The ascension of the Toronto Raptors to the NBA throne in 2019 appears to be a harbinger for exciting times ahead in professional basketball. As the mighty Warriors enter a downturn (we think) in their fortunes, and more teams become viable for a championship run, the competitive balance in the NBA may never be even than it portends in 2019-20. That makes betting on the NBA all the more fascinating and fun as the new season approaches. Here is a primer on NBA betting, showing the best ways to beat the house.

Betting on the NBA most closely mirrors that of the NFL, in that the three most basic type of bets include a moneyline, a point spread and an over/under. Understanding how these three types of betting operate is the key to making smart and profitable wagers on the NBA.


The most basic NBA betting line is the moneyline wager. In this scenario, you are picking one team to win, regardless of the final score, as there is no point spread involved. If the Celtics are hosting the Lakers and are listed as the favorite, you will see a betting sheet that lists the teams under the “moneyline” heading as such:


In all NBA betting, the favorite is always listed with the minus sign (-) and the underdog is listed with the plus sign (+). This is because the payout for the favorite is always going to be less than the amount wagered, while a successful bet on an underdog will be more than the amount wagered.
Consider: A winning wager of $100 on the underdog Lakers would be worth $200 dollars. But to win $100 on the favored Celtics, you would need to bet $170.
As you will see, the bigger the perceived underdog, the greater their moneyline. Conversely, a heavily favored team will afford a much smaller payoff. Imagine the 2018 Warriors with a healthy Curry, Durant and Thompson facing a struggling Miami club without Dragic and Whiteside. The moneyline would probably look something like “GOLDEN STATE -340, MIAMI +280.”
As far as determining which team to bet in which instance – and as is the case with any wager in any sport – the more research you do on an individual game can increase the likelihood that you end up on the winning side.
This is especially true in the NBA, where coaches increasingly make last-minute decisions about resting players, whether injured or not. This used to be the hallmark of Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, who would sit star players left and right – and give precious little notice before tip-off — to afford them rest and leave the viewing public and NBA bettors frustrated.
More than any other sport, last-minute scratches for injuries and rest are part of the daily routine in the NBA. It is imperative, especially with teams in back-to-back or third-game-in-four-days situations, to check to make sure a star player isn’t being given the night off.
When making NBA bets, be sure to check the Twitter pages of each team’s beat writer or cable outlet for these last-second game changes. If you can hold out until the last minute to place your wager, it is recommended you do so.
It also pays to understand the matchup in a given game. Does one team excel at fast-breaking, while the opponent struggles to play in pace-up games? Does your team have an All-Star frontcourt, but the opponent leads the league in post defense? Is one team playing its third road game in four days? Little things can add up to a huge advantage.


Like with NFL betting, there is a point spread attached to the betting line of every NBA game. This number is intended by the house to try and keep the balance of the overall wagering on a specific game as even as possible. The larger point spread, the more action the favored team is likely receiving. It is fairly routine for a point spread to move in one direction or the other over the course of a game day, as the sportsbook tries to keep the wagering in balance.
As with any bet against the point spread, you are betting on the favorite to win by more than the amount of the point spread – say 3½ points – or on the underdog to not lose by more than the spread. The payout for these bets is a uniform -110 for either side, requiring a bet of $110 to win $100. Regardless of the movement of the point spread, the moneyline will remain -110.


The final type of popular bet is the NBA over under bet. Here, you are tasked with wagering on the number of points scored by both teams. Each side of the game total bet will have its own moneyline, with the “favored” side listed with the (-) sign and the underdog as a (+).
For the majority of games, the game total is usually set in the neighborhood of 190 points. The over/under will always take into account the types of teams playing in the particular game. Two run-and-gun teams will probably see an O/U north of 200 points. Two defensive-minded teams might be closer to 180.
This is another critical area where last-minute information could have a huge impact on the wager, and could possibly lead to the wager being taken off the board entirely. Say, for instance, LeBron James is a last-minute scratch for the Lakers. Or Russell Westbrook gets a night of rest. That will certainly change the outlook for the amount of points scored in that game, tilting heavily toward the under.


There is also NBA betting which allow for wagers at halftime of games. These halftime wagers come with their own point spread, over-under and moneylines. The catch, obviously, is that you are wagering on the second half of the game only. Consider it a re-set if the first half has not gone the way you hoped when you made your original bet. The difference with the halftime bets is that the moneylines are not exactly user-friendly. And the second half is the part of the game where starters can get lifted with almost the entire fourth quarter to play if the game is a blowout at the end of the third. Understand how the game you’re betting is trending before committing one way or the other.


As with any sport, there are also prop bets to be found in basketball. Which team will score first? Who will hit the first three-pointer? What is the over/under on Player X’s total points? These bets add a little spice to the game, especially in the playoffs or the All-Star Game.


For those who love the thrill of the high-wire act, where big odds can lead to big payoffs, but require considerably more risk, the parlay bet is made for you. In this type of wager, you are required to bet on 2, 3, 4, even 10 outcomes on one wager, and you must get them all correct. One miss, and you’re done. But the odds can be enormous, the more bets you put on your parlay. A typical three-bet parlay pays 6-to-1. Four bets goes 13-1, and so on. Parlays can combine different types of bets. For instance, you can play a “two-team” parlay by betting the point spread and over/under from the same single game.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the best days of the week to try betting an NBA parlay, as those three nights will generally have close to every team playing, creating the largest field of games to choose from.