Why Nuggets-Blazers Game 5 Could Come Down to NBA Playoff Experience

Why Nuggets-Blazers Game 5 Could Come Down to NBA Playoff Experience article feature image
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Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

  • Does experience really matter in the NBA playoffs?
  • Evan Abrams looks at how to factor it in when betting Game 5 of Nuggets-Blazers (10:30 p.m. ET on TNT).
  • Denver, which didn't make the 2017-18 playoffs, is tied 2-2 against Portland, which did make last postseason.

The Denver Nuggets are making a serious playoff run.

Of the eight teams left in the postseason, only the Nuggets failed to make the playoffs in 2017-18, finishing with a 46-36 record and last in a packed Northwest Division that featured four other teams making the postseason.

When it comes to the playoffs, the narrative has always been that experience matters. Whether it’s players or coaches who have been there before (like LeBron James), or even teams with numerous core players with playoff experience (like the Warriors), the betting market has always taken postseason experience very seriously.

According to our data at Bet Labs, non-playoff teams are 203-202-8 (50.1%) against the spread in the playoffs when facing a playoff team from the previous season since 2005.

When you look closer at series between returning playoff and teams that didn’t make the previous postseason, the team that made the playoffs the season prior has had more of an advantage in the betting market the deeper a series goes.

Here’s how the non-playoff team from the season prior performed against a returning playoff team in Games 1-4 vs. Games 5-7:

  • Games 1-4: 157-129-6 (54.9%) ATS; covered by 1.4 points per game
  • Games 5-7: 46-73-2 (38.7%) ATS; failed to cover by 1.5 points per game

The rule with handicapping is that usually more information is good information, and when you dig a little deeper in this situation, it really starts to reinforce this trend — especially with the 2019 Nuggets.

The Nuggets entered the postseason with only 148 total playoff games played between players on their current roster, which ranked dead last among all eight playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Only three Nuggets players can claim even 10 of those 148 games entering this postseason, and only Paul Millsap has averaged 20 or more minutes in the playoffs among those three players.

In their first-round series against the Spurs, the Nuggets went 2-1 straight up, but only 1-2 ATS in Games 5-7. The question remains whether Denver will fall back to those old habits in Game 5, or if the Nuggets — under Mike Malone in his first playoff run as a head coach — can use his previous playoff experience as an assistant to take a 3-2 lead back to Portland.