Which NBA Playoff Seeds Are Undervalued Against the Spread?

Which NBA Playoff Seeds Are Undervalued Against the Spread? article feature image

Pictured: Kevin Durant. Photo credit: Kelley L Cox — USA TODAY Sports

The first round of the NBA playoffs is about to begin. Using Bet Labs’ massive database of proprietary sports betting information, I have identified historical NBA playoff seed vs. seed trends.


Which seeds should bettors focus on when analyzing the first round of the NBA playoffs?

1-seed vs. 8-seed

No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

Since the 2005 NBA playoffs, 1-seeds are 100-36 (73.5%) straight-up in the first round. Only five 8-seeds have upset the top seed in a series, but it has happened three times since 2007 (Golden State Warriors over Dallas Mavericks in 2007, Memphis Grizzlies over San Antonio Spurs in 2011 and Philadelphia 76ers over Chicago Bulls in 2012).

Top seeds usually win, but they don’t cover consistently. The top teams in each conference have combined to go 69-64-3 (51.9%) against the spread in the opening round.

However, 1-seeds have had success when facing an opponent that is .500 or worse, going 37-25-2 (59.7%) ATS. Unfortunately, the 8-seeds in this year’s postseason have winning records.

2-seed vs. 7-seed

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

Two-seeds are 99-34 (74.4%) SU vs. 7-seeds in the first round. The last 7-seed to win a series was the Spurs in 2010 when they upset the Mavs. San Antonio wasn’t much of an underdog, listed at +130, the shortest price for a 7-seed since 2008, according to SportsOddsHistory.com.

Unlike 1-seeds, 2-seeds cover in the opening round, going 77-50-6 (60.6%) ATS. One-seeds are often overvalued and have trouble covering inflated lines, while 2-seeds go overlooked by the betting public.

Two-seeds cash tickets in nearly every situation:

  • As underdogs: 11-5-2 (68.8%) ATS
  • On the road: 36-20-4 (64.3%) ATS
  • Against the public (less than 50% of bets): 19-13-2 (59.4%) ATS

3-seed vs. 6-seed

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans

Three-seeds have won less than 60% of their first-round games (90-62) since 2005. As underdogs, 3-seeds are likely to fall. When oddsmakers list 6-seeds as betting favorites, they are 27-17 (61.4%) SU.

Three-seeds are 71-77-4 (48.0%) ATS in the first series of the playoffs and have just four winning playoffs in the last 13 years. Bettors can profit by fading 3-seeds against division opponents (25-15-2, 62.5% ATS) and when 60% or more of bettors are taking the 6-seed (15-8, 65.2% ATS).

4-seed vs. 5-seed

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Seeding doesn’t matter much in this matchup, as 5-seeds have gone 79-73 SU since 2005. The favorite in each game has gone 101-51 (66.4%) SU.

Since 2010, 4-seeds are 36-53-4 (40.4%) ATS vs. 5-seeds. In that same time frame, betting 5-seeds getting less than 50% of spread tickets has gone 30-16-2 (65.2%) ATS.