A lot of casual NBA bettors make a big mistake – they assume that betting on the NBA playoffs is just the same as betting on the regular season. That is true in some ways – the basketball team that scores the most points still wins, for example. There are some significant ways in which the playoffs are different, though, and those differences are particularly significant for bettors. Here are six of the biggest differences that can influence handicappers:
Recurring opponent – This is an obvious factor – NBA teams play each other seven times in a row in the playoffs, while even two in a row are rare during the regular season. Just because it is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t crucially important for sports bettors to consider, though. In fact, it’s a factor that most casual bettors overlook in the playoffs. When a team plays an opponent several times in a row there are far fewer secrets between the teams. Players know what to expect, they learn the tendencies and preferences of their opponent, and they can spot the weaknesses and identify the strengths. As a result, skill takes more of a precedence than it might in the regular season because it is harder for teams to overcome skill deficits with other strategic considerations. NBA teams that are able to adapt and adjust quickly also have a big advantage over teams who are more reliant on a system and less able to change when their system is no longer working optimally. When teams play several times in a row there is also typically an increase in tension between the teams, and the temperature of the games can rise. Teams that are more disciplined and self-controlled are going to have a big advantage over teams that let their emotions get away from them.
Coaching differences magnified – Coaching is always important in the NBA, but never more so than in the playoffs. Coaches need to be able to adapt and adjust to their opponents – both between games, and in the course of games. Both teams are playing at full intensity, so games are often closer coming down the stretch than in the regular season. That means that game management, including bench, on court and clock, is even more important than normal. Coaches also need to keep their players focused – not too high after wins, and not too low after losses. For all of those reasons the value of the coaches, their hold on their team, and their experience, are more important in the league playoffs than in the regular season.
Travel less of a factor – Travel can be brutal in the NBA. The schedule makers favor back-to-back games on the road, so teams can easily be very worn down at the end of road trips and even in their first game or two back on their home court. The longest road trip a team can be subjected to in the NBA playoffs is three games, and the only way they have to travel between road games is if they clinch one series and then start the next one right away on the road – a rare occurrence. The travel is much more comfortable in the playoffs, so bettors need to worry about the impact of it far less than they would in the regular season.
More public action – The general public is drawn to NBA playoff betting more than they are in the regular season for the most part, and that interest intensifies the further they get into the playoffs. Whenever the public action increases bettors need to be more concerned than usual about what tendencies or biases the public might have, and what effect that has on how the lines are set and how they move. If you aren’t very aware of public tendencies then you can make bets that don’t have nearly as much value as they initially seem to. Pay attention to this when handicapping the playoffs.
Intensity shifts – Teams in the NBA are notorious during the regular season for not playing at full intensity when they don’t have to. It can be very frustrating to see an elite team lay an egg against a serious contender because the game doesn’t matter significantly in the standings. It would be fine for bettors if they were predictably inconsistent, but that’s not always the case. In the playoffs, though, every game matters. Unless basketball teams have real problems they shift their intensity to a new level, and they play as hard as they can every game. That means that you don’t have to be nearly as much of an amateur psychologist to predict motivation in the NBA playoffs. It also means as a sports handicapper that you need to be better in the playoffs than in the regular season at evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of teams and effectively determining their comparative strength.
Mismatches are increasingly rare – One of the best parts of regular season NBA betting is that there are real and significant mismatches. There are some extremely good NBA teams and some that are really, really bad. That doesn’t mean that the good team will cover, or even win, every game, but it is an advantage in handicapping. making the playoffs is far from easy, though, so teams that make the NBA playoffs are mostly strong teams. There are rare exceptions, and there can indeed be mismatches in the first round. For the most part, though, teams that are in the playoffs are dangerous, and are capable of winning a game or a series if everything goes their way.