw a pair of seven-game series and another in Houston-Golden State that had the intensity of an NBA Finals series.
Seven of the eight teams playing in Round 2 were .500 or better against the spread as underdogs and those same seven teams were all in top-10 in straight-up win percentage as underdogs.
Games got closer and, thus, fewer points were scored in a much tighter round compared to the blowouts in Round 1.
Conference Finals Trends More in Line
Balance has been restored in the conference finals after a wild conference semifinals. The final four teams remaining – Milwaukee, Toronto, Golden State, Portland – were second through fifth in home win percentage in the regular season.
Golden State’s embarrassment of riches made them favorites in their Game 4 closeout of the Trail Blazers, while favorites have held serve in the East through three games before Toronto took Game 4 as a home underdog.
NBA Playoff Historical Betting Trends
For the period from 2010-2018:
|1||205-185-11 (53%)||183-214-4 (46%)||294-107 (73%)|
|2||103-88-2 (54%)||109-81-3 (56%)||132-61 (68%)|
|3||56-47 (64%)||51-50-2 (50%)||67-36 (65%)|
|4||29-22-1 (57%)||24-25-3 (49%)||34-18 (65%)|
|Total||393-342-14 (53%)||367-370-12 (49.8%)||527-222 (70%)|
NBA Betting Trends Explained
Perhaps there isn’t as much parity in the league since the Miami Heat formed the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Super-teams are popping up left and right, owners are dipping into the Luxury Tax to put the best talent possible together, and more teams are tanking for better NBA Draft Lottery odds.
The result has been favorites dominating the first round. Consider that from 2010 to 2014, favorites in Round 1 were 106-113-8 against the spread, a winning percentage of 48.4%. From 2015 to 2019, also a five-year span, favorites in Round 1 are 124-88-4, a 58.3% clip.
Teams are becoming smarter at resting players during the regular season, unearthing talent from the G-League to act as role players and understanding the value of finishing off opponents early to gain additional rest before the next round.
NBA Over/Under Betting Trends
The over success rate in the respective conference finals has hovered around 50 percent the last 10 NBA seasons. Between 2010 and 2018, the over went 50-51-2. But that stretch also includes a 2018 season where the under hit in 11 of 14 games.
The Celtics and Cavs, and the Rockets and Warriors, all clamped down and turned in impressive defensive performances. If we remove that season, the over win percentage becomes 55.0%, or 49-38-2.
In the other years of data, the over has hit more than half the time in the conference finals four of six times (the over was .500 in both 2010 and 2011). Offense reigns supreme the farther teams go into the postseason.
The best teams win at home, and the best teams win championships. The Warriors may have had something to do with this trend, but hear us out. From 2010 to 2018, favorites in the NBA Finals are 29-22-1, a 56.7% winning percentage. It’s pretty consistent, too.
NBA ATS Betting Trends
Given that there can only be seven games in any one year’s sample size, the favorite has covered more times than they haven’t in seven of the past nine NBA Finals. The exceptions were in 2011 (favorites were 1-4-1) and 2014 (favorites were 2-3). In those seven seasons? Favorites were a remarkable 26-15, a 63.4% clip.
The second round has been much closer than the first round against the spread the last 10 seasons. But favorites are still hitting at a 53.9% clip over that span. But maybe that trend is beginning to shift. From 2010 to 2013 it was all favorites, all the time. They went 50-32-2 against the spread. That 60.7% winning percentage is much higher than favorites’ record from 2014 to 2019.
In those past six seasons, they’re just 63-71. There’s less parity in the league, but maybe that means there are more teams at the top who meet earlier in the postseason than before.
Why the Disparity in Betting Trends
Teams may take a while to get going in the postseason. For whatever reason, unders hit far more often in Round 1 than any other round in the 10 years of data we looked at. In fact, it hasn’t been close. In Round 1, the under hits 54.2% of the time. That includes a 2014 season in which the under hit just 18 of 50 times in Round 1.
Maybe oddsmakers set the totals too high at the outset of the postseason before teams reveal how they’re going to play, or that there’s a feeling-out process for both teams that results in fewer points.
Whatever the reason, unders in Round 1 have been a safe bet, hitting at or above 50 percent of the time in eight of the 10 seasons we analyzed.