An NBA game is long — 48 minutes, to be exact. And while spread bets — especially market-adjusted closing spread bets — are incredibly efficient, quarter bets still retain value. The reason is simple: Most sportsbooks simply divide the spread and moneyline between the four quarters. The Rockets are -8 favorites? That means they’ll likely be about -2 for each quarter and whatever the resulting moneyline for that happens to be.
But consider the Rockets’ net rating by quarter this season:
- 1st quarter: +16.8
- 2nd quarter: +7.5
- 3rd quarter: +7.4
- 4th quarter: +1.3
If the spread is -8, that means the first-quarter spread should be maybe about -4, whereas the spreads for the other quarters should be lower. For most sportsbooks that isn’t the case, and thus there is a nice edge to be found in betting quarter spreads and moneylines in addition to the full-game numbers.
Below I’ve compiled the net rating differential for each first-round series. The “Winning Team” is the squad with the net rating advantage, and I also added in the results from the first couple of days of the playoffs.
Overall, it seems as if betting each advantage will lead to about a .500 record, maybe a bit better. However, focusing on the situations that have large advantages has been profitable so far. Of the quarters in which one team has a double-digit net rating advantage, a moneyline bet would have gone 7-0. Let’s quickly touch on a couple of those.
76ers in the 3rd Quarter: For whatever reason, the Heat have been absolutely atrocious in third quarters all season. Of the playoff teams, they by far were the worst during the regular season over that 12-minute stretch, posting a -5.9 net rating, and the 76ers have had a huge advantage in that period in each of the first two games. In Game 1, for reference, the 76ers outscored the Heat 34-18 in the third. When I mentioned this to fellow NBA analyst Matt Moore, he said Heat fans all year have called the third quarter the “Poop Quarter” or something along those lines. Bet this one while you can.
Warriors in the 3rd Quarter: In the Warriors-Spurs series preview, I noted this advantage and specifically how the Dubs were just so much better in the third than in any other quarter. My theory was this: The Dubs were bored during the regular season, so they came out slowly most nights. Then head coach Steve Kerr would yell at the players during halftime and then they would come out and put the game away in the next 12 minutes. The Warriors messed around in Game 2 before coming out stronger in the second half, so I think this narrative might still hold even in the first round of the playoffs.
Raptors in the 4th quarter: I was less sure about this one entering the playoffs, as it’s just difficult to trust the metrics for the Wizards this season considering that John Wall has been in and out of the lineup. That said, the Raptors have still held firm in the fourth quarter in this series. Because they’re the NBA’s deepest team, they don’t really have dips in performance at any point in the game. It’s possible teams have tried to sneak in a couple minutes with their bench at the start of the fourth, which perfectly sets up the Raptors’ elite bench to crush. For that same reason, the Raptors’ second-quarter net rating has been elite this season, too.
Rockets in the 1st quarter: The Rockets are kind of the anti-Warriors. They’re just as skilled but have everything to prove. They come out firing in the first quarter, during which they’ve had a ridiculous +16.8 net rating. Yes, that number is correct. The Wolves, meanwhile, haven’t been bad in the first — they have a very talented starting lineup — but the Rockets are just on a different level. I’ll be looking for the Rockets’ first-quarter spread and moneyline not only in this series but also throughout the playoffs.
Pictured above: Chris Paul and James Harden