You can almost hear the words being spoken by the gruff voice from the man who’s seen so much: “Bet the dog.”
This old-school logic makes a great deal of sense. The public loves to bet the better team, and the better team is typically favored. To borrow Jimmy Vaccaro’s phrase: The public bets teams, the pros bet numbers.
Yet, the case can be made the NBA playoffs is a rare time to look first to the favorite, especially when it comes to series prices and title futures. The fact is, the better team advances more often in the NBA playoffs than any post-season.
For starters, you can toss out any one-and-done league (such as NFL, college football, and college basketball) – beating a better team once is undeniably easier than beating the better team four times.
And among the 7-game series leagues, NHL playoffs can be dominated by a hot goalie, just like baseball can be by hot bats – leaving pro basketball. Think of the NBA Champions since 1980 (the year Magic and Bird entered the league): How many times has the Champ not been one of the top two favorites entering the playoffs? Not many – and far less than any other league.
The Miami Heat entered the first round series against the Bucks as 1/200 favorites. That means $20,000 wins $100! Milwaukee pays 75-1. Doing the math, the odds imply a 98.7% chance of Miami advancing. (Coincidently, the Louisville Women’s team had the exact same odds against Baylor & Brittney Griner – and they won!).
I’m not sure if that gruff, wiseguy voice would tell us to take the dog here, and I’m even less sure he would be right. Consider that Miami is -150 to win the Title. No expert I’ve talked to recalls any team entering playoffs as minus money favorites since Jordan’s Bulls.
So the case can be that the Heat are historic favorites. Is that justified? The naysayers would make the valid point that this very same Heat team was a significant underdog against the Thunder in the NBA Finals only 10 months ago.
Consider, though, the following: based on consensus future odds, there is a 24% chance that a team other than the Heat, Thunder, or Spurs will win this year’s Title – implying that 1 in 4 times a flawed team such as the Knicks, Clippers, or injured Nuggets will win it all. History says that’s simply not the case – making a strong argument that there is no value on the dogs.
One thing I know for sure is if you are going to play them. Shopping for the best prices on NBA Title futures is the best way to improve your expected value. Payoffs on the same big underdog can range from 100-1 to 500-1. No matter to me, since I’m not betting them, even at the best number – regardless what that gruff voice says.
RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Sunday through Friday night at 11 p.m. on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Pregame.com. Contact RJ at [email protected]