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NBA Playoff Betting Tips

Spinning BallIf you already enjoy betting on NBA basketball, then you’re going to really love gambling when the post-season comes around. With 82 games worth of information and a seven-game-series format, there are several ways to exploit historical knowledge for winning picks and profits. Even if you’re brand new to basketball wagers, there are simple approaches to identifying value and basic tips you can follow to build your bankroll.

As always, the most critical step to betting on the NBA playoffs is to get the basics down first. That means understanding what a bankroll is and managing it responsibly. It also includes knowing how to bet for value rather than blindly trying to pick winners, regardless of the odds being offered by the sportsbook. Once you’ve trained yourself to always keep those primary principles in mind, you should be set for some post-season success.

Those of us that have followed the NBA for quite some time can tell you that the playoffs have a different feel to them than the regular-season games. Teams play the same opponent several nights in a row, which puts a premium on quality coaching and making adjustments. Officiating crews also call the games differently, often letting teams play more physical.

They also have a nasty reputation for going out of their way to extend series by favoring one side over the other, depending on the situation.

This is an incredibly frustrating fact when you’re watching as a fan, but it can be useful information when you’re thinking like a gambler.

This article is a list of playoff betting tips that anyone can use to increase their odds of taking home money from the bookmakers. Obviously, there are no sure things when it comes to sports gambling, but even incremental improvements in your winning percentages mixed with the right approach to value can payoff significantly long term. It just takes the proper perspective, a bit of insight into the most meaningful variables influencing a game’s outcome, and a feel for the rhythm of the NBA playoffs.

Organize Your Gambling Funds Before Round 1

If you’re someone that’s interested in wagering on some playoff games, you should consider getting prepared before the first round even begins. There should be a few days between the end of the regular season and the first series. Utilize this time to organize your bankroll and plan your staking strategy.


If you don’t stay disciplined with your gambling finances it will be nearly impossible to have sustained success over any meaningful length of time, and you’ll be much more prone to negative behaviors like problem gambling and chasing your losses.

Bankroll management is the most crucial aspect of gambling to master. You’ll want to take a look at your finances before even studying the playoff schedule, and determine how much money you can afford to lose betting without it negatively impacting your day-to-day life in any way. Once you’ve figured out that number, set the money aside; that’s your bankroll.

Next, you’ll want to look at the playoff schedule and identify any series that are of particular interest to you. Figure out how often you plan to bet and how many individual wagers your bankroll needs to accommodate.

Once you have a number, simply divide the bankroll amount by the total number of games on which you plan to bet, and don’t go over that amount for any single game. This is called your “staking plan.”

You may also organize your staking by betting a fixed percentage of your total bankroll for each wager. This way, your staking amounts will grow as you become more successful and your bank grows, and you’ll wager less per bet when you have a cold streak. Whichever system you choose, having a detailed plan for your gambling money is of paramount importance.

Only Place Bets with Positive Value

Bankroll management is the most important concept to understand and take seriously when gambling, but understanding value is an extremely close second. Finding value involves understanding how to convert betting odds into a percentage of implied probability, and then making informed decisions based on the results.


When the real-life likelihood of an outcome happening is higher than the implied probability provided by the odds, that bet has positive value.

Eventually, all of your betting activity becomes as easy as comparing percentages of probability and only placing a wager when the implied probability is the smaller of the two numbers. Then the game is all about maximizing your accuracy when determining the true likelihood.

The implied probability percentage is simple to calculate; coming up with accurate predictions can be more challenging. That’s why professional handicappers spend all of their time crunching numbers and studying analytics to improve the accuracy of their probability models and simulations.

But it doesn’t always have to be that time consuming or difficult. You can also apply your knowledge of value betting to betting systems that have already proven to win at a decent percentage. In fact, we’ve already written an article of historically successful betting systems that you can use in conjunction with your understanding of value to profit from the NBA playoffs.

Know Your Officials

RefsIf you’ve been watching NBA basketball for awhile as a fan, you’ve probably already got a few referees in mind that you think are terrible, if not wholly crooked. The Tim Donaghy scandal taught us that the same officials tasked with refereeing the games have been prone to bet on those very contests in the past, essentially rigging NBA games.

Sure, the league went into public relations overdrive to convince the world that this was only a single disgraced criminal and not a more widespread problem, but that seems unlikely.

For instance, Scott Foster, a current NBA referee who consistently gets assigned to meaningful playoff games, was proven to have called Donaghy before and after games on which Tim wagered. A sports betting expert examined the games associated with these phone calls and found that every time the line moved more than two points, indicating large sums of money coming in on one side of the bet, big money moving the line won 100% of the time.

Now, clearly, this is highly suspicious. There’s no way to know if NBA officials are still betting on games; it seems like they are, but we can’t be sure. What we do know is that specific referees follow particular patterns or biases. Using him as an example once again, Scott Foster has a tendency to favor away teams over the home crowd.

Other refs will do their best to keep games close, calling fouls and violations as necessary to help the trailing team get back in the game. Another example is Ken Mauer, who seems to go out of his way to push the home team towards victory. The NBA then uses these referee tendencies to their benefit without expressly saying anything that can get the league in hot water.

For Example

When the Houston Rockets got ahead 3 games to 2 over the Golden State Warriors, Mauer was assigned to Game 6. The Rockets came out hot and built up an early lead. For the entire second quarter and the majority of the third, the refs allowed the Warriors to play extremely physical, while the Rockets were called for touch fouls on the other end.

Once they completely derailed Houston’s momentum and allowed Golden State to get a comfortable lead, they started making calls for the Rockets so that the final free throw numbers would look legitimate and fair.

In Game 7 with Houston at home, Scott Foster, the infamous home-team-killer, was given the job. As expected, the Rockets were on the losing end of numerous momentum-swinging calls. Eventually, they ran out of gas again, and the series was over. Still, while this is the sort of thing that’s a nightmare for fans, it’s highly predictable and exploitable by gamblers.

Keep Rest in Mind

J Harden RestingSometimes the playoff schedule can beat a team before the game even starts. After the first round, teams that finished their series quickly get to wait and rest while their opponent concludes their matchup. This can be extremely advantageous for the resting squad, especially if their opponent takes seven games to advance.

Using the Houston Rockets as an example once again, in 2018, the Rockets won their first-round matchup with the Timberwolves in five games. Utah took six to dispatch of the Oklahoma City Thunder and was forced to play Game 1 in Houston only two days after their Game 6 victory. As expected, the fatigued team came out flat and were promptly destroyed for the entire contest.

Rest is something you should be especially mindful of in the early games of rounds two and three.

Early in the post-season, the top-seeded teams are matched up against the lowest seeds, increasing the probability of sweeps or quick series.

Meanwhile, their second and third round opponents are forced to play more evenly-matched foes in those early series, increasing the probability of it going six or seven games. Whenever there’s a quick turnaround of only 48 hours between series’, bet against the team with little rest or time to prepare for a new opponent.

Does the Regular-Season Strategy Work in the Post-Season?

Some teams are just built to succeed in the regular season, but once the playoffs start, they crumble. This can happen for a number of reasons. Organizations that rely on operating in the margins, doing things like exploiting flopping and embellishments to get fouls called, resulting in free throws, are a prime target for regression when it’s all on the line.

Another prime target for steep performance declines are teams without much bench depth, who play their starters way too many minutes. The Minnesota Timberwolves are a perfect example of this happening. Coach Tom Thibodeau plays his starters insane minutes all season long, and by the time the post-season is here, he’s run them all into the ground. Every game, they start out strong before completely fading in the second half.


When researching playoff series, look for any statistics that stand out as unsustainable.

This can be anything from relying on high numbers of free throws per game, higher-than-average minutes played per game for several key players, or surprisingly high field goal or three-point percentages recorded over a short period of time.

Series Will Be Extended

This tip is related to the NBA’s officiating issues. It’s a known secret that referees will call games in a team’s favor if they’re behind a few games in a series to extend the round. The league makes more money if there are more playoff games on television, and the refs get more money if there are more games to officiate. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep these series’ going as long as possible.

You’ll see some egregious officiating in games three and four of any series in which the favored team has so-far won every contest. When the better team gets a 2-0 or 3-0 lead, the calls in the next matchup are almost guaranteed to favor the underdog home squad.

Use this to your advantage and bet against the sweep while the public bets their money on the team they saw winning most recently.

If it’s round three and two of the most popular or highest ranked teams are competing in a fiercely fought series, anticipate interference to get to Game 7. Approaching Game 6, bet on whichever side is currently behind with only two wins. There are times when franchises get closed out early, but more often than not, the association will want the ratings from that seventh contest.

Don’t Fall Victim to Recency Bias

The casual betting public seems to consistently get enamored with the most recent performance they watched. Whichever team won the previous contest is suddenly expected to keep on winning. However, the NBA rarely actually works out that way.


But, that’s a good thing for us because the more money the public pours onto the wrong side of the bet, the better the value will be for our wagers.

Look for Bounce-Back Games

When a team loses their previous game in the NBA playoffs, and their next matchup is taking place on their home court, bet the home team next. This becomes especially true if the home team is an underdog of ten or more points. Home dogs of ten or more points win against the spread 58.3% of the time, making this an extremely profitable scenario to find and exploit.

An organization that just experienced a blowout loss, but who is still favored on the road in the next matchup is also an excellent wager.

In this situation, we’re waiting for the public to bet down the line based on what they recently saw, while we wait to get the best odds betting the road favorite.

Teams who are favored on the road after losing by fifteen points or more in their previous contest cover the spread an insane 64% of the time. That’s a massive amount of value.

Upset Teams Heading Home

In the earlier rounds of the playoffs, search out instances when a favored team was recently upset. Teams that were just upset in the prior game, and are playing their next one in front of their home fans, win staggeringly often. Teams in this situation are 97 and 26 straight up and 72 and 47 against the spread. As soon as a favored team loses a first-round game, get ready to jump on them before the next tip-off.

The Wrap-Up

The NBA playoffs carry tremendous gambling potential for handicappers that follow the sport and have observed how series’ have played out in previous years. The most crucial tips involve creating and managing a bankroll and staking plan as well as making positive-value wagers exclusively. Once you’ve internalized those foundational concepts, you’re ready to jump into the wild world of the NBA post-season.

Your best bet is to familiarize yourself with the various referees who are assigned to the playoffs. These men will have more impact on the outcome of games than anyone ever wants to admit.

But why stick your head in the sand when you can easily profit from the suspect behavior instead?

Just look for big market teams or situations in which the league would benefit from a more extended series, and hammer the underdog! They are almost always gifted one game per round, either in game three or four, so it’s a relatively easy way to increase your bankroll.

Lastly, don’t let the last thing you saw overly-influence your next decisions. Too often people overreact to the previous contest and ignore the fact that playoff series’ tend to have large momentum swings and that teams make adjustments. Follow these tips, fade the public, and only gamble when there’s value in doing so, and you’ll be looking at a nice big wad of cash before the Warriors can raise yet another trophy!