NBA Playoffs Over/Under Betting Trends: Matchup Analysis for Every Round 1 Series

NBA Playoffs Over/Under Betting Trends: Matchup Analysis for Every Round 1 Series article feature image
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Getty Images/Matt Roembke. Pictured (L-R): Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant.

Welcome to the NBA Playoffs!

The postseason grind can be quite grueling. The game slows down, the defensive intensity ramps up, and the half-court game reigns supreme. If history repeats itself during this two-month stretch, we will see much lower scoring through the NBA Finals in June.

Let’s preview what to expect from a totals perspective and how we as bettors can gain an edge over the books.

Skip Ahead for Playoff Matchups
Eastern Conference Bracket
Western Conference Bracket

NBA Playoff Betting Trends

Betting Unders in the Playoffs

The game slowing down and becoming more physical in the playoffs are not narratives and clichés. The data clearly point to a change from regular season and postseason basketball.

Here is a comparison of the pace and points scored per game between the regular season and the postseason for the previous five seasons, dating back to the 2017-18 season.

The average pace for playoff games drop by an average of 2.6% from the regular season to the postseason over the past five years. Fouls and free throws increase, which contribute to a slower tempo and more physical play. Teams tend to play a shorter rotation, and it could be prudent for teams to pace themselves to fatigued throughout the series.

Aside from the 2020-21 season, unders hit at a strong rate in the playoffs each year. Even after bookmakers adjusted totals for this sharp decline in postseason scoring last year, unders hit at a 62.4% rate and scoring decreased by 3.8% between the regular season and playoffs.

Betting Unders in Game 1 of Round 1

The first games in the first round of the playoffs have been an interesting spot for unders in the past few seasons. In the 2018-19 playoffs, all eight Game 1s went under the total by an average margin of 16.9 points. Since that season, totals in Game 1 of the opening round have gone 20-11 (65.6%) to the under.

In the previous two seasons, these games went 9-7 to the under, but it is interesting to note that four of the seven games that went over featured teams that were in the Play-In Tournament. The reason could be tired legs and a lack of focus on defense, or simply playing against the best teams in their respective conferences — the sample size is too small to determine whether that is an angle worth exploiting, but it’s worth keeping any eye on.

I wouldn’t suggest to blindly bet unders in Game 1, but this could be a good spot between two good defensive teams, slow-paced teams or teams with a strong rivalry.

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Round 1 Matchups

I took a look at every first round matchup ahead of the opening games to compare a some key data points — over/under record, Pace, Offensive and Defensive Rating — that contribute to handicapping totals. You can click the arrows below to find notes on each individual series.

Eastern Conference

Bucks vs.

Heat

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BucksHeat
Offensive Rating: 114.3 (15)Offensive Rating: 112.3 (25)
Defensive Rating: 110.9 (4)Defensive Rating: 112.8 (9)
Pace: 101.45 (10)Pace: 96.76 (29)
O/U Record:
Overall: 41-41 (50%)
Home: 25-16 (61%)
Away: 16-25 (39%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 40-41-1 (49%)
Home: 23-18 (56%)
Away: 17-23-1 (43%)
3-point %: 36.8% (9)3-point %: 34.43% (27)
Opp. 3-point %: 35.08% (7)Opp. 3-point %: 36.53% (21)
3-point rate: 44.58% (4)3-point rate: 40.89% (9)
Opp. 3-point rate: 36.66% (4)Opp. 3-point rate: 43.02% (29)

Jan. 12, 2023 — Heat: 102, Bucks: 108 | 211.5 | Under | Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton out for MIL, Tyler Herro out for MIA
Jan. 14, 2023 — Heat: 95, Bucks: 111| 212.5 | Under | Antetokounmpo and Middleton out for MIL, Herro out for MIA
Feb. 4, 2023 — Bucks: 123, Heat: 115| 224 | Over| No major injuries
Feb. 24, 2023 — Bucks: 128, Heat: 99 | 223.5 | Over | No major injuries

The Bucks and Heat will face off in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The Heat eliminated the Bucks in five games during the 2020 playoffs in "The Bubble" en route to a championship. The Bucks enacted their revenge the following year by sweeping the Heat in the first round during their championship run.

  • The Bucks overall Offensive Rating is 15th but improved to sixth (118.1) post All-Star break. Middleton's presence has helped – his ability to score and be an additional playmaker opens up the offense for the Bucks. The On/Off number show that the Bucks pace increases by 3.8 possessions per 48 minutes and their Offensive Rating improves by 2.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, per Basketball Reference.
  • Matchups in Milwaukee between these two teams have gone 8-3-1 to the over since the 2019-2020 season. The two games that didn't feature any major injuries both went over comfortably.
  • Both of these teams are playoff battle-tested and ramp up the defense. Bucks' playoff games have gone 23-11 to the under in the previous two seasons, per the SDQL at Killer Sports.  Heat playoff games have gone 16-8 to the under in that same timeframe, including the two Play-in games this season.
  • My numbers align exactly with the Game 1 opening total of 219. However, you can see that the Bucks scored 123 and 128 in their last two matchups. In addition, I don't trust the Heat defense this season as much as I did in years past. The Heat have been susceptible to giving up the 3-pointer, an area the Bucks are strong at. I would target the Bucks' Team Total overs at home in Games 1 and 2 where they have a tendency to go over.

Celtics vs.

Hawks

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CelticsHawks
Offensive Rating: 117.3 (2)Offensive Rating: 115.5 (7)
Defensive Rating: 110.6 (2)Defensive Rating: 115.4 (22)
Pace: 99.15 (19)Pace: 101.56 (6)
O/U Record:
Overall: 41-39-2 (51%)
Home: 25-15-1 (63%)
Away: 16-24-1 (40%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 46-35-1 (57%)
Home: 22-19-0 (54%)
Away: 24-16-1 (60%)
3-point %: 37.55% (6)3-point %: 35.34% (20)
Opp. 3-point %: 34.48% (4)Opp. 3-point %: 35.46% (12)
3-Point rate: 48% (2)3-Point rate: 33.2% (30)
Opp. 3-Point rate: 37.39% (8)Opp. 3-point rate: 37.2% (7)

Nov. 16, 2022 — Hawks: 101, Celtics: 126 | 234.5 | Under | Robert Williams III out
Mar. 11, 2023 — Hawks: 125, Celtics: 134 | 238.5 | Over | Williams III out
Apr. 9, 2023 — Celtics: 120, Hawks: 114 | 224 | Over | Final game of the season — stars did not play

The Celtics easily won and covered all three matchups this season. The Hawks have looked sharper to finish off the season and will look to give the reigning Eastern Conference champions a run for their money. Robert Williams III did not play any of the three regular season matchups.

  • The Hawks rank third in Offensive Rating (120.1) since the All-Star break and went 14-9 (60.9%) to the over in that span.
  • The home/away splits point to interesting trends: The Hawks are 24-16-1 to the over on the road and the Celtics are 25-15-1 to the over at home.
  • The Celtics are 32-23-1 (58.2%) to the under in playoffs game since the 2018-2019 season, per the SDQL.
  • Williams III is an X-factor for the Celtics. His interior presence and rebounding will be crucial against the Hawks, who rank seventh in points in the paint and 10th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage. In games he has played this season, the Celtics are 18-14-1 to the under, and 27-20 to the over when he is out, per the SDQL. This is important to note if he misses time during the series. The Celtics' Defensive Rating improves by 4.6 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court, per Basketball Reference.
  • Game 1 opened up at 230.5 and the respective home/away splits for these teams favor the over — the Hawks' poor defense and the Celtics ability to light it up on the offensive end support that — however, my numbers make this 227 with Williams III projected in.

76ers vs.

Nets

Click here for matchup data
76ersNets
Offensive Rating: 117 (3)Offensive Rating: 114.6 (12)
Defensive Rating: 112.7 (8)Defensive Rating: 113.5 (15)
Pace: 97.44 (27)Pace: 98.77 (23)
O/U Record:
Overall: 41-41 (50%)
Home: 25-16 (61%)
Away: 16-25 (39%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 37-44-1 (46%)
Home: 18-23 (44%)
Away: 19-21-1 (48%)
3-point %: 38.47% (1)3-point %: 38.02% (3)
Opp. 3-point %: 34.59% (5)Opp. 3-point %: 36.52% (20)
3-point rate: 39.09% (12)3-point rate: 39.77% (11)
Opp. 3-point rate: 39.07% (20)Opp. 3-point rate: 36.47% (2)

Nov. 22, 2022 — 76ers: 115, Nets: 106 | 217 | Over |Embiid and Harden out
Jan. 25, 2023 — 76ers: 137, Nets: 133 | 225 | Over | Durant out
Feb. 11, 2023 — Nets: 98, 76ers: 101 | 223.5 | Under | Second game post-Durant trade. Mikal Bridges's first game with Nets.
Apr. 9, 2023 — Nets: 105, 76ers: 134 | 219 | Over | Final game of the season – Embiid and Harden out

This would be a dream matchup with James Harden and Ben Simmons going against their former teams, but after the Brooklyn Nets traded away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving midseason (and Simmons' injury), this looks to be a one-sided matchup in favor of the 76ers.

  • Three of the four regular season matchups went over the total. However, the one most comparable to this playoff matchup would be the game on Feb. 11, 2023 that went way under.
  • The Nets rank 24th in Offensive Rating (112.6) since the All-Star break. They went 14-10 (58.3%) to the under in that span.
  • The 76ers are 24-14-2 (63.2%) to the under in playoffs games since the 2018-2019 season, per the SDQL at Killer Sports.
  • Since the 2015-16 season, Harden's teams have gone 45-30-2 (60%) to the under when he plays, per the SDQL at SpoDevs. He is excellent at slowing down the game in a half-court set.
  • Bookmakers opened the Game 1 total low at 216.5 and it has been bet down. I anticipate a slow, low-scoring series. With the Nets' offensive struggles, their team total unders will be an angle I am targeting during the series.

Cavaliers vs.

Knicks

Click here for matchup data
CavaliersKnicks
Offensive Rating: 115.5 (7)Offensive Rating: 117 (3)
Defensive Rating: 109.9 (1)Defensive Rating: 114.2 (19)
Pace: 96.27 (30)Pace: 97.75 (26)
O/U Record:
Overall: 40-42-0 (-0.96, 48.8%)
Home: 19-22-0 (-1.10, 46.3%)
Away: 21-20-0 (-0.82, 51.2%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 43-37-2 (4.33, 53.8%)
Home: 24-17-0 (6.00, 58.5%)
Away: 19-20-2 (2.66, 48.7%)
3-point %: 36.63% (11)3-point %: 35.39% (19)
Opp. 3-point %:  36.68% (23)Opp. 3-point %: 35.69% (16)
3-point rate: 37.13% (17)3-point rate: 40.12% (10)
Opp. 3-point rate: 36.69% (5)Opp. 3-point rate: 41.4% (25)

Oct. 30, 2022 — Cavaliers: 121, Knicks: 108 | 220 | Over | Darius Garland out
Dec. 4, 2022 — Knicks: 92, Cavaliers: 81 | 222.5 |Under | Jarrett Allen out
Jan. 24, 2023 — Knicks: 105, Cavaliers: 103 | 220.5 | Under | No major injuries
Mar. 31, 2023 — Cavaliers: 116, Knicks: 130 | 220 | Over | Julius Randle (NYK) and Allen (CLE) out

The Cavaliers boast the league's best defense and they play at the slowest pace. The Knicks have been more offensive-minded this season, which is the opposite of what you would expect from a Tom Thibodeau-coached squad. They rank third in Offensive Rating and they've tended to go over the total, especially at home. With it being the playoffs, will Thibodeau revert back to his old ways? If so, I can see some low-scoring games in tow.

Only one of their regular season matchups featured all key players healthy and that game went way under the total. I think that is the best barometer for this entertaining first round series.

  • Keep your eye on the status of Julius Randle. He has returned to practice from an ankle injury, but has not been cleared to play. Interestingly enough, the Knicks went 3-1 to the over in the four games without him.
  • The Knicks and Cavaliers favor the over in their home and road splits, respectively. The Knicks' offense is stronger at home, while the Cavs defense is not as stout on the road. Target the over in Games 3 and 4 when the game moves back to New York City.
  • Knicks games have averaged 229.1 points per game and Cavaliers have averaged 219.1 points per game. Yet, the opening total for Game 1 is 214.5. Oddsmakers expect it to be a low-scoring series, but I have a feeling this could be an over-adjustment and there is value on the over at 214.5.


Western Conference

Nuggets vs.

Timberwolves

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NuggetsTimberwolves
Offensive Rating: 116.8 (5)Offensive Rating: 113.3 (23)
Defensive Rating: 113.5 (15)Defensive Rating: 113.1 (10)
Pace: 98.74 (24)Pace: 101.55 (7)
O/U Record:
Overall: 37-44-1 (46%)
Home: 16-24-1 (40%)
Away: 21-20 (51%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 39-43-0 (48%)
Home: 17-24-0 (42%)
Away: 22-19-0 (54%)
3-point %: 37.61% (5)3-point %: 36.35% (14)
Opp. 3-point %: 34.24% (3)Opp. 3-point %: 37.14% (24)
3-point rate: 36.11% (22)3-point rate: 38.12% (14)
Opp. 3-point rate: 37.95% (17)Opp. 3-point rate: 37.61% (11)

Jan. 2, 2023 — Timberwolves: 124, Nuggets: 111 | 231 | Over | D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns out
Jan. 18, 2023 — Nuggets: 122, Timberwolves: 118 | 241 |Under | Towns out
Feb. 5, 2023 — Timberwolves: 128, Nuggets: 98 | 225.5 | Over | Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray out for DEN, Towns out for MIN
Feb. 7, 2023 — Nuggets: 146, Timberwolves: 112 | 232.5 | Over | Murray out

These two Northwest division rivals collide in the first round. The Nuggets definitely exceeded expectations with their play this season, while the Wolves had an underwhelming year. There were higher aspirations for the Wolves, who struggled with team chemistry and an injury to Towns. Alas, they still made it to the big dance, and they have the talent to give the Nuggets some trouble in the first round.

  • The addition of Mike Conley has slowed down the pace for the Wolves. The On/Off number show that their pace decreases by 2.8 possessions per 48 minutes with Conley on the floor, per Basketball Reference. They've gone 14-11 to the under in games that he has played this season. They are seventh in pace for the season, but only 11th in pace since the All-Star break.
  • The Nuggets have been a strong team to the under. Their Offensive Rating is excellent, but they play at a slow pace. They went under in 11 of their 13 final regular season games.
  • Eight of the previous 10 Wolves' games have gone under the total, including the two play-in games. With Towns and Gobert suiting up, I think Minnesota's defense will better and the game will move slower.
  • Both teams have trended to the under lately, which sets up a good opportunity in Game 1. I make this total 223 and see some value on the under the opening total of 226.5.


Grizzlies vs.

Lakers

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GrizzliesLakers
Offensive Rating: 114.7 (11)Offensive Rating: 113.9 (19)
Defensive Rating: 110.7 (3)Defensive Rating: 113.2 (12)
Pace:  101.5 (8)Pace: 101.92 (4)
O/U Record:
Overall: 36-44-2 (45%)
Home: 18-21-2 (46%)
Away:  18-23-0 (44%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 43-39-0 (52%)
Home: 18-23-0 (44%)
Away: 25-16-0 (61%)
3-point %: 34.98% (22)3-point %: 34.8% (24)
Opp. 3-point %: 35.46% (11)Opp. 3-point %: 34.12% (2)
3-point rate: 37.28% (16)3-point rate: 35.02% (26)
Opp. 3-point rate: 40.79% (23)Opp. 3-point rate: 38.94% (19)

Jan. 20, 2023 — Lakers: 122, Grizzlies: 121 | 244 | Under| Anthony Davis out
Feb. 28, 2023 — Grizzlies: 121, Lakers: 109 | 230.5 |Under | Lebron James out
Mar. 7, 2023 — Lakers: 112, Grizzlies: 103 | 224 | Under | Ja Morant (MEM) and James (LAL) out

LeBron James is still doing supernatural things on the basketball court at age 38. Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies seem to have embraced a heel turn. This should set shape up to be one of the most entertaining series. All three regular season matchups went under the total, but each of those games featured at least one key player sitting.

  • Lakers games without James: 16-11 to the under. Lakers games with James: 32-23 to the over, per the SDQL.
  • Nine of the Lakers' final 10 regular season games went over the total. This does not include the Play-In game against the Timberwolves, which went under.
  • Both teams are top-10 in Pace for the season.
  • The Pace metrics and splits with James in the lineup have me thinking over. However, the regular season matchups all going under and the way the Lakers looked against the Timberwolves in the Play-In game have me leaning the under. I don't see a strong edge on the Game 1 total, so I'm abstaining from a play here.

Kings vs.

Warriors

Click here for matchup data
KingsWarriors
Offensive Rating: 118.6 (1)Offensive Rating: 115.1 (10)
Defensive Rating: 116 (23)Defensive Rating: 113.4 (14)
Pace: 100.99 (12)Pace: 102.54 (1)
O/U Record:
Overall: 40-40-2 (2.51, 50.0%)
Home: 25-14-2 (6.21, 64.1%)
Away: 15-26-0 (-1.18, 36.6%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 45-35-2 (2.51, 56.2%)
Home: 17-23-1 (-2.79, 42.5%)
Away: 28-12-1 (7.82, 70.0%)
3-point %: 36.76% (10)3-point %: 38.46% (2)
Opp. 3-point %:  37.42% (27)Opp. 3-point %: 36.57% (22)
3-point rate: 42.33% (5)3-point rate: 47.95% (3)
Opp. 3-point rate: 37.63% (12)Opp. 3-point rate: 39.27% (21)

Oct. 23, 2022 — Warriors: 130, Kings: 125| 232.5| Over| No major injuries, Kings 2nd night of B2B
Nov. 7, 2022 — Warriors: 116, Kings: 113| 235.5 | Under | No major injuries
Nov. 13, 2022 — Kings: 122, Warriors: 115 | 237 | Push | No major injuries
Apr. 7, 2023 — Kings: 97, Warriors: 119 | 233 | Under | De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis out

This fun and exciting Kings team will make their first postseason appearance in 17 seasons, breaking the longest running playoff drought in the NBA! Unfortunately, they draw a tough opponent in the reigning champion, Golden State Warriors. Round 1, Game 1 under trends don't seem to faze the market, as the total is currently at 238.5 for Game 1.

  • The Warriors' road woes are a thing, and it's tied to their defense. Their Defensive Rating on the road is ranked 28th in the league (vs. third at home). This explains their 28-12-1 record to the over away from Chase Center.
  • On the flip side, the Kings have been excellent at home. Their Offensive Rating is ranked first in the league, and skyrockets to 121.6 points per 100 possessions at home.
  • Both teams are deadly from behind the arc, and neither team defends the perimeter well. In addition, the Warriors play at the fastest Pace in the league, so one could easily see this turning into a track meet.
  • Even though the data and stats point to an over, 238.5 is a tough mark to hit in a playoff game. The lack of playoff experience for the Kings could contribute to a slow start. Check to see how Game 1 plays out — if the total goes under and is lower for Game 2, there could be a nice opportunity to back the over.

Suns vs.

Clippers

Click here for matchup data
SunsClippers
Offensive Rating: 114.5 (14)Offensive Rating: 114 (17)
Defensive Rating: 112.3 (7)Defensive Rating: 113.6 (17)
Pace: 98.83 (22)Pace: 98.84 (21)
O/U Record:
Overall: 41-38-3 (52%)
Home: 18-21-2 (46%)
Away: 23-17-1 (58%)
O/U Record:
Overall: 40-41-1 (49%)
Home: 14-26-1 (35%)
Away: 26-15-0 (63%)
3-point %: 37.12% (8)3-point %:  37.7% (4)
Opp. 3-point %: 35.5% (13)Opp. 3-point %: 36.47% (19)
3-point rate: 36.27% (20)3-point rate: 38.87% (13)
Opp. 3-point rate: 37.43% (10)Opp. 3-point rate: 37.93% (16)

Oct. 23, 2022 — Clippers: 95, Suns: 112| 219| Under| Kawhi Leonard out, Clippers 2nd game of B2B
Dec. 15, 2022 — Clippers: 95, Suns: 111| 218.5 |Under | Leonard and Paul George out, Clippers 2nd game of B2B
Feb. 16, 2023 — Suns: 107, Clippers: 116 | 222 | Over | Durant out
Apr. 9, 2023 — Suns: 114, Clippers: 119 | 225 | Over | All Suns key players out and George (LAC) out, Clippers 2nd game of B2B

Fans are dying to see this healthy Suns team in playoff action. In addition, we get to witness former teammates in Durant and Westbrook facing off in the playoffs. George is expected to be sidelined for the beginning of the series, so that is a situation to monitor.

In each of the four regular season matchups between these two teams, at least one key player was out. From a totals perspective, both teams are bottom 10 in pace this season but have both been playing faster since the All-Star break.

  • Eight of the nine Clippers' final regular season games went over the total. The Clippers Offensive Rating improved to ninth post-All Star Break (versus 17th for the entire season).
  • The Clippers' home/road splits are interesting. They are ranked 25th in Offensive Rating at home vs. seventh on the road. They are 26-14-1 to the under at home, but 26-15 to the over at home.
  • The Suns are 11-7 to the over at home in playoff games since Chris Paul joined the team, per the SDQL.
  • I never thought I would be typing this, but the addition of Russell Westbrook has given the Clippers offense a boost. The On/Off numbers show that the Clippers' Pace increases by 3.1 possessions per 48 minutes, per Basketball Reference.
  • Game 1 opened up at 228.5 and was bet down to 226.5, in a move that I do not agree with. Recent trends, the Clippers' road splits, Durant's presence and Westbrook pushing the pace have me favoring the over.

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