Find Value by Betting Against the Public in the NBA Playoffs

Fading the public is a profitable strategy in the NBA. The table below shows how betting against the squares performed during the 2017-18 regular season:

The against-the-spread (ATS) win percentage and return on investment (ROI) improves the more lopsided the action becomes. When recreational players load up on one team, the oddsmakers inflate the lines, which creates value for contrarian bettors.


With this strategy being profitable in the regular season, bettors logically want to apply the approach to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the results have not been the same …

Since 2005, $100 bettors wagering on teams getting fewer than 50% of spread bets in the playoffs have lost $2,718. At every level, the ATS win rate is around 50%, and unlike during the regular season, the ROI does not improve the more skewed the betting action becomes.

On the surface the results are discouraging, but fear not. In the right situation, betting against the public is lucrative in the NBA postseason. Using Bet Labs, I’ve discovered the optimal strategy for fading casual bettors in the NBA Playoffs.

There are 1,154 playoff games in our database. In 804 (69.7%) of those games, teams received between 45%-55% of spread tickets. From the table above, we know that teams getting fewer than 45% of spread bets have been profitable in the postseason but the results are inconsistent.

That changes if we look at the teams the public is fading. When good squads receive fewer than 45% of spread tickets, it becomes worthwhile to zig when the squares zag. The chart below shows how teams with winning records perform ATS in the playoffs if casual bettors are fading them (fewer than 45% of spread tickets).

Since 2005, teams winning more than 65% of their games that are receiving fewer than 45% of spread bets have gone 141-86 (62.1%) ATS. A $100 bettor has returned a profit of $4,883 wagering on these teams for a +21.5% ROI.

Why would good teams get little support from recreational bettors? There are several explanations from failing to cover in their last game, struggling to advance in the previous series or facing an elite opponent. Whatever the reason, history shows us it has been profitable to buy good teams the average gambler is fading.

Here is how betting against the public in the NBA Playoffs applies to tonight’s game.

Houston Rockets (-1.5) vs. Golden State Warriors (Monday 9 p.m. ET)

Despite being the No. 1 seed, having home-court advantage and featuring James Harden, the likely MVP, the Rockets are getting 31% of bets. This is not shocking considering the Warriors have won two of the last three NBA titles. If you are worried about betting Houston following this system, don’t be. If both teams have excellent records (better than 65% win rates), the team getting fewer than 45% of spread tickets has gone 79-42 (65.3%) ATS.

Pictured: Houston Rockets guard James Harden

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