NBA Betting Trend Produces 80% 'Unders' in Games With Road Favorite & Total Over 200

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 6:29 PM UTC

Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 6:29 PM UTC

When handicapping the NBA playoffs, should sports bettors take the 'Playoff Atmosphere' into consideration? We walk you through this topic and share some information that you need to know before locking in your next NBA picks.

When asked by reporters days before the start of the 2014-2015 NBA playoffs whether he believed the Atlanta Hawks had a legitimate chance to win the Championship, Miami Heat guard and three-time league champion, Dwyane Wade cautioned, “They're a good team. I haven't seen them in a playoff atmosphere together, so I don't know if they're a contender or not.”

This idea of a playoff atmosphere is vague in nature and difficult to define, as a host of different characteristics comprise the added pressures placed on athletes to perform in these win-or-go home scenarios. Players know it. Fans know it. And, sports bettors know it. This is one of the many reasons experienced one's will tell you to treat playoff games differently from regular season contests. One source making up the playoff atmosphere is undoubtedly supplied by home-court advantage, which takes on an intensified version during the playoffs. Using this understanding, I've uncovered an angle playing against away favorites to meet game and team totals.

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There are several studies analyzing home-court advantage in the world of sports, and researchers typically agree four factors fuel its circumstances: the crowd, familiarity with local conditions, travel, and officiating. Travel may be the least likely to influence playoff games, since many teams are on identical rest cycles and flying to and from the same locations. Local conditions are a little harder to measure, but most can agree sleeping in your own bed at night is always a bonus.

Previous studies have proven how home-court environments places added pressures on officials to call a greater number of fouls against away teams, but recent research suggests this is diminishing, particularly in basketball. Most alarming is obviously the crowd , noise and spatial setting of the arena. As anyone who has experienced a playoff game can tell you, the home setting creates a level of intimidation against away teams, and encouragement for home organizations on a different level from the regular season. Heckling and cheering fans, new pyrotechnics, pesky public address announcers, are all part of the act. In many circumstances such an environment can provide an added boost to home defenses. Sports psychology studies show that in basketball contests, home-court advantage increases “functionally aggressive behavior,” benefiting defensive skills, such as rebounds, steals, and blocked shots. “Dysfunctional aggression” (i.e. fouls) were greater for the visiting team. Moreover, most finely-tuned skill based talents required for scoring are deemed more difficult to execute under unnerving conditions.

This rationale gives us some confidence in this scarce, yet unique angle. Since 2003, when a road favorite plays in a game where the overall total is expected to finish above 200 points, betting the under is 20-5. Given the fact that home-court advantage is greater in the NBA than the NFL, NHL, or MLB, it's perhaps not surprising this situation is so rare. Tallying up roughly the last 1,000 NBA Playoff games, close to only 180 have even contained an away favorite. The belief here is that the public tend to underestimate the playoff atmosphere's effect on a favored road team whose offense is expected to dictate the score. In fact, the away favorite failed to score their expected team total 21 out of 25 times in this scenario. A couple of other factors to consider is that zero playoff series have started with an away favorite on the NBA betting odds in over 12 years. Nor did any perform well enough, or have something drastic happen to them or their opponent to warrant favoritism for game two. Interesting to note, as shown in the chart below, is that all of the five games that went over the total occurred in game four of the series.



In the 2-2-1-1-1 series format played in the NBA Playoffs, this suggests the away favorite potentially performed better on offense in their second contest on the road after experiencing the “shock and awe” of the game three playoff atmosphere where unders are 8-0.

The Golden State Warriors travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans on Thursday. The Warriors, who played as away favorites with game totals above 200 in their two visits to The Big Easy this season, are expected to trigger this play, so keep this in mind when making your NBA picks. Expect a loud and raucous, Mardi-Gras like atmosphere for the Pelicans first playoff home game since the 2010-2011 season, as they hope to help slow down Steph Curry and company. 

NBA Picks: Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans (Game 3 of 7), Under

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