NBA betting involves all the typical sports betting formats and offers something unique to sports bettors. It’s not hard to learn how to bet on the NBA. It does require a little bit of reading and a few pieces of strategic advice before you get started.
The National Basketball Association is a mega-popular sports league with a global reach. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but the NBA is its rising star. NBA games are broadcast in half the world’s countries. Professional basketball in America is responsible for a global sport with hundreds of millions of participants.
This guide covers all the basics of NBA betting. If you want to bet on basketball, you should start by reading this page.
Types of NBA Bets
The basic types of NBA bets are the point spread, the money line, and the game total.
(I covered these extensively in my post called “How to Bet on the NFL.” If you’re unfamiliar with those betting types, read through that post and it’ll all make sense to you.)
The betting format unique to the NBA is the derivatives market. NBA derivatives are bets based on the outcome of each quarter and each half of the game, independent of any other factor.
They aren’t prop bets since they pay out based on the action on the court. But they aren’t really traditional sports bets either, in that they aren’t based on a final score or outcome.
Quarter and half lines look and behave like any other NBA odds. The only difference is the amount of time under consideration.
Books issue NBA derivative odds (spreads and totals) for each quarter and each half. The numbers will look a little different compared to what you’re used to. The spreads are smaller, the totals are smaller, etc. But aside from that, everything works just as you’d expect.
Sometimes bettors use derivatives as part of a larger betting strategy. You almost never see a team totally dominate their lines. It’s hard to cover the spread and win each quarter and both halves of an NBA game. That’s just not how NBA games move.
In the case of the first three quarters and the first half, you can also make a bet that the score will be tied.
NBA Betting Strategy Guide
It will take a lifetime of bets to build your own personal NBA betting strategy.
The tips below will help you get there. I can’t help you become a professional sports gambler in a week, but I can get you started.
Start off on the right foot by approaching the NBA market based on the suggestions below.
There’s No Home-Court Advantage (Against the Spread)
I’m not talking about wins and losses here.
Home-cooking does seem to give an edge in straight-up W’s and L’s.
Going back ten seasons, more than half the league wins above the break-even percentage at home. In terms of straight-up wins and losses, home court gives a lot of teams a distinct edge. Golden State wins about 75% of their home games. That’s insane. Of course, they also win 60% of the time on the road, too.
But when it comes to the spread, don’t assume a homecourt advantage.
Going back ten seasons, just three teams (Philadelphia, Memphis, and Atlanta) have beat the spread at home above the break-even percentage.
In fact, going back to 2013, 18 NBA teams have faced a statistical disadvantage against the spread at home. The worst of these, Orlando, beat the spread just 44.6% of the time at home. You could bet blindly on Orlando’s opponents in those games and turn a small profit.
If you’re betting on the money line or game total, definitely give the home team extra consideration. If you’re betting on the spread, you should pretty much ignore the impact of a team playing on their home court.
Sometimes, the Schedule is All that Matters
The NBA season is like a miniature baseball season. Okay, so NBA teams only play 82 games and baseball clubs have to grind out 162. The pace of the season is similar.
Once the basketball season gets going, you’re seeing three or four games a week on the regular. Guys get tired. A squad with fresh legs has the edge on a roster stuffed with once and futures All-Stars.
Teams with a rest advantage have a literal advantage against the spread.
Going back ten seasons, just six teams have beat the spread consistently enough to break even or turn a profit when the two sides have equal rest. The best of these equal rest winners beat the spread at just a 56.5% clip. That’s profitable, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Now consider what those numbers look like when one team has a rest advantage.
Going back ten seasons, two-thirds of the league have beat the spread at a profitable rate when they have a rest advantage. The Warriors have won in this situation at a 68.2% rate, with a record of 148-69 when they have at least one day more rest than their opponent.
Guys with tired legs tend to struggle over time. The second half can be particularly grueling.
Smart bettors back underdogs against public betting favorites who’ve just finished a tough schedule.
Back Under Totals in Division Games
Over the past five NBA seasons, the game total went under in divisional games frequently enough to build a profitable betting system. This was true for 19 different teams. That’s more than half the league.
In fact, the under total wins more than 60% of the time in divisional games featuring four NBA teams – the Knicks, Spurs, Bulls, and Suns. If you’d taken the under total blindly on every divisional game the Suns have played since 2017, you’d have a 56-29-2 record. That’s a 65.9% winning percentage, unheard of in sports betting.
You can’t just blindly back every under total. The reason division games are important is the frequency with which the two teams see one another on the court. Every team will play each of their divisional opponents twice on the road and twice at home.
Familiarity leads to lower scoring totals. Plain and simple.
Be aware of backing under totals in games featuring high-voltage offenses mismatched against a divisional opponents’ defense. These games tend to go over – I estimate the over wins around 55.4% of the time, but the statistics aren’t as easy to find as you might think.
Take Advantage of Heavy Underdogs
NBA games are usually close. We’ve all seen unbelievable blowouts where a powerhouse team totally dominates a cupcake.
Understand that the average margin of victory for the 2021-2022 season was -0.28 points. That should tell you just how close a typical NBA game is at the end.
No team in the 21-22 season had a margin of victory above 6.4, and only 17 teams had a margin of victory above 0.
You can use this in your favor as an NBA gambler. Look for those big point spreads that pop up because of a mismatch. When an NBA spread hits 10 points or more there’s a lot of value in the underdog.
Look at Oklahoma City in the 21-22 season for an example of a bad team that overperformed ATS, especially against a mismatched opponent. OKC beat the spread at a 61.5% clip, even though their margin of victory was -8.1 points and they lost 50+ games for the second season in a row.
The Thunder went 27-14 ATS as road dogs, good enough for a 65.9% winning percentage. Even the lowly Pacers (and their 25-57 record last year) beat the spread enough as the road dog to turn a profit. Indiana won ATS 17 times out of 30. You could’ve blindly backed both teams ATS as road underdogs and done better than breaking even.
Conclusion: NBA Betting
The NBA market is relatively easy to beat.
The best example I can give is from sportsbooks in Las Vegas. According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s annual report for last year, the house had an edge of about 4.3% against NBA bettors. If it were a casino game, it would have a top-10 house edge for sure. Betting on the NBA gives you better odds than playing most casino table games.
Betting on the NBA requires some patience, some homework, a lot of watching and waiting, and constant reminders that you’re supposed to be betting for entertainment purposes.
Follow the tips on this page and your NBA betting experience will go a lot smoother.