10-Point Guide To Handicapping Playoffs Including Where To Find Strongest Bet

NBA Playoffs Begin Saturday With Miami Now Odds-On 4-7 Favorite To Win It All

10-Point Guide To Handicapping Playoffs Including Where To Find Strongest Bet

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By Kelso Sturgeon

The National Basketball Association playoffs begin Saturday and heavy money keeps coming in on the defending champion Miami to win it all and that means the Heat have dropped another notch in futures wagering and are now the odds-on 4-7 favorites. Oklahoma City is the 7-2 second choice, while San Antonio is solidly entrenched in the third position at a generous 8-1.

If you believe a longshot is going to win it all, you can take a stand on the Milwaukee Bucks at 300-1, or play in a somewhat less dangerous situation by backing the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks at 200-1.

The only thing I am certain of is that the playoffs will end in early June and that they bring new challenges that will force those not mad at their money, and sincerely looking for winners to (1) dig deeply into all data and subjective information that might produce the winning edge, (2) proceed with extreme caution from one day to the next and (3) have the guts to take a stand when the situation merits it.

I have practice these things in closing out the regular NBA season on a five-day 5-0 run, setting the state for a successful march through the playoffs. Here is my record for the past five days and, as you can see, I won these five games by an average margin of 21.8 points.

The Closing 5-0 NBA Run

4/17...15 Units...Nuggets (-13) 118, Suns 98 (Won by 20)
4/16...15 Units...Clippers (-15) 93, Trail Blazers 77 Won by 16)
4/15...15 Units...Warriors (-4) 116, Spurs 106 (Won by 10)
4/14...10 Units...Rockets (-10.5) 121, Kings 100 (Won by 21)
4/13...Celtics (-4.5) 120, Magic 88 (Won by 32)

The final days of the NBA regular season are far more treacherous than the playoffs simply because of all the hidden elements, i.e. getting into the post-season, improving or protecting where one is to be seeded etc. and we navigated the hazards with success. You can expect the same in the playoffs.

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I take the classical overview of handicapping which means I believe everything that happens in one game is somewhat connected to what happened in the game before that and in the game after that. A team and its ability to win, and more important, to cover the number, is not a single-game process but is the result of tying it all together by looking back and looking ahead.

My handicapping is broken into two parts.

  • Evaluating teams by their statistical data, all of which is available to the general public.
  • Evaluating teams by researching factors that are not obvious and are not quantitative but will impact the outcome of a game.

10-Point Guide To Handicapping NBA Playoffs

1. Pick The Straight Up Winner
There will never be more than four games on any day of the playoffs and all of them will occur in the first round when eight teams will launch the post-season on Saturday, April 20, with the other eight playing on Sunday, and the first thing one must do is pick the straight up winner of each game.

2. Dealing With Inflated Betting Lines
Teams such as the Miami Dolphins and the Oklahoma City Thunder belong to the public and because bookmakers know they will automatically attract heavy square support, they will be offered at inflated betting lines. Bookmakers keep two sets of numbers for this situation - with the true number that reflects a team's ability against its opponent and the "public" number that deals with expected heavy action.

3. Does The Home Team Have A Proven Bias?
One of the most important elements in the handicapping process is the home court bias - and some teams really have won. The San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets lead the NBA in this category with both standing 36-3 at home. Keep in mind that means these teams have won 92% of the time during the regular season. Miami is 34-4 (89%) at home this season while Oklahoma City is 33-6 (85%).

4. The Best Teams All Have Won On The Road
I have always said only the good basketball teams win on the road and it is in those "away" games they show their true abilities. There are only eight teams among the 30 in the NBA who have winning road records this season and all eight are in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, those teams, with their road records, are Miami Heat (28-12), New York Knicks (22-17), Brooklyn Nets (22-17) and Chicago Bulls (20-18). In the Western Conference it is Oklahoma City (24-15), San Antonio (23-16), Los Angeles Clippers (21-17) and Memphis Grizzlies (22-17).

5. Pay Attention To Injury Reports
NBA injury reports during the regular season are more fiction than truth but are far more honest in the playoffs. Never bet a game until you have checked for injuries and know for certain the five starters you believe will be there are in fact ready to go.

No position on any team carries more weight than that of the point guard. If you see a team has lost its point guard you need to find out his replacement and how he has performed in the past. Some teams have good back-up point guards - the guy who runs the offense - and others do not.

6. Underdogs Are Most Dangerous In 1st Games
All playoff series are played on a best-of-7 basis, with the preliminary rounds played with a 2-2-1-1-1 format that means the higher-seeded team hosts the first two games, the lower seed the next two games, with the last three, if necessary, played on alternating courts. The championship round is played on with a 2-3-2 format. Regardless, the higher rated team begins each round with four home games, while the underdog hosts three.

This means the lower-seeded team will go all-out to try to win one of the first two games in order to shift the home court advantage their way. This does not mean one should blindly bet on these teams but certainly must give some consideration to the incentive factor in play.

7. Play On Any Favorite That Lost Its First Home Game
The last thing higher-seeded team wants is to lose the first home game of a series. Down 0-1 and having lost the home court advantage, teams such as this fire back with a vengeance in Game 2. I would never want to go overboard and say they qualify as an automatic bet in Game 2, but they are about as close as it gets to that.

8. The Strongest Play One Can Make Against An Underdog
Every underdog winner that got the money on the strength of a single factor - something such as hitting 58% of its field goals on that night or hitting 50% of its 3-point shots - is the strongest of all candidates to lose its next game. It is rare for any team, let alone an underdog, repeat that performance in its next game.

9. A Skeptical Eye Is Required
While we can expect games to be played in a more honest and predictable manner, there will be occasions when that will not be the case. Keep in mind that each series in the NBA playoffs is a best-of-seven event that means the first time to win four games captures the series and moves on to the next round.

When a team is down 3-0 against an obviously superior opponent, that team may show little interest in continuing the battle and put out less than 100% in game four. Every team in the playoffs is dead tired. The 82-game regular season takes a tremendous toll and the playoffs are even more taxing. A team down 3-0 has to be saying to itself: "we have no chance to win four straight, so let's just end it tonight and go home".

10. The Truth About The Championship Round
Many bettors and fans alike take the position the best-of-seven championship round that matches the winner of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference gives each team an equal chance to win. That is not so and it is of note Miami won the title series with Oklahoma City last year 4-1 and the year before that Dallas knocked off Miami 4-2. In the past 20 years, only three championship rounds went the full seven games and in that time frame there were three years the series were won 4-0.

NBA FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

EASTERN CONFERENCE

MIAMI HEAT (1) VS. MILWAUKEE BUCKS (8)
Game 1 @Miami: Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 2 @Miami: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 3 @Milwaukee: April 25, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 4 @Milwaukee: April 28, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
x-Game 5 @Miami: April 30
x-Game 6 @Milwaukee: May 2
x-Game 7 @Miami: May 4

NEW YORK KNICKS (2) VS. BOSTON CELTICS (7)
Game 1 @New York: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 @New York: Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Boston: April 26, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4 @Boston: April 28, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
x-Game 5 @New York: May 1
x-Game 6 @Boston: May 3
x-Game 7 @New York: May 5

INDIANA PACERS (3) VS. ATLANTA HAWKS (6)
Game 1 @Indiana: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 2 @Indiana: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 3 @Atlanta: April 27, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4 @Atlanta: April 29
x-Game 5 @Indiana: May 1
x-Game 6 @Atlanta: May 3
x-Game 7 @Indiana: May 5

BROOKLYN NETS (4) VS. CHICAGO BULLS (5)
Game 1 @Brooklyn: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2 @Brooklyn: Monday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Chicago: April 25, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 4 @Chicago: April 27, 2 p.m., TNT
x-Game 5 @Brooklyn: April 29
x-Game 6 @Chicago: May 2
x-Game 7 @Brooklyn: May 4

WESTERN CONFERENCE

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (1) VS. HOUSTON ROCKETS (8)
Game 1 @Oklahoma City: Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 2 @Oklahoma City: Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Houston: April 27, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4 @Houston: April 29
x-Game 5 @Oklahoma City: May 1
x-Game 6 @Houston: May 3
x-Game 7 @Oklahoma City: May 5

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (2) VS. LOS ANGELES LAKERS (7)
Game 1 @San Antonio: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 @San Antonio: Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Los Angeles: April 26, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4 @Los Angeles: April 28, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
x-Game 5 @San Antonio: April 30,
x-Game 6 @Los Angeles: May 2
x-Game 7 @San Antonio: May 4

DENVER NUGGETS (3) VS. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (6)
Game 1 @Denver: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2 @Denver: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Golden State: April 26, 10:30 p.m. ESPN2
Game 4 @Golden State: April 28, 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
x-Game 5 @Denver: April 30
x-Game 6 @Golden State: May 2
x-Game 7 @Denver: May 4

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (4) VS. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (5)
Game 1 @Los Angeles: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2 @Los Angeles: Monday, 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Memphis: April 25, 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 4 @Memphis: April 27, 4:30 p.m. ET, TNT
x-Game 5 @Los Angeles: April 30
x-Game 6 @Memphis: May 3
x-Game 7 @Los Angeles: May 5

"x" = if necessary

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