NBA Basketball Betting

This NBA betting guide is designed for people already familiar with the league. You don’t have to be a numbers-crunching stat geek or some kind of super-fan, either. I’ve written the guide so that even a casual NBA fan can absorb the tips and apply them right away.So why bet on the NBA? The season is long, premiering during the chill of Halloween and stretching all the way into the first two weeks of July’s serious heat. Some baseball bettors use NBA betting as a bridge between seasons – since basketball season starts during the doldrums of both NFL and NCAA football, it also makes a nice reprieve from the pigskin.

Before we get into a brief discussion on bankroll management, let’s make sure you understand the three most common types of wagers NBA bettors use – point spreads, moneylines, and game totals.

The Point Spread

This is sometimes called “the spread,” and it is the main way that a basketball game is handicapped. The point of the spread is to attract wagers on both sides of an NBA game – if you want to wager on the team that’s a clear favorite, you’ll be handicapped with a smaller payout if you win. The spread also encourages action on the underdog, but in reverse – a winning wager on the underdog (or against the spread) will pay more than a winning bet on the favorite.
So what does a point spread look like?

Here’s a simplistic example:

Spurs (-4) Grizzlies (+4)

Those two words and two symbols are packed with information. From that tidbit I can tell you who the home and away teams are and who is expected to win (and by how much). The first listed team, in this case the San Antonio Spurs, is the away team. The minus symbol is an indication that San Antonio is the favorite. The number next to the minus symbol indicates by how much they are favored, in this case 4 points. If you wager on Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, they need to win by 4 points or more. If you back the underdog Grizzlies, they’ll need to win outright or lose by less than 4 points for you to win your wager.

Game Totals

A wager on a game total is like making a personal prediction on how many points both sides of a contest will score. Game totals, or “over/unders,” look a bit weird at first but are easy to read. Here’s a simple example:

Spurs 179.5o +115

Grizzlies 179.5u -115

If you guessed that the top team is always the away team, you guessed right. This is actually the same game I used above, for the sake of simplicity. The next thing you see moving from left to right is the game total itself, 179.5. See the letter “o” next to the Spurs’ number? It tells you that a wager on San Antonio is an “over” wager. The “u” next to the Grizzlies’ number indicates that a bet on Memphis is a bet on the “under.”

That number 179.5 tells us that an “over” wager win if the two teams score 180 points or more, while an “under” wager is only good if the two teams total 179 points or fewer. So what about the second number? The +115 tells us that San Antonio is the favorite, and will require a $115 wager in order to win $100. That’s $10 in winnings for every $15 bet. On the other side of the wager, if you take the “under” and are successful, you’ll win $15 for every $10 wagered.

By the way – do you see how those otherwise weird-looking numbers make it easy to scale amounts up and down? Now you know why bookmakers write their odds in such weird formats.


This is not a very popular way to wager on NBA games, when compared to totals and point spreads. Still, moneyline bets on the NBA are available, so you should understand them.

Unlike the point spread or game total bet, a moneyline wager asks you to make a prediction on which team will win and which will lose. The amount that a team wins or loses by is irrelevant – the purpose is to pick the correct outcome of a game, plain and simple. That makes moneylines easy to use and easy to read. Here’s a simple example:

Spurs -650

Grizzlies +400

Once again, the order of the teams indicates who is away (San Antonio) and who is at home (Memphis). The number tells you either how much is required to win a payout of $100 (if you’re betting on the favored team) or how much you’ll win by placing a successful $100 bet on the underdog. Back the Spurs and you’ll win $10 for every $65 you wager; back Memphis and cheer them on to victory and you’ll win $40 for every $10 you put in.

NBA Betting Bankroll Management

The trick to withstanding the (totally normal and unavoidable) ups and downs of the long unpredictable NBA season is taking steps early to extend the life of your bankroll. Hint – this is true for all forms of gambling. Boom, I just saved you a ton of time reading about blackjack, poker, and racebook strategy.

I’ve been wagering on the NBA for more than a decade. I’m not going to lie and say that I got rich in the process – but I have had a couple of years where I made enough of a profit to take a decent family vacation, and I’ve never gambled with the rent money.

Here are some fundamental bankroll management tips geared for NBA betting strategy:

Tip #1: Determine your maximum wager size (and stick to it).

Okay, this one’s really simple. Take your total budget for the season and bet no more than 2% of it on every game you bet on. If you want to vary your bets, wager just 1% on some and 2% on others, but never go beyond that 2% number. If that sounds small to you, remember that pro sports seasons are long, that losing streaks aren’t just common they’re likely, and that betting is supposed to be entertainment. Having your car repo’d because you couldn’t control the size of your wagers is not my idea of quality entertainment.

I’m lucky enough to have built a bankroll of $5,000 – it’s not much but it lets me wager either $50 or $100 on three games a week and enjoy my NBA viewership a lot more.

Tip #2: Use flat betting until you’re more experienced.

Flat betting is a simple strategy whereby you place identical (or very similar) wagers every single time you bet. Trust me – altering your bet size a little over the course of a day’s games can quickly wipe out any little wins you may have accumulated. This works well in the NBA thanks to the number of games on any given day (usually three or four) and the pace of the season.

Want an example of my flat betting NBA strategy? On days when at least three games are available I bet $100 per game on three contests. My fear is that if I bet $150 on the game I really feel strongly about, that extra $50 in wagers makes my overall outlay uneven. My flat betting strategy means I only have to win two out of three bets to turn a profit.

Tip #3: Keep extensive records of your bets.

You’ll be amazed what organization and record-keeping can do for your sports betting hobby. Keeping track of your wagers and their outcomes (not to mention your expenses) is the best way I know to insure against betting too much and losing your shirt. But it also offers a tactical advantage, allowing you to see trends over time. The more extensive notes you keep, the better.

If you’re already a basketball fan, you can consider yourself officially prepared to bet on the sport you love. But don’t forget to continuously add to your basketball knowledge – and I don’t just mean watching an episode of SportsCenter every now and then. The more games you watch, the more message boards you participate in, and the more player news you familiarize yourself with, the better your chances of being a winning NBA bettor.

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