How To Bet On NBA Games

how to bet on nba games

Some sports leagues are a bit leery about sports betting – the NBA, on the other hand, welcomes sports bettors with open arms. There are a lot of ways to bet on NBA games, from your standard pre-game bets to all kinds of different live bets.

We’re going to start by explaining how to read NBA odds. From there, we’ll go over a number of different types of bets, from the most popular to some of the more obscure. We’ll also discuss when you can place your bets, and then we’ll go over a few quick tips to help you place better bets.

Sounds good? Then let’s get to it.

Reading NBA odds

For new bettors, the numbers you see for odds can look a bit strange. After all, most people are used to seeing odds as ratios, fractions, or percentages; with betting odds, you’ll typically see something like this:

TeamOdds
L.A. Clippers-140
Golden State Warriors+120

-140? +120? What do these odds mean?

When you see a + in betting odds, it means “You stand to win this much money if you bet $100”. That means a $100 bet on the Warriors would net you $120 profit if you win your bet.

When you see a – in betting odds, it means “This is how much you have to bet to win $100”. In other words, if you wanted to make a $100 profit on a bet for the Clippers, you’d have to bet $140. A $70 bet, then, would net you $50 profit.

That means that you can tell who an underdog is if they’ve got a + in front of their odds, and tell who the favorite is if they’ve got a -.

The exception to this rule can be found in bets like point spreads. We’ll talk more about those in the next section, but you’ll often see both teams getting -110 odds. In these cases, you’ll be able to figure out the underdog and favorite in other ways.

The three basic NBA bets

Before we get into the bets, there’s something you need to know – though it’s something most of you are already aware of.

In every game, there’s an underdog and a favorite. That’s bad news for bookkeepers.

You see, bookkeepers want you to bet on NBA games, and if there’s a clear favorite every game, bookkeepers stand to lose money. After all, if everyone bets on the clear favorite, and that favorite wins, the bookkeeper is quite simply losing money.

That’s why many lines are weighted to encourage equal betting on both sides of the line. You’ll often see -110 on both teams; remember what that means. In order to win $100, a bettor has to place a $110 bet – if there’s equal betting on both sides of the line, the bookkeeper pockets that $10 dollars (the juice).

Point spread

Point spread betting is pretty straightforward. Basically, to even things out between the favorite and the underdog, bookkeepers create a spread – if the underdogs lose by less than the spread (or tie the game/win), you win a bet on the underdogs.  If the favorites win by more than the spread, you win a bet on the favorites. When either team ties the spread, you push (get your money back).

Examples make betting easier to understand, so let’s go back to that Clippers vs. Warriors game:

L.A Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors

TeamsPoint SpreadOdds
L.A. Clippers-2.5-110
Golden State Warriors+2.5-110

Here, you can spot the underdog and the favorite by the point spread rather than the odds. The team with a “-” in the point spread is the favorite – in this case the Clippers. They need to win by more than 2.5 points for a bet on them to pay out.

Conversely, if the Warriors lose by less than 2.5 points (or tie, or win outright), a bet on them pays out.

Moneyline

Moneyline bets are even more simple than point spreads – you’re just betting on who you think is going to win the game. As such, the odds are distributed a lot less evenly. Taking the same game:

L.A Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors

TeamsPoint Spread (Odds)Moneyline
L.A. Clippers-2.5 (-110)-140
Golden State Warriors+2.5 (-110)+120

Note that for the moneyline, you’ll only see the odds – that’s because a bet on the moneyline is simply a bet on who is going to win the game.

Totals or over/under

In totals betting, also known as over/under betting, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses – all that matters is how many points are scored. This can be a bit confusing for bettors, because the over/under odds will often be placed next to the name of the team. 

In our Clippers vs. Warriors example, the expected point total is 230. That means you can bet that the combined point total of both teams will be over 230, or under 230. The betting table might look a little like this:

L.A Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors

TeamsPoint Spread (Odds)MoneylineOver/Under (Odds)
L.A. Clippers-2.5 (-110)-140230 (-110)
Golden State Warriors+2.5 (-110)+120230 (-110)

You should know that the expected odds, spreads, and totals can change regularly, and as they change, so too should the way that you bet. 

Other types of bets

There’s a lot of single betting in sports – and the bets we just outlined are the most popular single line bets. There are, however, other single line bets, as well as multi-line bets known as parlays. To improve your NBA betting strategy, we’ll go over some of those right now.

Parlay betting on NBA games

A parlay bet is a bet on multiple lines – in order to win the parlay bet, you need to win all of the individual bets in the parlay. This makes parlay bets particularly risky – but the amount you can win might go up.

Parlays are complicated, and we have a whole guide to parlay betting that crunches the numbers for you. The main thing you need to remember is that parlay bets need to be placed on different games, and that you need to win each bet to win the parlay.

NBA futures betting

Do you think the Hornets are going to go all the way this year and win the Championship? We admire your gusto – and if you were to bet on them as of the writing of this article, you might get +17,500 odds. That’s a pretty big payday for $100 bucks.

Obviously, those odds are being presented because you’re not likely to be right (no offense, Hornets fans). Any time you’re betting on an event so far in the future, the odds you’re offered will be fantastic, because you’ll probably be wrong.

Then again, if you were betting on the Bucks to be the best team in the Central Division for the regular season, your odds are going to look a lot worse; something like -1500. That’s because the Bucks are really strong – to see them make a deep playoff run would be no surprise to anyone.

This is what futures are all about – you’re betting, not on a single game, but on standings and results late in the season. These bets are inherently riskier early in the season when it’s not clear who is going to excel.

NBA prop bets

Proposition (“prop”) bets are less common wagers: wagers about player performance, or how many points a team is going to win by (but not the point spread), or even which team is going to score 10 points first. There are all types of different prop bets with all kinds of different odds, so they’re a fun way to add some variety to your betting strategy.

The nature of prop bets, on the other hand, makes them hard to study – there are so many different kinds, and so many different odds, that it’s harder to get good data on how to bet them. That means you should be careful making prop bets – only make one if you’re very confident you have an edge (or if you just want to have fun, and profit isn’t your main goal).

How you can bet on NBA games

There are certainly a number of ways you can place your bet – online, in-person – but that’s not what we’re going to cover. What we’re looking at is what parts of the game you can bet on – and with the NBA, you have a ton of options.

Full game betting

This is the most popular type of NBA bet – you bet on the final results of the game some time before the game begins. Whether that’s weeks, days, hours, or minutes depends on your betting strategy. When you’re looking at totals, point spread, or moneyline, it’s fair to assume the lines reflect the final score – and are, thus, full game bets – unless otherwise stated.

1st half/quarters betting

This type of betting is basically the same as full game betting, but on a smaller scale – you’re only betting on what the point spread or total is going to be in the first half, or in a given quarter.

Sometimes, bookkeepers will identify these bets by using the acronym “1H” for 1st half, or “1Q”, “2Q”, “3Q” and “4Q” for each of the quarters. You, of course, can’t bet the moneyline for any of these – moneyline is a simple bet on who wins the game, and even though a team can “win” a quarter, that’s not good enough for a moneyline bet.

As such, you’ll only see point spread and totals bets available for the first half or a given quarter. These bets are made in isolation of the results in another quarter or half – in other words, if a totals bet on the 4th quarter is +/- 55, it means the total scored by both teams in the 4th quarter will be 55, even if the actual combined score at the end of the 4th quarter is 220.

NBA halftime betting

Things get pretty exciting at halftime in the NBA. At this time, bookkeepers are frantically calculating odds in order to create appropriate spreads and totals for the second half of the game. 2nd half betting only begins at halftime, and you’ll find quarters betting may be adjusted at this time as well.

Eagle-eyed bettors can find great edges at halftime, because bookkeepers have to act fast – halftime betting can be both fun and profitable.

In-play NBA betting

In-play betting is not that popular – it accounts for less than 20% of total bets placed. That doesn’t, however, mean that it can’t be a viable part of your basketball betting strategy.

Basically, in-play betting is exactly what it sounds like: bets you place while a game is in progress. As you can imagine, lines are adjusted pretty rapidly over the course of a game. Basketball is one of the fastest sports you can watch, so lines can change a lot over the course of a short period of time. 

NBA betting tips

There are a few things you can do to improve your success rate with NBA bets; let’s take a brief look. 

Look for the best odds

There are a lot of ways you can bet, and different bookkeepers are going to give you different odds. In order to place the best bets, you should be constantly monitoring not only the odds offered by different bookkeepers, but the whole line: the spreads and the totals can shift between bookkeepers as well.

You’ll sometimes find “reduced juice”; bookkeepers giving you -105 odds instead of -110 odds, for example. These are a great way to improve your potential return without increasing your risk.

Have a strategy

Some folks are just looking to make casual bets, but if you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet (pun intended) that you want a more comprehensive strategy.

You’re betting to win – to make a profit.

To do that, you’re going to need a strategy. You’ll have to manage your bankroll, figure out what types of bets you want to place, and stick to them – adjusting appropriately. We’re not going to discuss strategy here (check our resource page for a ton of information you can use) – the point is that you need a plan before you start betting for a profit.

Handicap your bets

A strategy is one thing – knowing which teams you actually want to bet on is another. Bet handicapping is simple: you ask a pro to pick the best lines for you to bet on, and to help you figure out what types of bets you should place on those lines.

Kyle Covers is a bet handicapper – from NBA picks and parlays to college basketball, we offer handicapping on every single game. 

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