NBA Picks During Playoffs: When to Fade Chalky Top Seeds

Jason Lake

Friday, April 17, 2015 2:48 PM GMT

They might have the best records in their respective conferences, but if history is any judge, you might not want to add the Golden State Warriors or the Atlanta Hawks to your NBA picks this postseason.

Jason’s record as of Apr. 16: 72-72-5 ATS, 10-15 Totals, plus-0.15 units ML

 

Finally, we’ve made it through the regular season. Now’s when our betting strategy to exploit the NBA odds really has a chance to shine. Playoff basketball means more people watching the games, which means more casual fans jumping into the betting marketplace. Those are the people we’re trying to take money from – not the books, not the sharps. That’s not how things work.

The simplest way to take advantage of all this “dead money” is to fade the big favorites. Casual bettors are overly impressed by gaudy regular-season records. The playoffs are a different animal; competition is tougher, the game is played with more intensity, and in a seven-game series, even the smallest weaknesses are exposed. This gap between public perception and playoff reality is where our NBA picks get their value. We’re not just spouting philosophy here: Over the past decade, No. 1 seeds are 197-122 SU and 148-166-5 ATS.

 

Fall Forward, Spring Back
Aside from market forces, possibly the biggest reason why the No. 1 seeds struggle during the playoffs is pure attrition. By the time April rolls around, everybody has played way too much basketball and taken far too many airplane rides. This takes a toll on even the greatest athletes. A team that dominated the first half of the season might be a shell of itself after the All-Star break.

The Atlanta Hawks (60-22 SU, 50-30-2 ATS) resemble that remark. They had that amazing run after the holidays when they won 15 straight games SU and ATS. But they also enjoyed very good health – until recently. Paul Millsap (20.1 PER) is playing with a sore shoulder, Mike Scott (15.1 PER) has a bad back and is questionable for Game 1 of their series against the Brooklyn Nets, and Thabo Sefolosha (13.8 PER) is out with a broken leg.

The Hawks might survive anyway. They have an excellent starting five, and they still have some bench strength going into the playoffs. But you could have said the same thing about last year’s No. 1 seed in the East, the Indiana Pacers. They ended up going 9-10 ATS, including 2-4 ATS in their third-round loss to the Miami Heat.

Have you heard of the Zig-Zag theory when making NBA Playoffs Picks?

Lucky Thirteen
Pretty much the only top seeds that manage to make a profit during the postseason are the ones who go all the way and win the championship. But even those teams can be sketchy NBA picks. Last year’s San Antonio Spurs nearly got bounced out of the first round by the Dallas Mavericks, who bagged the cash in each of their first six games before honking the finale. The Spurs pulled out of their death spiral and finished the playoffs at 13-10 ATS.

That’s as good as things got for any of the five No. 1 seeds who won the title during the past decade. The Los Angeles Lakers also ended up at 13-10 ATS when they won the championship in 2009, then they went 12-11 ATS the following year – not enough to make a profit on the standard –110 vigorish. The Miami Heat were 12-11 ATS by the time they finished knocking off the Spurs two years ago. And the Boston Celtics scraped by at 14-12 ATS back in 2008.

If anyone’s going to break through this chalk ceiling, it could be this year’s No. 1 seed in the West, the Golden State Warriors (67-15 SU, 47-34-1 ATS). They’re relatively healthy, they’re deep, they play great defense, and they’re still pretty much a small-market team on top of all that. But the Warriors are also laying 11.5 points at home in Saturday’s first-round opener against the pesky New Orleans Pelicans, who just recently got their full complement of players back in the lineup. Here we go again.