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NBA Playoff Betting Trends, Stats: Action Network’s Betting Primer

NBA Playoff Betting Trends, Stats: Action Network’s Betting Primer article feature image

NBA bettors and fans we’ve finally made it: Welcome to the Playoffs!

Let’s take a few minutes to go through the nuts & bolts. Between futures, betting systems, trends, sportsbooks, the public and more —  Welcome to the NBA Playoff edition of Action Network’s betting primer.

All data, stats and trends are updated as of Thursday, April 13, 12 p.m. ET.

NBA Playoffs 2023 

Click on one of the categories below to navigate to specific content.

Futures Market & Notes 

  • Here’s a look at the BetMGM futures market, from opening to current lines to win it all:

What You Need To Know…

  • The Milwaukee Bucks enter the playoffs as the favorites to win it all. More below on what that means for their title chances and the history behind favorites entering the playoffs
  • The 3 seed in the West, Sacramento Kings, are listed at 50-1 to win it all currently. Since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, the Kings will be the 30th team to enter the playoffs as a top-3 seed with odds of 20-1 or higher. None of the previous 29 teams made the NBA Finals.

The previous 29 teams to enter the playoffs as a top-3 seed with odds of 20-1 or higher have never made an NBA Finals. The ten teams to make it to the Conference Finals all lost one step short of the NBA Finals with the most recent examples coming from the 2020 Nuggets, 2019 Blazers, 2017 & 2018 Celtics, 2016 Thunder, 2015 Rockets and 2013 Pacers.

Longest Odds for Top-3 Seeds Entering the Playoffs

2019 (3) Blazers (100-1) — Lost Conference Finals

2018 (2) Celtics (100-1) — Lost Conference Finals

2016 (3) Heat (80-1) — Lost Second Round

2014 (3) Raptors (66-1) — Lost First Round

2018 (3) Blazers (58-1) — Lost First Round

2023 (3) Kings (50-1)

Now let’s talk about the Bucks and the betting favorites entering the playoffs.

Dating back to 1976, a total of 47 seasons, 24 teams that entered the playoffs as a the favorites went on to win the NBA title (more than half). The last team to do so was the Golden State Warriors in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

In those 47 seasons, nine teams made it to the NBA Finals but ended up falling just short. Which means 33 of the 47 favorites to win it all entering the playoffs made it to the NBA Finals.

As of now, we are on a bit of cold streak for favorites. The 2020 Clippers, 2021 Nets and 2022 Suns all lost in the Conference Finals the past three seasons.

In the 47-year span since 1976, we have never had a three-year drought with no playoff favorite making the finals prior to this stretch.

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Playoff Matchups 





  • After the cover in Portland on Sunday, the Warriors ended the regular season 12-29 against the spread (29.3%) on the road.

A $100 bettor would be down $1,802 — the least profitable road regular season in the Bet Labs database (since 2004-05).

  • The 6 seed Warriors are between -275 and -300 on the series price to beat the 3 seed Kings (+230) in the first round.

Since 1990, no top-3 seed has been this big of a series underdog .. by a wide margin.

Next closest was in 2015 when the 3 seed Clippers were +160 vs. the 6 seed Spurs.

Looking at the results of the seven previous series where the better seed was listed as a series underdog in the first round of the playoffs, the series underdog went 5-2.

  • All five teams from the Pacific Division made the playoffs, marking the third instance every team in a division qualified for the playoffs since the NBA adopted the current six division format in 2004–05. Previously, all five teams from the Central Division during the 2005–06 season and the Southwest Division during the 2014–15 season qualified for the playoffs.





  • The Lakers enter this series as underdogs against the Grizzlies, which would be a first for LeBron James.

In 20 NBA seasons, James has never been an underdog in the first round of the playoffs.

Overall, LeBron has been a series underdog ten times prior to this matchup and his teams are 4-6 in those series.

  • Over the last two playoff campaigns with Lebron, the Lakers are 13-14-1 ATS in the playoffs, including 0-2 ATS as underdogs.
  • Beware of the Grizzlies as underdogs, too. They are 6-13 ATS as dogs this season, their worst season in the underdog role since 2007.





  • The Suns are undefeated with Kevin Durant in the lineup, going 8-0 straight up and 6-2 against the spread this season. Dating back to Nov. 27, Durant’s record in games he’s played is 25-2 straight up. The last time Durant played in a loss was Jan. 4 vs. the Bulls.
  • Durant and Kawhi Leonard have played 14 regular season games against each other and they are tied 7-7. In the playoffs, Durant holds the 12-8 straight up edge.
  • In the playoffs, Ty Lue tends to play to the role. His teams are 30-19-1 ATS as a favorite and 13-19 ATS as underdogs.
  • Since Dec. 1, the Suns are 17-36 (32.1%) against the second half spread, the least profitable team in the NBA.





  • This season, the Knicks are 51-30-1 against the first half spread, the best record in the NBA. Over the past three seasons, they are 142-95-4 (60%) against the first half spread — almost $1,000 better per $100/wager than any other team in the NBA.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has had his struggles in the playoffs as an underdog. His teams are 19-14 straight up as favorites, but just 6-22 SU as underdogs, including 1-9 SU in their past ten games in that spot.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers will play their first playoff game without LeBron James since 1998.





  • Entering the 2023 playoffs, Joel Embiid is just 22-22 straight up in the NBA Playoffs, including 9-12 SU on the road.
  • The over went 44-37-1 in Nets games this season, the second-most profitable team to the over behind just the Charlotte Hornets. While the Sixers were 44-38 to the under this season.
  • In the Bet Labs database (dating back to 2004-05), Doc Rivers is the most profitable coach on the moneyline as an underdog, going 29-46, but a $100 bettor would be up $3,236. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone great lately, going 3-10 SU as dogs since 2016.





  • How have play-in teams performed in the playoffs? In the eight playoff series involving a play-in team entering this season, all eight lost the series and no series went to seven games with just three of those eight series lasting six games.
  • Trae Young has played 15 total games in his career against the Celtics and he is 4-11 straight up in those games, losing four in a row entering this series.
  • The two most profitable home teams on the moneyline in the playoffs in the Bet Labs database belong to the Atlanta Hawks (34-23 SU; +$1,095) and the Boston Celtics (67-33 SU; +$790).

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Bet Labs Systems & Info 

Let’s take a look at a few NBA Playoff systems using our Bet Labs database. Click each system for matches, bets and detailed profitability charts.

Notes: Here is a system from our PRO model. This system shows favorites in the playoffs, where there is a higher percentage of money than the percentage of tickets placed on a game.

Notes: Time to focus on short rest. Teams playing on two or fewer days of rest entering a Game 1 of either Round 2, Conference Finals or NBA Finals, are just 25-39-1 ATS since 2005.

When their opponent has three or more days rest, that goes to 17-31-1 ATS.

Notes: Watch out for trendy underdogs in the playoffs. Dogs with 66% or more of the tickets are 29-43-1 ATS (40.3%) since 2005, including 6-12 ATS since 2015.

Notes: Historically, in NBA playoff games where we have a short home underdog, the game tends to go under the total.

Notes: Keep the chains moving. Teams that lead at the end of the first half are 140-99-5 against the second half spread in the playoffs (non-play-in tournament) since the 2019-20 season.

Notes: Similar to the NCAA Tournament, early NBA playoff games have leaned towards the under in recent history. Games played before 4 p.m. ET are 58% to the under since 2005, including 36-21-2 (63.2%) since 2018.

Going one step further, first half unders in these games starting before 4 p.m. ET are 103-68-4 (60.2%) since 2005 as well, which is a consistent 36-22-1 (62.1%) since 2018, too.

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Trends & Notes To Know 

Fluke Or Trend?

Unders went 58-35 in the playoffs last year — the best year for unders in the Bet Labs database (since 2004-05). A $100 bettor was up $1,761 betting strictly unders last year.

If you look recently, four of the past five seasons, unders have been over .500.

The question is, where should we focus? Look later in the series.

  • Games 1-4: 548-525-20 (51.1%) = -$780
  • Games 5-7: 235-192-2 (55%) = +$3,052

Game 6 and 7 has been cash cow: 121-86 (58.5%) to the under — going under the total by 2.7 PPG, for a +13.7% ROI.

We Had Them in the First Half

Given the impact of home-court advantage throughout the NBA Playoffs, one of the most profitable angles has been backing teams down 0-2 in both the first quarter and first half of games.

Overall home teams in Game 3 of a series are 144-102-8 (58.5%) against the first half spread. When that team trails 0-2 in the series, they are 87–45 (65.9%), and since 2015, they are 36-13-1 (73.5%).

The logic is simple, the sense of urgency teams feel when down 0-2 means they’re playing harder than the opposing team.

The Middle Class

Some great analysis by Action Network NBA writer Brandon Anderson.

“There are 15 teams between 2.00 and -2.00 in Basketball Reference’s SRS, more than any season in NBA history.

Not one of those ‘Middle Class’ teams made the Conference Finals. None of them. Zero. Zilch. Occasionally one pulled a first-round upset, usually against a 4-seed, but that’s it.

Only three times since 1989 has any team made the Conference Finals with a sub-2.00 SRS — and all three of those teams had some serious asterisks on its runs that made it possible. Only two of these overachieving Conference Finalists went on to make the Finals — and only one won it all.”

All About Seeding

Great nugget from Matt Moore: Since 2000, no team has won the title with a seed lower than third. In NBA history, only nine teams have even made the Finals as a No. 3 seed or lower.

All About Defense, Too.

In the last 40 years, only three teams have won an NBA Championship without a top-10 defense. The 2018 Warriors, who finished 11th, the 2001 Lakers, who finished 21st, and the 1995 Rockets, who finished 12th.

Win = Cover?

Over the last three playoffs, including this year, there have been a total of 188 playoff games. Underdogs have won 64 of them straight up, favorites have won 124 of them straight up. Of the 124 games favorites have won straight up, they have covered 107 of them.

Which means the team who wins the playoff game is 171-17 ATS in that span.

The Need For Balance

Another gem from Matt Moore and his article on the pedigree of a champion:

“In the 3-point era, no team has won the NBA title with a sub-.500 road record.
The most road losses a team to win the title has had in the 3-point era is 20, by the Spurs in 2005 and the Heat in 2006.”

Where’s The Public Betting?

Here are their NBA Championship splits at DraftKings Sportsbook:

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: 15% handle | 13% bets
  2. Boston Celtics: 14% handle | 22% bets
  3. Phoenix Suns: 13% handle | 10% bets
  4. Denver Nuggets: 10% handle | 7% bets
  5. Golden State Warriors: 10% handle | 9% bets
  6. Los Angeles Lakers: 8% handle | 6% bets
  7. Philadelphia Sixers: 6% handle | 5% bets
  8. Cleveland Cavaliers: 3% handle | 3% bets
  9. New York Knicks: 3% handle | 2% bets
  10. Memphis Grizzlies: 3% handle | 2% bets

When looking game-by-game in our Bet Labs database, here are some thresholds to be aware of entering the playoffs:

  • Only six teams since 2005 have closed with 80%+ of the spread tickets in the NBA Playoffs. Those six teams are 4-2 straight up but 0-6 against the spread, failing to cover the number by 5.4 PPG.
  • Looking for a public underdog? Since 2005, only two teams have closed with 75%+ of the spread tickets while listed as the underdog. Ironically enough, Kevin Durant was involved in both games:

2022 Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of their series against the Boston Celtics. Nets lost 114-107 in Boston.

2010 Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lakers won the game 95-94 in OKC.

Historical odds history via Sports Odds History

The ultimate NBA betting cheat code

Best bets for every game

Our NBA model’s biggest daily edges

Profitable data-driven system picks

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