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The NBA playoffs have arrived and that also means some bettors will make their first wager of the season. So what’s the best approach?

Handicapping the regular season is an acquired taste and not for the weak-minded. It requires discipline, dedication and tolerance to stomach load management and other variables. Many recreational bettors avoid it all together but do appreciate the playoffs.

“On average, early playoff games are played between 10 and 20% more (handle) than regular season games, and we go from there,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello told ESPN.

Here are some key points to consider before placing any bets.

Zigzag theory

The NBA’s long playoff format provides numerous betting opportunities. Savvy bettors know how to attack the ideal situational handicapping spots that often prove profitable. The most popular approach falls under the zigzag theory, which essentially rewards a wager on the team that just lost the previous game.

Different variations of this theory exist but that is the main gist. Old-school handicappers will insist it only involves the favorite or home team that is coming off a loss but the main principles still apply. The rationale is simple. If a road team wins Game 1 of a playoff series, the Game 2 home team is likely to play with more desperation and the road team figures to relax, having accomplished their objective of a series split.

Oddsmakers are aware of this and will juice a point spread but the results are so extreme that is rarely matters. The concept of backing a team off a loss is a profitable approach throughout the entire post-season.

Focus on picking the winner

Picking the winning team is all that’s been needed in recent NBA playoffs, which gives credence to the zigzag theory. Over the past two playoffs, the winning team has covered the point spread 158 of 172 games. That means the favorite won the game but failed to cover the spread in only 14 of 172 games. Additionally, this trend held for the final 28 playoff games last year.

If this trend continues during these playoffs, then it would make sense to back the underdogs on the money line instead of the point spread. The payouts will be much more favorable. And in case you prefer money-line parlays or teasers with the favorite, it makes sense to avoid them for the playoffs. Again, that is if this recent trend continues into this playoffs.

Futures market

In terms of the futures market, there are a few schools of thought. One is that value does exist, assuming you time the wagers well. This is difficult to achieve in a one-way market but it is theoretically possible. A one-way market is an offering that only permits one side of a wager. For example, Caesars Sportsbook has posted the Milwaukee Bucks as +275 title favorites. However, you cannot wager on the Bucks to not win the championship. Thus, it is only offered “one way”.

Meanwhile, a point spread is a two-way market in that you can wager on either the favorite or underdog. Since both sides are offered on a point spread, that is considered more fair. Another option to playing the futures is instead rolling over the series prices, which are two-way markets.

For example, the Golden State Warriors are currently +330 to win the Western Conference. Rather than wager on that, you are likely to generate a higher return if you bet the series prices individually. It would begin by wagering one unit on their first-round series price against the Sacramento Kings and then taking the profit and original unit amount and placing it on Golden State’s series price for each of the next two rounds. You would risk the same amount but rolling over the winnings is likely to lead to a bigger return.

An added perk to this approach is giving yourself flexibility between rounds. If an injury surfaces, you do have the option to take your profits and avoid rolling it over for the next series. That’s because you are not locked into one futures ticket.

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How to bet the 2023 NBA playoffs