NBA Playoffs: Odds, Stats, & Historical Analysis For NBA Play-in Games

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NBA Playoffs: Odds, Stats, & Historical Analysis For NBA Play-in Games

The 2024 NBA postseason could be one for the ages given the amount of talent and depth. Although a number of teams possess a legitimate shot at the title, we’ll also see teams packing their bags early and potentially exceeding their NBA playoff odds. Check below for play-in tournament and playoff trends and tidbits, as well as a breakdown of the play-in format. 

NBA championship odds

Only two play-in teams (Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat) crack the top 14 for shortest championship odds at basketball betting sites, which is logical given their brutal paths. Not only do play-in squads have to avoid elimination and actually qualify for the playoffs, but they draw either the first or second seed in the first round. Plus, home-court advantage will not be in their favor either.

Insight from BetMGM 

As for the play-in matchups themselves, the following chart contains insight from BetMGM Sportsbook this week.

Moneyline Ticket %Moneyline Handle %Spread Ticket %Spread Handle %
Lakers at
Warriors at
Heat at
Hawks at
Data via BetMGM Sportsbook

For those looking at how to bet on the NBA play-in tournament, the Lakers and Warriors possess the vast majority of tickets and handle for both their moneyline and spread lines. Given the fact that these teams feature LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Stephen Curry, it’s likely that the superstar allure has somewhat of an impact here.

Additionally, here are the most popular bets based on the number of tickets: 

  1. Lakers moneyline (-105)
  2. Lakers spread (+1.5) 
  3. Warriors moneyline (-145)
  4. Heat moneyline (+165)
  5. Hawks moneyline (+125)

Play-in tournament format

The play-in tournament runs from April 16 to April 19 and will feature the following structure: 

This format debuted during the 2021 postseason, so this year marks the fourth edition of the tournament. Although the sample is tiny, here is what has happened so far. To start with, the seventh seed has defeated the eighth seed five out of six times (83%). Additionally, the ninth seed has eliminated the 10th seed four out of six times (66%). Although it’s not surprising that the superior seed won more times than not given the slight expected talent disparity, it’s worth noting that home-court advantage likely helped the higher seed’s cause, too. 

Meanwhile, the percentages below depict how frequently each regular season seed has made the playoffs in the previous three years: 

Essentially, it’s highly difficult for the worst seed (and theoretically worst team) to win back-to-back elimination games on the road, which is why no 10th seed has managed to qualify for the playoffs to this point. On the flip side, the seventh seed gets two chances at home to dispatch theoretically worse teams, thus granting it a large expected playoff appearance percentage. 

Play-in teams that reach the playoffs are not exactly favored to win the first round given the fact that they play the top two seeds; however, anything can happen in the playoffs. For example, the Los Angeles Lakers made the conference finals last year, while the Miami Heat reached the NBA Finals — both squads were play-in teams. 

According to BetMGM last week, three of the top five teams in ticket percentage and five of the top 10 teams in handle percentage are in the play-in tournament. 

Overall, it will be interesting to see whether the current trends hold up, especially given the amount of premier talent in this year’s iteration (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, etc.). Can a 10th seed finally pull off the upset and make the playoffs? 

History & stats to watch in NBA playoffs

Firstly, the regular season provides an accurate measure of overall strength and ceiling given its length. Two metrics in particular stand out: net rating and net effective field goal percentage

Net rating is simply a team’s point differential per 100 possessions. For example, Boston easily paced the NBA in net rating this season by outscoring opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions on average. 

Net effective field goal percentage, on the other hand, is a team’s effective field goal percentage minus that of its opponents. It adjusts for the fact that threes are worth more points than twos, a flaw in the traditional field goal percentage stat. 

The metrics show which teams consistently outperform their opponents from a points-per-possession and shot-making basis — necessary traits for a title contender. In fact, of the past 15 NBA champions, 14 of them ranked in the top six during their respective regular seasons in net rating, while 14 of them were top seven in net effective field goal percentage. That raises a question: Which teams cracked the top seven for both categories this season? 

Per BetMGM last week, these four teams hold 42% of tickets and 59% of the handle to win the championship.

Speaking of title favorites, here’s another twist to the story — the top seeds in both conferences have squared off in the NBA Finals only once over the past 15 years (2016 Cavaliers vs. Warriors). Boston and Denver currently hold the top seeds and shortest title odds, so it will be interesting to see whether they break this trend. Given the hefty handle percentage on both franchises per BetMGM, it’s a key storyline for online sportsbooks

Finally, let’s throw a dash of hope to fans of favorites. When the worse seed won the first game of the series, the superior seed won the second game in 59 of 76 instances over the past 15 seasons, or 77% of the time. Exclude the 2020 season where no fans were in attendance — thus removing the home-court crowd — and that number climbs to 81%. In other words, don’t panic if the favored team drops the opening game of the series because it’s likely that it will even up the series in game two based on the past 15 seasons of data. 

Now, it’s important to remember that these trends cannot precisely predict outcomes, as chaos forms the foundation of sports. They are merely meant to inform and entertain, not foretell.