As the NBA playoffs roll on, handicappers should take careful note of how teams did against each other during the regular season.
Examine head-to-head match-ups individually and as a group. Does one team dominate another? If so, are there reasons for this or was it merely a fluke during the long grind of the 66-game schedule?
And also, don’t forget the No. 1 seed in the West, Oklahoma City, must go the distance in the playoffs without injured Russell Westbrook.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat: Miami opened their title defense against the Bucks with three wins. When you look at the three regular season meetings there was one close game in overtime, and two blowouts by each team.
The conclusion would be an evenly matched series based on that, but we all know it was the biggest mismatch on the NBA playoff calendar.
Yes, the Bucks did blow out Miami back in December, 104-85, but that was more of a fluke. Miami was playing its fourth game in five nights and looked out of gas, losing the turnover battle 20-5. It was the Bucks’ first sellout of the season.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, had two full days off and it was the Bucks’ first sellout of the season. Be careful about reading too much into the earlier meetings and look carefully as to reasons and situations.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls: On the other hand, Chicago and Brooklyn played four close regular season meetings decided by 1, 4, 11 and 2 points. That’s an average of 4.2 points per game difference, then the two split the first two playoff games, so the regular season meetings reflected a fairly even match-up.
The game in Chicago became an instant classic with super sub Nate Robinson scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter in personally wiping out a 14-point deficit with less than three minutes left in regulation time.
LA Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs: There was no guarantee the Lakers would even make the playoffs. Not only did they, but they moved up to the No. 7 seed and drew San Antonio instead of the Thunder.
But, it has been more like pick your poison with San Antonio winning the first three games by double digits.
The Lakers couldn’t have done any worse if they faced OKC.
Sometimes a team is missing key players for one or two of the meetings, which can explain why one team did poorly. Or, maybe the losing team played in difficult back-to-back spots. Other times, you may find a team matches up well against an opponent.
Think back three years ago when LeBron was in Cleveland. The Cavs and Celtics split their season series 2-2, with the Celtics winning in Cleveland on opening night, the Cavs knocking off the Celtics by 20 in Boston in late February, then by 11 at home in mid-March, then losing 117-113 on Easter Sunday after the Cavs effortlessly wiped out a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Another angle is when one team dominates another during the regular season and the two meet in the playoffs. The public perception is that the team that dominated during the season will easily rout the opponent, but this is not always the case. You may have heard professional bettors speak of the “GAD” theory, or Go Against the Dominant team during the postseason.
It’s not as simple as betting against the favored team that dominated during the regular season, but it’s something to keep in mind as the playoffs commence.
For instance, a few years ago the Sacramento Kings swept the Utah Jazz during the regular season, going 4-0 straight up and against the spread. The Kings didn’t just win – they rolled! Sacramento won those four regular season meetings by some frightful scores: 113-80, 114-90, 107-81 and 117-109.
Utah was no pushover, though, with Stockton and Malone, plus hard driving coach Jerry Sloan. In their first round playoff battle, Utah went 3-0 against the spread in the first three games, even winning Game 2 at Sacramento, 93-86 as an 11-point dog.
Two years ago the Dallas Mavericks had a remarkable run to the championship, beating Miami in six games after losing two of the first three. Few recall that during the regular season the Mavericks matched up well, sweeping the Heat, 106-95 and 98-96, 2-0 SU/ATS.
Examine regular season meetings carefully. Be careful of regular season dominance, and take note of injuries, rebounding edges, free throw attempts or when a big dog played the favorite evenly (or better) all season.
The real story – and edges against the oddsmakers – is found in details.
Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Reach him at [email protected]