Tips and Tricks for Betting on NBA Playoffs

A low-angle shot of a basketball falling through a hoop.

Whether you’re a long-time basketball betting fan and luck was not on your side this year, or you’re new to the NBA and want to learn how to bet on the NBA playoffs, it will always serve you well to make sure you’re properly prepared with all the tips and tricks you can find! Keep on reading to find out what the NBA playoffs are, how they work, and some of the tactics you can use to try and increase your chances of winning if you are learning how to bet on the NBA playoffs.

What are the playoffs?

Every year, NBA fans prepare themselves for a showdown between the league’s greatest teams during the NBA playoffs. The playoffs is an elimination tournament with 16 teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences (the top eight per Conference) going up against each other to decide which is the best team from each conference, with the winners from the East and West finally facing each other to decide who is the greatest in the entire league in the NBA Finals. 

The playoff format

The playoffs make use of a bracket format in which the eight best teams from each conference play against each other to decide which is the best team from their respective conference. This is not a round-robin-style format, with each team facing off against each other. Instead, teams are seeded and play seven matches against each other in each stage of the playoffs. The first team to four wins is the winner of each set of matches.

The playoffs themselves are divided into multiple stages or rounds. The first round sees teams facing off according to their seed number, which is in turn decided by their record (this doesn’t apply to the seventh- and eighth-seed slots, in which the seventh- to 10th-seeded teams play to secure the last two positions in the playoffs,) with tie-breakers played if two teams had the same conference record. 

The format for the first round of the playoffs is as follows:

  • First seed vs eighth seed
  • Second seed vs seventh seed
  • Third seed vs sixth seed
  • Fourth seed vs fifth seed.

The winners of the first-round games will move onto their conference’s respective semi-finals matches. 

The format for the semis is as follows:

  • Winner of first and eighth seed vs winner of fourth and fifth seed
  • Winner of second and seventh seed vs winner of third and sixth seed.

This leads up to the conference finals, with the winners of the semis facing off against each other to decide who will make it into the NBA Finals. The Finals see the two best teams from each conference duke it out to claim the title of the best team in the NBA.

Tips and tricks for betting

A young man carrying a basketball smiles while he looks at his smartphone.

Now that we understand what the playoffs are and how they work, it’s time to get into some tips!

1. Keep an eye on the state of teams and their players

While we can all appreciate team loyalty, if you want to win, you need to do your homework about the teams involved and what’s going on with the players. Injuries, personal matters and even player arguments can happen quite suddenly, and what would have been a sure thing can suddenly go in the opposite direction, particularly if it impacts the players on a team’s starting lineup. 

2. Factor in the home-court advantage

While the home-court advantage isn’t suddenly going to change a bottom-seeded team into a top-seeded team, the truth is that when teams play at home it tends to positively impact the results of their games. An investigation into home-court advantage in 2013 by the Bleacher Report, titled “How Important Is Home-Court Advantage in the NBA?”, showed that teams win 60% of their games playing at home. 

This number is likely to have declined somewhat during the Covid-19 bubble games, but as fans return to the stands, it’s likely to rise again (although whether this is due to fan support for the team or the impact they have on referee bias as discussed in the Forbes article “Will NBA Referees — And Home-Court Advantage — Be Impacted By Empty Arenas?” is up for debate.)

3. Don’t underestimate the impact of the referees

Something many bettors don’t do is research the referees that will be officiating each game. However, as previous NBA scandals have highlighted, a referee can have a dramatic impact on a game, even going so far as rigging it. 

Now obviously the NBA has taken steps to deal with referees blatantly manipulating the outcome of games, but sometimes refs have biases or make mistakes that they aren’t even aware of, declaring calls that favor one team over another. 

At this point, this sort of decision-making isn’t outright unfair, and should basically be factored into whatever decision you make when it comes to your wagers, regardless of whether they’re NBA prop bets or any other kind of basketball wager.

4. Don’t forget to factor in the playoff schedule

Even the most astute bettors can forget to factor the number of games teams play and the time they have to rest between fixtures in the playoff schedule. But it can really be important.

For example, say a team had to play seven games to defeat their first opponent and only has two days to rest before going into their next matchup, which is against a team that won their match in four decisive games and had more time to rest. The team that had to play more games and had less time to rest will undoubtedly be on the back foot, so be sure to keep this in mind when placing your bets.

5. Don’t fall into these cognitive traps

As humans, we are all prone to certain biases (even refs, who we mentioned earlier.) However, we should do our best to avoid certain cognitive traps that can dramatically sway our decisions. Keep an eye out for these unwanted betting mentalities:

  • Confirmation bias – To prefer information that already confirms any pre-existing ideas we may have. For example, when betting on a team, looking at the wins they’ve had while ignoring any recent losses.
  • Gambler’s fallacy – The gambler’s fallacy is the idea that after a long streak of losses, you are due or “owed” a win soon. This concept could also be applied to your favorite sports team that’s having a bad run, with the belief that their fortune will change soon, even if their stats and recent performance are evidence of the opposite.
  • Optimism bias – This type of thinking leads us to believe we are somehow different and less likely to experience a negative result when doing something, such as placing a bet. If this was true, no one would ever lose a bet. When placing a bet on the playoffs, make sure you’re not betting on hope, but reasonably solid evidence that a wager is more likely to turn out a certain way than not.
  • Outcome bias – When the quality of a decision is based on its outcome. Sometimes when you gamble you can make the right call and still lose. Even in sports betting, where you have access to performance-based stats, a player can still have a bad day and completely throw a wager you made. Sports bettors need to understand when a poor outcome wasn’t necessarily indicative of a poor decision.
  • Recency bias – In this bias, the most recent events that we remember tend to be the most important ones to us, with past experiences or knowledge shelved away in the back of our minds. In basketball betting, this might mean recognizing that if a team historically loses against another squad, it might not be a good idea to wager on them winning, even if they’re on a hot streak.

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