NBA Markets Adjust to Game One Unders

It's not often you see a postseason start with EIGHT STRAIGHT UNDERS. That's what happened Saturday and Sunday in the NBA Playoffs. Every single game went Under. Some by a lot. One by more than 50 points.

Eastern Conference
Indiana/Boston stayed Under by 52 points
Brooklyn/Philadelphia stayed Under by 16 points
Detroit/Milwaukee stayed Under by 12 points
Orlando/Toronto stayed Under by 8 points

Western Conference
Oklahoma City/Portland stayed Under by 20 points
San Antonio/Denver stayed Under by 14 points
LA Clippers/Golden State stayed Under by 7 points
Utah/Houston stayed Under by 0.5 points

One close call...but five double digits misses including that whopper in Boston. What happened? Is this just a fluke that will correct itself the rest of this week?

Let me say it this way. It WASN'T a fluke, but the market will correct itself this week. Clearly oddsmakers and quants didn't fully account for the traditional playoff dynamics that reduce scoring. There were some minor tweaks from regular season expectations that just weren't enough.

Among the reasons for all the Unders...

*Playoff defense is more intense
All the teams that have been slacking off on defense down the stretch to "save themselves" for the playoffs are now ready to bring peak intensity. And, teams that are defensive-minded anyway (like Indiana) put all of their effort into that in hopes of winning a wrestling match.

*It's harder to shoot well on three-pointers under playoff pressure
Look at some of the horrible three-point performances: Philadelphia 3/25, Oklahoma City 5/33, Indiana 6/27, Denver 6/28, Utah 7/27, Detroit 8/27. It sure wasn't pretty to watch, after seeing so many good college teams create open looks and drain them during the NCAA tournament. A lot of nervous shooting Saturday and Sunday.

*Free Throw volume goes down when trey volume is up
Referees who want to be celebrities can't even get their faces on camera if both offenses are just alternating three-point attempts. Only one team attempted 30 free throws in the openers...that was Philadelphia with Joel Embiid marching to the line.

*Teams with a lead emphasize grinding the clock
Quality teams are much savvier these days about running the shot clock down to five seconds while protecting a lead. And, it's easier to grab a long offensive rebound off a missed trey which extends the possession. The final six minutes will slow down unless one team has a mindset that it's going to keep attacking.

*Regular seasons are now very HIGH scoring, which created the wrong ceiling
The market tried to adjust from a very high regular season ceiling. It obviously should have come down more in the openers. We'll see what happens the rest of the way. Models overly influenced by regular season stats may be causing quants to overestimate postseason point totals.

We've already seen adjustments for Game Two numbers that are on the board. Though, the quants can be stubborn. They've jumped in on a few Overs after initial drops from oddsmakers. As a market observer, this is going to be a very interesting dynamic to follow throughout the postseason.

How should YOU handicap Over/Unders this week? Have the right mindset. The most important thing is to focus on the "best expectations" of shooting talent. Don't play "the due theory" because you think teams will start scoring. Or, from the other direction, don't bet Unders because you think Unders "are hot." Shortcuts just make you lose against the vigorish faster.

Sharps build models that reflect what talent is most likely to do. If a team averages 10 of 25 on treys, that's what they pencil in for each game. Maybe 9 of 25 for a playoff game. But, you'll never see a sharp say something like "this team is due to make some three's...I'm guessing 15 of 30 tonight." Or, "that team is due to cool off, I'm expecting 4 of 24."

The main difference between sharps and squares (the public) is that squares try to envision dramatic changes in form (reversals, zig zags, etc...) ...while sharps try to figure out if the market has properly priced what's "most likely" to happen.

Bet for value, not on the crazy ideas floating around in your head.