[Guide] NBA Betting Explained

The National Basketball Association (NBA) format and season

The NBA comprises 30 teams that play in the Eastern Conference (15 teams) and the Western Conference (15 teams). Each conference is further subdivided into three divisions. Eastern Conference divisions are called Atlantic, Central and Southeast. Western Conference divisions are called Northwest, Pacific and Southwest.

Playoffs and NBA Finals

NBA playoffs commence in late April with eight teams from each conference competing for the championship. Playoff games take place between the winners of each of the three divisions and the team with the next best record from the conference. These four teams are given the top four seeds, and the four teams with the next best records are given the lower four seeds.

The playoffs follow a knockout tournament format. Each team plays an opponent in a best-of-seven format in each conference. The winners of each conference then play in the NBA Finals to determine a champion.


This is an outright market. You bet on a team at given odds.

First half moneyline
This in an outright market to determine which team will be leading at halftime.

First quarter moneyline
This is an outright market to determine which team will be leading at the end of the first quarter.

Handicap or spread betting
In this market, the favourite is allocated a number of points with a minus (-) sign. For example, if the Boston Celtics are showing -10.5, the team will have to win by more than this figure for you to win the bet.

First-half point spread
This market ends at halftime. Handicap rules apply.

First quarter point spread
This market ends at the end of the first quarter. Handicap rules apply.

Total points over/under
The total number of points scored by both teams determines the winner of this market.

First half total points
The total number of points scored by both teams at halftime determines the winner of this market.

First quarter total points
The total number of points scored by both teams at the end of the first quarter determines the winner of this market.

How to Read NBA Odds

Before we explain how to bet on the NBA, you should familiarize yourself with how the odds will be laid out at the sportsbook. FYI – sportsbook is the industry name for “betting site.”

Odds will always be expressed with a plus sign (+) to designate the underdog and a minus sign (-) to represent the favorite. For instance:

The numbers beside the plus and minus sign are the actual odds. This is based on bettors making wagers of $100. The $10 is the juice or vig – what the sportsbook collects from each bet. You don’t have to bet $100. You can bet $50 or $1,500 or $27. It’s up to you how much you want to wager. Braces are expensive, so please bet within your means, otherwise your children will have crooked teeth.

Moneyline Bets: Picking a Team to Win SU

Also known as a straight-up bet (SU), the moneyline is a bet that involves picking a winner. For example, if the Toronto Raptors are the favorite in their matchup against the Boston Celtics, you can bet on them to win outright. The odds would look something like this:

If you were to place $40 on the Raptors and they won, you’d get a payout of $55.38 – your original $40 comes back along with the $15.38 you won. Conversely, that same $40 on a winning Celtics bet would give you a payout of $128 – your original $40 is returned, coupled with your loot of $88. Our Odds Calculator will tell you how much you’d win based on the odds and how much you bet.

A bet on the underdog is considered a riskier wager since oddsmakers – the people who set the lines at betting sites – predict that this team isn’t going to win. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bet on dogs and only take faves. As long as you handicap your bets accordingly, you could see big winnings on huge upsets. Don’t worry, we’ll cover handicapping strategies below.

Point Spreads: Which Squad will Cover?

Like with NFL betting, when two teams aren’t evenly matched, the point spread gives NBA bettors an alternative to picking one team winning over the other. The dog is given an advantage before the game starts, and the favorite is put at a disadvantage. Odds would look something like this:

In this scenario, the Kings would need to either win the game outright or lose by 17 points or less. As for the Warriors, they would need to win the game by 18 or more. When you make a bet like this, you are choosing a team to cover the spread. You’ll often see ATS in association with this kind of bet. This means “against the spread.”

Spreads for an NBA game will typically be more than 5 points since basketball is such a high-scoring sport. There will be times when the spread won’t have the decimal (.5) and you would see a whole number. Using the same example as above, if the point spread was 17 instead of 17.5 and the Warriors won the game by exactly 17 points, meaning the Kings lost by that same amount, it’s called a PUSH. In this case, you’d get your money back as if your bet never happened.

NBA Totals: Combined Score Betting

To make a totals bet, you would wager on whether the combined final score will go OVER or UNDER a set number of points. If the New Orleans Pelicans are facing off against the Houston Rockets, the odds would appear like so:

Option Points
OVER 220

If you take the OVER, it means you need the total points to be more than 220 to win your bet. If you take the UNDER, you need the collective score to be 219 or less to win your wager. PUSHES can also happen in OVER/UNDER betting if the shared points hit the exact number set by the oddsmakers.

Live Odds: Betting While the Game Progresses

NBA betting sites will provide live odds while the game is going on. In-play betting lets you wager on each play, and things like the next team to score, or changing spreads. When you see live odds that you like, take them ASAP because they will disappear quickly. The faster you can make your picks on live NBA lines, the better.

Prop Bets: Keeping it Light

During the NBA season, you’ll see prop bets. In sports betting, props (short for proposition) are wagers on the occurrence or non-occurrence of certain events or highlights that may not directly correlate to the outcome of the game. You’ll see player and team props based on milestones like:

  • • How many assists will Russell Westbrook have?
  • • How many points will the Indiana Pacers put up in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers?
  • • How many rebounds will Joel Embiid have against the New York Knicks?

Props are considered more entertaining than other basketball bets since you don’t have to worry about teams covering the spread or winning the game straight up.

Futures: Betting on the Long Term

NBA futures are bets made on events that will happen in time. Sure, all bets are made on happenings that have yet to occur, but futures are made weeks and months in advance of the event. At your online sportsbook of choice, you’ll see bets like:

  • • Regular-season win totals per team
  • • Will Team X make the playoffs?
  • • Which team will win the championship?
  • • Who will be named Rookie of the Year?
  • • Who is the favorite to win MVP?

Futures bets can be made at any time before the event takes place. Oddsmakers will release odds before the season begins, so it’s best to jump on them as early as possible before the lines move.

Parlays: Many Bets on One Ticket

This type of bet allows you to bundle two or more wagers on one betting slip. Parlays let you take the moneyline from one game, the totals from another, and the spread from a different matchup. For instance, a parlay ticket could look like this:

Miami Heat Moneyline + Chicago Bulls vs LA Lakers Totals + Dallas Mavericks to cover the spread

With this kind of bet, all wagers on your ticket must hit, otherwise it’s deemed a bust. If you have even one loss, you lose the entire bet. You can also make cross-sport parlays and include college football and NHL bets with your NBA picks. In fact, you can create tickets with any sports that are played concurrently with the NBA season.

We have a Parlay Calculator that will show you what you’d win based on the odds of each bet on your slip. Our tool lets you add up to 100 bets, however, most sportsbooks only offer up to 10-team parlays.

Handicapping Your Basketball Bets

When oddsmakers set the lines, they take many factors into consideration. They look at past performances, coaching and injuries. When you handicap your bets, look at which team is playing at home. It’s important to consider home-court advantage, particularly when the opposing team is on the end of a losing road trip or has played multiple games in recent nights. Fatigue can make or break a team and can affect your bets.

Another betting strategy to consider is momentum. When a team gets hot, it can often string together huge winning streaks both straight up and against the spread. Similarly, bad teams can rack up blowout losses in bunches as well. Be on the lookout for these spikes in season momentum and grab the odds early.

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