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How to Bet on the NBA - Basketball Betting, Odds, Lines

Written by: Richard Janvrin
40 min read

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Betting on the NBA is a huge topic and on this page we explain it all from start to finish. From reading betting lines to understanding odds and where to place your bets, we make it as easy as possible for you to start betting on basketball the right way, right now.

The most striking thing about the NBA compared to every other sport is the sheer amount of scoring. From a gambling perspective, this opens the door to tons of betting options but it can also make NBA betting more intimidating than low-scoring sports like hockey and soccer.

The different ways to bet on basketball run the spectrum from simple to complex. If you want to learn the ins and outs of NBA betting, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you just want to make a simple bet or are curious about more complex forms of wagers like betting on single-player performances, futures bets, point totals, or point spreads, this article will go through everything you need to know, step by step.

If reading betting lines and looking at odds seems confusing, don’t worry. By the end of this article, you’ll be fully up to speed. Not only that, but we’re also going to share our most proven betting tips and strategies to become a short and long-term winner.

We’ll even touch on some of the newer elements of modern-day NBA betting that are picking up speed such as enhanced live in-game betting and the ability to access vast team and player databases online with online software to help you discover valuable trends.

How Does NBA Betting Work?

There are many different ways to place bets on NBA games and a ton of opportunities for entertainment, to have fun, and to make money.

The basic idea behind betting on NBA basketball is placing a real-money wager on an outcome with specific odds and payout determined by the house. Should the wager prove successful, the bettor is paid their winnings (initial bet amount + profit) from the house at the predetermined payout agreed to at the time of the wager.

Looking at gambling odds can be daunting. While the wording and the numbers might seem complicated at first, have no fear, we’re here to explain how to read odds and betting lines in simple terms along with easy to understand examples.

Whether you plan to bet in person at a casino or online at home, the resources on this page will take you through everything you need to know about NBA sports betting.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of how betting on basketball works, let’s took a look at the current legal landscape of the NBA betting world so you understand your options when it comes to placing legal NBA bets.

Is NBA Betting Legal?

A lot is changing regarding the legality of sports betting in the US and many people are unsure about whether they can legally gamble on the NBA where they live. There are now a number of states where sports gambling is regulated and licensed including New Jersey, DelawareNevada, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia to name a few. This list is growing fast. Find out if your state has legal NBA betting allowed as an activity.

Right now those are the only places where it’s fully legal to bet on the NBA.

It used to be that sports gambling was illegal everywhere in the US with the exception of Nevada. This ruling came down in 1992 when the U.S. government passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) which prohibited gambling on sports in all states except in Nevada where it was only legal to bet on single game outcomes.

In 2018 the tides started to turn. The State of New Jersey appealed to the Supreme Court that they wished to have PASPA repealed with the intention of deciding for themselves whether sports gambling should be legal in their own state. In a 6-3 vote the Supreme Court voted in favor to strike down the federal ban on sports gambling and New Jersey’s request opened the doors for others to follow suit.

For Americans from coast to coast, this means legal sports betting is coming. It may take a few months or years yet, but things are changing already as sports gambling becomes available in more states.

Check out our guides to legal online sports betting state by state in the US to find out the current legal climate where you live.

How to Sign Up for NBA Betting Online

For people living in States where online gambling is legal, the process of creating an account at an online sportsbook is really simple. The first step is selecting the site that best suits your needs. We’ve got you covered there. Check out our comprehensive list of the best online sportsbooks available in your region to see the best options.

Take your time, it’s an important decision. There are many aspects to consider. We definitely recommend looking at the bonus offers as well as the software, the user-interface, and the types of sports and bets offered.

For example, if Live Betting really appeals to you, there are some sites that specialize in that and offer a lot more betting options and lines compared to others.

In some States you will be required to make an account in person. This is for identity verification purposes and to prevent underage gambling. There will be easy to follow step-by-step instructions for this process listed at the site you choose.

After that, you’ll need to follow a straightforward registration process, provide some basic personal information and then make your first deposit. Nowadays most sites accept all the common payment processor options including credit cards and e-wallets.

As mentioned above, be sure to get a good quality sign-up bonus as this could pay big dividends and start your account off on the right foot. What’s better than free money to bet with?

How Do NBA Betting Odds Work?

So you’ve been following the NBA closely and you’ve got a pretty good read on a couple of teams. You’ve got a gambler’s itch you want to scratch but because you’re new to sports betting, you can’t quite seem to comprehend the words and numbers you see for bets listed at the sportsbook.

As you look at each game you notice similarities in how things are listed. Here are the main points you need to pay attention to and become familiar with:

  • The odds will be listed across two rows. One for the home team, one for the visiting team. The home team is almost always on the bottom.
  • The categories (columns) listed at the top are the type of bet available to wager on. From left to right it is usually listed as Moneyline, Point Spread and Over/Under (Total).
  • Within each column will be numbers. Some will have a plus (+) or a minus (-) written with it.
  • A minus sign represents odds for a favorite.
  • A plus sign represents odds for an underdog.

Study these basic concepts and once they’re clear we can begin to explain how to read the odds in each main kind of NBA betting.

NBA Moneyline Betting

Moneyline bets are the simplest form of wager. You select which team you think will win. If they win, you win. If they lose, you lose.

Just remember, in most cases a game will have a favorite and an underdog and because of that they will have different odds and payout assigned to them by the casino or sportsbook.

The underdog will have longer odds (bigger payout) while the favorite will have shorter odds (smaller payout). In other words, a successful bet on a favorite will pay less than a successful bet on an underdog. That should be pretty logical since it’s more likely that the team with more skill will win the game.

We will see moneyline bets listed with American odds and can look a bit confusing. A typical NBA line could look like this:

  • Houston Rockets -150
  • Detroit Pistons +140

The simplest way to conceptualize this is to start with the plus (+) sign and the (-) sign.

  • The (+) indicates that the team is the underdog
  • The (-) indicates that the team is the favorite
  • A (+) before a number means you will win that amount of profit on a $100 wager.
  • A (-) before a number means you must bet that amount in order to make $100 profit.

So for the example above we know that the Rockets are the favorites and the Pistons are the underdogs.

  • A successful $150 bet on the Rockets would pay $250 ($150 initial + $100 profit).
  • A successful $100 bet on the Pistons would pay $240 ($100 initial + $140 profit).

Of course it isn’t a requirement to bet in these increments of $100 wins or wagers. You are able to bet any amount you want, this just simplifies the math. Any ticket that you buy at a sportsbook will show the potential payout on the paper and online sportsbooks will post the winning amount as you type it in on the site.

NBA Point Spread Betting

American odds like in moneyline bets is one way sportsbooks even the odds. Remember, the sportsbook’s goal is to get an even amount of action on both sides of every bet. That way they’re guaranteed a profit no matter who wins.

Another way they can even the odds so people bet on both teams equally is called the point spread, sometimes referred to as just “the spread”.

Whenever a game has a favorite and an underdog, the oddsmakers will determine the most likely margin of victory and assign that point difference to each team to level the playing field.

Leveling the playing field like is called handicapping and the margin the casino thinks the favorite will win by is called the point spread.

Let’s look at an example of an NBA point spread to show you what we mean.

  • Dallas Mavericks -7.5
  • Brooklyn Nets +7.5

In this example the Mavericks are -7.5 point favorites against the Nets who are +7.5 point underdogs.

  • Betting on the favored Mavericks means you think they will win by 8 or more points. If they lose outright or win by 7 or less, they do not cover the spread.
  • Betting on the underdog Nets means you think they will either win the game outright or lose by less than 8.

We touched on it before but it’s crucial to understand why sportsbook spend so much time creating accurate lines like point spreads. Since the house is taking a commission on each bet (their fee for providing the betting service), they want equal action on all sides.

If everyone bet on one side and the casino lost it would be absolutely devastating to their business.

Think of it like this: the casinos want all the gamble and risk on the side of the punters. That’s why, from a bettor’s perspective, it’s worth the time to do your homework and research your bets.

NBA Over/Under Betting (Point Totals Betting)

You don’t always need to pick a winner or worry about point spreads. NBA betting can also be done strictly based on total points scored.

Point totals, also referred to as Over/Under bets, are a really popular bet in basketball where the outcome of the wager depends only on whether the combined total points scored in the game is more or less than a specific line set by the sportsbook oddsmakers.

Let’s look at an example:

  • Golden State vs Utah has an Over/Under line set at 207.5 paying -110 either way.
  • If you think the game will have 208 or more points you bet the Over.
  • If you believe the game will have less than 208 points then bet Under.
  • A winning $110 bet will pay $210 back ($110 initial + $100 profit).
  • Bets can be for any amount, but it is easiest explained in relation to a $100 base unit.

Sportsbook will also offer Over/Under bets for the game after the first Quarter and at Halftime. Furthermore, they will offer individual team Over/Unders at those same intervals.

Once you understand the concept of Over/Under bets you can extend that knowledge to all prop bets for individuals and teams when you see a given line asking whether they will exceed a specific set line. The concept is exactly the same.

NBA Prop Betting

Prop bets, which is short for proposition bets, are a type of wager that depends on whether or not a specific thing will happen during the course of a game.

Generally prop bets are wagers on a specific player or team’s performance but there are cases when the outcome isn’t even sports related. In basketball you can see this most readily at NBA all-star weekend.

  • Prop bets made before the season begins that make predictions about how well teams or players will do are called Futures bets because you need to wait until later on in the season to find out the result. A common futures bet is to wager on one team winning the championship at the end of the season.
  • Prop bets for a specific game tend to focus more on individual performances with star players getting the most lines as they generate the most interest. There will be prop bet lines set for the amount of points, assists, rebounds, blocks, fouls etc. Some sportsbooks have more props to choose from than others.

Prop betting is one of the most entertaining kinds of sports betting and it has developed and expanded significantly over the years, especially as the internet has grown and gotten faster.

You’ll find NBA prop bets posted daily but you should study them for a while before you delve too deep. Sometimes the odds will be alluring and long to persuade punters to take foolish home run swings when really it is a bet to be avoided.

NBA Futures Betting

Wondering what a futures bet is? Simply look at the name itself. You are betting on an outcome that’s going to happen further in the future than today’s game.

While this form of prop bet is generally done before the start of a season when oddsmakers will make predictions for how teams will do by the end of the year, you can also bet on futures as the season is playing out.

NBA futures bets also pose questions regarding individual player performances such as who will win MVP, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, etc.

Futures bets can be posed as Over/Under lines. For example:

  • Washington Wizards regular season wins 45.5: Over +125 | Under -175
  • Bets on Over win if the Wizards get 46 or more wins. Under wins with 45 or fewer wins

Futures bets can be posed as Yes/No questions with specified odds. For example:

Team to make playoffs

  • Atlanta Hawks: Yes +1450 | No -9500
  • Brooklyn Nets: Yes -180 | No +130
  • Boston Celtics: Yes -450 | No +275

Futures bets can also be posed as straight selection bets. For example:

2018-2019 NBA Regular Season MVP

  • Lebron James: +220
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: +420
  • Kawhi Leonard: +445

Futures bets are long term bets where you place a wager on what you predict will happen later on in the season. They can be lots of fun and give you something to pay close attention to all season long. Best of all, the odds are usually really long so if you get lucky and win it means a big payday.

NBA Parlay Betting

Parlay betting on NBA basketball is when you combine two or more bets into one ticket. This type of betting is a way to keep your costs down while amplifying your potential payouts. That being said, you are also increasing your risk because if any part of your bet turns out to be wrong, the whole parlay loses.

As a basic guideline, if all the games you bet on are equal likelihood (ie point spread or Over/Under -110 bets), these are the odds most sites would pay for a winning parlay ticket:

  • 2 Teams – 2/1
  • 3 Teams – 6/1
  • 4 Teams – 10/1
  • 5 Teams – 27/1
  • 6 Teams – 40/1
  • 7 Teams – 75/1
  • 8 Teams – 150/1
  • 9 Teams – 300/1
  • 10 Teams – 750/1
  • 11 Teams – 1,100/1
  • 12 Teams – 1,800/1

You can combine most wagers into an NBA parlay ticket unless the bets are correlated. A correlated bet is when one outcome is directly connected to a subsequent outcome. An example would be a halftime point total score with a full game point total score in the same game.

Sometimes, when an opportunity presents itself, it is possible to hedge a bet to guarantee a win but reduce the possible max payout. For example, if two thirds of a ticket is correct with the last game playing out at a later time, you can bet against the last game on your ticket such that you guarantee a smaller payout no matter which team wins.

NBA Round Robin Betting

There is a way to mitigate the risk of a parlay bet, called round robin betting, but it costs a bit more. The math of it might seem complicated at first, but we assure you it isn’t as complicated as it seems.

An NBA round robin bet is when you have a parlay ticket with 3 or more teams and you pay to break down the parlay into smaller parlays with the same teams. Essentially you have the same teams selected except now, since they are divided into separate smaller parlay tickets, you can afford to have some part of the ticket be incorrect.

Some key features to keep in mind:

  • As mentioned above in the NBA Parlay Betting section, any wagers can be combined so long as they are not correlated. These bets includes moneyline odds, point spreads, Over/Unders, futures bets, and some prop bets.
  • The bigger your parlay gets, the more combinations of parlays you’ll have to pay for. Since you have to bet on each combination separately this can get expensive in a hurry, but you are reducing your risk.
  • You can still win big if everything hits but your cost to wager is going to be higher. That extra cost affords you some insurance because if you just miss a small piece (one game, possibly more on a really large round robin) you get money back on that ticket.

Let’s view a two examples. A 3-bet parlay and a 4-bet parlay after they’ve been separated into a round robin ticket.

  • 3-Bet Round Robin Ticket – Bulls cover spread, Raptors moneyline, Heat/Jazz Over

A normal parlay requires all three games to be correct. This would be one ticket for one price.

Purchasing this parlay as a round robin ticket separates the bets into smaller parlays and requires only two out of three games to be correct to win. There are three possible outcomes and so you must pay for all three wagers separately. The ticket now has three possibilities and to win and they are:

  • Combination 1: Bulls cover spread, Raptors moneyline
  • Combination 2: Bulls cover spread, Heat/Jazz Over
  • Combination 3: Raptors moneyline, Heat/Jazz Over

If all three of your games hit, you will win all three combinations. If one of the three games is off but you hit the other two, you will see that one of those three combos will be a winning ticket. So you will win some money back.

Now let’s look at how many tickets you need to buy for a 4-game round robin.

  • 4-game round robin: Cavs moneyline, Suns moneyline, Kings cover spread, Lebron prop bet

The math gets a bit more complex now but the idea is the same. First the parlays separate into groups of 3 (four total parlays of 3) and then into groups of 2 (six total parlays of 2).

There are four ways to separate these games into groups of 3:

  • Combination 1 (3 of 4 correct): Cavs moneyline, Suns moneyline, Kings cover spread
  • Combination 2 (3 of 4 correct): Cavs moneyline, Suns moneyline, LeBron prop bet
  • Combination 3 (3 of 4 correct): Cavs moneyline, Kings cover spread, LeBron, prop bet
  • Combination 4 (3 of 4 correct): Suns moneyline, Kings cover spread, LeBron prop bet

There are six ways to separate these games into groups of 2:

  • Combination 5 (2 of 4 correct): Cavs moneyline, Suns moneyline
  • Combination 6 (2 of 4 correct): Cavs moneyline, Kings cover spread
  • Combination 7 (2 of 4 correct): Cavs moneyline, LeBron prop bet
  • Combination 8 (2 of 4 correct): Suns moneyline, Kings cover spread
  • Combination 9 (2 of 4 correct): Suns moneyline, LeBron prop bet
  • Combination 10 (2 of 4 correct): Kings cover spread, LeBron prop bet

As you can see, a round robin NBA bet for 4 bets comes out to ten different combinations. Each of which you must pay for.

The sportsbook will give you a choice.

  • Bet all ten combinations.
  • Bet just the groups of three (4 total bets)
  • Bet just the groups of two (6 total bets)

Round robin betting can get expensive but at the same time it can still pay out big if you get everything correct. Essentially you are paying more to moderate your risk as little or as much as you choose.

Remember, the round robin bets shown in these examples do not include the original parlay where every pick is correct. You may wish to include that in your purchasing total because if you get every bet correct you will win the huge parlay PLUS all of the round robin tickets.

Generally speaking, the largest round robin wagers a book will allow is 8 with parlay groups of 6-bets as the maximum.

In case you are wondering how many permutations there are for tickets that large, we’ve made a list for you.

  • 3 teams – 3 max round robin tickets (all groups of 2)
  • 4 teams – 10 max round robin tickets (groups of 2 and 3)
  • 5 teams – 25 max round robin tickets (groups of 2,3 and 4)
  • 6 teams – 56 max round robin tickets (groups of 2,3,4 and 5)
  • 7 teams – 119 max round robin tickets (groups of 2,3,4,5 and 6)
  • 8 teams – 238 max round robin tickets (groups of 2,3,4,5 and 6)

NBA Betting Rules for Overtime

As you probably know, NBA games never end in a tie. In regards to sports betting this means that your moneyline and point spread bets include overtime.

The only time overtime will not count is when you place an Over/Under bet that is specific to the second half of a game or the fourth quarter – unless otherwise stated by the sportsbook.

  • For example, if you wager that the second half will be Over 95.5 total points (just in the second half) and the game goes to overtime with 95 or fewer points scored in the 3rd and 4th quarter then the wager is loss. You cannot add points scored in the extra time.

Another instance where overtime is not included is on special Double Result bets which are wagers which predict both the leader at halftime and the winner at full time.

Make special note that there are sportsbooks that have 3-way bets for basketball which means they include a draw/tie/push as a betting option. In such cases, if the game is tied after 48 minutes, it is considered a draw and whatever happens in overtime is irrelevant to the 3-way bet.

How Does Live NBA Betting Work?

Betting on NBA games isn’t limited to just wagering before the game starts. Nowadays it’s possible to make bets during the game in a wagering format called live betting, also called in-game or in-running betting.

Thanks to sophisticated internet technology, bettors now have the ability to wager on a wide range of in-game betting lines.

The way live NBA betting works is simple. A sportsbook will adjust the lines in accordance with how the game has been developing and as fast as they can post them, punters can bet on them. It is vital to follow the ebbs and flows of a game if you want to make wagers on the fly.

One of the most interesting aspects of live betting is that oddsmakers have less time to research and make accurate estimations. Since they are more rushed, they are more likely to make errors in judgement. Bets with added value can be found with a sharp eye.

There are a few important factors to consider if you want to bet while the game is live:

  • Know what the lines were before the game began. This will give you a better understanding of how the oddsmakers think the game story is panning out. If you have a different take on the game’s development, perhaps you can beat them to the punch and get good value.
  • How much time is left in the game and how much has the line moved?
  • Have there been any key injuries?
  • Did either team have a surprising start?
  • Is either team in early foul trouble?
  • Are any key players in foul trouble?

Examples of the Best NBA Bets

There are three main kinds of NBA bets: moneyline, point spread, and Over/Under point totals bets. Let’s look at examples of each to make sure the concepts are really clear.

New York Knicks Money line (+300) | Point spread +9.5 (-110) | Over 202.5 (-110)

Philadelphia 76ersMoney line (-460) | Point spread -9.5 (-110) | Under 202.5 (-110)

Moneyline Bets

Moneyline Bets are wagers where your only concern is who wins the game. It doesn’t matter for your bet whether they win by a lot or how many total points are scored. Using what we learned earlier about American odds we know that If you bett $100 on the underdog Knicks and they won, you would make a $300 profit. If you bet $460 on the 76ers to win and you were right, you’d make $100 profit.

Point Spread Bets

Point spread bets require the team you wager on to either win by at least a certain margin or lose by less than that specific margin. A $110 bet on the favorite would win $100 profit if they win by at10 points or more. A $110 bet on the underdog would win $100 profit if they lose by less than 10 or win the game out right.

Over/Under Bets

Over/Under (point total) bets are only concerned with the total points scored in a game. A $110 bet on the Over would make $100 profit if the total points scored was more than 202. A $110 bet on the Under would win $100 profit the combined score was less than 203.

Parlay Bets

Combining bets into a single tickets is called parlay betting. The above listed bets can also be made during games, which is called Live Betting or In-game Betting.

Other varieties of bets are also available for NBA games. There are short and long term prop bets. The longer term ones usually last an entire season or an entire season plus playoffs. These longer prop bets are called futures bets.

Successful NBA Betting Strategies

To be a winning NBA bettor in the short and long term requires a sound plan and solid strategy. As we’ve seen there are multiple varieties of wagers that can be applied to NBA betting.

If you want to have success the best course of action is to find which one most suits your style. If you’re not sure, consider the following list to help you find your niche.

  • Are you looking for longer odds or prefer a slower grind relying on moneyline favorites? A more conservative approach of researching more and betting less, while not as sexy choice, could be a smart way to build up your bankroll.
  • Do you follow any particular teams or players on a nightly basis? The closer you follow a specific team or player, the more likely you are to predict their performance. A word of caution, if you find you are betting more with your heart than your brain, you may want to slow down and look elsewhere.
  • How well do you know the coach’s tendencies? This is especially important for Over/Under bets in games that are close in the final minutes. Some coaches will deliberately foul endlessly so as to stop the clock and regain possession even if the outcome seems out of reach in the dying seconds. This can lead to many extra late game points that can win or ruin your chances at a profit.
  • One way to combat that last point is by only betting totals for the first quarter or first half since coaches won’t deliberately waste fouls with a full half remaining to play.
  • Monitor which coaches go to their bench sooner and how that team’s bench tends to play compared to the starters.

Early season prop bets can hold a lot of value because oddsmakers are more in the dark than at any other point in the season. They have to guess more and as such their lines have a tendency to be looser. This is an opportunity to outsmart them or just get lucky.

Follow statistics such as possessions per game and offensive rebounding. Logically, teams with extra chances to score per night are going to outscore their opponents and potentially cover the spread.

This also factors into totals betting. Certain teams play defensively and slow the pace. Others will run all game and shoot early in the shot clock.

How to Use NBA Sports Databases

Sports databases and stats sites are a great resource for researching your bets. They make historical NBA data searchable and by understanding past trends you can better predict future outcomes.

Using NBA databases and constructing your own hypothesis (explained below) in search of trends can work to your advantage. If you aren’t familiar with how to use these you can also visit NBA forums and peruse the gambling sub-forums.

Here are some examples of valuable trends to understand:

  • Betting on the road underdog with a 10-point or less point spread in games where the home favorite is coming off a win of 15 points or more has a 57.5% win rate over 7+ seasons of data.
  • On the contrary, pay close attention to good teams who lose badly (15 points or more). They are 64% against the spread when they are the road favorite in the following game (since 2006).
  • Betting the Over on non-conference matchups with a line of 220 or higher. Was working on a 63.5% pace over six seasons of data.
  • After at least a quarter of the games have been played, when fatigue starts to set in, look for teams on two or more days rest to cover the spread against teams on the second night of a back-to-back. Also, with fatigue in play, bet against teams playing their 4th game in 5 nights.
  • Home underdogs of 10 points or more, have done very well covering the spread since 1995. They are 134-96-2 for an impressive 58% success rate.

NBA Betting Markets

“Market” is another name for a bet that’s being offered by the sportsbook. Let’s go over the main NBA markets you can bet on.

There are three main sorts of NBA betting markets that you can bet on: moneyline, handicap, and totals. Handicap markets are also called point spread markets and sometimes totals markets will be referred to as Over/Under.

Moneyline Markets

This is the most basic and easiest to comprehend. You simply wager on who you think will win. It doesn’t matter by how much or how many total points are scored.

Handicap Markets

The same as point spreads, these markets are ones where oddsmakers estimate a margin of victory for the favorite and use this number to even the playing field between teams of differing skill.

Totals Markets

This form of bet focuses on the total amount of points scored in a game. It is most commonly available for both teams combined but can be specific to one team’s performance and can be for segments of the game instead of full time.

There are a few other forms of bets that are essentially sub-categories of the ones listed above. They will be wagers posed as questions and the questions will likely be of the moneyline sort or the totals sort. You will see these in categories called Futures bets and proposition bets, both of which are explained in depth earlier in this guide.

NBA Playoff Betting Bracket

The long NBA regular season has a special treat awaiting punters at the end of the marathon and it’s pointedly called NBA playoff bracket betting. It’s one of the most exciting times of the year and coincides with the intensity of all the games ramping up.

With playoff bracket betting your goal is to pick the winner of each first round series and then all subsequent series in each round.

Since the playoffs structure is split into conferences and ordered by seeding, we can determine what the second, third, and final round matchups will be if your picks are correct each way.

The rules are simple.

  • Select a winner for each of the four first-round games. Then take all of the teams you chose to win and enter them into the second round. If you are filling out an online bracket the website will most likely do this for you.
  • Continue selecting teams the same way through each remaining round.
  • Eventually you will be left with two teams in the NBA finals, one from the western conference and one from the eastern conference.
  • Some slightly more sophisticated brackets will ask you to predict how many games each series will take to complete. Since all series are best of 7, your chose is any number from 4 to 7.
  • The winner is determined by scoring the brackets. Each one is graded with points for correctly predicting the outcome of each series in every round.

Sometimes people employ the strategy of simply picking the higher seed in each round. With 1 seeds against 8 seeds, and most 2 seeds against 7 seeds this is generally a prudent strategy, statistically.

However, after the first round you’re better off mixing up your selections because the teams tend to match up more evenly and you also want to differentiate your bracket from other people’s brackets.

NBA Draft Betting

Another fun proposition bet that is getting more and more advanced by the year is NBA draft betting where punters can place wagers on where they expect the upcoming draft class of collegiate athletes to be chosen.

These prop bets can be offered in a number of ways and the best part is that it happens during the summer off-season when the desire to scratch one’s basketball gambling itch is bigger than ever.

Here is a list of the most common forms of bets you’ll find leading up to the NBA draft.

  • Straight moneyline wagers on who will be taken first overall. In most cases it can come down to a few star players but every so often there is a generational talent who is by far and away the class of the show and will undoubtedly go first overall. The odds will reflect this clearly. In some cases, like when Lebron James was taken first overall as a highschool graduate, most of the interesting betting lines would have been regarding who will be picked second overall rather than first.
  • “Higher Than” bets are wagers where a sportsbook will list two players and pose a question asking which one will be selected first between the two.
  • The same sort of wager can be posed in a different way whereby the line will ask will a specific player go higher/lower than a certain draft number. This is an Over/Under bet. If you think he will be chosen sooner than a specific spot you must bet the Under. If you think he will go later, you bet the Over.
  • There will be questions specific to position. For instance, “How many point guards will be taken in the top 10?” Again, this will be an Over/Under wager.
  • You may find questions pertaining to the school or conference these athletes played in during University such as “How many players in the first round will be taken from Duke?” or “How many ACC athletes will be drafted in the first round”?

No matter how the questions are posed, your job is to make an informed decision and get good value. The draft is interesting because it has the potential to go much differently than expected, especially if General Managers that day are feeling extra frisky and decide to make some bold trades. As such, it is important as a bettor to think ahead of the game.

Ask yourself what you think each franchise is looking for and what their team needs are. If a team already has a star at Center position signed to a long term deal and their draft position has them sitting in a spot where the next best player available is a center, they may be interested in trading their pick for another team’s considerations who are more desperate to draft that player.

Unlike some other sports like baseball or hockey, drafted NBA players are often used right away in an important role for their team so these decisions depond on fixing the team immediately, especially for early first round draft picks. Keep that in mind when you’re stepping up to the podium and making your own picks.

NBA Betting in Vegas

Watching and betting on basketball in Vegas, especially before internet gambling was a readily available thing, is a an experience without equal. There’s a certain vibe in the room and an atmosphere of non-stop potential and action.

In a Las Vegas sportsbook there are tons of other fans from all over the country that are there to support their teams or just to bet on games they like. Either way, they tend to be boisterous, amped up, and not shy about cheering loud when the game’s on the line. It’s great. It’s almost like being in the stadium itself.

With endless options for major sportsbooks in Las Vegas it’s good to do a little research and try out a few different venues. You may prioritize comfort and amenities in your search or, if you are willing to put in the effort to gain the best edge, you may want to line shop to figure out if different sportsbooks are laying different odds and lines on the same game.

Of course, once you get settled in, you need to know what’s going on, how to read the betting schedule and lines, and then how to actually have your bets placed. The board can be intimidating at first and might seem hard to read. Don’t worry, we’ll simplify things for you.

  • First locate the NBA section and familiarize yourself with the list of games posted. Each game will pair up the opponents with the home team on the bottom. This is vital information as winning percentages for home or road teams varies significantly according to historical data.
  • Besides each team there will be a number listed. You can use this at the betting desk to help the person know what game you are betting on. Or you can simply say both teams. Just be sure to either say the full team and city name or the sport because some popular franchise names are used in different leagues like Kings, Hawks, Giants, Jets, Cardinals, etc
  • Above each pair of games you will see point spread, moneyline and point totals odds.. As mentioned before, the odds payouts are posted based on $100 measures but you are free to make your wager any size you want. The ticket slip will show you your precise potential payout no matter what amount you bet.

Making NBA Bets in Land-Based Casinos

Let’s look at an example of how to place a bet in a real-life sportsbook, starting with a moneyline wager. If a team has a minus (-) in front of a number this means they are the favorite to win. Conversely, you know a team is the underdog if they have a plus (+) next to the number beside them.

Say you want to bet that the home team will win. The line says the team is a -190 favorite. This means you need to bet $190 in order to make a $100 profit on your ticket. Or, if you decide to bet an underdog team at +300 it would mean a successful $100 bet will earn you $300 profit.

To place this bet in person, tell the person at the desk at the sportsbook the game you want to bet on and the form of wager it is – in this case you are doing a moneyline bet. If it’s your first time, don’t sweat it. They are professionals and are there to assist you and help you get the bets you want.

The printed ticket they give you will show the teams, the type of bet, the odds, and the potential payout. Sometimes you will notice that the odds at the start of the game are different than the odds on your ticket. That happens when the line moves before the start of a game and depending on how early you made your wager, the book might move lines and odds in an attempt to balance their sheets. All you need to concern yourself with is the odds on your ticket as that will remain your payout on a winning bet.

In some cases you might want to combine multiple bets into one parlay wager. Just remember, on a parlay ticket with two or more games, you have to get everything correct in order to win.

When placing a parlay, let the desk know what games you want to combine and for how much money. Be sure to tell them beforehand that it is a parlay, what sport it is, what teams you’re choosing, and which form of wager for each (moneyline, point spread, point total).

Why Are Key Numbers So Important in NBA Betting?

Key numbers in sports betting are the numbers that account for the most common margins of victory and other outcomes.

In a high-scoring sport like basketball, where points are scored in two-point field goals, three-pointers, and single free-throw points, the range for margin of victory over several years of data shows an unsurprisingly statistically tight group of numbers between 1 and 12.

Here are the key numbers represented in a table from most likely to least:

Margin of victory Total games Total percentage
7 1716 6.62%
5 1691 6.52%
6 1651 6.37%
8 1586 6.12%
2 1507 5.81%
4 1506 5.81%
3 1494 5.76%
9 1490 5.74%
10 1326 5.11%
11 1229 4.74%
12 1090 4.20%
1 1058 4.08%

Historically, the most common margin of victory has been 7 points, followed by 5, 6, 8 and down the list. However, looking at the percentages it is clear that the differences are quite small in terms of percentage. This is what makes betting on point spreads so challenging especially when we think of how unpredictable the scoring at the ends of games can be.

One thing a savvy gambler can do to find an edge in determining the likelihood of these key numbers hitting (or exceeding/matching your betting expectation) is studying the tendencies of the coaches in late game scenarios.

For example, you want to study how the coach, over a significant sample size of games, deals with his team trailing late in games. Does his strategy change depending on the deficit and time remaining? Will he continue to foul the opposition if his team is down by 6 with 10 seconds to go? What about 7 or 8 points? Does it depend on who they are playing and what players are on the floor?

In recent years we’ve even see coaches deliberately foul one player, particular inept at free-throw shooting, for most of an entire quarter just to slow the pace of the game down, and hope to recover the rebound on his presumed missed second shot. We saw this with the now famous “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy and more recently with Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan on their respective teams.

If you learn the tendencies of the coaches around the league you can more accurately predict what will happen in the late stages of a game and that has huge implications for the point spread and the point total.

NBA Betting Resources

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, if you want to be a successful sports bettor you’ve got to put in the necessary effort to find the best value and employ the best strategies. There is homework to be done but the work needs to be done smarter, not harder. There are value edges everywhere, if you know where to look.

With the internet at your disposal the gambling world is your oyster. Different sportsbooks will offer different promotions as well as different odds on games. Be sure to compare and find what works best for you.

It may be counterintuitive, but the research that is reported on fantasy basketball is actually a tremendous avenue for improving and learning about value on NBA sportsbetting. Fantasylabs.com’s NBA section, for example, has insights that can help you study the game from a gambling perspective even though their approach is coming from the fantasy realm.

If you want a more specific data driven website that focuses purely on the betting world, it would be wise to bookmark DonBest.com and visit them regularly. They are widely recognized among industry leaders as a top destination for line pricing, odds setting, and data breakdowns on all US sports.

Over time you should build up a personalized list of organizations, websites, and people who are reporting daily on basketball and news around the league. Bookmark different bloggers, vloggers, writers, youtubers, tv and radio analysts and check back regularly to see what they have to say.

You may wish to narrow it down over time if you prefer one source over another. Start with a wide net and take it from there.

Betting Can Enhance Your NBA Experience

Sports gambling is fun but it’s also demanding. Some of the best professional gamblers in the world barely achieve a 60% win rate. That means, on average, 4 of every ten decisions they make are incorrect, and those are some of the best in the business.

These statistics aren’t meant to scare you or dissuade you from sports gambling, it is just a reminder of how challenging it is and why you should take it seriously. We all want to win and make money. That’s the thrill of gambling and why it can be so alluring but you should always remember that it takes awareness and studiousness to be a long term winner.

Study the material in this guide and betting on the NBA can seriously enhance your experience as a basketball fan.

Wise Kracks on NBA Betting

In this edition of the WSN Wise Kracks podcast, Bill breaks down his biggest tips for betting on the NBA, including betting NBA totals and all the key factors that go into picking winners.

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Richard Janvrin

Sports Betting Analyst & Content Specialist

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After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Journalism, Richard Janvrin has been covering iGaming and sports betting since December 2018. Richard has covered betting at Bleacher Report, Gambling.com, The Game Day, Forbes, and more.
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Education: Bachelor of English/ Journalism
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