How to Bet the NBA

Daily Free Picks


Subscribe to Jimmy Boyd's Free Picks

The best free picks delivered to your email every single day!


While the NBA isn’t on the same level as the NFL in terms of popularity, it’s a sport you can make some serious cash in. When it comes to handicapping the NBA, there’s a lot that goes into it.

This article is for those of you who are knew to betting on the NBA and want a better understanding of how it works.

Beating the NBA odds is no easy task. That’s why I recommend you let one of our expert NBA handicappers do the work for you. I’m confident that with the help of their premium NBA picks, you can take your bankroll to the next level.

Understanding How to Read the NBA Point Spreads & Betting Lines

When you are looking to make a bet on the NBA you need to know two things: the multiple bet types there are and the format the odds can be in.  The main ways to bet on NBA games is with the spread, moneyline, or total.

We explain everything you need to know in this section.

What Does the Plus (+) and Minus (-) Mean in NBA Betting?

A minus sign (-), or negative value, is used to represent the favorite and a plus sign (+), or positive value, represents the underdog.

That’s the first thing you have to figure out when betting on a team to either cover the spread or win outright, which team is favored.

This is true whether we are talking about point spreads or money lines.

Point Spreads Explained (Sides)

The most popular kind of bet to make is on the point spread.  The oddsmakers set a number to try and balance the two teams out and get wagers flowing in on both sides.  

If you bet on the favorite, that team must not only win the game but do so by more than the spread.  If you take the underdog they either have to win outright or lose by fewer points than the spread. 

Let’s look at an example:

Detroit Pistons +4.5 -110
Oklahoma City Thunder -4.5 -110

If you place a $50 bet on either side you will risk $55 to win $50.  Let’s say the final score is Thunder 104, Pistons 94.  If you bet Oklahoma City -4.5, you would have won your bet since the Thunder won the game by ten points.

If you took Detroit, you would be a loser. The Suns lost by ten points and were only getting 4.5. They failed to cover by 5.5 points.

For Detroit to have won the bet, they would have had to lose by four or less.

In our example it’s impossible, but if the spread is on a whole number (no half point) and the margin lands on that number it would be graded as a push (no bet).

Bet Prices: What Does the -110 Mean With Spread Bets?

The three digit number to the right of the point spread is called the price.

If you bet the spread you will typically have to lay -110 odds. This means for every $1.10 you bet, you will win $1.00.  To win $100 on your wager, you would have to risk $100.

Sometimes the books will shade the lines on a game when they don’t want to move off a certain spread.  The most common alternate to the -110 that you’ll see is -115 for one side and -105 on the other.

How Betting on NBA Money Lines Works

If you aren’t quite confident betting on the spread, you can simply bet on the NBA with who you think will take the victory without worrying about the point spread. To do so, you will make your bet on the money line.

While picking the winner is easier with the money line, there’s a lot of risk involved.  The books price in the implied probabilities of each team winning.

Let’s take a look at another example.

Chicago Bulls -350
Milwaukee Bucks +300

Like with point spreads, money lines use a negative number for the favorite and a positive number for the underdog.

If you wanted to bet the Bulls on the money line, you would have to risk $350 to win $100. At these odds, you would have to win 4 out of every 5 wagers you make in order to profit.

If you placed 4 bets and went 3-1, you would be down money at these odds. You would win $300 on your 3 winners and lose $350 on your 1 loss.

On the flip side of this, you could bet the Bucks to win straight up. Here you would have to risk only $100 but could win $300. You would have to win just 1 out of every 3 bets at these odds to break even.

Keep in mind that the money line will not be different for each game. The bigger the difference in talent, the bigger the money line will be and the percentage you’ll need to win to break even increases.

Over Unders or Totals in NBA Betting

You can also make a wager on the total of any game, which is also known as the over/under. Oddsmakers will set a number of what they think the final combined score of both teams will be.

You can either bet on the game to finish over that mark or under it.

For example, the total for the game above between the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder is at 218.5. If the final score of that game is 120-106, the over would be a winning bet, as the two combined for 226.

You would need the two teams to combine for a score of 218 or less in order for under backers to win.

The price for total wagers is similar to that of point spreads. Regardless of the number set, the standard juice will always be -110 on both sides of the total, but it can be shaded although that isn’t real common.

Parlays for Bigger Returns But More Risk

A parlay is when you bundle two or more of your bets together into one wager.  It is higher risk since all of your games need to win in order to cash your bet, but the rewards are increased with the higher return.

The downside of course is that if you lose just one of those legs, your entire stake goes to the book even if the rest of your games hit.

In the example above you would need the Cavs, Wizards, and Hawks to all cover in order to win your parlay.  But, if that does happen, you get a return of $595 for every $100 that you wagered.

You might also notice at the bottom the round robin parlay.  This is a way to lower your risk by doing groups of your bets in smaller parlays.  With round robins if one bet loses you still might earn a little money back with your other parlays hitting.

You can get some massive payouts but you are adding quite a bit of risk since there is no margin for error.  Take a look at the payouts that are available depending on how many bets you select.

Parlay Payout Tables for NBA Betting

# of TeamsPayout*$10 Wager Payout
2 Teams13/5$26.00
3 Teams6/1$60.00
4 Teams10/1$100.00
5 Teams25/1$250.00
6 Teams40/1$400.00
7 Teams75/1$750.00
8 Teams150/1$1,500.00
9 Teams300/1$3,000.00
10 Teams700/1$7,000.00
11 Teams1,100/1$11,000.00
12 Teams1,800/1$18,000.00

NBA Teaser Bets and options

Do some bets look too good to be true?  Occassionally you will think that with a side or a total, but nearly all teasers give you that feeling.

A teaser bet is like a parlay in that every game you include has to win for you to profit.  The difference is that in exchange for lower odds you get to move the odds in your favor by a number of points.

The adjustment is the same across all of the legs of your teaser bet and can be used for both sides and totals.

For instance, in the example above with a 4-point teaser involving three teams, the Cavs went from -3 to +1, the Wizards from -2 to +2, and the Hawks from -2.5 to +1.5.

You’ll want to look at our NBA key numbers to see if there are any spreads worth skipping over.

Take a look at the following teaser payout chart to see what you can win with a certain number of bets and by moving the line a certain number of points.

Teaser Odds

Points4 pts4½ pts5 pts
2 Team-110-120-130
3 Team+170+150+130
4 Team+290+240+190
5 Team+450+400+350
6 Team+650+550+450

I have an entire guide to betting NBA teasers that you might want to look at.  It shows you the profitable numbers that you’ll want to tease up and down on underdogs and favorites.  You’ll also want to open accounts at a couple of different books.  We compared basketball teaser payouts from some of the top choices.  You can see where you get your action in makes a big difference.

NBA Player & Team Props

It use to be just the biggest games of the season had proposition wagers available. Now almost every game on the slate has numerous prop bets listed.

A prop bet is typically defined by wagering on specific occurrences during a game or larger event.

Prop bets can be a number of different things. There’s individual player props listing the over/under for the number of points, rebounds, or assists they have.

There are head-to-head props. These would be something like who is going to score more points between two players.

There’s also team prop bets, like who will score first.

If you know how a player or team does against a specific opponent, you can take advantage of some soft lines here.

These odds do not get a ton of thought from the books because they are not all that popular.  There is a downside to prop bets though.

Since the oddsmakers know they are vulnerable they offer 30+ cent lines on these options. Most books also have low limits on how much you can bet on these.

Futures (Finals Winner, MVP, Divisional or Conference Champions)

The odds on who is going to win the NBA Finalseach conference, and even each division are called futures bets.  

You can bet who is going to get the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and even which player will go first.  You can bet on rookie of the year odds, who is going to win MVP, coach of the year, most improved player or defensive player of the year.

All of these longer term bets are called futures.  

The downside is that your money is tied up for a significant period of time.  However, if you are a small player, this can keep you interested in a team for a long time.

Season Win Totals

A type of future that I particularly like are season win totals. Oddsmakers set a number of wins for the regular season for each team. You bet whether you think a team will go over or under that mark.

Keep in mind these bets are only offered before the season starts. You also have to be prepared to wait a long time to get paid. Payouts aren’t given until the regular season is officially in the books. 

Halftimes & Quarters

One extra note on sides and totals.  You have more options than just the entire game.  

You can also bet point spreads, money lines, and totals for each half and even each quarter.

There is opportunity here if you are paying attention. A few years ago the Lakers rested Kobe for the majority of the second quarter. As a result the Lakers were something like 15-67 ATS in the second quarter of those games.

Where to Bet the NBA Online: Best Places to Wager

Knowing how to place your wagers isn’t going to do you a lot of good if you don’t have a place to bet on the NBA.

Gone are the days where Las Vegas is the only place you can legally bet in the States.  Plenty of states have legalized gambling and more are passing laws allowing it.

Let’s go over some of the best options so you can get in the action this NBA season.

Legal Online Sportsbooks for NBA Betting

The best place to gamble with is with a licenses and regulated US sportsbook.  My favorite is Circa, but DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Caesars all have quality products as well.

All of the above offer early lines, decent limits, and plenty of props.  If you open multiple accounts you can shop around for the best number and increase your chances of winning.

States That Are Legalized

Not every one of those books will have a license in every legalized state, but at least one of them should be available in the following:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • DC
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Bet Through a Local Bookie (If You Can Find One)

Not all that long ago it used to be that the only place you could be was through a local bookie.

The legality of betting through these locals is beyond the scope of this article so I’ll leave it to you to decide if this option is right for you.

But local books are out there and you can find them through word of mouth through friends, family, co-workers, or acquaintances.

Large, reputable bookies don’t want their reputation damaged so they can be trusted, but I’d recommend using caution.  There are scammers out there that don’t want to actually take action they just want to take your money.

These days almost all of them use pay-per-head (PPH) software that automates everything.  You can login to an account and bet just like you would through any other online sportsbook.

The only different being that instead of depositing money at the start you bet on credit and then meet the book at the assigned time tables for paying or collecting.

Reputable & Trustworthy Online Sportsbooks

I have a list of the top online sportsbooks that I recommend getting accounts at.  These places offer bigger limits and a wide array of betting options.

The sharp books aren’t scared of professional bettors, they simply setup auto movers and quickly adjust their lines based on the action.  That means if you are good and start getting limited by the US regulated books your only option might be to head offshore.

BetOnline, Bookmaker, and Pinnacle are the obvious choices, but there are other good books out there if you want to bet on basketball.


If you want to bet on NBA games you have plenty of options.  You have several different bet types and also decisions on where to actually place your bets.  I hope our guide has given you enough information that you are ready to go once the season begins.

More How to Bet Articles: