Should Bettors Buy the Trendy Warriors in Game 5?

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The public loves betting favorites. Since 2005, at least 50% of spread tickets have been wagered on the favorite in 78.5% of all regular-season NBA games (16,532 games in our dataset). This behavior isn’t unique to basketball as we see the same pattern in the NFL, NHL, MLB and major college sports.

 

However, there is a shift in the postseason. Don’t get me wrong, casual bettors still like the chalk, but the favorite receives a majority of bets in fewer than 60.0% of games. Why do squares bet more underdogs in the playoffs? The likely answer is they expect games to be competitive. If that is the case, then it’s logical to take the points.

On Thursday, the Rockets host the Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals (9 p.m. ET). Houston opened as a 1-point favorite after evening the series, 2-2, on Tuesday. At the time of publication, 70% of spread tickets are backing the Dubs (see live NBA odds here).

We know which side the public is backing. Should bettors buy or sell the trendy Warriors in Game 5?

For starters, favorites have performed better in the postseason than they have during the regular season. Using Bet Labs, we find that the chalk has hit at 52.5% ATS in the playoffs compared to 49.8% ATS in the first 82 games of the season. With casual bettors wagering on underdogs more often in the playoffs, contrarian favorites have been undervalued:

Since 2005, playoff favorites receiving 40% or fewer of spread tickets are 91-59-5 (60.7%) ATS. This strategy has been consistent with only two losing seasons in the last 14 years. A $100 bettor has returned a profit of $2,712 following this system.

In Game 4, the Rockets burned the 57% of bettors counting on the Warriors to cover. If these percentages hold, Houston will have a chance to wreck the bankrolls of even more gamblers in Game 5 as a contrarian favorite.

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