As with most sports, betting on the NBA is not easy. Oddsmakers set lines and point totals with stunning accuracy and the end of games can frustrate bettors by finishing with a couple of late free throws or a three-pointer in the face of no defense.
But there is definitely money to be made if you learn some fundamental strategies to use against those oddsmakers and stick with your system. This guide to betting on the NBA discusses how to bet, what the various odds mean, and the different various strategies used by the sharps. We also list the best NBA betting sites for 2019 along with exclusive bonus offers and free bets at US sportsbooks.
Best NBA betting apps
As of October 2019, sports betting was legal in 13 states: Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Oregon, Arkansas, New York, Iowa, and Indiana. Regulations vary within those states as to whether residents can bet online versus in person at sportsbooks.
Residents of Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana and West Virginia have access to a wide array of online sportsbooks, including the platforms created by industry titans DraftKings and FanDuel. Online wagering makes it easy to log in, find your preferred bet (point spread, total, proposition, etc.) and wager however much you see fit.
The best apps offer a variety of bets and markets with an intuitive layout.
- Most apps offer appealing bonus offers for first-time users. These usually pay out over time as new users place bets, so check the fine print to make sure you’re ready to commit to the site until your bonus is rewarded.
- You’ll want to check if a betting app allows for live betting and how user-friendly their live-betting is since that is a very important aspect of betting on the NBA.
- Some apps have an odds tool embedded into the interface that can help users calculate value. This is a vital tool for new bettors that are looking for help determining value and eventually, for sharps that want to double-check their inclinations.
- Security and reliability are the final and arguably the most criteria to consider. You’ll want to make sure that your betting app is legal and will honor any withdrawal requests promptly without issue.
DraftKings Sportsbook: Our top-ranked sportsbook in NJ. Get $25 in free bets when you sign up for an account (click the link).
William Hill Sportsbook: Long-running operator around the world. $50 free bet when you make a deposit.
FanDuel Sportsbook: The most popular mobile sportsbook in the Garden State. Get a risk-free bet up to $500 when you make a deposit.
SugarHouse Sportsbook: The first sportsbook to launch in PA offers a 100% deposit bonus match up to $250.
FanDuel Sportsbook: Quickly became the No. 1 sportsbook in the state. Sign up and get a risk-free bet up to $500.
FanDuel Sportsbook: WV bettors finally have a reliable online sportsbook to use. Same as PA and NJ, there’s a risk-free bet up to $500 on offer.
DraftKings Sportsbook: DraftKings was the first book to enter Indiana and is offering $25 in free bets just for signing up for an account.
How to bet on NBA games
The most common type of NBA bets are against a point spread, which is created by oddsmakers to handicap the favored team. If the Bucks are playing a weak opponent at home, they may be listed as Bucks (-17.5) indicating they would need to win by 18 points or more to cover that spread.
It is possible to take a team to win without laying points on a spread. This is called betting the moneyline but the odds will correspond to the favored team. So, the Bucks (-850) might be listed as a big favorite to beat the Hornets at home, meaning it would take a bet of $850 to earn $100 if they’re victorious. Conversely, betting $100 on the Hornets (+850) would pay off $850 if Charlotte pulls out the upset.
Another popular way to bet on the NBA is the point total, or “Over/Under.” Oddsmakers assign a number, usually between 200-240, based on how many points they believe the competing teams will combine to score. Bettors can bet Over a total (224.5 for example) or Under and win if the final score falls on their side of the line.
Both point spreads and point totals are available for betting in segments, so bettors can wager on the total score after the first quarter, first half, or second half as they see fit.
Most books offer an array of bets on individual performances, called prop bets. These propositions offer odds on whether a star, say Joel Embiid, will score Over or Under 27.5 points.
Books may also offer odds on how many rebounds Embiid will record, how many assists he may hand out, and how many combined stats he will accumulate.
There are also team “prop bets” on how many three-pointers a team will hit, how many assists, and how many total points they will score in a quarter, half, or throughout the game.
Proposition bets are especially popular during NBA All-Star Weekend, where wagers can be placed on the winner of the 3-point shootout and Slam Dunk contest as well as on the All-Star game. In the All-Star game itself, a wide array of prop bets are offered on nearly every player involved in the game.
NBA futures betting
Rather than betting on one game, futures bets can give bettors the opportunity to wager on the outcome of an entire season.
Prior to the season, odds are available on how many wins each NBA team will record. Bettors go Over or Under the projected total for the Clippers (54.5) and potentially cash at the end of the season.
Throughout the season, odds are updated on the most likely teams to win the NBA championship. The Clippers (+300 on DraftKings Sportsbook) were listed before the season as the favorite to win it all following their acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But that could change as the season progresses.
Leonard is also one of the favorites for another type of futures bet: Individual awards. With +450 odds to win the MVP, Leonard would pay backers $450 on a $100 bet if he won that postseason award. Almost all postseason awards are available for wagers, including Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year.
It’s also possible to bet on Division winners, Conference winners, and other Futures bets throughout the season.
NBA live betting
A key draw for online sportsbooks is the ability to bet on NBA games while they’re in progress. With the NBA, live betting is a great way to capitalize on a trend that is clear to see for anyone watching the game.
For example, a game between two exhausted teams might have an Over/Under of 213.5, but the teams combine for 124 points in the first half due to a lack of defensive intensity. While the overall total for the game may adjust (to 220.5 or higher), books can offer a second half total in the 120 range, and bettors can target that number if they feel the second half will follow the same trend as the first.
NBA odds explained
There are multiple systems that can indicate the odds set on each of these NBA bets. Moneyline odds (shown above as a +450 example) Are the most common format. Sometimes odds will be listed in fractions, where +450 translates to 4.5/1 odds.
Sometimes odds are listed in a decimal system, which takes a bit of math to figure out. The most probable bets (99% implied probability) are listed as 1.01 odds under the Decimal System. A bet with 75% implied probability would be listed around 1.32 odds and an even 1/1 proposition would be listed at 2.00 odds.
So, if a bettor wants to take the Bucks (-17.5), the Over (223.5) in a Suns-Rockets game that same night, and the Jazz (-140) to win outright, they can combine all three bets into a parlay. This requires placing a wager on all three of those bets and the parlay would only pay out if all three hits. However, by combining three separate wagers, the bettor gets much better odds on the overall wager and that can lead to big payouts.
A Teaser is a way to parlay results, but adjust the odds to fit in your favor. So a bettor could take the Over (223.5) in that same Rockets game, and then “tease” the Bucks game to get a spread of -13.5 instead of -17.5. Teasing odds comes at the expense of the bettor’s potential winnings by decreasing the potential payout.
Odds in the NBA are set based on what sportsbooks feel is the closest way to handicap the bet so that it is a 50/50 toss-up. Then, the book sets standard odds at -110, which is why to take a 10% “rake” or “vig” from the winner. So, usually, it takes a $110 bet to win $100 on a Moneyline wager.
While oddsmakers do their best to come close to the mark every time with a point spread or total, there is often value to be found when betting on the NBA. Stay tuned for more information on how to identify value.
Let’s start with the basic parameters of the NBA schedule: The 2019-2020 season begins on Oct. 22 and lasts until the NBA playoffs begin in April. The NBA finals begin in June.
All 30 NBA teams will play 41 home games and 41 road games with the top eight teams in each division (East and West) earning a playoff berth after 82 games.
Each conference is broken into three divisions, and teams play each division opponent four times for a total of 16 games. Teams play six games against conference opponents from out of their division and three games against the remaining four conference foes, for a total of 36 games. The remaining 30 games come from playing out-of-conference foes twice.
What are NBA Power Rankings?
Rather than simply analyzing the standings, NBA Power Rankings can serve as a great tool to help determine which teams are actually the best and worst in the league. These rankings are often compiled by NBA beat writers and national writers that spend their time covering and analyzing the league.
Power rankings often show whether a team is trending up or down and include a paragraph to update the public on key factors regarding the team. This can be a valuable tool when creating a formula for betting on the NBA, since it’s much easier to identify value when a team that is ranked higher than another is getting favorable odds.
Advanced NBA betting strategies
Now that you know the basics of NBA betting, let’s go over some of the strategies that can help you cash on a consistent basis. Note that cashing over 50% of bets is considered a success in sports gambling, so don’t get discouraged if you struggle to top that number at first.
This is an obvious factor to consider when betting on an 82-game season in which players frequently sit out due to injury. Keep an eye on social media platforms such as Twitter for up to date injury news.
It may seem like a team will struggle when one of their key players is out. However, sometimes it pays to bet against those line adjustments. In recent seasons, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving are a few of the most notable stars that led their teams while active, but did not leave a notable absence when injured. The Warriors won 26 of their first 27 games when Kevin Durant was inactive.
While not all teams have the same supporting cast as the Warriors did, the players that are left to step up when a star gets injured are often more motivated than they would be otherwise. Sharps have thus made a relative fortune betting on good teams that see a decrease in their point spread or become underdogs due to a key injury.
Home court advantage
In the NBA, home teams consistently win around 60 percent of regular season games when playing at home. There is a tangible advantage for home teams due to crowd noise, familiar routines, and ref biases that accounts for a league average of around three points.
Oddsmakers account for this factor, but don’t always consider the schedule and results leading into each home game. As an example, teams that suffer a bad loss on the road before returning home can be more likely to come out strong and are intriguing bets against the spread for the first half of games. Always consider the schedule leading up to and following a game before you place a bet, since NBA players and teams will essentially take nights off to stay strong throughout a marathon season.
Situational betting factors
Other motivational factors can affect the likelihood of an outcome in the NBA. When coaches are hired, fired, sick, or publicly combative with players, it can have a direct impact on how the team performs.
As mentioned above, the schedule plays a key factor in how teams approach their game. Are they playing their fourth game in five nights? Is this the last game on a long road trip? Is it fan appreciation night?
The list goes on and on, but the biggest thing to watch for is how teams perform on 0 days rest. Analyzing results on the second half of B2B sets is a good way to predict the performance of a team and injury news should be monitored the front half of B2B sets in case coaches decide to give their veteran players some rest or sit them entirely.
In order to profit consistently in sports betting, it’s important to consider that the oddsmakers are trying to earn a profit as well. Sportsbooks will look to maximize their profits by shading lines towards the more popular bets, such as taking a favorite to cover a reasonable spread or betting the Over.
Books will set lines intentionally to create the perception that a team should be favored, such as posting the Blazers (-1) at home in what could be considered a 50/50 “pick em” game against the Jazz. Giving the Blazers favoritism draws more money onto the away team because of the perceived value of getting +1 against the spread.
It’s possible to profit over longer periods of time by identifying value when books are shading the line strongly towards a popular bet, and fading the public. In the NBA, success often comes in waves when teams go on streaks. Books will anticipate this trend and shade the line. For example, if the Rockets have won 11 straight games, they might be listed as -13 instead of -10 against a solid opponent. Betting against the Rockets would be the prudent move for those who can identify when they’re getting value.
How to middle the second half
Similar to “hedging” a big bet by taking smaller action on the other side of an outcome, “middling” is a way to take both sides of a line in the hopes that both tickets cash.
For example, if you bet on the Pelicans (+10) prior to a road game against the Rockets and the Pels come out strong in the first half to take a surprising 3-point lead. The book will likely adjust the second half line to something like Rockets (-1.5), so if you take Houston at those improved odds, the Rockets could win by anywhere between 2 and 10 points and you’d cash both your pregame and halftime bet. This is a great way to try and crush sportsbooks when you pick the first half correctly, and can then try to maximize your profit by capitalizing on their adjusted line.
Advanced NBA betting systems
The High Totals System
Games with projected high totals are often undersold by sportsbooks in terms of their actual scoring potential. The High Totals System is simply a strategy to bet in bulk on games with above-average totals. A total of 220 points used to be unusual, but in today’s high-scoring NBA, this strategy would target games (particularly between nonconference foes) with totals of 228 or higher.
The Blowout System
Both the public and oddsmakers tend to overreact when a streaking team wins a game by 15-plus points. Over time, the numbers indicate that teams cover the spread less than 50% of the time after winning in blowout fashion. This is a great system to use for Line Shading or Fading the Public, two advanced strategies we’ll detail below.
The Bounce Back System
Corresponding with the Blowout System is the Bounce Back System, which proves that NBA teams coming off a 15-plus point loss have a tendency to cover the spread and even more often, exceed the projected point total in their next games.
The Zig-Zag Theory
The Zig-Zag Theory essentially combines the Bounce-Back and Blowout Systems into a handicapping strategy during the NBA Playoffs. In a relatively even series (i.e. not the 1-seed vs. 8-seed), the team that lost the previous game of a series is more likely to cover the spread or win outright the following game. Home teams are especially likely to cover after losing the previous game.
The Three in Four System
When teams are paying their third game in four nights, defense suffers. This system predicts that games at the end of a brutal scheduling stretch will exceed the point total more often than not because teams are too tired to sustain defensive effort.
The Back-to-Back System
It’s difficult for any NBA team to win two nights in a row, so this system usually calls for betting against a victorious team when they’re playing the second half of a back-to-back set. Location can play a big factor in this system, as teams are far more likely to lose on the road when playing on 0 days rest.
The Tunnel System
This system essentially uses differing opinions from sportsbooks against each other to help the bettor in the long haul. If one book lists an NBA game with a 220-point total, but another sets the total at 217 points, you would place a bet on Under (220) and Over (217).
Now, you’re guaranteed to lose 10% of your investment if the total falls outside 220 or 217, but if it falls between those two numbers in the “Tunnel” you’ve built, both tickets would cash. Since books are so good at predicting totals, the Tunnel system can pay dividends over the long haul even if bettors consistently lose out on the 10% vig.
The Martingale System
Here we have an extremely dangerous system for gamblers with addiction issues that should only be attempted by those with an ample bankroll and patience. Under the Martingale System, bettors would take a statistical average (such as the Rockets averaging 108 points per game) and bet Over their team total of 108.5 points. If Houston fails to exceed that number, the system calls for doubling that bet until it pays off. That way the bettor covers their losses, assuming the statistical trend eventually regresses to the mean.
The D’Alembert System
For bettors with less bankroll, the D’Alembert System offers a similar strategy to the Martingale System, with less risk. This system calls for an incremental increase in your nightly bet, from $10 to $20 to $30, instead of from $50 to $100 in Martingale’s system. It helps mitigate the risk because if you lose, you downgrade from $30 to $20 instead of continuing to double your wager in the hopes of leveling out.
Advanced NBA Betting Markets
By now you’re well aware of how to bet on the spread, point total, or outright winner, but there are more advanced markets to consider.
During the NBA Playoffs, betting on a Series Winner is a simple approach, while betting on the correct Series Score is a risk-reward proposition. If you believed the Bucks will beat the Celtics in 5 games after dropping Game 1 of the ECF Semifinals last season, you would’ve gotten great odds on that exact result.
You can also bet on Series Total Games, giving yourself a great chance to cash regardless of which team emerges victorious. If a series goes seven games, your bet pays.
Other advanced betting markets have been covered above, including unique player proposition bets. Betting on teams on a quarter-by-quarter or half-by-half basis is a good way to capitalize on trends and in-game betting is an ideal way to capitalize on your knowledge of the game and processing of information.
Using Stats for NBA Betting
Finding the right research tools can help you make the right decisions when betting on the NBA. A teams’ record against the spread at home versus away, after a win versus after a loss, and on the second half of a back-to-back set, is a good starting point.
There are offensive and defensive splits that indicate how good a team plays at home versus away, and how well they play on 0 days rest. These can be a great starting point when betting point totals.
Dig deeper with stats to predict how opponents match up against each other. Does one team shoot a lot of 3-pointers? If so, how does the other team defend the 3-point line? Are teams efficient in terms of getting to the free-throw line? Because that could slow the game down and help it get over the point total. Other metrics that might help predict point totals include the pace of play, assist to turnover ratio, and true shooting percentage.
Keep in mind that oddsmakers use these same metrics when setting their lines, so it’s hard to glean a competitive advantage from statistical research. The best way to beat the book is by gaining more experience watching basketball and understanding the intangibles that go into how a team will perform.
How to bet on the NBA and win
Advanced bettors don’t just look for the best angles, they see the entire picture. That means managing bankroll for the long haul and identifying the best bets for value. A formula called Expected Value (EV) can help determine those appealing bets.
It’s a formula that covers the potential return on investment. For example, if you bet $10 on the Moneyline of an NBA to win $11, the EV would be 0.5.
The full formula looks like this: (Probably of Winning) x (Amount Won per Bet) – (Probability of Losing) x (Amount Lost per Bet).
So, if an underdog team such as the Pelicans is listed at +200, but implied probability indicates that they will win 1 out of 3 matchups against the favorite, there is an extra $50 for a successful $100 bet. In other words, a 1 out of 3 proposition should only payout 150% of the bet, which would be $150.
While it may look complex, EV is really just a tool to indicate the likelihood of success over the long haul. Sports betting is subjective and you can identify value in all the ways discussed above, but having a plan for how to make money over a long period of time is essential to become a “sharp” bettor.
Those professional or sharp bettors are always sure to log their action so that they can track it over the long run. They may also mark the NBA schedule to predict trends, such as how a team tends to perform towards the end of a road trip or home stand.
There are useful apps that can help track your personal bets, as well as compute potential strategies to indicate the likelihood of success over a larger sample size.
Sharps will often experiment with a strategy on these apps before trying it out for a few nights or weeks. If they don’t like the projected outcome, they’re ready to pivot onto a new angle. As mentioned above with the “Tunnel System” and others, it’s vital to create accounts on multiple sportsbooks to play their odds against each other and gauge the market.
There is no shortage of opportunities to bet on the NBA, especially when it comes to live betting, so find the approach that works best for you and use it to your advantage.