Shots Not Falling For Bettors in NBA Playoffs

LeBron and co. have been the only thing close to reliable in this year's playoffs. Photo via

LeBron and co. have been the only thing close to reliable in this year’s playoffs. Photo via

To say the NBA is unpredictable is like saying Donald Sterling has a bit of a tolerance problem.

In what other sports league does a downtrodden franchise (the Golden State Warriors) more than double its victory total over a two-year stretch, including posting consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in more than two decades … and then fire the coach who guided the turnaround?

In what other league does a marquee franchise (the Los Angeles Lakers) desire to retain a coach who finished with a 27-55 record … only to watch said coach say, “Yeah, no thanks, I’m gonna walk”?

And in what other league do double-digit leads in the playoffs disappear during a bathroom break … and former All-Stars (the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert) score 28 points in one game after scoring a combined 37 in the previous eight … and two No. 8 seeds push two No. 1 seeds to seven games—among a record five (out of eight) first-round playoff series to go the distance?

In retrospect, the most predictable part of the NBA postseason’s first five weeks was Sterling outing himself as a racist. (Really, it was only a matter of time.) As a result of so much unpredictability, the betting scales in the first two rounds have tipped in favor of the house—significantly. “The playoffs so far have been dramatic nightly,” says Chuck Esposito, the sportsbook boss at Sunset Station, “which has been great for the viewers, great for the league and, of course, really good for the race-and-sportsbook industry.”

Don’t let Esposito’s modest comment fool you: If he and his colleagues around town were to pool the money they’ve banked from these playoffs so far, they could put in a bid to buy the Clippers.

The problem for bettors? The traditional NBA playoff formulas of backing home teams, playing small favorites and employing the zigzag theory—essentially, betting opposite of the previous game’s result—have been useless. Some stats to chew on: Over the first 66 playoff games played through May 12, road teams were 31-35 straight-up and 39-26-1 against the spread. Underdogs have the identical SU record, but are 44-21-1 ATS. Remove the eight games involving the Miami Heat, and that underdog mark is 30-28 SU and 42-15-1 ATS.

“When there’s a lot of parity, you see a lot of good matchups, it creates intrigue, it creates tremendous [betting] handle and it keeps us guessing as well,” Esposito says. “There are games where I think, ‘Man, this team is going to have to win this game,’ and it hasn’t happened.”

Math, history, logic and the law of averages all insist those ATS numbers will balance out over the next six weeks. The question is: Who has the guts (and bankroll) to roll those dice? Answer: Not me. I’ll be the guy in the back of the book studying Week 1 NFL numbers.

Matt Jacob appears Thursdays on’s First Preview, which airs 10-11 a.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1100-AM.

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