NBA Basketball Betting

As the premier basketball organization in the world, the NBA is also a popular sport for many sports bettors outside of the U.S.. Serious NBA handicappers need to have accounts at several online sports books to compare odds. Over the course of a season, small advantages on every game can be the difference between winning or losing.

While there are a number of ways to bet on NBA basketball, the three most popular bets are on the point spread, money line, and total score of a game. The point spread is the most popular of the three, but a lot of sports bettors look for added value in money line bets. If you are looking to add some excitement to a game, most online sports books offer a wide range of prop bets. Prop bets can even be made from a mobile phone or while watching the game from the stands.

Point Spread

A point spread is a handicap given to teams in order to even out the betting. Underdogs are given points, while favorites have to give up points. Using the spread, sports bettors can get in the range of -110 odds on most NBA games. Here’s an example:

  • Los Angeles Lakers -5.5 -110
  • Denver Nuggets +5.5 -110

In the scenario above, the Lakers are favored by 5.5 points, so for bets on them to win, the Lakers would need to win the game by 6 or more points. For the Nuggets, they could lose the game by 5 or fewer points, and bets on them would win. Using the point spread, bets on either of these teams pay out at -110, which is $10 profit for $11 wagered.

Money Line Bets

Money line wagers are straight-up bets on the winner of the game, with no point spread. If you think Team X will win, bet on Team X. If you think Team Y will win, bet on Team Y. Since no point spread is used, odds are adjusted to reflect the favorite and underdog. Favorites are indicated with a negative (-) money line, while underdogs are indicated with a positive (+) money line. Both money lines use $100 as the basis point for calculating payouts, but the calculations work differently. For example:

  • Los Angeles Lakers -230
  • Denver Nuggets +190

In this case, the Lakers are the favorite. Since they have a negative money line, it would require a bet of $230 to win $100 in profit (or $23 to win $10). For the Nuggets, a bet of $100 would result in a $190 profit if they win. Just remember that negative money lines represent the amount of money needed to wager in order to win $100 in profit. Positive money lines represent the amount of money that would be won from a $100 bet. Obviously there are benefits and negatives of money line bets versus point spread bets. When betting on favorites, your team does NOT have to cover a point spread, they just need to win. However, since they do NOT have to cover a spread, the odds on them are lower. For underdogs, odds can be much greater on the money line versus the point spread, but they have no handicap. More risk, more reward. Remember, there is no such thing as a lock. While it seems like easy money to take a -600 favorite, risking $6 to win $1 is a risky proposition.

Total (Over/Under) Bets

Totals bets are wagers on the combined score of both teams in a game. For example, a score of 100-90 would have a total of 190. Online NBA betting sites set a number on what they think the total will be, and a sports bettor’s job is to determine if that number is too high or too low. If you think it is too high, you would want to bet the “under”. If you think it is too low, you would bet the “over”. While there is some skill involved in betting the over/under, this is essentially a prop bet. Getting in the neighborhood of -110 for total bets, unless you can beat the books fairly consistently, this is a hard way to make money.

Parlay Betting

A parlay bet is a wager that combines multiple, single bets onto one ticket. For a parlay to win, every bet on the ticket must win or the entire parlay is lost. Point spread, money line, and total bets can be mixed into a single parlay. For example, you could bet the point spread on one game, the money line on two other games, and the total on a fourth game – all on one parlay ticket. The benefit of a parlay is dramatically increased odds over individual bets. Since only one bet within a parlay ticket needs to lose for the entire parlay to lose, online sports books offer much better odds for these bets. Of course, that also means you are less likely to win parlays than single bets. NBA parlay bets can be used to go for big wins, or to add value to a straight bet.

For example, some bettors like to add a -500 favorite to a tight game where they’re getting +105 – +130 odds. The idea is that you’re taking a shot with the underdog, but getting better odds by adding a huge favorite that you definitely expect to win. Most online sports books allow sports bettors as many as 8 teams on a single parlay, but some offer 15 or more. Of course, the odds of winning a parlay of this size is close to impossible. For this reason, I recommend keeping your parlays down to 3-5 teams maximum. The payouts can be very big, and you will win your parlay bets more often – good for your mental attitude, as well as your bankroll.  ACTUALLY, I SUGGEST THAT YOU DO NOT BET PARLAYS!

Futures Bets

Futures bets can be placed on the eventual winner of the NBA Championship, along with divisional champions, and East/West champions. These bets are usually made available well in advance of the season, and run deep into it. If you are picking an underdog to win next season, you will typically get better odds if you place the bet before the season starts. If you turn out to be right and your team is winning, odds on them will go down.

However, if you are picking a favorite to win, wait until the season has begun and make sure your team is performing as you thought they would. Odds on favorites generally will NOT go down much during the first few weeks of a season, so there is little reason to place your bets early. While NBA futures bets can offer attractive odds, the sports book will have your money all season long. If you are a serious NBA handicapper, it is not a good idea to tie up part of your bankroll on a bet that will take so long to pay off, in my opinion.

NBA Basketball Prop Bets

Prop bets are wagers that do NOT fit into any of the categories listed above. While props can be fun bets to make, they often charge a higher vig than point spread or money line bets, and they can be difficult to win as well. Prop bets are really designed for casual handicappers, not for professionals. If you are a casual bettor looking to add some fun to a game, some of the NBA prop bets that can be made include:

  • Which team will score first?
  • Which player will score first?
  • Alternative point spreads.
  • Will player X record a double-double?
  • Will player Y score over 25 points?

Most online sports books offer a nice variety of NBA prop bets, especially for big games. A lot of bookmakers also offer mobile prop betting, so you can bet on specific events during a game from anywhere.

Playoff Betting

During the NBA playoffs and championship series, every online sports book expands their betting options. Look for more team & player props, and shop around for the best prices. Since more people bet on NBA playoff games than regular season game, lines move a lot more. Big favorites and teams with large fan bases tend to move the line against them, offering value for the opponent. This is because casual bettors are inclined to take the favored team (or their personal favorite) regardless of the spread or money line. When most of the money is being bet on one team, look to bet on the opponent once the lines have made significant moves in their favor.

In conclusion, while there are NOT any laws forbidding U.S. handicappers from betting at online sports books, there are challenges when it comes to making deposits. The UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) which was enacted in 2006 seeks to make it more difficult for Americans to deposit at online gambling sites. Some online sports books have done a better job of finding companies to process Visa credit & debit cards than others. Obviously, if you can NOT make a deposit, you can NOT make a bet.

Serious handicappers need to have accounts at several online sports books so they can compare odds and get the best prices. If this is you, check into alternative deposit options at each book that you would like to sign up at. Some sports books offer Western Union, instant echecks, Bitcoin and even wire transfers directly from your bank.


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