By Adam Thompson | | 24 mins
Ultimate Guide to NBA Playoffs Betting 2020
We know the NBA is coming back. We’re not sure, exactly, what it’s going to look like. After nearly five months away, the 2019-20 NBA season resumes July 31 in Orlando. The 22 invited teams report to training camp on July 7 followed by eight regular-season games and a full NBA Playoffs.
Play was halted on March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19. The NBA went into lockdown, and every other major sport around the world eventually followed suit.
As play resumes, the NBA faces an unprecedented situation. How will teams respond following such a long mid-season layoff? Does it benefit younger teams, or veteran teams? Is there an edge for the top title contenders, or is a boost warranted for those on the fringe?
In terms of NBA betting, sports bettors have their own questions. Is there any reason to factor in a homecourt advantage? Should the points oddsmakers typically give to the home team be eliminated, or perhaps be doled out due to other factors? Does any team gain an edge in the pursuit of an NBA title under these conditions?
If there is one group that should benefit from the NBA’s return, it’s sports fans. With games all day and night, the compressed regular-season frenzy is going to resemble the opening weekend of March Madness. With only 22 teams eligible, every game will have playoff or seeding implications.
“This is going to be like AAU, where there’s nothing to do but hoop,” said Raja Bell, former eight-year NBA guard and now an analyst and podcast host for CBS Sports. “Everybody’s trapped in a bubble, so I think you’re going to get the best basketball we’ve ever seen.”
Bookies.com has broken down the reboot of the 2019-20 NBA season from a bettors’ perspective, offering NBA playoffs betting insight and how to approach the unknown, plus five NBA futures picks to look for before the ball tips at Disney World.
Homecourt Advantage: The X Factor
Playing in front of empty gyms is not the norm for NBA stars. They’re used to partisan crowds cheering for one side, jeering the other. The NBA plans to install the physical home court when teams play, adding a small slice of normalcy, and they may pump NBA 2K20 crowd noise into the gyms. But neither side is going to mistake it for true homecourt advantage.
No fans means no added juice for the home teams. The vibe in the arena is going to be a lot different for players accustomed to playing in front of 15,000 supporters each night.
NBA home teams win 62.7% of games, well above the 54% mark of MLB and 60% of the NFL. Bell says the loss of a home boost doesn’t necessarily give an edge to the road team. It gives an edge to the superior team.
“When you extract fans, you’re probably going to get the better team winning more often than not,” Bell told CBS HQ. “When you’ve got the fans pumped up and the home arena is jumping, there are times when the lower seed can really get some juice, start rolling and steal some games.”
“When it’s just you guys and the refs, you’re going to see more often than not, the better team win,” Bell said. “I don’t know about shipping the courts, if that makes a difference. The absence of the fans make it a truer test of basketball, making the better team more favored to win more often.”
While there isn’t much field study to break down how teams may fare in fan-less venues, the NBA does have experience in neutral site games. The Global Games series plays three international, regular-season games per year.
The last three seasons, there have been two games in Mexico City and one in Europe. Of those nine games, the favorites won seven of them straight-up.
When it comes to no fans, the closest example out there now is in the Bundesliga. Germany’s top soccer league resumed its season in May – through the first 24 games, only five home teams came away with victories. Road teams were often favored and the favorites emerged victorious. Away goals (excluding mighty Bayern Munich) increased by 30%.
Frenzied Regular Season End
The eight games leading up to the postseason will hold a lot of weight for some teams, but next to none for others. It can be tough to account for motivation.
Thirteen of the teams in Orlando have already clinched playoff spots. Coaches of the top contenders could ease their stars into playoff roles. With no homecourt advantage to fight for, they can put all their focus into getting ready for a Game 1.
“If you started the season back up and go right into the playoffs, guys need to get into the motion and swing of things of playing NBA games. Those eight games, you can get bodies back in shape, get team chemistry, get timing and speed of the game up. You have some games to play before the playoffs,” Bell said.
This is going to benefit teams that can use the break, teams that rely on players with heavy workloads. Usually going into the playoffs, guys are banged up and limping around. Guys might be fresher than normal.
Motivation may especially be an issue for the cream of the crop. Being stuck in Orlando could spark an initial “life isn’t fair” mindset for the Lakers and Bucks, teams that worked exceptionally hard to secure homecourt advantages, only to have them wiped away. We can still expect those teams to be very ready for the playoffs.
Strong Starters May Gain Edge
With such a long layoff, the opening Orlando games may more resemble the start of a season than the end of one. If that’s the case, several teams this season did great out of the gates, others did not.
The top teams through eight games of 2019-20 season: Bucks (7-1), Raptors (7-1), Nuggets (7-1), Celtics (6-2), Trail Blazers (6-2), Spurs (6-2). The worst teams to begin 2019-20: Wizards (1-7), Magic (2-6), Mavericks (2-6).
Depth A Key in Regular Season
As many teams use the opening eight games as tune-ups, depth may be a bigger factor than it is in the middle of a typical regular season.
That means more bench. According to NBA.com, 11 teams have depth considered “plus” – helpful to a team’s success. Ten of those teams will be in Orlando.
The Pacers have, far and away, the No. 1 bench rating in the league. The Bucks and Rockets are clear second and third, respectively. Other teams with solid depth according to the metrics include, in order, the Celtics, Clippers, Spurs, Nuggets, Nets, Jazz and Mavericks.
The bottom-three benches in Orlando: The Raptors, Pelicans and Kings. While New Orleans and Sacramento are playing for their playoff lives, Toronto is sitting pretty as the No. 2 team in the East.
Home/Away Splits a Key
Some teams dominate at home but struggle on the road, others actually average more points away from the pressures of home audience. When attempting to determine which teams may fare well on neutral sites, we can take away the major boosts they seem to have at home.
|Team||Home +/-||Road +/-||Difference|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+1.1||-2.8||+3.9|
Among teams considered the top contenders, the Lakers have had the best balance between home and road differential, perhaps meaning they’re less affected by a neutral court situation. But don’t discount the Bucks and their large differential. Their disparity is large, but they led the NBA in scoring differential at home and on the road.
However, beware of backing the Heat and 76ers, the two teams that have, by a wide margin, been better at home compared to away.
Key Players Healed Up
Several teams received a health boost that would not have been there had the season continued.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard wasn’t officially injured, but he also hadn’t played in a single back-to-back for L.A. this season, dealing with a pair of leg injuries. With both Leonard and Paul George on the court at the same time, the Clippers have been extraordinarily tough to beat.
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons was out indefinitely with a painful back injury when the season was stopped. An offseason’s worth of rest should allow the No. 2 man in Philly to get back on the court.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo had been dealing with knee soreness for the second half of the year and didn’t play in the Bucks’ final two games. He was likely to sit more to be rested for the postseason. He’s had all the time in the world to get to 100%.
Orlando Magic: The Magic get back two key pieces who were declared out for the season back in March. Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu each suffered knee injuries that had them missing 8-12 weeks. Their return bolsters the front-line depth and ensures Nikola Vucevic won’t have to do it all down low.
Portland Trail Blazers: Zach Collins played just three games, starting them all, before being shelved with a shoulder injury. He was expected to return in late March. So, too, was the Blazers’ best non-guard, Jusuf Nurkic, who shattered his leg in a gruesome injury the year prior. He averaged 15.6 ppg in 2018-19.
Wizards, Nets, Spurs out of luck: The Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets won’t get stars back from Achilles’ injuries as hoped. John Wall hasn’t played since tearing his Achilles’ in January of 2019, but he confirmed he won’t play in Orlando. There was hope Durant would return, but that appears to be no-go as well.
It was revealed in June that Spurs standout LaMarcus Aldridge had season-ending shoulder surgery on April 24. San Antonio, the No. 12 team in the West, is fighting to extend its 22-year playoff run. No team has ever qualified for the postseason 23 straight seasons.
Veteran Teams May Need Time
The theory is older teams may struggle early, as it takes some time to get accustomed to the new schedule. Veteran players have carefully crafted how and when they go about things in the season and offseason, and that’s all been thrown out. It may take longer for vet teams to bounce back. Is eight regular-season games enough?
However, Aiwazian believes veteran teams could actually see an early advantage in the season restart, as could players known for running hot most of the time, such as the Rockets’ Russell Westbrook or the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“The first matchups will likely be a mix of rustiness, nerves and high energy play as players will be excited to be back on the court. An adjustment period can be expected for players, and the teams with more experience may benefit from being able to keep calm in the initial chaos,” Aiwazian said. “There is no one-size-fits-all formula for handicapping the games in this format.”
Here are the three oldest rosters in the NBA, and not surprisingly, they include three of the top-four contenders:
Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James, 35, averages 35 minutes per game. But he’s the consummate pro and it’s hard to believe he won’t be raring to go when the ball tips. But there are four other regulars in the rotation age 32 or older.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks added a slew of veteran talent around reigning MVP Antetokounmpo, who is the huge favorite to repeat for the award averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.
Houston Rockets: The three players leading the team in minutes, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker, are all north of 30.
Few Young Teams to Consider
When it comes to the youngest teams, there isn’t much out there. All eight teams not invited to Orlando ranked among the nine youngest NBA teams.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies are the NBA’s youngest team, with an average age of 24. They’ll be in Florida for the restart, led by leading Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant and a pair of supporting standouts in Jaren Jackson and Brandon Clarke, who were each nursing injuries and should benefit from a long layoff.
Boston Celtics: The next-youngest team in the field? The Celtics, currently the No. 3 team in the East. The Celtics could have fresher legs than most teams and they’ll need them, with a bench that ranks only behind the Blazers as the least-productive, scoring-wise.
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Heavy Workloads Get Nice Break
Every team enters the NBA Playoffs with nagging injuries, but those that relied heavily on a few select players can feel the effects. Getting a three-month break before the stretch run is an unexpected luxury that could boost starter-heavy teams. Of the 10 players averaging the most minutes in the 2019-20 season, seven of them were from three teams.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers are on the outside looking in for the eighth spot in the West. But this break could be big. Portland’s star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum each average 36-plus minutes. Lillard is at 36.9 mpg, the most in the NBA.
Houston Rockets: We all realize the Rockets rely on their big 1-2 punch of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Minutes played prove it to be true. Harden (36.7) ranks second to Lillard, Westbrook (35.9) is seventh.
Toronto Raptors: Possibly a surprise among the trio of teams, the Raptors are the only team with three players averaging such massive minutes. Kyle Lowry (36.6), Fred VanVleet (35.8) and Pascal Siakam (35.5) might benefit more than any other squad.
Offense Wins Championships
There used to be a time when superior defense trumped high-scoring offense. But that hasn’t been the trend in the last eight years. Of the last 16 teams to advance to the NBA Finals, only six had defenses in the top 10.
However, each of the last eight NBA champions has ranked in the top eight in regular-season scoring average. Eight of the last nine NBA Finals runners-up have ranked in the top eight.
In all, only one team in the last eight years has even made the NBA Finals without a top-eight defense – the Heat ranked 12th in 2013-14, losing to the Spurs in the finals (who were ranked sixth in scoring).
All eight teams currently ranked in the top eight in scoring will be in Orlando.
The Wizards are there but are fringe at best. That leaves seven other teams with the offense to push through four playoffs rounds. Six of them reside in the Western Conference in the Rockets, Mavericks, Pelicans, Clippers, Lakers and Trail Blazers. The only Eastern team in the mix: the Bucks, who rank No. 1 in scoring (118.6 ppg).
The only NBA title-winning team in the last 10 years with a defense outside the top 10 was the Golden State Warriors – they ranked 15th, 11th and 18th in their three recent championships but had an overwhelming No. 1 offense.
Only two teams this season rank in the top eight in scoring and top 10 in defense: The Bucks and Lakers.
Defense Optional for Runners-Up
While recent champions have been great at offense and good enough at defense, the eventual runner-up has reached the NBA Finals led by a great offense, but suspect defense.
The last four NBA second-place teams each had defenses ranked 16th or worse.
What does it all mean? It means no other team has the total package to stop the Bucks in the Eastern Conference. It also means the Lakers are a worthy favorite in the West, but there are a number of teams that could get hot and pull off a shocker.
How to Use Info for Bets
Unibet, one of the premier sportsbook operators in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Canada and all of Europe, said setting the line for these NBA games will still be done “on an individual basis and a statistical based approach,” but added there are other unique factors in play.
“The dynamic of the game undoubtedly changes, affecting the process of creating the odds and spreads for matchups,” said Jonathan Aiwazian, Unibet VP of Sportsbook. “The elimination of home court advantage is the main difference under the plan, but there are also other factors that will affect the games and the way the odds are created.”
There are several unique angles for the bettor to consider when it comes to picking a side at sportsbooks.
There Is No Home: Legendary sports prognosticator Jeff Sagarin says NBA home arenas are worth 2.33 points on average to the betting odds. But that goes completely away in Orlando, even with a physical home court and video game crowd noise pumped in.
“Assuming the games are all played in Orlando with no fans, I'd make each game a neutral court,” Sagarin said. “Zero home edge.”
Take Regular Season Underdogs: The teams at the bottom are playing for everything. The teams at the top are just trying to get ready for the playoffs. Those clawing their way will play their starters more, will push to win more, and will likely be the underdogs at tipoff. The best way to add motivation into the equation is to give a boost to teams that really need wins vs. those that don’t.
Most of those “must win” teams will be underdogs. In the last nine Global Games with neutral sites, underdogs went 5-3-1 ATS. Perhaps instead of giving a small bump to home teams, give it to teams in must-win spots when playing teams with nothing on the line. Pick your spots, but pick more underdogs than you might in a typical NBA evening in February.
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Lean Under: Scoring is ascending to uncharted heights in the NBA. The 111.4 ppg per team in 2019-20 is the highest mark in 50 years, and 15 ppg more per team than just seven years ago. It’s risen every year since 2011-12, when the average was only 96.3.
The numbers may dip after this long layoff, and at neutral sites. Over the last three years, neutral-site Global Games matchups have hit the Under in six out of nine matchups, averaging just 206 ppg. The average ppg for an NBA game the last three seasons is nearly 13 points higher than that.
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Top 5 NBA Playoffs 2020 Futures Bets
Bucks – Win Eastern Conference (-165 at BetMGM)
These odds are low, but the Bucks have simply been dominant vs. the East. They’ve been dominant against everyone, ranking No. 1 in the NBA in scoring and No. 5 in defense, with the highest point differential in both home games and away games.
They’ve had success against their top East challengers. The Bucks handled the No. 2-seeded Raptors twice and rebounded from a Christmas Day loss at Philadelphia by rolling the 76ers by double figures in two rematches. They lost by 11 at Boston in October, but Milwaukee epically blew a 19-point lead. They rolled the Celtics in the rematch despite 40 points from Kemba Walker.
It doesn’t matter where the games are going to be played. The Bucks are the class of the East.
Bucks – Win NBA Title (+275 at Caesars)
It would be a surprise if the Bucks didn’t get to the NBA Finals. It would be less of a surprise if they came up short in the Finals, but it’s simply been a magical season in Milwaukee, exuding dominance both home and away. They were chasing a 70-win season before the stoppage. Against the West’s elite, they were 4-1 vs. the Lakers, Clippers and Rockets.
Milwaukee was a modest 5-3 without MVP Antetokounmpo, but if he remains healthy the Bucks should be, at worst, a co-favorite for the crown.
Lakers – Win NBA Title (+275 with PointsBet)
Age might be a concern for L.A., but the break came at a good time, and LeBron is LeBron – he led his team to eight-straight NBA Finals before an injury-plagued 2018-19. The Lakers were only 1-2 vs. the Clippers, but the win came right before the stoppage, and the two defeats were in the season opener and on Christmas. Against the other top West contenders they’re 7-3, the best of any team.
The Lakers and Bucks are the only teams with a top-eight offense and top-10 defense, a strong trait among recent past NBA champions.
Rockets – Win Western Conference (+700 with Unibet)
Among the non-Los Angeles teams, the Rockets did the best against the top of the West. Houston was a combined 5-4 vs. the Mavericks, Nuggets and Jazz and its 3-3 mark vs. the Lakers and Clippers is also tops among the group. This break came at a great time for aging Rockets.
Trail Blazers – Win Western Conference (+15000 at FOXBet)
Looking for your mega-longshot? Here it is. The Blazers aren’t even in the top 8 of the West, but they benefited greatly from the long break. Banged-up duo Lillard and McCollum are back to 100%, and post standouts Nurkic and Collins return from injury to give Hassan Whiteside help in the paint. Carmelo Anthony should be motivated for a final run, as well.
On paper, this team is arguably better than last year’s squad that advanced to the Western Conference finals. If they come to Orlando with the right mindset and find their form early – as they did to begin 2019-20 – they can get into the playoffs and make a lasting impression.
What Kind Of NBA Playoffs Bets Can I Make?
Individual Game Betting
Moneyline: Betting on the moneyline involves a straight-up wager on the outcome of the game. Unlike with a betting line, you’re picking which team wins the game. Odds are adjusted to add more risk to siding with the favorite and more reward backing the underdog.
Point Spread: Point spreads even the gap between the favorite and the underdog of a game, making the odds even for both side. If the favored Los Angeles Lakers played host to the New York Knicks, for example, sportsbooks would put a point spread on the game, giving the underdog Knicks points to help even the odds.
Over/Under: This involves the total amount of points in a game projected by the sportsbooks. If the Rockets and Bulls face each other, the Over/Under might be 211.5 points. Your choices, at similar odds, are Over or Under that total.
Prop Bets: Prop bets involve events in the game, but not the outcome of the game. With the exception of point spread, total and moneyline, most other bets in a game are considered prop bets. For example, instead of betting on which team covers the spread in the 76ers at Celtics game, a prop bet to back might be “How many points will Joel Embiid score?” The options in this case would be either Over or Under the posted total. Prop bets are especially popular for NBA games.
Series Winner: This NBA futures bet involves a full playoff series between two teams, and thus has just two options. If the Bucks and Magic meet in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs, the winner is the team that advances to the next round. Odds are skewed with the favorite and underdog in mind, similar to moneyline bets, but will adjust throughout a series based on the results.
Conference Winner: This pick is for which team from the Western Conference or Eastern Conference advances to the NBA Finals. They, too, will adjust throughout the playoffs based on how individual series are going.
NBA Championship: Fairly self-explanatory, you’re picking which team wins it all. NBA title odds differ dramatically, as several teams are often strong favorites and others are massive underdogs. Lines can fluctuate through the season, and bets on most futures can be placed from the off-season, through the regular season and even during the playoffs.
Other Bets: Futures bets aren’t only about team success. NBA player futures are a huge draw. Examples include NBA Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man Award and Most Improved Player. Many of these bets can be made through most of the calendar year.
Note: All images via USA Today except for Bundesliga (PA Images)
NBA Playoffs Betting FAQs
When Do The NBA Playoffs Start?
The 2020 NBA Playoffs begin Aug. 16-17 with a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed. The first round begins Aug. 18, with the second round slated to start on Sept. 1, the conference finals Sept. 15 and Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Sept. 30. If there is a Game 7, it would be played Oct. 7. In a typical NBA season, the NBA Playoffs begin in mid-April, with the NBA Finals taking place in June.
How Many Teams Make The NBA Playoffs?
The NBA Playoffs feature 16 of the 30 teams in the league. Eight teams from the Western Conference and eight from the Eastern Conference advance.
What Is The Format For the 2020 NBA Playoffs?
The 2020 NBA Playoffs have a similar 16-team tournament than past years, but this season also includes play-in games to determine the No. 8 seeds in the field, if the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8. The No. 8 seed qualifies for the postseason with a win over No. 9, while the No. 9 needs to beat No. 8 twice to move on. All rounds are best-of-7.
Where Will The 2020 NBA Playoffs Take Place?
All remaining games in the 2020 NBA regular season and 2020 NBA Playoffs will be played in the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Where Can I Watch The NBA Playoffs?
All NBA Playoff games will be available on ESPN, TNT or NBA TV, with some games broadcast on ABC.
How Can I Bet On The NBA Playoffs Online?
Yes, if you are in a state with legal sports betting. Every game in the NBA Playoffs will be available for wagering, featuring moneyline, Over/Under and point spread bets, plus props. Whatever the wager, Bookies.com has you covered with a variety of markets and some of the best expert picks out there – all for free. Bookies.com only recommends the top betting sites, so there is no worry about which of the many available options are legitimate.