As one would expect, historically, favorites have exhibited an edge SU in the opening games of the NBA playoffs. According to data from SportsInsights Bet Labs database, since 2005 teams laying chalk are 88-32 in the first game of the first series of the NBA playoffs. This record translates to a seemingly impressive 73% win rate, and appears consistent with the reality that higher seeds are generally favored in the playoffs because they are in fact better, more talented teams. However, the juiced up moneylines for many of these contests more than offsets the high win rate favorites have enjoyed. Since 2005, the return on investment to the simple strategy of backing favorites for the straight-up win in their first post-season game is -4%.
On the other hand, better teams do tend to beat the number in their first playoff contest. Favorites are a profitable 64-56 (53%) ATS since 2005 from this position, for a 4% ROI. This observation suggests that higher seeded teams that tend to draw favor from bookmakers do, in fact, possess sufficient talent and mental acuity to re-focus their efforts for the post season.
Further, of 55 identified post-season games since 2005 when the favorite entered the playoffs on some manner of losing streak, the team expected to win covered the spread 60% of the time (33-22), for an 18% ROI. Importantly though, the profitability of this system is driven by good teams that lost their last regular season game. This subset is 23-11 (68%) ATS, for a whooping 31% ROI.
Also of note, despite facing higher hurdles, big favorites have fared even better against the number than slight or modest favorites in the past. Teams giving up double-digit points in their initial post-season contest are 16-10 (62%) ATS, for a pretty remarkable 19% ROI. These results were produced in a small sample of games, nonetheless, this finding is consistent with the idea that wider betting spreads indicate bigger disparities in the abilities of opposing teams, and that the best teams are able to ground themselves in preparation for post-season action.
Several games Monday and Tuesday triggered the aforementioned systems.
Favorites on one-game losing streaks heading into playoffs:
Boston Celtics -6.5 vs Philadelphia 76ers
Milwaukee Bucks -11.5 vs Orlando Magic
Oklahoma City Thunder -1.5 @ Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Lakers -5.5 vs Portland Trail Blazers
Big favorites in first out of playoffs:
Milwaukee Bucks -11.5 vs. Orlando Magic