NBA Betting Basics
Navigating through scores of NBA betting lines can be confusing and challenging. This comprehensive NBA betting guide covers all the different types of bets you can make on NBA basketball games to help clear things up for new and experienced bettors alike.
From straightforward NBA betting lines, like betting the against the spread, to the complex and multifaceted world of teasers and parlays, learning how to bet on NBA games is simple with the right info. Understanding the different lines, how they work, and how they may or may not suit your level of engagement and interest is integral to your success.
Unlike Allen Iverson, we’re not talking about practice. When your chips are down, and your bets have been placed, you can’t take them back. The game is on!
Single Game NBA Bets
When you sign up for an NBA betting site, the first lines you’ll see will be bets against the spread, moneyline bets, and totals bets. These fall into the category of single-game bets, as they involve outcomes of one particular game.
Betting the Point Spread
First things first, here’s an example of how the spread, total, and over/under are most likely to be displayed. We’ll use this example to illustrate some key concepts below.
There are many different names for betting against the spread: betting the spread, point-spread betting, and ATS (just to name a few). Rest assured, they all refer to the same thing. Betting against the spread is unique because you aren’t picking an outright winner or loser.
If you bet on the favorite, they have to win by a specified number of points. Conversely, if you bet on the underdog, they have to not lose by the specified number of points.
Betting the spread might sound a tad confusing, so let’s look at our sample line above to see it in action. The team with a negative number next to it, Golden State, is the favorite to win. If you bet on Golden State, they have to beat OKC by at least 7 points to successfully “cover” the spread and make your bet a winner.
Another way to look at it is to subtract 6.5 points from Golden State’s total at the end of the game. If, after deducting 6.5 points, Golden State is still the winner, they’ve successfully covered the spread.
Betting on OKC? They need to win the game outright or lose by 6 points (or fewer) for your bet to succeed. A “+” sign in the spread denotes an underdog status. This is a simple and reliable way to discern which team or player oddsmakers think is least likely to win.
Why Does Betting Against the Spread Use Half-Points?
One of the most confusing aspects of betting against the spread is the inclusion of half-points (In our example, the spread is 6.5 instead of being 6 or 7). Experienced sports bettors refer to these half points as “the hook,” a mechanism that eliminates any possibility of a tie, or “push.” Obviously, there are no half points in basketball, so you will either win or lose your bet when a half point is added to the spread.
If there is no “hook,” the game could end in a “push”. Generally speaking, a push will result in the return of your wager. Be aware, however, that some sportsbooks treat a push as a loss.
Why Are Spreads Preferred by Sports Betting Sites?
Sportsbooks use spreads to encourage equitable betting on both teams, which is their safest way to secure a profit. If there is equal money bet on both teams, the sportsbook can pay out the winners from the pool of money collected from the losers, and simultaneously pocket the 5% or 10% “vig” (bookmaker’s fee) they collect from everyone.
It is important to note that the spread is fluid. It can (and will) change in the lead-up to the game. If bettors place significantly more money on one team, say Golden State (-6.5), the sportsbook may adjust the spread to encourage more betting on the other team.
Sportsbooks do this to mitigate their own financial risk. However, don’t worry if the lines change after you’ve placed your bet. No matter what, your bet is locked in at the odds that you initially wagered on.
Betting the NBA Moneyline
The simplest NBA bet available is the moneyline, and it’s also the most common. When you bet the moneyline, you’re betting on who will win the game straight up. The margin of victory does not matter.
Just like when you bet on the spread, whichever team has a “+” number on the moneyline is the underdog, while the team with a “-” next to it is the favorite. The associated numbers indicate your prospective payout and the probability that the sports betting site has assigned to each team’s chances of winning the game.
If you need help interpreting these probabilities and what they mean for your payout, check out our guide to all things odds-related. As a quick refresher, a positive moneyline (e.g. Oklahoma City +180) indicates how much you can win on a $100 bet. A negative moneyline (e.g. Golden State -200) indicates how much you must wager in order to win $100.
In our example, if you were to bet $100 on OKC, you would stand to win $180 (Your total payout would be $280: your $100 stake plus the $180 profit.) To win $100 betting on Golden State at -200, you would have to wager $200.
Check out our comprehensive guide to betting the NBA moneyline for more strategic considerations on the simplest NBA wager.
Totals betting (also known as over/under betting) is also relatively straightforward. Simply put, you are placing a bet on the total score of a game. Calculate the total score by adding the points each team scored together.
In our example, the total is set at 210.5. If you bet on the over, you’re betting that Golden State and OKC’s combined scores will be more than 210.5 points. Just like placing a bet against the spread, half-points are used to avoid the possibility of a push, or tie.
You may have noticed that both the over and under have a -110 next to them. Just like the moneyline, that number indicates the payout. In our example, you must wager $110 to win $100, whether you bet on the over or the under.
While you’ll most often see the over/under odds set at -110 or -105, the payout for the over and under is not always the same. The sportsbook will sometimes offer more intriguing odds to attract more action on the less popular side of a given wager.
Multiple Game NBA Bets
As soon as multiple games are involved, betting on the NBA becomes a lot more complicated. With a greater number of games, there is an increased number of variables to consider. But there’s a good reason to get yourself acquainted with multi-game bets: added complexity comes with the chance of much larger payouts.
The betting lines associated with betting on parlays, teasers, and props are a favorite of “sharps” and seasoned bettors. Let’s take a detailed look at each.
A parlay is any bet that involves wagering on the outcome of more than one event or proposition. These outcomes could be in the same game or spread over multiple games.
Let’s say that you wanted to bet on OKC winning, as well as the total score of the game being under 210.5. A parlay allows you to do so, effectively betting on both outcomes with a single stake. It’s also possible to add another event to this stake, (say, the Lakers beating the Clippers). If you win all parts of your parlay, the payout will be much bigger than if you bet on just one event.
It’s important to note that there is no prize for getting two out of three events correct. Each bet within the parlay must be correct for the bet to be graded a winner. As a result, parlays can provide mammoth payouts on a small wager, but that’s only because the probability of predicting multiple events correctly is generally very low.
Let’s assume you construct the following three-bet parlay:
- OKC at +6.5
- OKC vs GS Over 210.5
- LA Lakers at +3.5
Now let’s assume that all three parts have a 50/50 chance of succeeding. The rough payout on a three-bet parlay like this would be about +550 or +600 (meaning you would win $550 or $600 on a $100 wager. Sounds great! But not so fast: Your chances of winning all three are just 12.5%.
This doesn’t mean you should always avoid parlays. It only means that you should recognize the degree of difficulty before putting your money down.
Parlays can include various combinations of moneyline, point spread, or totals bets from either one game or multiple games. However, few sportsbooks will allow you to make a parlay bet on both the moneyline and the spread of the same game. These outcomes are closely related, so sportsbooks do this to mitigate risk.
Some sportsbooks allow a limitless number of events for parlays, while others place a cap at a predetermined ceiling.
A teaser is a type of parlay, and both require you to wager on more than one event outcome. In the case of a teaser, all bets are placed on the total or against the spread, and you have the ability to adjust the spread or total in your favor. Of course, your payout will be reduced according to the amount you shift the numbers to your advantage. Let’s take a look at an example to see how teasers work in practice.
Say you look at the line for the first game and are drawn to the Knicks laying 5.5 points, but want to add some extra cushion to the spread. Looking at the second game, you might not trust Portland to dust off Phoenix by a whole 7 points, but are still confident they will come out of the game with a modest lead.
This is where the work of a teaser comes in. You can manipulate the line in your favor at the cost of a reduced payout compared to that you’d see with a standard parlay bet.
Most gambling sites offer basketball teasers that allow you to adjust the spread by 4, 4.5, or 5 points. Depending on the number of selections you choose to include in your bet, some sportsbooks offer something called “sweetheart” teasers. These give you the option of manipulating the betting line by 8 – 10 points.
No matter how enticing teasers may seem, remember that you still need to predict all events correctly to win the bet. Scrutinize the fine print of your sports betting site’s terms and conditions. Some sportsbooks will remove an event from the teaser if the result is a push, while others will count it as a loss.
Other NBA Bets Available
NBA betting has soared in popularity over the past few decades. As a consequence, a number of creative and fun bets are now available at online sportsbooks. These days, it’s possible to bet on player performance, major awards, team awards, championship futures, and more! Some propositions allow you to bet on the outcome of a single play!
With proposition betting, or “prop” betting, you can bet on things other than the results of games. This includes wagering on specific players or events within games.
The options available in prop betting can range from anything from how many points a particular player will score in one game to who will have the most blocks throughout the season. Many prop bets are structured as over/unders. For example, a sportsbook could set Steph Curry’s point total for the Warriors’ next game at 24.5, with odds on both the over and the under at -110.
No matter the prop, the sportsbook will delineate your options clearly and include the requisite payout on either outcome.
Shortly after the NBA season ends, most sports betting sites will provide the option to bet on the winner of the following year’s championship. This is referred to as a futures bet. Long before playoff seeding is determined (and often before rosters are even finalized), bettors have the option of selecting their pick for next year’s NBA champion.
Other popular futures bets include individual awards like Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. Most sportsbooks also offer a “FIELD” option, which allows you to bet on every player not listed as an option.
Another popular futures bet is team win totals. Prior to the start of the NBA season, oddsmakers will set each team’s projected win total, based on their predicted season-long performance. As with other totals bets, bettors can take the over or the under. Referred to as season props, they’re typically available for all 30 NBA teams. Be careful before putting a lot of money down on a season prop, as that money will be tied up until the season is over!
It’s important to recognize that many sportsbooks close these bets shortly before the season starts. Further, the majority of sports betting sites won’t allow you to include futures within any parlay bet.
If you want to track the odds for the most popular NBA futures bets, be sure to check out the SBD Odds Trackers at the links below:
NBA In-Game Live Betting
Many sports betting sites offer live NBA betting, allowing you to place bets on games that are already underway. Just like a regular pre-game bet, you’re able to bet on the moneyline, spread, total, and several interesting props. That said, the spread and odds will be adjusted in real-time, based on the progression of the game and number of incoming bets.
Find More NBA Betting Success
Betting on the NBA can be incredibly simple or very complex. It all depends on your comfort level. To get started, we recommend finding the best sportsbook that suits your needs. Carefully examine the terms and conditions of not only your sportsbook, but the bets you make.
Do your research, learn what kind of bettor you want to become, and have fun! Equip yourself with all the knowledge you can. After all, the house doesn’t beat you: It just gives you an opportunity to beat yourself.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.