I wish NBA bets were a little more popular. I say that because I think there’s tons of value to be found in pro basketball betting, much more so than in baseball or football, two sports that still draw in more betting cash than NBA roundball. Having said that, maybe the relative lack of cashflow is why the NBA market still offers a decent amount of value opportunities. Maybe y’all should stay away.
I’ve spent a few days digging through and updating some NBA trends and hunting for value tips I could share with folks to encourage them to bet on NBA games, regular season, or playoffs. With a mountain of publicly available data for the cost of a Google search, it isn’t hard for anyone to create their own personal NBA betting strategy.
The six value-finding tips below represent the beginnings of a sound NBA betting strategy.
Consider Home Court Advantage during the NBA Playoffs
Cliches built around home-court advantage are, ahem, a dime a dozen. You’ll often hear fans and old-school bettors say that a playoff series doesn’t really start until a road team wins. I think baked into that old adage is the sense that changes in venue have a big impact on NBA outcomes. I also think this is particularly true during the NBA postseason.
Home-court advantage is a real phenomenon, backed up by statistics. In different seasons, being the home team provides differing amounts of edge. In 2017, regular season home teams scored about 2.3 points above their average, but that number jumped to 6.3 during that year’s postseason. Home teams in the 2017 playoffs were performing about 4 points better than home teams during the regular season. That’s a significant difference.
How can we spin this into betting strategy? If the home team is significantly favored to win, we can consider the prospects of teams down 0-2 in the playoffs. Why 0-2? There’s a shift in venue (and thus in home-court advantage) in Game 3 of NBA playoffs series. How do teams who’ve been walloped on the road perform when they finally get some home-cooking?
Since 2005, excluding the 2020 bubble season in which home-court advantage was a non-entity, teams down 0-2 (and playing at home after a venue shift) are 80-38-2 against the spread, providing a win-rate of 67.8%. That’s a huge trend that’s easy to turn into a wager with a big upside. Backing underdogs down 0-2 would’ve been a profitable enterprise all the way back to 2004-2005, with a 29.4% ROI.
Wait, it gets better. If we only look at teams in this situation against the first half spread since the 2015-2016 postseason, the record is 29-6, a ridiculous win-rate of 82.9%. That’s a 59.9% ROI, probably a figure you won’t see again in your sports betting career.
Here’s a problem with this tactic – oddsmakers have basically caught on. When Vegas sees a team go down 0-2 in the postseason, the set identical first-half and full-game lines, all but snuffing out the whole 29-6 ATS win-rate phenomenon. Still, there’s some value in backing teams who are willing to do anything to avoid going 0-3 in front of a home crowd.
Ignore the “Bet All Overs” Strategy
Yes, scoring is up in the NBA, as it generally is in all professional sports. Fans love points, players love points, bettors love points, everybody loves points. Pro leagues are only too happy to make changes or decisions that lead to increases in point totals.
If you read NBA betting strategy long enough, you’ll come across someone saying, “bet every over in the NBA and you can’t lose,” or something to that effect. The thinking is that the over game total bet wins so frequently that over time you’ll be profitable.
It isn’t true. Here’s why.
Look at the 2021 season for a good example of why this strategy isn’t profitable over time. Yes, the overs won more often than not, but they won at a rate of 50.18%. While that is technically a winning record, it’s nowhere near enough to overcome juice. It’s successful, I guess, but it isn’t profitable.
You can look back at past seasons for more examples of how a proposition can be successful without being profitable – in 2019, the overs won 50.7% of the time, better than in 2021, but still not high enough to be consistently profitable. In short, you’d lose money betting on every NBA over results, even though technically you’d win more than you’d lose.
Use a Modified Zig-Zag Strategy during the NBA Postseason
I’m not going to go into too much detail on the Zig-Zag Strategy because usually it’s more ridiculous than useful. I do think there’s some value in a kind of modified Zig-Zag during certain NBA playoff series.
Zig-Zag bettors wait for the playoffs then bet based on the result of game one. Whatever the result, they back the opposite result for game two. The thinking here is that the playoffs usually swing back and forth, and that eventually you’ll make money simply betting on that zig-zag pattern of W’s and L’s.
What would happen if you bet the opposite of every playoff game’s result? Long-term, it’s not even close to profitable. Going back to the NBA playoffs in the year 2000, betting a stubborn zig-zag would give you a 49% straight-up win-rate, and you’d only do slightly better betting ATS – a win-rate of 50.7%. In short, you’d lose money betting that way.
It’s much more effective to Zig-Zag your bets in specific contexts.
Here’s what I do:
I look for postseason series where a high-seeded team gets upset in Game 1. This happens more often than you’d think. Going back almost twenty seasons, teams seeded in the top three who lost the opening game of a playoff series are 25-16 against the spread in Game 2. That’s a 61% win-rate, enough to be considered a profitable system.
Over the long-term, backing favorites down 0-1 in Game 2 will earn you money. It took us 16 seasons to have 40 occasions to bet this way, so it’s not exactly an overnight success kind of plan, but it is effective.
This is a modified Zig-Zag because I’m betting for the opposite result of the previous game to occur. I’m zig-zagging, in a way, but not blindly. The reason this is a modified strategy is that we only bet that way in a very specific context.
Fade Teams Coming Off a Game 7
The NBA Playoffs are largely a battle of attrition. The team that wins is often the one whose most effective players were injured, sidelined, and exhausted the least. The impact on a team from a 5-game series is vastly different compared to the impact of a 6- or 7-game playoff series. This impact has actionable and noticeable effects on teams, already exhausted from the long regular season slog.
Game 7 winners are 32-47 straight up in the first game of their next series. That means a blind fade of Game 7 winners is a profitable strategy, with a win-rate of 60%, enough to overcome the effect of juice.
This effect doesn’t just stop at Game 1, either. Teams that finish a 7-game series are 33-46 in their next series, winning just 41% of the time. You could easily build a profitable strategy betting against these teams straight up or making futures or prop bets, as fading them gives you a 59% win-rate.
Take Overs on Losing Teams after the All-Star Break
I’ve had a lot of success looking at performance immediately before and after the NBA’s big All-Star Break that usually takes place every February. The break has a big impact on the league, shutting down courts and offices and concentrating attention on one arena and one set of players for about a week and a half.
Teams with losing records after the All-Star Break are not statistically very likely to make the playoffs, and the players understand this. These teams offer a lot of value in the time immediately after the sport’s big February break.
In the first two games after the break, going back to 2005, over bets on games involving teams with losing records are 50-24-1, for a lovely and profitable win-rate of 67.6%. For comparison, if you bet on all overs during that same time, your win-rate would be 55.1%, barely profitable and not really worth the time investment.
Look for line movement on these games immediately after the NBA All-Star Break – if the line moves in the direction of the money, you can assume that means Vegas is backing the over, too.
Why does this happen? Losing teams with no playoff hopes basically stop playing defense. The average points scored goes through the roof in sometimes unpredictable but consistent ways.
Play Unders (Wisely) in Postseason NBA Play
The postseason is a magnet for bad bettors – this is true in the NBA and every other major American sports. You can’t consistently make money fading the public in general during the NBA postseason, but with a little more effort you can still use this tendency as part of your NBA betting strategy.
Typically, NBA teams average 2 or 3 fewer possessions during the playoffs than the regular season. That means less scoring.
Playing unders gets a lot smarter during the NBA Playoffs. Bettors are expecting more scoring even though teams are consistently playing slower ball and seeing fewer possessions. That’s a perfect storm for value if you can find it.
Going back to the 2017-2018 Playoffs, unders are 132-112-4 for a win-rate of 54%, right in the neighborhood of profitability, and all from simply fading the betting public’s over tendency, blindly. If you wait to bet until a Game 7, you can take the under and win at a rate of around 61%. Game 7 unders are 33-21 all-time. Teams are nervous. Coaches are nervous. Bettors, on the other hand, are expecting huge point totals and standout performances from their heroes.
Remember – blindly betting unders on Game 7 is a profitable strategy, winning 41 out of 67 times in the last 25 postseasons.
It’s key in NBA betting to create a system that works for you and then apply it rigorously and consistently. You also need to evaluate your performance regularly and be willing to make changes if your system isn’t working.
The tips above are designed to give bettors some immediate help and to show them how they can create their own betting systems or handicapping strategies to beat the oddsmakers on NBA games.