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NBA Playoff Series Odds: Is There Betting Value on Teams Trailing 3-1?

NBA Playoff Series Odds: Is There Betting Value on Teams Trailing 3-1? article feature image

Maybe you’ve heard this stat over the past 24 hours: Teams with a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Playoffs end up winning that series 95% of the time, which translates to roughly to -1900 betting odds. Entering the postseason, we had an expectation that parity would be a factor and to this point, we’re seeing it play out in an interesting way.

As of this writing, there are six series in which one team has a 3-1 lead, including three series in which the team with the lower seed — Heat, Lakers and Knicks — is one win away from moving to the second round.

Is it possible we see an upset in any of them? I took a series-by-series look at each first round matchup to see where we might find some betting value.

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Series odds are current as of April 25 and via FanDuel.

Hawks Odds: +2500 | Celtics Odds: -10000

This series is over. Dejounte Murray is suspended for Game 5 and the Celtics have been by far the better team in this series. Boston has a +4.8 point differential in the non-garbage time minutes, but that actually undersells the difference with Boston having a +5.7 Net Rating on the series as a whole.

One of the primary issues for Atlanta is they simply do not shoot enough 3s to make up for the talent disparity. Only 35.5% of their shots come from 3 point range and they are making just 34.3% of them.

On the flip side, Boston is taking 40.4% from 3 and making 41.4%. They have the best eFG% in the Playoffs at 59.6% and Atlanta has stood no chance of stopping them, and losing Dejounte Murray as a perimeter defender in Game 5 is not making this team any better. Boston should roll and continue to be favorites in the East.

Verdict: Extremely Unlikely

Timberwolves Odds: +2000 | Nuggets Odds: -7000

There are two things this series has shown us: 1. The Denver Nuggets are a worthy 1 seed, and 2. Anthony Edwards has that dog in him.

If it were not for Edwards, this series would have been over in four games, but he has willed this team to a victory. I don’t see any chance that the Nuggets blow this one as they are far more talented top to bottom and the Wolves have no answer for Denver’s offense, which has an eFG% of 57.7%.

Additionally, over the course of the season, Denver was the far superior team with an Adjusted Net Rating of +2.7 compared to the Wolves at -0.2, per Dunks And Threes. Even in this series, Denver has a +8.8 Net Rating, second only to Philadelphia who swept their first round opponents in the Brooklyn Nets.

This series is over and I’m just waiting for the Nuggets to formalize it before betting on them to beat the Suns in the Western Conference semifinals.

Verdict: Extremely Unlikely

Knicks Odds: -520 | Cavaliers Odds: +400

This is a series I expected to be a grind, but New York has dominated on the offensive boards and controlled the tone of this series. I wrote extensively about how the Cavaliers seem to be running out of options from a personnel perspective as their rotations continue to shorten and they have been unable to contain Jalen Brunson.

The surprising part about this series has been head coach Tom Thibodeau’s ability to make adjustments, something he is not necessarily known for during the regular season. Sitting Julius Randle down the stretch of Game 4, playing Obi Toppin more minutes, and even throwing Deuce McBride out there for his defense at times, are notable in-game tweaks. Those adjustments, along with a heavy dose of Josh Hart, have given the Knicks an edge in this series.

The Cavaliers get two home games though, and while they need to win out, a return home for Game 5 and 7 would be a welcome sight for them after dropping both games at the Garden. Brunson has been the best player in the series, but Donovan Mitchell should be. With the All-NBA talent he has, there is always a chance he simply goes nuclear for three games and wills the Cavaliers to victory.

The problem I have with Cleveland is they really only have two primary scoring options in their best lineup, and it has allowed the Knicks to throw extra defenders at both Mitchell and Garland while they help off of Issac Okoro, Jarrett Allen, and Evan Mobley. When the Cavs run Caris LeVert instead of Okoro, he becomes enough of a liability on defense for the Knicks to matchup-hunt.

I think the Knicks (+1100 to win the East at DraftKings) close this series out and there is a bit of value on both them and another team we will discuss to win the East.

Verdict: Unlikely 

Grizzlies Odds: +640 | Lakers Odds: -950

This is where the series start to get interesting. The Lakers and Grizzlies have played some very tight games and Anthony Davis had one excellent game but is mostly underwhelming otherwise during this series.

The Grizzlies can still come back in this spot; however, the Lakers have a significant edge with LeBron James at the helm. He knows what it takes to come back from a 3-1 and the mental edge needed to finish the job.

Neither team is shooting particularly well this series, which is a testament to interior defenders Jaren Jackson Jr and Davis. However, Memphis has relied on their transition offense this entire season and that has not been as easy to come by during this series. Their transition opportunities are down from 17.9% to 16.2%, as they have been unable to capitalize on Lakers’ turnovers, per Cleaning the Glass.

The one way Memphis would be able to come back in this spot is the inherent injury risk to both James and Davis, and their shooting could regulate as their actual eFG% is the worst of all playoff teams and is about 6% worse than their expected eFG%.

I do not see tremendous value on the number (+640), I’d rather bet Memphis to win the West (+3600) because I think the next matchup between either the Kings or Warriors is a softer path.

Verdict: Unlikely, But Worth Watching

Clippers Odds: +6500 | Suns Odds: -50000

This series is still the one with the highest probability of an upset relative to the odds. The Clippers are listed at +6500 to win this series at FanDuel, which gives them just a 1.52% chance of coming back. While the Suns have been better, they have not been able to blow the Clippers out of the water even without Kawhi Leonard (who may return at some point if the Clippers can extend this series).

The Clippers can upset this Suns team that relies primarily on 2-point shots if they lean into their own 3-point shooting ability. The Clippers are shooting 36.9% from beyond the arc, but are taking just 34% of their shots from 3-point range. That’s still a roughly 4% increase from their regular season frequency, but there is still room to grow. Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue is known for his adjustments and in the last two games the Clippers have attempted over 37.5% of their shots from deep. This is a calculated change to adjust for the absence of Leonard.

If the Clippers run hot with strong 3-point shooting from Eric Gordon, Norman Powell, and Nicolas Batum, coupled with the floor raiser that is Russell Westbrook, they absolutely have a better than 1.52% chance of winning this series simply due to the math advantage they can create with pushing the Pace and shooting well from distance.

The talent disparity is there with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul for the Suns, but the Clippers have Lue and math on their side.

Verdict: Odds Are Better Than the Number, Still Unlikely

Bucks Odds: +110 | Heat Odds: -130

The Bucks are stunningly down 3-1 in this series against Playoff Jimmy Butler and Miami Heat Culture. This is a shocking development after the expectation entering Game 4 that Giannis Antetokounmpo would return and even this series at two games apiece.

In the Bucks’ lone win, they blew the doors off the Heat; however, the Heat shoot so many 3s that they are able to fight back from nearly any in-game deficit. Miami has an eFG% of 57.9%, an incredible 6.1% better than their third-worst expected eFG% among of all playoff teams. They are shooting the cover off the ball and they simply need one more game of shooting the lights out to close this series. They are severely underpriced at (-130), which translates to 54.28% implied odds to win the series.

While I think the Bucks are the most talented of the teams down 3-1, the Heat’s shot profile is concerning for them. Milwaukee is not even playing that poorly. They obviously missed Antetokounmpo for about 2.5 games, but they are also shooting well with an actual eFG% of 57.4% that is outpacing their expected eFG% by about 4%. The Bucks need Miami to regress from the field while they simultaneously improve for three games.

Miami is (+2000 BetRivers) to win the East and their most likely path is through New York then the winner of a brutal series between the Celtics and the 76ers. It’s not necessarily likely that Miami represents the Eastern Conference in the Finals, but it certainly is more likely than 4.76%, which is what those odds imply.

Verdict: Bucks Have the Talent to Comeback, Number Is Bad

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