With a deep pool of game-changing superstars and ever-growing TV ratings, the NBA continues to go from strength to strength, with basketball storylines everywhere you look. LeBron James has begun a new chapter with the Los Angeles Lakers, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant headline a Golden State Warriors team chasing a third straight NBA title while Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are rising to that same elite tier. Kawhi Leonard is healthy again and thriving in Toronto, Joel Embiid is leading the charge for the Philadelphia 76ers and Slovenian rookie Luka Doncic is already marking his mark in Dallas.
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In short, there are countless reasons to be glued to the NBA this season. When it comes to betting on basketball, the league delivers a packed schedule of games most nights of the week which, in turn, keeps the oddsmakers busy. Here are some of the different ways to bet on NBA action.
How does betting on NBA games work?
The simplest approach to NBA betting, just like with all sports, is to pick the outright winner of the game. With overtime periods until one team comes out on top, there are only ever two possible outcomes (unlike the Premier League or even the NFL).
The margin of victory is irrelevant here. Where the road team is slightly stronger than the home team, you might see even odds for the moneyline, but they generally tilt towards the more talented team, even if they are not playing at home. While underdog NBA moneylines can offer terrific value, there are a handful of inexperienced teams to steer well clear of.
This is where betting legal on NBA gets trickier. With spread betting, the game scoreline is the critical piece. The oddsmakers will set a line that reflects the difference in quality and form between the two teams. As an example, the high-flying Denver Nuggets might be expected to go into Chicago and beat the lowly Bulls by 11 points. In that case, the line would be set at 11, giving you the choice of Denver -11 or Chicago +11. If you take the Bulls, they do not have to win – they just have to lose by less than 11 points.
Going a step further, you can also find odds for “alternate spreads”. If you felt confident that the Nuggets were heading for a blowout win, you might take the higher odds on a spread of -16. Equally, the odds would jump if you picked an alternate line of Chicago +6.
The spread betting logic applies to the total number of points scored in the game too, with oddsmakers weighing up the offensive firepower and defensive skills on show. The line might be set at 215 total points, and again there is the option to go “over” or “under” that number.
With the spread, given that the line is designed to balance out the two teams, the odds for either outcome are generally set just below evens (e.g. 10/11).
Half/quarter NBA betting
Some teams are just quicker out of the blocks than others, or have an edge with their starting unit in the game. Where such trends emerge, you can choose to bet on specific quarters or halves of action. See that the Warriors are crushing teams in the first half? You can bet a moneyline or against the spread for their first 24 minutes of play.
If you are undecided on the likely outcome of a game, you can still get involved with player performance bets. Odds are provided for the number of points, assists or rebounds an individual player will have in a particular game.
Here, the line is usually set right around the player’s nightly averages. Curry, Durant or Leonard would likely see a line close to 27.5 points as the over/under. Lines for assists and rebounds may be limited to players who excel in those categories – e.g. assists for Kyle Lowry or John Wall and rebounds for Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan. The do-it-all superstars like James, Durant, Antetokounmpo and Leonard tend to have odds for all the main categories. These types of bets on NBA can often be more fun as you get the freedom to enjoy the action and cheer on your favourite player without fretting over which team is winning and by how much.
Game outcome/player performance combos
If you are looking for higher NBA game odds, pairing the winning team with the points total of one of their stars has some value. As an example, against an opponent of similar quality, you might see odds of 3/1 for the Lakers to win and James to score 30 points. Both parts of the bet have to be fulfilled for it to pay out.
If swinging for the fences is more your thing, you can stack several different basketball bets together for an accumulator. Maybe you like the look of the Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks to win on a particular night, or you find three or four spreads that seem favourable. With the parity that exists in today’s NBA, these can be tough to nail as teams’ fortunes fluctuate from night to night.
While this category is more applicable for the offseason and preseason, when you can bet on regular season win totals for each team, there are other NBA futures than run throughout the year. These include betting on the division winner, Eastern and Western Conference champions, bets on the NBA finals and NBA champion. The oddsmakers seem to share the popular feeling that Golden State is heading for a three-peat.
There are odds for the individual awards too, from Most Valuable Player (MVP), where James and Antetokounmpo are among the frontrunners this season, to Defensive Player of the Year (a wide open race), Rookie of the Year (surely Doncic’s trophy to lose) and Coach of the Year (always lots of candidates, but Mike Malone and Doc Rivers deserve early buzz). Futures also extend the intrigue, with plenty to monitor from week to week.
Other things to keep in mind
- Remember that the West is ultra-competitive and the East is top-heavy: The first two months of the season have confirmed expectations over the respective conferences. The Western Conference is packed with playoff contenders, with only the Phoenix Suns standing out as a rebuilding team not pushing to be one of the top eight teams. The Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings have been better than anticipated, while the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets have taken a step back. Meanwhile, the East has four main powerhouses (even if the Boston Celtics have not put it all together just yet) but a string of teams looking to the future. The eighth and final playoff seed in the East may lose more games than they win.
- Keep an eye on the schedule: With significant travel and chunks of the season where certain teams are playing four times in six or seven days, the fatigue factor is real. On paper, a line might look too low, but be sure that one team is not limping into the game after changing time zones multiple times in the past 72 hours. The back end of a long road trip can cause some surprising results.
- Look out for injury updates: One injury to a key player can make a huge difference to NBA bets. Players will often be considered a “game-time decision”, with a final verdict on their fitness sometimes delivered less than an hour before tip-off. With a growing awareness of the benefits of managing players’ minutes, it is also not uncommon for a player to be rested occasionally, though this would often be known in advance and reflected in the odds. Plus, when one star sits out, that opens the door for others to play more minutes and take more shots, presenting other betting online and offline opportunities.
- Go beyond the starting five: During the regular season, depth matters. A team might have two All-Star level starters but bench minutes can be costly if the talent drop-off is steep. Teams are making a concerted effort to inch starters under 35 minutes a night. When it comes to betting on NBA playoffs though, star power still rules the day.
- Factor in three-point shooting: Teams have been firing up three-pointers at a staggering rate, creating more variance inthe possible outcomes. But some are clearly better than others from behind the arc. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors lead the way but the Kings and Los Angeles Clippers are hot on their heels. Meanwhile,the Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons are bringing up the rear. For as long as three points count for more than two (!), there is greater comfort in betting on teams that shoot well from downtown.
- Monitor home/road records: The 76ers, Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers are good examples of talented teams that have thrived at home this season but have been unable to replicate that form on the road. The opposite is true for the Jazz. As we get deeper into the campaign, some interesting trends should develop here.
Lastly, check out betting.com throughout the year for more NBA coverage as we assess the teams on the rise, react to trade chatter and preview marquee matchups (including the monster five-game Christmas Day offering). There are sure to be plenty more twists and turns on the road to the NBA Finals in June.