Upcoming Match-ups

NBA Playoffs Betting: Expert Tips to Win Big

Updated February 2nd, 2021
Published July 30, 2019
  • Some bets are only available during the NBA playoffs
  • There are unique considerations to make when handicapping teams in the playoffs
  • The NBA Finals are a distinctly advantageous time to bet against the public

Betting on the NBA playoffs provides endless entertainment for basketball fans and dedicated sports bettors alike. As the culmination of one of the longest seasons in professional sports, the NBA post-season generates a great deal of fanfare and public conversation. From the first round all the way through to the NBA Finals, the best-of-seven elimination format provides uniquely valuable opportunities for bettors with the right NBA playoff betting strategy.

Follow this comprehensive guide for expert advice on how to bet the NBA playoffs. We’ll break down the type of bets you can make during the NBA post-season and share tips n’ tricks that will help you formulate the best strategy for betting on the NBA Championships.

Bets Available During the NBA Playoffs

Online betting options during the NBA Playoffs are extensive. Sports bettors can get in on the action with:

  • Bets on individual games (moneylines, spreads, totals)
  • Bets on NBA Playoff series outcomes
  • Futures bets on the Conference Championships and NBA Championships
  • Bets on individual player performances and awards
  • In-game wagers and other proposition bets

We’ll cover each of these in the sections below.

Bet on Individual Games

Those who bet on the NBA throughout the regular season will be pleased to find that they can continue to place the same type of bets they’re familiar with during the post-season. Individual games offer bettors familiar options such as selecting the winner of the game straight-up (moneyline), betting on how much they’ll win by (point spread), or taking an over/under wager on the combined score of both teams at game’s end (totals).

Curious about the differences between these bets and looking for an overview of basic strategic considerations for each? Explore our guides covering the basics of NBA betting and how to bet on NBA basketball like a pro.

Bet on NBA Playoff Series Outcomes

The NBA playoffs are organized into four rounds: The Opening Round, Conference Semi-Finals, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Championships, and finally the NBA Championships.

Each of these series provides betting opportunities not available throughout the regular season. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options:

  1. Pick the Series Winner
    1. Perhaps the simplest of NBA playoff wagers: pick the team you expect to win a given series outright. If they win the series and advance in the playoffs, you win your bet and advance your bankroll to enjoy more action on later rounds!
  2. Estimate the Series Score
    1. This line asks you to bet on the exact series result by picking the number of games each team will win throughout the series.
    2. Remember that each NBA playoff series is a best-of-seven format. In a (not-so) hypothetical match-up between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors in which you favored Toronto, you could wager on following outcomes: TOR 4 – GSW 0, TOR 4 – GSW 1, TOR 4 – GSW 2, TOR 4 – GSW 3.
  3. Estimate the Series Games Total
    1. This is also a straightforward bet to understand: simply determine how many games will be played in any given series overall (4, 5, 6, or 7). Most sportsbooks allow you to bet on a specific number or take an over-under on their best guess.
    2. These bets pair nicely with Series Score bets. If you’re confident enough to wager your hard-earned dollars on the fact that Toronto will beat Golden State 4 – 2, it might be worth considering also placing a separate bet on the series wrapping up in six games. Note that such closely related events typically cannot be parlayed.

Pick the NBA Conference Champions or NBA Champion

Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy

Humans in general–and sports bettors in particular–love to predict the future. No doubt, we all know that one friend who began speculating about next year’s NBA Champion mere minutes after the Los Angeles Lakers took the 2020 title in Game 6. Futures bets provide an intriguing opportunity to capitalize on such predictions, and the NBA playoffs include chances to bet on both conference champions and the overall NBA champion.

Most sportsbooks will open these futures lines well in advance of the playoffs, but it’s not too late to get in on the action even as the playoffs come to a close. That said, it’s worth noting that betting odds become increasingly less favorable as the event in question draws near, so placing your futures wagers early is more likely to lead to a higher payout.

Bet on Individual Player Performances

Popularized by the NFL’s Super Bowl, prop bets offer an intriguing alternative to betting on the outcome of a game, series, or championship. Star players are more influential in basketball compared with most other major sports, and many players turn on their best performances during the post-season. This reality makes the NBA playoffs an especially exciting time to wager on individual performances.

Common NBA prop bets include things like selecting the NBA Finals MVP, the player with the most assists in a series, the player with the most rebounds in a series, and the player to score the most points in a series. The possibilities are endless and don’t necessarily even have to do with the game itself. Think: “What color shirt will Drake wear to Game 3?”

Drake T-Shirt Changing Color

The key to enjoying prop bets is shopping around at online sportsbooks for an interesting angle on the game or series that makes it more interesting to watch and provides some value on the line. For more helpful insights on individual awards, check out our guide covering how to bet on the NBA basketball awards.

Live Betting During the NBA Playoffs

The popularity of the modern NBA ensures that most online betting sites have live betting options all season long, but the added importance of playoffs games means there are even more in-play wagering opportunities during the post-season. Live betting is fast and exciting, but keep in mind that the odds change frequently, so you’ll need to act quickly when you see a line you like.

NBA Playoff Betting Strategies

Formulating the best NBA playoff betting strategy doesn’t need to be complicated. The key to success is investing the time to perform detailed research about each team’s strengths and weaknesses and placing this information into the context of the game or series at hand.

That said, there are a few strategic considerations unique to the NBA playoffs.

Home Court Advantage

Home court advantage is widely recognized as a very significant factor in basketball. And while our research suggests home court advantage matters more in NCAA basketball, it remains a hugely relevant consideration when betting on the NBA playoffs. Home teams consistently win more than 60 percent of their regular-season home games, and this trend continues in the post-season with home teams winning nearly 65% of the time.

In the NBA playoffs, home-court advantage is determined in a 2-2-1-1-1 format wherein the higher-seeded team (as determined by regular season win-loss record) plays at home first. This structure gives the theoretically stronger team a leg up out of the gate, and sportsbooks are likely to favor them heavily in Games 1 and 2.

Home Court Advantage by Game

Game # Home Court Advantage
1 Favorite
2 Favorite
3 Underdog
4 Underdog
5 Favorite
6 Underdog
7 Favorite

When performing your analysis of an NBA playoff match-up, remember that other bettors and online sportsbooks are placing a great deal of faith in this one factor. You’ll need to decide for yourself how relevant you think it will be, particularly if you think the underdog has a good chance of winning on the road.

Whether it’s the altitude or the electric atmosphere, certain courts seem to provide their teams even more of an advantage. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest home-court advantages in the NBA:

Biggest Home Court Advantages in the NBA

Team Stadium Conference
Denver Nuggets Ball Arena Western
Utah Jazz Vivint Smart Home Arena Western
Golden State Warriors Chase Center Western
Sacramento Kings Golden 1 Center Western
Portland Trail Blazers Moda Center Western
San Antonio Spurs AT&T Center Western
Charlotte Hornets Spectrum Center Eastern
Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Arena Western
Atlanta Hawks State Farm Arena Eastern
Indiana Pacers Bankers Life Fieldhouse Eastern

Are you skeptical of the influence of home-court advantage? Let’s take a quick look at one betting strategy developed specifically to exploit the tendency of the public and oddsmakers to weigh it so heavily.

The Zig-Zag Theory: Does it Work?

Anyone who has watched the NBA or NHL playoffs knows that momentum can frequently shift over a best-of-seven series, especially with each player so emotionally invested in the outcome. The zig-zag theory places a great deal of weight on this shifting momentum, suggesting that each game is heavily influenced by the outcome of the game immediately before it.

The theory advocates betting on the team that lost the previous game, as statistical analysis suggests they are more likely than not to rebound and win following a loss. The influence of desperation and desire to survive is often undervalued by sports betting sites and other bettors, who tend to focus on more concrete factors like home-court advantage. The public also tends to overreact to a single game loss, further swaying the line in favor of the previous winner.

So, does the zig-zag theory work? To see for yourself, check out the situational examples in our guide to understanding how the zig-zag theory affects sports bets.

Bet Against Public Opinion

The players aren’t the only ones more invested in the playoffs. Because of the intense fanfare that occurs in the lead-up to the NBA Championships, the betting landscape is very different from that of the regular season.

Thanks to a massive infusion of square bettors who don’t follow basketball closely and don’t have a clue how to evaluate odds, the NBA playoffs present particularly ripe opportunities to bet against the public.

Pay attention to public sentiment and media coverage. How might it sway uninformed bettors to take a side not supported by an analysis of each team’s relative strengths and weaknesses? Are trendy underdogs receiving more credit than they’re worth? Are historically successful franchises as strong as the pundits suggest?

Explore popular basketball betting sites to find the lines that have been manipulated by public sentiment and focus on the facts, not the feeling. With a bit of research, it’s easy to find value fading the public.

Who Can Go The Distance?

There’s a huge difference between facing an opponent once and playing against them multiple times in a single week. Teams gain a deeper understanding of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses throughout a playoff series, and competitive teams need to both adapt accordingly and possess the stamina to maintain their efforts over a drawn-out series or long run deep into the playoffs.

Spend a bit of time analyzing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does one team’s strength correspond to the weakness of their opponent?
  • Which coaching staff is best equipped to adjust their strategy over the course of a series?
  • Who can maintain their energy in a drawn-out war of attrition?

Ultimately, coaching and injuries matter more in the playoffs than they do in the regular season. Keep an eye out for teams with a deep lineup and dynamic style of play. Playoff games tend to come down to the wire, so pay particular attention to teams with a solid track record in the last two minutes.  Can your pick close as well as the Raptors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Championships?

Prevalence of NBA All-Stars

It’s worth noting that since the NBA All-Star Game started in 1951, no team has won an NBA Championship without at least one player who made the All-Star team that season. We won’t count the 1999 San Antonio Spurs because there was no All-Star Game that year due to a lockout.

What’s perhaps even more telling is that few teams have ever won it all without a current or former NBA MVP on their roster. The Detroit Pistons appear to be the only team immune to this rule. Detroit won NBA Championships in 1989, 1990, and 2004 with no MVP winners.

Other exceptions can be included with an asterisk: the 1981 Boston Celtics (although Larry Bird went on to win three NBA MVP awards a few years later) and the 2019 Toronto Raptors, who won with 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

The table below shows the star caliber of recent NBA Champions.

Year NBA Champions Current Season All-Stars MVPs on Roster
2010 Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol Kobe Bryant (2007-08)
2011 Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07)
2012 Miami Heat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh LeBron James (2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12)
2013 Miami Heat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh LeBron James (2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13)
2014 San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker Tim Duncan (2001-02, 2002-03)
2015 Golden State Warriors Steph Curry and Klay Thompson Steph Curry (2014-15)
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James LeBron James (2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-2013)
2017 Golden State Warriors Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green Steph Curry (2014-15, 2015-16) and Kevin Durant (2013-14)
2018 Golden State Warriors Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green Steph Curry (2014-15, 2015-16) and Kevin Durant (2013-14)
2019 Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry None
2020 Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James and Anthony Davis LeBron James (2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-2013)

That said, there are some notable MVPs in recent years who have not yet led their team to an NBA Championship. This list includes two-time winner Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks as well as James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who currently play for the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards, respectively.

Ready to Bet on the NBA Playoffs?

Now that we’ve covered the basic types of bets available and strategies to succeed when wagering on the NBA playoffs, you’re likely clamoring to get in on the action. As always, remember that there is no such thing as a foolproof, silver bullet betting strategy when it comes to sports. Do your research, shop for the best lines, and most importantly, keep it fun.

If you’re interested in exploring strategies and opportunities to bet on post-season college basketball, be sure to check out how to bet on March Madness for Dummies and learn the six best ways to bet on March Madness

Discussion

Let's have fun and keep it civil.