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NBA Playoff Betting Tip: Take Advantage of Unpopular Favorites

NBA Playoff Betting Tip: Take Advantage of Unpopular Favorites article feature image

uss Isabella-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell

  • Fewer than 50% of spread tickets are on the Indiana Pacers (-3) vs. the Boston Celtics in Friday's Game 3 (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
  • Using Bet Labs, we explain why it has been profitable to bet unpopular favorites in the NBA Playoffs.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been popular underdogs to start the postseason. OKC dominated its regular-season matchups with the Portland Trail Blazers, going 4-0 straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS), which helps explain why the public backed Russell Westbrook and Co. in Game 1 and Game 2.

The Thunder received 64% of spread tickets as 3-point underdogs against the Blazers in the first game of their Western Conference series and despite losing and failing to cover in Game 1, OKC attracted 67% of bets in Game 2 as a 1-point underdog.

Just as Sunday’s contest did not go the public’s way, neither did Wednesday’s affair. Portland won and covered both games, blowing the Thunder out in the second matchup. The results weren’t that surprising from a historical viewpoint.

Popular underdogs have been a bad bet in the playoffs since 2005. Pooches getting more than 50% of bets have gone 198-233-14 (45.9%) ATS. Underdogs receiving 60% or more of spread tickets, like OKC, have gone 59-93-5 (38.8%) ATS.

Savvy bettors can capitalize on this trend by taking unpopular favorites. The chalk has gone 233-198-14 (54.1%) ATS since 2005 when the public is on the underdog according to Bet Labs. The less support a favorite receives the more profitable it has been to bet the team:

When the public is on the underdog, oddsmakers are not forced to inflate the line for the favorite making it easier for the chalk to cover. Favorites receiving fewer than 45% of bets have gone 143-107-7 (57.2%) ATS since 2005.

Betting unpopular favorites has been profitable in 12 of the past 14 seasons. A $100 bettor following this betting system would have returned a profit of $2,870.

On Friday’s slate, the Indiana Pacers are unpopular favorites. The Pacers have blown double-digit leads in both games thanks to poor second half performances. Indiana scored only eight points in the third quarter of Game 1 and 12 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Following the team’s uneven play, more than 60% of bets are on the Boston Celtics in Game 3.

Not only is history on the Pacers’ side as unpopular favorites to cover, but so are professional bettors. The line has moved from Indy -2 to -3 even though the Pacers are receiving less than 50% of bets. When the line moves in the opposite direction of the betting percentages, this is called reverse line movement and is an indication of sharp action.

Recreational gamblers are expecting Boston to cover just as it did in the first two games of the series, but all signs point to Indiana bettors cashing their tickets.

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