A general rule of many professional sports bettors is to take the points or lean toward the money-line dogs, as there is less risk and a potentially big payoff. But one place where the big favorites come through a high percentage of the time is the NBA playoffs.
You’ll see some extremely high prices, and with good reason: the big dogs rarely rise up and slay the NBA goliaths.
Last year, there were eight playoff series in the first round and three of the dogs won outright. That was an unusually high number of upsets, but let’s take a close look at those surprises. Dallas (+115) beat Utah, Toronto (+120) defeated New York and Charlotte (+170) surprised Miami. All of those underdogs were less than $2.00 and can’t be classified as stunning upsets.
Any team favored more than $2.00 came out victorious, with the Lakers (—360), Sacramento (—375), San Antonio (—950), Milwaukee (—220) and Philadelphia (—650) all winning. In the 2001 Finals, the Lakers were —1800 over the 76ers, who were +1400. The Lakers won the series in five games.
In the opening round of the 2000 NBA playoffs, there were eight series, but because of injuries only six offered a money-line price. Of those six, five of the favorites won. And look at the price on the winners: The Jazz were —650, the Knicks were —220, the Blazers were —300, the Pacers were —800, and the Lakers were —1400. All the favorites won, except for the 76ers, who beat the Hornets as a +115 dog, which is nearly even-money.
In the second round of the playoffs, the favorites are a combined 7-1 the last two years and the only surprise was the Knicks beating the Heat in 2000 as a +115 series dog. A year ago, all the favorites won in Round 2, with the East featuring two seven-game series where the favored home team held on to win each time. But in the more powerful West, the Lakers and Spurs, both big favorites, won eight of nine games and advanced easily.
In 1999, the four dogs that came out victorious in the playoffs were +110, +110, +210 and +220, not exactly stunning upsets. The ’99 Finals found the Knicks (sans Patrick Ewing) as a +650 dog against mighty San Antonio. That’s great value for your betting dollar. On the other hand, the Spurs swept the Knicks, so the only real value was achieved by the bookie, who got to keep the money bettors placed on the longshot.
Since 1999, favorites over minus $3.00 are 17-0 in the NBA playoffs. The Lakers were —2200 favorites over the Suns two years ago, meaning you would lay $220 on the Lakers and collect a whopping extra ten bucks when they won! And don’t forget that the big dogs do win on occasion. The last big one was in 1994 when Denver (+1400) upset George Karl’s Sonics (—1800 favorite). A year later, Karl and the Seattle went belly-up again, losing to the Lakers as a minus $4.00 favorite.
Another area to look in the NBA playoffs is defense, a key element in winning basketball.
Sacramento is a remarkable run-and-gun machine, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Kings have become one of the best defensive teams in the league. Two years ago Sacramento outscored opponents by a 104-102 average. This season it is 104-96 points per game.
In 1999, the OVERS had a 17-14-2 edge in the first round of the playoffs. In 2000, UNDERS had the edge 21-12.
Last year there were more OVERS by a 19-12 count in the opening round.
As the playoffs drew on last year, UNDERS were 10-6 in the final two rounds, including the NBA Finals.