Re-Evaluating NBA Series Prices: Profiting from Public Perception

Re-Evaluating NBA Series Prices: Profiting from Public Perception article feature image

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NBA series prices are interesting creatures. They have a certain ebb and flow, and they tend to move with public perception. The Cavs were -800. Then, oh wait, they looked awful in Game 1? -250!!! This despite the fact that Cleveland hit about zero 3-pointers in the series opener, something that was completely unsustainable. Oh, and they have the best player in the series by a country mile.

The other thing that happens with series prices? Bettors get stubborn. People refuse to believe something even after it has happened. The Pelicans absolutely outplayed the Blazers on the road in Game 1, yet they opened as a slight dog in the series the next morning (Pelicans -105/Blazers -115). There was nothing particularly miraculous about New Orleans’ win in Game 1 — the Pelicans just happen to match up with Portland better than almost any other team in the playoffs. We didn’t believe in the Pels, though. Until Game 2. And now they’re -490.

Reading the market, then, is a weird combination of two seemingly contrasting factors: Knowing when everyone is overreacting, and knowing when a team is, for lack of a better term, “for real.” (In other words, when it is actually more talented or a terrible matchup for its opponent). The only real way to achieve both of these is to do your own work and let that shape your opinions. Parrot the views of a talking head on TV, and you will most likely suffer because of the lack of effort, logic or foresight that pundit has used to shape his/her opinion.


With that in mind, here are a couple of first-round prices to consider heading into Friday’s action.

Boston Celtics: -335 to Advance

Despite the evidence, people still don’t want to believe in Boston.

In the series betting guide, I wrote that the market wasn’t properly evaluating Brad Stevens’ value. This is the biggest coaching mismatch in the playoffs. Consider this great series of tweets by Dean Maniatt that indicates Milwaukee head coach Joe Prunty just copies whatever Brad Stevens does with his lineups. Stevens goes to his bench, so Prunty thinks he should, too, despite the fact Prunty’s advantage is that his starters have much more talent. It’s mimicry, and it’s hilarious. (To make matters worse, Jabari Parker is now mad about his playing time.)

Milwaukee sounds like a team with no direction and no leadership that is absolutely getting a new coach as quickly as possible. And now you’re telling me the Celtics are only about a 77% (implied probability) favorite to advance in the market, and a significant underdog in Game 3? Interesting.

It gets more intriguing, finally, when you consider that the Celtics were the third-best road team in the NBA this season, behind only Houston and Golden State.

Cleveland Cavaliers: -310 to Advance

This is the other price to consider, although the situation is a little murkier.  After all, Indiana dominated Cleveland in Game 1, and the Pacers were extremely competitive in Game 2 despite Victor Oladipo missing a significant portion of the first half with foul trouble. These would appear to be positive indicators for Indiana heading home for two games, but I am also looking at the Cavaliers and what they’ve gotten so far in this series. They have had zero above-average performances by ANY player not named LeBron. Zero. J.R. Smith gave them 15 points off the bench in Game 1, which is basically the closest thing to a standout non-LeBron showing they’ve had.

I think you’ll likely see the Cavs become more cohesive as the series goes on and as Ty Lue experiments with different five-man lineups to find combinations that work. The role players are more unproven than they’ve been in a while on a LeBron team, so there is no assurance this squad will figure it out as so many of his teams have. But this was also a team the market deemed a -700 to -800 favorite at close before Game 1 — and the Cavs still haven’t played their best game. People are jumping off the bandwagon far too quickly, in my opinion.