The NBA is the only other professional league that offers comparable betting options to NFL football. The high-scoring and sometimes lopsided nature of the game mean spread betting is a popular choice, along with all the multiple bet options that go along with that, like teasers.
While NBA basketball betting may not be as popular as football, the season runs for longer and features far more games to wager on. So let’s examine all the ways you can bet on the hardcourt.
NBA Basketball Betting Against the Spread
The standard NBA spread looks like all the others: the home team will be on the bottom; the favorite will have a negative number, and the payout will be listed next to the spread. (If you’d like to learn more about the basics of spread betting, go here.)
Basketball spreads don’t see as much line movement as their football counterparts because they’re not available for as long and because less money is bet on the NBA.
As with the NFL, NBA spreads account factor in a homecourt advantage, but as you’ll see, some teams are so dominant that they’re favored no matter where they go.
As a result, the spreads can get pretty sizable when it comes to the NBA – especially when good teams are playing at home. But betting big favorites also comes with big risk. Not only could you fall victim to the back-door cover, but NBA players are notorious for going half-speed in the regular season. That is, if they go at all.
The newest trend in the Association is resting superstars during the year, and sportsbooks are always on top of it. So, if you see a loaded team like the San Antonio Spurs going off as +8 underdogs, the bookies didn’t screw up; chances are the Spurs’ best players are resting that night. In the sport with the fewest players on the court/field at one time, staying on top of starting lineups is crucial when betting the NBA.
Spreads in the NBA will usually stay in the same range as NFL games: it’s rare to see a favorite of over 20 points, and only big mismatches will see double-digit spreads. For the most part, NBA spreads will be single digits in favor of the home team.
Game total betting for basketball is no different than any other sport (read this to learn the basics of betting on game totals).
Because of the high-scoring nature of the NBA, the variance between game total lines can be huge. A pair of defensive teams could have a total of just 165, while on the same night, a pair of run-and-gun teams could be up against a total of 245.
NBA Basketball Moneyline
The moneyline is an option if you just want to try picking winners, but the return can be lacking in a league that is seeing more and more super-teams.
If you haven’t viewed our section about reading and understanding odds, that line means it would take a bet of $2,000 to win just $100 if you bet on Golden State to win. Conversely, the payout on a Utah upset would be big: $1,000 on a $100 bet.
Hoping for underdogs to win every night isn’t a great NBA betting strategy, thanks to a few powerhouses like Golden State and Cleveland stomping their way through the league, particularly in the playoffs. The best way to get any value out of those teams on a nightly basis is by using multiple bets like parlays, round robins, or teasers.
Parlays and Teasers
We’ve covered all the details of how to lay a multi-team bet here. For the NBA specifically, teasers allow bettors to adjust spreads by 4, 4.5, or 5 points. Not only do the point totals differ from football, but basketball teasers offer slightly better payouts than the NFL as well. A two-team, four-point teaser is even odds for the NBA, while a two-team, six-point teaser is -110 in the NFL.
The maximum number of teams you are allowed to include in a teaser will vary by sportsbook, but it’s rare that the number is greater than 10.
NBA and NFL parlays are also markedly similar. For instance, just like in football, you can’t include a moneyline pick and a pick against the spread for the same game in the same NBA parlay.
NBA Basketball Proposition (Prop) Bets
If you choose one of the bigger sportsbooks or even an average-sized one, you will find an abundance of props associated with each game, like totals for how many points or assists a player will get.
Here are a couple of examples from a game in the 2017 NBA Finals between LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Kevin Durant’s Warriors:
Because the NBA is such an individual-driven league, many bettors view these types of props as safer bets, and often see them as a more worthwhile play than the spread. But you shouldn’t write off spread betting just because back-door covers can make it a frustrating experience; you can avoid some of that frustration thanks to props that feature alternate spreads and first/second half lines. While teams tend to rest starters when they’re up big in the fourth quarter – often allowing a well-beaten opponent to make the score more respectable – few teams take their foot off the gas in the first half. (Although you should note how a coach staggers the first-half minutes for his stars. Most do so in a similar manner from game to game.)
The NBA offers some unique props for other events during the year that few other sports can claim. For example, you can bet on who will win the NBA’s Draft Lottery, who will be selected first in the draft, and who will win the annual Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend. The options for betting on the NBA are seemingly endless.
Because the NBA is so top heavy in terms of contending teams, the championship futures market can sometimes lack the same appeal of other, more unpredictable leagues. There are only a few teams with a realistic shot, and while the long odds on every other team look attractive, they’re still not good value if the teams don’t stand a realistic chance.
Take the Eastern Conference futures. Since the 2011 season, LeBron James’ team (either the Heat or Cavaliers) has been the odds-on favorites to win the conference. (“Odds-on” means they’re viewed as having better than even odds to win. Any team that is -101 or better would be an odds-on favorite.)
While his teams have won the conference seven-straight times, waiting an entire six-month season and playoffs to win less-than-even money isn’t really in the spirit of futures betting. Luckily, the NBA does offer plenty of long-term bets with wide open odds, including the league’s MVP and Rookie of the Year award. These are the futures bets worth playing these days in the top-heavy NBA.