How to Bet on Basketball: Pro Tips for Smarter NBA Wagers
While the NFL is still the hottest sport among bettors in America, the NBA is narrowing the gap. According to a new survey from Statista, 24% of all respondents said they had placed a bet on an NBA game. That’s a significant increase from years past, and it serves as a testament to the league’s growing popularity and accessibility.
Sportsbooks are wise to the sudden uptick of interest in the NBA and are now offering more props and odds than ever before to appeal to bettors. There has never been a better time to get off the sidelines and into the NBA betting game, and following our NBA betting tips will help you make smart, sensible wagers.
Use Your Head (Not Your Heart)
There is a tendency among amateur bettors to wager on their favorite teams to win. That’s fine if you cheer for the Warriors, but it can be a Kristaps Porziņģis-sized mistake if you root for the Hawks or Bulls.
The first step towards becoming a successful bettor is taking your emotions out of the equation.
The first step toward becoming a successful bettor is taking your emotions out of the equation. Forget all about the posters you had on your wall growing up, or the jersey you wore on your first day of junior high. Betting is serious business and it requires you to use your head, not your heart.
Know Your History
Before laying down your hard-earned cash, take a moment to look at how teams have fared in head-to-head match-ups in the past. LandofBasketball.com has a terrific interactive chart that tracks the all-time head-to-head records of every team in the league. It’s especially helpful when looking at veteran teams like the Spurs, who have kept the same core intact for many seasons.
If you would like to view more recent results, you can also check out ESPN’s team comparisons for the current season here. Their detailed pages provide you with standings, head-to-head match-ups, stats leaders, offensive stats, and defensive analytics. To paraphrase George Santayana, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to lose a fistful of cash.”
But be careful about looking back too far. The make-up of teams changes every year, sometimes significantly. How the Cavaliers performed in 2013-14 has little bearing on how they’ll do this year. In fact, it had little bearing on how they performed in 2014-15 because a certain LeBron James returned to Cleveland that offseason.
Few personnel changes will affect teams as much as LeBron, but over a few years, smaller changes add up and yield drastically different squads.
Pay Attention to Grudge Matches
NBA players are only human, and they take getting traded very personally. Just look at DeMarcus Cousins, who showed his displeasure towards the Kings by going off for 41 points, 23 rebounds and six assists in his first trip back to Sacramento. Or how about Brook Lopez’s first game against the Brooklyn Nets with a season-high of 34 points and ten rebounds.
When choosing who to bet on, keep an eye on so-called “grudge matches” or “revenge games” in which a recently traded player is facing his former employer for the first time. There’s a decent chance he’ll have his best game of the season and will his team to victory.
Pay Attention to the Schedule
The NBA has done its best to minimize the effects of player fatigue by reducing the number of back-to-back games and eliminating stretches of four-games-in-five-nights. However, the league’s 82-game schedule remains a serious grind, and teams still average 14.4 back-to-back games from October to April.
Teams playing in the second game of a back-to-back win just 44% of the time.
Keep a team’s schedule in mind before laying down your bet, as studies have shown that teams playing in the second game of a back-to-back win just 44% of the time.
Number crunchers at Green and Gold Analytics have also found that a team’s net rating drops by 2.21 points per 100 possessions in the second game of back-to-back games. In other words, they’re considerably less efficient on offense and defense when they play on back-to-back nights. 2.21 points is a significant amount, and it can easily be the difference between covering the spread and losing a pile of money.
Pay Attention to Geography
Consider how far an NBA team has to travel to get to its games, and how many time zones it passes through in the process. The Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, and Minnesota Timberwolves routinely lead the NBA in miles traveled, while the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers generally rack up the fewest air miles.
Players who travel less tend to be fresher, better rested, and more energetic. That can make a big difference at the end of regulation with the game on the line.
Home vs. Away Games Really Do Matter
It’s obvious players prefer playing at home, and it may surprise you just how important home-court advantage really is. According to a study conducted by ESPN, since 1975, 61.2% of all NBA games have been won by the home team. While new studies suggest that the number is dropping, playing in your own arena remains a huge advantage – and a great one for bettors to consider.
That doesn’t mean you should only bet on home teams to win. It does, however, mean you should exercise caution when you’re tempted to put a lot of money on a road team. Last year, even bottom-feeding teams like the Knicks (19-22), Timberwolves (20-21), and Mavericks (21-20) won roughly half of their home games.
Study the Injury Reports
An injury to a key star can drastically change the outcome in any sport, but it’s especially damaging in basketball where one player can have such a huge impact on both sides of the ball.
Consider the case of the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs, who experienced a 39-game drop-off due to a season-ending injury to Hall of Fame center David Robinson. Or how about the 2011-12 Portland Trail Blazers, who experienced a 20-game drop-off of their own due to the absence of three-time All-Star Brandon Roy.
Keep an eye on the injury reports before laying down your bet to ensure your bottom line doesn’t take a bigger beating than the guys on the injured list.
Get to Know Coaching Tendencies
You can glean a lot from watching players, but don’t forget to pay attention to the sidelines too. Understanding the quirks and tendencies of NBA coaches will help you immensely when predicting the final outcome of a game. For instance, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr both like to rest their best players during the fourth quarter of blowouts, thereby decreasing individual player stats and lowering the overall point total.
On the flip side, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau rides his stars into the ground, thereby driving up scores, while also increasing the odds of fatigue and injury from one game to the next. Understanding these kinds of tendencies can be invaluable when predicting point spreads and final scores.
Understand Scoring and the Pace Factor
Before taking the over or under on a game total, there are two crucial stats you should consult. The first is Pace Factor, which is an estimate of the number of possessions a team will have per 48 minutes. The NBA does an excellent job of tracking Pace Factor.
The second is team scoring, which the NBA tracks here. Team Scoring tracks the number of points a team scores per game and includes regulation and overtime points.
The highest-scoring teams aren’t always the ones with the highest Pace Factor, and vice versa. That’s because a fast pace often results in turnovers and erratic shooting.
If you examine both stats closely, you’ll notice that the highest-scoring teams aren’t always the ones with the highest Pace Factor and vice versa. That’s because a fast pace often results in turnovers and erratic shooting. The key is to find teams like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors who excel at both. In other words, they average a high number of possessions per game and they score efficiently with those possessions.
When you find matchups between two fast-paced, efficient offenses, you should strongly consider betting the “over.” This isn’t a blanket rule, of course, since sportsbooks have access to the same information and may set the total extra high for such games.
Go Beyond the Trends
Trends are valuable, but they can also be misleading. Noticing that a team just scored 110 points in its previous game doesn’t mean its offense is firing on all cylinders. Go back and look at how those points were scored. It’s possible the other team was resting its starters in anticipation of a long road trip, or they may have been playing shorthanded due to injuries or suspensions.
Yes, it takes more time to understand the context behind the numbers, but to be happy and (financially) healthy in the long-run, your wagers need a quality foundation.
Shop Around for the Best Value
Not all sportsbooks are created equal. You’ve probably noticed that many offer different odds and point spreads for the exact same games. Take your time and shop around until you find the numbers you like most. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of some of the most trusted sports betting sites.
Keep Track of Your Results
Anyone can win a bet or two, but those looking to achieve long term success need to systematically record all of their wagers.
Consider creating a spreadsheet that includes the date, sportsbook, wager, odds, final score, and your profit or loss. Include another column for observations and insights from the action. This data will help you refine your strategy, and will allow you to make more informed decisions.
For more information, visit our NBA basketball betting section to keep up to date on the latest news and trends from around the Association.