The high seeds in the NBA playoffs are very dominant. For example, a number one seed has lost to a number eight just three times in NBA history. A sixth seed, the 1995 Houston Rockets, are the lowest seed ever to win it all. Generally there are a few teams each year that are clearly above the rest of the league, and those are the teams that are going to contend for the title – and typically cruise through their first round or two. Because upsets are relatively rare in the NBA they can be tough to spot. Here are four ways for sports bettors to tell that a high seed could be vulnerable:
Recent form not matching reputation – Typically a NBA team earns a high seed – one of the top three – because they have played very well throughout the whole season. Sometimes, though, teams played well for most of the season and built enough of a lead to maintain their position despite playing worse down the stretch. People will let the high seeding blind them to recent issues if the exist. Maybe the team is looking tired and not playing with the intensity they once were. Perhaps teams are getting better at figuring out how to deal with them. Or perhaps they weren’t able to switch it into another gear down the stretch when other teams did. Whatever the case it’s important to make sure that recent play matches the seeding of the team. It’s not just the record of the team that can indicate their form, either. You need to look beyond that at their statistical performance. Are they shooting as well as they were earlier in the season? Is their rebounding as effective? Are they playing with similar defensive intensity? How are turnovers measuring up to where they were? How about assists? Are they tough around the hoop?
Exploitable weaknesses – NBA teams that are seeded highly won’t have lost a lot of games during the season. It’s important to look back when they did lose, though, to see if there were consistent patterns to those losses. Did they consistently lose to teams that were long and tall, or teams that were particularly fast? Were they vulnerable to strong shooting teams that could hit from the three-pint mark and also from the paint, or to teams that were relentless on defense, ably causing turnovers and blocking shots? Did they tend to struggle against elite centers, or were outstanding point guards their Achilles’ heel? If you can find situations that have consistently led to problems for the team then you can determine whether those circumstances are going to be an issue in the playoffs. Essentially this all boils down to matchups. If a NBA team has consistently been bested by a particular type of matchup problem then you need to determine whether that matchup issue exists in the first round as well, or if there is some way that the lower seeded team can take advantage of the shortcoming.
Injuries – Injuries could obviously have a big impact on the success of the team. Some injuries are going to be obvious – if Kobe Bryant were to get hurt the Lakers would be impacted significantly. There are other situations that are far more interesting from a betting perspective, though – ones that won’t get nearly as much attention but which can have a significant impact. Is there a lesser starter who is out of action? How about a key backup – one who would be relied upon for a lot of minutes and production? Beyond players who are out of action you can gain a lot by getting a sense of which players are playing but aren’t at full capacity. If the stars are playing but aren’t at full strength then the team might not be as strong as the public suspects they will be and you could have a betting opportunity.
Lower seed stronger than it seems – People get blinded by a low seed n he NBA as much as they do by a high one. They assume that a low seeded team isn’t nearly as good as their higher seeded counterpart. Sometimes, though, that isn’t the case. Perhaps the difference in terms of points between the low seed and the high one isn’t significant. Or perhaps the lower seed has been playing particularly well recently in order to get into the playoffs. Maybe they made a trade at or near the deadline that is starting to pay off right now. Or perhaps injuries that slowed them down early in the season aren’t doing so now. There are many reasons why a lower seed can be deceptively strong. Spotting them and wagering on them can be very profitable. Handicap the high and low NBA playoff seeds carefully.