4 NBA Finals Betting Trends: Fade LeBron James in Game 1 and ATS, Erik Spoelstra’s Streak, More
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured, from left: Jimmy Butler (22) and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
- LeBron James against the spread. NBA Finals unders. Betting Public favorites.
- Before you bet the NBA Finals, check out notes and trends from Reed Wallach using our Bet Labs database.
The 2020 NBA Finals are upon us, and boy are we in for one. The Miami Heat surprisingly rolled through the Eastern Conference to take on the No. 1-seed Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
There is truly no precedent for the 2020 NBA Finals. Never before in modern NBA history have we witnessed a Finals matchup without home court advantage, without travel days, and without live fans. Nonetheless, there are still several historical Finals trends that may be useful to set the table for the looming matchup.
Here are a couple trends to keep an eye on during the series.
Fading the Public and LeBron James in the Finals
The Finals are going to have a large betting handle. A flooded market of new public bettors likely will affect how oddsmakers set lines and react to sharp money against public money.
NBA Finals teams earning the majority volume of public bets are 35-47-1 agains the spread (ATS). So, it may be best to stay off of teams that are generating the majority of the total bets and instead, follow the money.
Nonetheless, many novice bettors will gravitate to LeBron James and the Lakers. And in fairness, that gravitas is deserved. James is making his 10th Finals appearance and is the face of the league.
But, because sportsbooks know that bettors are likely to flock to the Lakers side, there may be a premium to bet on LA. Furthermore, blindly backing James is not a great idea. As my Action Network colleague Joe Dellara notes, James is 20-28-1 ATS in the Finals, resulting in a -18.1% return on investment (ROI).
Erik Spoelstra’s Finals Track Record
In the narrative surrounding previous Finals experience, two people deserve the spotlight: LeBron James and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Spoelstra has put on a coaching masterclass this postseason. The Heat drew a daunting matchup against the NBA’s best team from the regular season in Milwaukee and promptly ran the Bucks out of the bubble. Then, Miami navigated through an upstart Celtics team to earn its place in the Finals.
Spoelstra has experience coaching in Finals, winning two titles. But the majority of his experience has been as a betting favorite with James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Prior to James’ arrival in South Beach, Spoelstra posted a 4-8 ATS record in his previous playoff games. Furthermore, he didn’t thrive in the role of the underdog, going 1-8 ATS.
With James, Spoelstra was 56-36-1 in the postseason, including 10-12-1 ATS in the Finals.
Of course, this is a different Heat team than the one from the early 2010’s. But Spoelstra’s performance coming off a loss is still noteworthy: He reports a 5-3 ATS record in that situational spot. During this postseason, the Heat have been a cash cow against the number, going 12-3 ATS.
Follow the Line Movement
As Bryan Mears noted last year, unpopular favorites are a highly profitable way to gain an edge. Favorites that receive 22% to 40% of spread bets but have seen a line move in its direction are hitting at a 63% rate over a 57-game sample. Further, in just the Finals, these teams are 4-1 straight-up.
This specific situation doesn’t happen often, but when the opportunity presents itself, bettors should pounce.
Check out our new NBA PRO Report, where we highlight factors that provide betting edges — like large wagers, historically profitable betting systems, model projections and expert picks — that when combined with sharp money can powerfully detail the smartest bets on a given slate.
In the Finals, every play is amplified. Matchups are hunted ad nauseam, and the margin for error decreases. Not to mention, the players can get tight, too. As a result, pace of play typically slows down in the Finals as the games become more and more intense. The under reports a 44-39-3 record in Finals games since 2005.
However, that trend reverses slightly in games with a higher total. The over reports a 6-4 all-time record in Finals matches that close with a total of 215 or higher. The over/under for Heat vs. Lakers Game 1 is 217 as of writing.
That Game 1 total is particularly interesting, because both LA and Miami rank in the bottom-half of playoff teams in terms of pace. It will be interesting to follow how two of the top-four playoff offenses perform in this series despite each squad preferring a methodical pace of play. A slower pace means less possessions and less opportunities to score, so each offense must be efficient in order to clear that 217-point game total.
When to really pounce is in the second half. As iterated previously, teams may have a tendency to start slowly during the Finals, but by halftime those pregame jitters should abate as each team emphasizes every possession.
Accordingly, second-half unders have been very profitable, boasting a historical record of 45-35-3 and hitting at a 56% clip. As the game nears its conclusion, the pace typically becomes a slog.