If you consider yourself an avid fan of sports betting but have yet to dive into the world of NBA wagering, it’s time to rethink your absence from one of North America’s most popular sports. After the NFL and college football, basketball is the most popular sport on which to gamble. And it’s not hard to see why. The pace of play is so much better than that of baseball, and the high-scoring totals appeal to younger bettors more than the lower-numbered tallies in both baseball and hockey. Don’t worry, though: Even if you’re not new to the scene, we have some basketball-betting advice for you.
Types Of Single-Game NBA Betting
NBA Spread Bets
As you may have already known, the spread, moneyline and over/under bets make up the Big Three of the sports wagering industry. And not one of them receives more play than the spread.
Rather than indenturing you to a winner of a particular game, the spread focuses mostly on the scoring margin. In essence, you are betting on the point differential of a victory or loss.
Imagine the Cleveland Cavaliers enter their game with the Milwaukee Bucks as nine-point underdogs. The line for this tilt would read like so: Milwaukee Bucks (-9) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (+9). A bet on the Cavaliers is the equivalent of saying that they will lose by fewer than nine points or pick up the outright upset victory. Whereas if you place your money in the Bucks, you need them to win by 10 or more points for your bet to pan out.
Though these tickets are harder to predict than the moneyline, people tend to valuable them more because of their flexibility and relatively steady returns. Bettors, again, are not being tied to one specific outcome; they can win their wager while betting on a team that loses the game. And the payouts do not vary like they do on the moneyline front. All spread wagers usually deliver near-even money odds or better. Think: -110 to +110.
NBA Moneyline Bets
Moneyline bets are the second-most worked of the Big Three wagers. For some competitions, they might even be the most popular.
This is in no small part because the concept of moneylines is extremely easy to understand. You are not taking into account the point differential of the outcome or even the total combined score of it. You only care about the resolution to the event itself. In Layman’s terms, you are aiming to pick the winner of the contest and that’s it.
Keeping on with our initial example, the line for the above game could look a little something like this: Cleveland Cavaliers (+275) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (-190). Playing the Cavaliers’ moneyline means that you will grab $275 for every $100 you bet on them if they win the game. Steering toward the Bucks’ moneyline means you must bet $190 to make a profit of $100 off their prospective victory. We told you this stuff was easy to comprehend.
When betting these moneylines, consider avoiding heavy-favorite investments. If the Bucks, for instance, are actually laying something like -450, they’re not worth your time. You need to wager $450 just to make a $100 profit. No matter how likely you think they are to win, the risk of them possibly losing isn’t worth your expected reward.
Many bettors, conversely, are adamant that underdog moneylines are the absolute best. This can sometimes be true. They pay out more than even money in most cases. However, you don’t want to jump on every underdog just because of a lucrative pay out that may be more than unlikely.
If the Cavaliers are a +1,150 against the Bucks, then yes, you could win $1,150 on a $100 bet should Cleveland beat Milwaukee. But there is a reason the Cavaliers are being so thoroughly counted out in the first place. It’s important you have actual faith in them pulling off the upset if you are going to burn any of your financial resources on them.
Finally, there will be times when the moneyline returns align with those on the spread. This tends to happen when two teams are on relatively even ground and sportsbooks view the difference between them as too close to quantifiably call.
Such a hypothetical might include the Cavaliers being 2.5-point dogs against the Bucks. The payout on their spread might be -110 while their moneyline is +110. It is always better to roll with the moneylines in these cases. The spread is tiny enough that if the Cavaliers cover, it’s probably because they won anyway, so you might as well capitalize on those extra games.
This works both ways, for the record. If the Bucks are 2.5-point favorites over the Cavaliers, your potential return on investment could be +110 compared to a -110 moneyline. In this case, it would be worth choosing the +110 payout on the spread, since a three-point differential is small enough for you to deem a formality if you believe the Bucks are actually going to win.
NBA Over/Under Bets
Whenever you bet on the over/under in the NBA, the only thing you care about is the combined final scoring of the two participating teams.
Let’s assume the over/under line on our Cavaliers-Bucks matchup is 211.5. Betting the over mandates that these two squads end the game totaling 212 points or more. Investing in the under is akin to saying they will combine for 211 points or less.
Payouts on these bets are similar to the usual returns on spread wagers. You are most likely looking at anywhere between -110 and +110, though these lines can sometimes vary.
If you’re looking for some quick advice on over/under betting, we recommend taking stock of the play styles for both participating teams. Specifically, determine whether each squad is an offensive specialist, defensive specialist or both. Once you do that, compare and contrast those identities, and you should then have a hold on whether to bet the over or under.
Here’s a quick example using our 211.5 benchmark. If the Cavaliers are a terrible defensive team with a so-so offense and the Bucks are a great offensive unit with a so-so defense, all signs would point you toward an over investment. And so on and so forth.
NBA Prop Betting
Prop betting doesn’t necessarily get a bad wrap, but the perception of it isn’t entirely fair.
When most people think of props, they’re mind immediately goes to off-beat wagers such as “How long with the National Anthem last before the NBA All-Star game?” and “What color shoes will LeBron James wear for Game 3 of the NBA Finals?.” This misperception rears its head more often in NFL circles, where the weirdo props are more profuse, but again, it applies to the NBA, too.
That’s not what prop betting is. Not entirely. You can make those for-fun wagers if you wish, but at their heart, prop bets allow you to play games within the game and cater to your own knowledge of the participating teams and players.
Here are a few potential examples you might find in advance of a matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks:
- What’s the over/under on the number of three-pointers LeBron James will make against the Knicks?
- What’s the over/under on the number of points Kristaps Porzingis will scored against the Lakers?
- Will there be a technical foul doled out to a Knicks or Lakers player?
- Which player will have the most assists?
- Will there be a buzz-beater to end a quarter, the first half or the game?
These are just a few hypotheticals. There will be plenty of others. Sportsbooks tend to expand their portfolios for the postseason and NBA Finals, but you should be making prop bets a more common occurrence than that. You will have options during the regular season.
NBA Parlay Betting
Working NBA parlays entails combining multiple bets in order to drum up your return. You can mix same-game wagers or blend multi-contest and multi-sport options. Consider something like this:
- New York Knicks (+250) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-360)
- New York Knicks (+8.5) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-8.5)
- Over/Under: 202.5
Let’s say you believe the Knicks are going to win this game. Instead of just simply betting on the spread or the moneyline, you can combine both, perhaps even making an over/under gamble as well. The return on your investment will be noticeably higher, all because you bet on what you actually believe is going to happen.
Here’s the strings that are attached: You need to hit on all of your wagers for the entire ticket to be a winner. If the Knicks win this example, you have satisfied the spread and moneyline markers. But if they and the Lakers also combine for only 195 points and you bet the over, your gamble will go down as a loss. This is the most important thing to remember on the parlay front: Every bet you make, however many, needs to be predicted correctly if you want to win the wager.
As an extra tidbit of advice, parlay bets are best used when you are itching to invest in favorites. Let’s say, for example, you want to take the Lakers at -360 over the Knicks, but don’t feel as if you can bet $360 to win $100. You can parlay Lakers at -500 with the favorite from another game (for example: Chicago Bulls at -150 over the Minnesota Timberwolves) to drive up your potential winnings. You can even add a third game to your docket. And so on and so forth.
Sportsbooks will sometimes place a cap on how many bets you can parlay. (Five outcomes, seven outcomes, nine outcomes, etc.). There typically is no limit on how many wagers you can package together, though. Just don’t go over the top with 10-bet tickets and expect to win every time.
Bored with placing your bets before games actually start? Hoping to correct a mistaken investment after seeing a game start to unfold differently than you expected? Just plain unsure about which way to lean on a given wager?
Well, then, live NBA betting is for you.
With live betting, you end up making a decision on the outcome of an entire game or a quarter/half after the contest has officially begun. Here are some examples you might find:
- First-quarter spread: Knicks (+3) vs. Lakers (-3)
- Second quarter over/under: 62.5
- Second-half spread: Knicks (+6.5) vs. Lakers (-6.5)
- Final outcome moneyline, placed in the third quarter: Knicks (+750) vs. Lakers (-950)
Be sure to differentiate between game outcomes and quarter or half bets when using live wagers. Sportsbooks are usually good at explicitly marking which is which, but there can be some confusion. Reviewing your ticket before you hit submit is a great way to protect yourself against those mistakes.
Live bets are also a great way to capitalize on underdogs who you believe are fixing for a mid-game comeback. Even certain favorites can fall behind at the beginning of some contests, perhaps in the first quarter or at halftime. And sometimes, live-game oddsmakers will shift their moneylines toward the underdog end of the spectrum.
If you believe the Lakers are going to erase a halftime deficit they find themselves in against the Knicks, it’s worth checking out their live-game odds. You may be able to set yourself up for a payout that ends up being better than even money—and one that’s certainly more favorable than anything you would have seen prior to the opening tip.
Live Prop Betting
Live NBA prop betting combines the concept of live betting with props for some nice change-of-pace options. Here are some potential examples you might find:
- What’s the over/under on the number of assists LeBron James will have in the first half against the Knicks?
- What’s the over/under on the number of three-pointers the Knicks will make in the fourth quarter against the Lakers?
- Will there be an official’s review in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter?
- Which player will make the first basket to open up the third quarter?
- Will the game between Lakers and Knicks end in a field-goal attempt or turnover?
This barely scratches the surface of what live-game props will be at your fingertips. There will be more. Some sportsbooks get really creative for nationally televised tilts.
As far as live props go, they’re best suited for the bettor who just wants to have some fun while keeping tabs on game they were going to watch anyway. They’re not meant to huge moneymakers or to offset losses elsewhere; they’re meant to be more casual and fun.
Betting On NBA Futures
Betting on NBA futures has you take a look at the bigger picture. You are not wagering on the outcome or scoring differential in a single game, but an event that will unfold over the course of an entire season.
And since you are taking a more substantive risk, the returns on these investments are usually much more lucrative. By design, however, these bets are also harder to hit on at consistent clips.
NBA Title Odds
Treat NBA title odds essentially as big-picture moneylines. You are betting on whether a specific team will wind up winning the upcoming championship.
If the Golden State Warriors open up the year as +100 title options, you bet on them and they hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the NBA Finals, you've won. That's it. End of story.
Investing in NBA title odds before the start of the regular season is the official recommendation. That's when you're assured of the most balanced, often best possible odds. This holds special meaning with regards to the heaviest favorites.
The Warriors, for example, will not see their +100 improve in payout status if they're as good as everyone thinks they are. They might see some slight ticks and hiccups if they ever suffer a losing streak or significant injury, but for the most part, a true favorite will see their lines move the other way throughout the course of the regular season.
Still, you have the license to make these bets during the middle of the year. In fact, it makes sense in some instances. If a fringe favorite starts to play its way up the NBA's competitive ladder but hasn't yet been recognized by the sportsbooks, you'll have spotted dark-horse odds for a possible superpower. Those are market inefficiencies you should pounce on, and they're most commonly found when an under-the-radar team goes on a winning streak or a more talked-about squad endures a losing streak.
NBA Win Totals
Gambling on NBA win totals is essentially a form of the over/under, only it's a bet that plays out over an entire season. Oddsmakers set a threshold on how many games a team will win, and you have to decide whether they'll miss or exceed the mark.
Should the Knicks be given a win total line of 36.5, you would bet on them either racking up at least 37 wins (the over) or collecting 36 victories or less (the under).
Much like NBA championship odds, you will have the freedom to make these wagers during the season. We don't endorse it as strongly, though. These over/under bets are just the like the single-game wagers. Their odds are basically set in stone. No matter when you invest in win totals you're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of -110 to +110 payouts.
Placing your win-total wagers is a better venture for the offseason. Oddsmakers are operating in the dark to some extent since they don't have a concrete sample size with which to work. You will have an easier time spotting squads with benchmarks that have been set too high or too low.
Try as hard as you can to work these lines once they are initially released. For the NBA, this typically happens sometime in August. That still gives you a couple of months before the regular season, but sportsbooks will adjust their odds according to how the onset action turns out. Waiting too long will make it harder for you to find as many obviously inflated or depreciated win totals.
NBA awards picks are the most popular future props. You will have the opportunity to make MVP predictions and Rookie of the Year selections whenever you choose.
Similar to win-total wagers and NBA Finals bets, you're better off getting these investments in early, preferably before the start of the season. But you are also free to monitor player progress and submit midseason predictions.
Certain sportsbooks will offer other future props. They are not as common, but you might, for example, be able to bet on the over/under of points LeBron James scores for the entire season or the over/under on the number of three-pointers Stephen Curry will make for the year.
The problem with these more isolated props, though, is they stand to be obliterated by games missed to injuries and rest. Awards picks are easier in this regard. A player can win MVP while missing time, since there is no specific subset of criteria. But LeBron James could miss 2,000-point over/under if he winds up not appearing in a certain number of games.
Lessons Learned About NBA Betting
- Single-game spread, moneyline and over/under wagers are the most common form of NBA betting
- Live betting will let you capitalize on the outcome of a game after it has already started
- Prop bets are so much more than novel investments; they allow you to capitalize your knowledge on a specific part of the game of basketball or a particular player and team style
- Parlay bets allow you to combine multiple predictions into one for a larger possible payout, and they can be especially valuable when playing a handful of heavy-favorite moneylines
- Futures are the most lucrative form of NBA betting—specifically championship odds; they're also the hardest to hit if you are not strictly investing in favorites