by Simon Noble - 4/27/2006
After a grueling 82-game regular season, the NBA playoffs are finally here, which is one of the busiest betting events every year. During the post season many sharper players shift their focus from sides and totals to something easier to beat: playoff series wagers.
Betting on the winner of a series often provides a bigger return on investment than betting on a straight side. Consider this hypothetical: two fairly equal teams are playing a best of seven series at a neutral site. One can bet on any of the seven games at Pick'em, or the winner of the series. From basic handicapping, every bettor knows that the two teams aren't equal and that one of the teams should win each game about 52% of the time. The fair moneyline for each game is (-52/48 * 100) = -108.3. Taking advantage of the 10-cent reduced juice lines at Pinnacle Sportsbook will usually give bettors a marginal play, while betting at a traditional sportsbook's 20-cent lines will almost always leave players making negative wagers on NBA sides.
Considering the series play, the team handicapped as a favorite will win the series about 54.3% of the time. This is the danger bookmakers face when handicapping series - small mistakes in the line compound themselves, giving the players better opportunities than found just betting the games themselves.
The odds in this example are similar to what one would expect if San Antonio and Dallas meet in the second round of the playoffs using Sagarin's power ratings - the Spurs would most likely be a moderate favorite at home, and a small dog on the road. Unfortunately, blindly using power ratings doesn't work as well in the playoffs. Some teams, especially those that started the season slow and finished strong, will outperform their power rating. Understanding situational factors is critical not just to playoff game betting, but mid-series betting as well. Two examples being that home court advantage increases in a game 7 and that teams that get blown out usually play better than after losing a tight game.
Another helpful tip about mid-series betting is to pass on long-shots down 3 games to 0. There's been 63 times where a team was up 3-0 and no NBA team down 3-0 has ever comeback to win the series. The great comeback requires more than just winning 4 evenly matched games as the team up 3-0 is not only superior team, but will likely play 2 out of the 4 games at home. Consider the current Detroit-Milwaukee series. Detroit at home is a 13:1 favorite. On the road, Detroit will be better than a 2:1 favorite. If Milwaukee gets down 3-0 and the market prices are right, the Bucks chances of completing the first "grand-slam" series comeback are (1/14)(1/14)(1/3)(1/3), or 1764 to 1 against.
Whenever playing futures, bettors should also know how much juice they're paying. How can one figure this out? The Pinnacle Sports Book homepage provides a calculator where you can type in the moneylines and it will calculate the juice. Players who aren't used to higher moneylines often mistakenly believe they're paying more juice, since the two moneylines are further apart. If you see a series priced at -480/+440 at PinnacleSports.com, the house edge is only 1.26% - much less than the 1.92% edge on a MLB game with -104/-104 pricing. If you want to know how much juice another sportsbook is charging, use the calculator and compare.
A simple trend to remember with series or mid-series betting is to never underestimate the result of the first game in the series. The winner of the first game in a series ultimately takes the series 79% of the time.
Bettors should also be careful with the size of bets to avoid hedging. At Pinnacle Sports Betting there are regular patterns in futures betting. Usually players who bet the long shots often bet against their initial future once it has equity, trying to "lock in a profit". For example, let's say a bettor has the Indiana Pacers to win the series at +320 and the New Jersey Nets (Indiana's opponent) are a -240 favorite in game 7. Many players with Indiana series bets would bet on the Nets in game 7. It's fine to bet on the Nets if you think that's "the right side", but it's a mistake to bet New Jersey just to hedge a future bet on the Pacers. If you're in a position where you need to hedge, you may have wagered too much on Indiana initially. Hedging out half of a play costs the juice on the hedge play; if you had just bet half as much to start with, you'd avoid that cost.
One thing to remember is that home court advantage becomes monstrous in a seventh game where home teams have won a whopping 85% of seventh games in NBA history. While many sharps know this and bet the game, many fail to cash in on mid-series wagers. If a team is up 3-1 or 3-2, don't be afraid to lay heavy chalk on the favorite. The NBA is unique with its game-7 home "locks" - in baseball, for instance, the home team wins closer to only 50% of seventh games.
With the first round series in full swing, future betting at Pinnacle Sports has been extremely active. Here's just a few examples of the futures the public and pros have expressed definitive opinions.
Detroit to win NBA Championship -127
The Pistons opened at +114, and after being flooded with public money, Detroit has fallen to a massive -127 favorite to win the NBA Championship. The Pistons finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA, despite losing its final 2 games while resting many players. Historically, the public has always backed the team with the best record to win the league championship. This year the public has also given support for the Suns, Clippers, Lakers and Kings to emerge as NBA champions.
Dallas to win the Western Conference +346
After taking multiple hits from sharps, the odds on the Mavericks to win the Western Conference fell from +405 to where it currently stands at +346. While the wise guys are backing them to win the conference, no one thinks Dallas can hang with Detroit. The Mavericks opened at +980 to win the NBA title, but the influx of Detroit money has elevated Dallas' price to +1133.