The NBA playoffs usually are not that unpredictable.
Teams that are favored generally go deep in the postseason. That is changing a bit in the load-management era, but there’s some semblance of order. The good teams generally win more.
That’s part of what has made this year’s conference finals so fun.
Underdogs have covered every single game in the conference finals. Five times in seven games, the underdog has won straight up.
Most casual bettors like betting favorites. If they’ve done so in this round of the NBA playoffs, there have been a lot of losses.
Heat have been fantastic in East
The East in particular has been turned upside down because everyone was slow to realize how good the Miami Heat have been.
The Heat was a +400 underdog in their series against the Boston Celtics. The point spreads for each game look comical in retrospect. Miami was an 8.5-point underdog in Game 1. The Heat won. And after that win, Boston was an even bigger favorite in Game 2. Miami won straight up as a 10-point underdog. And after Miami had won twice in Boston — after already beating the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks in the first two rounds — the Celtics were still favored in Game 3. Miami was a 4.5-point home underdog and won by 26.
You can’t blame BetMGM for continuing to make Boston a favorite. In Game 3, a Celtics team down 0-2 yet favored on the road got 58% of the money bet on the spread.
After seeing Boston embarrass itself in Game 3, the Heat are getting more respect for Game 4. Miami is a 1.5-point favorite. And 74% of the money bet on the spread at BetMGM as of Tuesday morning is on the Heat.
Given how well underdogs have fared in the conference finals, perhaps it’s Boston’s time to shine.
West underdogs covered each game
The Western Conference finals weren’t quite as crazy. The No. 1 seeded Denver Nuggets swept. But the way the lines shifted for Games 3 and 4 was curious.
The Nuggets were favored in the first two games but the Lakers covered by a half point in both games (it was a push in Game 1 for those bettors who got the Lakers at +6).
It just got a little weird when the series went to LA. The Lakers were a surprising 5.5-point favorite in Game 3 after losing both games in Denver. That was an 11-point shift from Game 2, when the Nuggets were favored by 5.5. Denver won Game 3, and then won Game 4 as a 3.5-point underdog.
Oddsmakers set a bad line in Game 4. It is hard to see how they would make Lakers a 3.5-point underdog to a Nuggets team that was a No. 1 seed, clearly outplayed Los Angeles in the first three games and was up 3-0 in the series. It was a mistake and bettors took advantage. In Game 4, 85% of the money bet on the spread and 84% of the money bet on the moneyline was on the Nuggets, who won straight up.
We’ll see how the NBA Finals go. There won’t be the Lakers or (presumably) Celtics to have inflated lines based on public money. Underdog bettors just wish these conference finals would never end.