26 Sep

NBA Betting Basics

Unlike Allen Iverson, we’re not talking about practice. When your chips are down, and your bets have been placed, you can’t take them back; the game is on!

Single Game NBA Bets

When you sign up for a sportsbook (check out our reviews if you need some tips on finding the best one for you) and head over to the NBA section, the first bets you’ll likely see will be the bets against the spread, moneyline bets, and totals bets. These fall into the category of single-game bets, as they involve outcomes of one particular game; they can’t be modified or withdrawn once the game is underway. Once you understand the underlying structure of this particular class of wagers, you will have a foundation to read and understand the entire range of NBA lines.

Betting the Point Spread

First things first, here’s an example of how the spread, total, and over/under will be displayed. We’ll use this example to illustrate some key concepts below.

Sample Lines Golden State Oklahoma City


There are many different names for betting against the spread: betting the spread, point-spread betting, and ATS (amongst others). Rest assured, they all refer to the same thing. What’s unique about betting against the spread is that you aren’t picking an outright winner or an outright loser.

If you bet on the favorite, they have to win by a specified number of points. Conversely, if you bet on the underdog, they have to not lose by the specified number of points.

Betting the spread might sound a tad confusing, so let’s look at our sample line above to see it in action. The team with a negative number next to it, Golden State, is the favorite to win. If you bet on Golden State, they have to beat OKC by at least 7 points to successfully “cover” the spread and make your bet a winner.

Another way to look at it is to subtract 6.5 points from Golden State’s total at the end of the game. If, after deducting 6.5 points, Golden State is still the winner, they’ve successfully covered the spread.

Betting on OKC? They would either have to win the game outright or lose by 6 points (or fewer) for your bet to succeed. A “+” sign in the spread denotes an underdog status. This is a simple and reliable way to discern which team or player oddsmakers think is least likely to win.

Why Does Betting Against the Spread Use Half-Points?

One of the most confusing aspects of betting against the spread is the inclusion of half-points (In our example, the spread is 6.5 instead of being 6 or 7). These half points are what experienced sports bettors refer to as “the hook,” a mechanism that keeps sportsbooks utilize to restrict any possibility of a tie, or “push.” Obviously, there are no half points in basketball, so you will either win or lose your bet.

If there is no “hook,” the game could end in a “push”. This means that bettors would get their wager back, but be aware that certain sportsbooks treat a “push” as a loss.

Why Are Spreads Preferred by Sports Betting Sites?

Betting sites that offer NBA lines use spreads to encourage equitable betting on both teams, which is their safest way to secure a profit. As long as there is equal money being bet on both teams, the sportsbook can pay out the winners from the pool of money collected from the losers, and simultaneously pocket the 5% or 10% “vig” they collect from everyone.

It is important to note that the spread is fluid. It can (and will) change in the lead-up to the game. If bettors place significantly more money on one team, say Golden State (-6.5), the sportsbook may adjust the spread to encourage more betting on the other team.

Sportsbooks do this to mitigate their own financial risk. However, don’t worry if the lines change after you’ve placed your bet. No matter what, your bet is locked in at the odds that you initially wagered on. If you’ve bet on Golden State (-6.5) but the spread is Golden State (-7.5) at tip-off, you’ll still win your bet if Golden State wins the game by seven points.

Betting the Moneyline

The simplest NBA bet available is undoubtedly the moneyline, and it’s also the most common. When you bet the moneyline, you’re betting on who will win the game period. The margin of victory does not matter. We’ve written a more detailed article on betting the NBA moneyline, but we’ll give you a quick refresher here.

Just like when you bet on the spread, whichever team has a “+” number on the moneyline is the underdog, while the team with a “-” next to it is the favorite. The numbers attached indicate your prospective payout and the probability that the sports betting site has assigned to each team’s chances of winning the game.

If you need help interpreting these probabilities and what they mean for your payout, check out our guide to all things odds-related. As a quick refresher, a positive moneyline (e.g. Oklahoma City +180) indicates how much you will win on a $100 bet. A negative moneyline (e.g. Golden State -200) indicates how much you have to wager in order to win $100.

In our example, if you were to bet $100 on OKC, you would win $180 (Your total payout would be $280: your $100 stake plus the $180 profit.) To win $100 betting on Golden State at -200, you would have to wager $200.

Totals Betting

Totals betting (also known as over/under betting) is also relatively straightforward. Simply put, you are placing a bet on the total score of a game. Calculate the total score by adding the points each team scored together.

In our example, the total is set at 210.5. If you bet on the over, you’re betting that Golden State and OKC’s combined scores will be more than 210.5 points. Just like placing a bet against the spread, half-points are used to avoid the possibility of a push, or tie.

You may have noticed that both the over and under have a -110 next to them. Just like the moneyline, that number indicates the payout. You don’t double your money if you win your bet. In our example, you have to wager $110 to win $100, whether you bet on the over or the under.

However, the payout for the over and under is not always the same. It depends on whether the sportsbook considers one outcome more likely. In our example, the sportsbook has determined that there is an equal probability for both outcomes.

Multiple Game NBA Bets

As soon as multiple games are involved, betting on the NBA becomes a lot more complicated. With a greater number of games, there is an increased number of variables, but there’s a good reason to get yourself acquainted with multi-game bets: with added complexity comes the chance of much larger payouts.

The betting lines associated with betting on parlays, teasers, and props are a favorite of “sharps” and seasoned bettors. Let’s break all of these different bets down.


A parlay is any bet that involves more than one event. It’s possible for parlays to involve more than one event. They could all be in the same game or be spread over multiple games.

Let’s say that you wanted to bet on OKC winning, as well as the total score of the game being under 210.5. You can do that in a parlay, effectively betting on both events with a single stake. It’s also possible to add another event to this stake, (say, the Lakers beating the Clippers). If you win all parts of your parlay, the payout will be much bigger than if you bet on just one event.

It’s important to note that there is no prize for getting two out of three events correct. Each bet within the parlay must be a winner. As a result, parlays are good for mammoth payouts on a small wager, but that’s only because the probability of predicting multiple events correctly is generally very low.

Let’s assume you make the following three-bet parlay: (1) OKC at +6.5, (2) over 210.5, and (3) the LA Lakers at +3.5. Now let’s assume that all three parts have a 50/50 chance of succeeding. The rough payout on a three-bet parlay like this would be about +550 or +600 (meaning you would win $550 or $600 on a $100 wager. Sounds great! But not so fast: Your chances of winning all three are just 12.5%.

This doesn’t mean you should always avoid parlays. It only means that you should recognize the degree of difficulty before putting your money down.

Parlays can include various combinations of moneyline, point spread, or totals bets from either one game or multiple games. However, few sportsbooks will allow you to make a parlay bet on both the moneyline and the spread of the same game. Sportsbooks do this to mitigate risk.

Some sportsbooks allow a limitless number of events for parlays, while others place a cap at a predetermined maximum ceiling.


A teaser is a type of parlay, and both of these bets operate in a similar fashion. Here, all bets are on the total or against the spread, and the prospective bettor sacrifices their payout for more advantageous spreads.

In the first game, you might look at the line and be drawn to the Knicks laying 5.5 points, but fear that some late three-pointer will make the final score, allowing the Nets to cover. For the second game, you might not trust Portland to dust off Phoenix by a whole 7 points, but are still confident that Damian Lillard will lead the Blazers to victory.

This is where the work of a teaser comes in. You can manipulate the odds in your favor at the cost of a reduced payout compared to what you would get on a standard parlay bet.

Most gambling sites offer basketball teasers at 4, 4.5, and 5 points. Depending on the number of selections you choose to include in your bet, some sportsbooks offer something they call “sweetheart” teasers. These give you the option of manipulating the betting line by 8 or 10 points.

Let’s use a 4-point teaser for the examples above. New York’s spread would now be -1.5 (5.5 – 4.0) and Portland’s would be -2.5 (6.5-4.0), giving both teams four additional points of wiggle room. The standard payout on a two-game, four-point teaser is +100 (or even), meaning you’d double your bet if both parts of the teaser succeed.

The same teaser option applies to betting on totals. For example, if you were to bet on the over of the Brooklyn vs. New York game, you could reduce the total down to 208.5 by utilizing the same 4-point teaser option. Should you choose to bet on the under, you could push the total up to 216.5.

No matter how enticing teasers may seem, remember that you need to predict all events correctly to win the bet. Be sure to scrutinize the fine print of your sports betting site’s terms and conditions. Some sportsbooks will remove an event from the teaser if the final result is a push, while others will count it as a loss.

Other NBA Bets Available

Betting on the NBA has soared in popularity over the past few decades. As a consequence, creative and fun bets are now available at online sportsbooks. These days, it’s possible to bet on player performance, major awards, team awards, championship futures, and more! Some allow bets on the outcome of a single play!

Prop Bets

With proposition betting, or “prop” betting, you can bet on things other than the results of games. This includes wagering on specific players or events within games.

The options available in prop betting can range from anything from how many points a particular player will score in one game to who will have the most blocks. Many prop bets are over/unders. For example, a sportsbook could set Steph Curry’s point total for the Warriors’ next game at 24.5, with odds on both the over and the under at -110.

No matter the prop, the sportsbook will delineate your options clearly and include the requisite payout on either outcome.


Shortly after the NBA season ends, an option appears on most sports betting sites to bet on the winner of the following year’s championship. This is referred to as a futures bet. Long before playoff seeding is determined (and often before rosters are even finalized), bettors have the option of selecting their pick for next year’s NBA champion.

Other popular futures bets include individual awards like rookie of the year and most valuable player. Most sportsbooks also offer a “FIELD” option, which allows you to bet on every player not listed as an option.

Another popular futures bet is team win totals. Prior to the start of the NBA season, oddsmakers will set each team’s win totals, based on their predicted season-long performance (usually with a hook). Bettors can take the over or the under. Referred to as seasons props, they’re typically available for all 30 NBA teams. Be careful before putting a lot of money down on a season prop, as that money will be tied up until the season is over!

It’s important to recognize that many sportsbooks close these bets shortly before the season starts. Further, the majority of sports betting sites won’t allow you to include futures within any parlay bet.

NBA In-Game Live Betting

Many sports betting sites offer live NBA betting, allowing you to place bets on games that are already underway. Just like a regular pre-game bet, you’re able to bet on the moneyline, spread, and total. That said, the spread and odds will be adjusted in real-time, based on the score of the game and number of incoming bets.

Additionally, sportsbooks offer new lines at the end of every quarter, as well as at halftime. These lines fluctuate, depending on what happens during the game.

How to Be a Successful NBA Bettor

Betting on the NBA can be as simple or as complex as you feel comfortable. To get started, we recommend finding the best sportsbook that suits your needs. Carefully examine the terms and conditions of not only your sportsbook, but the bets you make.

Do your research, learn what kind of bettor you want to become, and have fun! Equip yourself with all the knowledge you can, because, after all, the house doesn’t beat you: It just gives you an opportunity to beat yourself.

Meet the authors

Matt McEwan
Dave F.
Sports Writer
William Hill
Bet Online
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