5 Tips to Start Betting on the NBA

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Photo credit: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James

Jul 27, 2020, 04:39 PM EDT

The beauty of betting on any individual sport is how different they are to handicap. What may give you an edge in the NBA may not at all in the NFL or hockey or baseball. Even the markets are different: There’s a reverse run line in baseball, for example, which obviously isn’t a thing in any other sport.

While tackling each sport individually can be fun, it can also be quite overwhelming when you’re first getting into it. And the NBA is no exception, so let’s dive into a couple tips to get you started betting on the best league in the world.

Betting Tip #1: Keep track of injuries and resting players

If you’ve ever bought a ticket to a Wednesday night NBA game weeks in advance and then found out the day of that a few of the star starters weren’t playing, you probably already know that this is a major factor in NBA betting. “Load management” is a real thing, and it definitely affects the betting market.

And it’s not just resting players: Since the NBA is a high-contact, daily sport, injuries are quite common.

In betting, especially on the NBA, information is gold. And that’s most true when it comes to players’ statuses due to injuries and rest.

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To be honest with you, it can be a bit of a moving target: Some players will be ruled out way in advance of a game, while others will be designated as a “game-time decision,” which means you won’t know their status until right at tip. Expand that out to 30 teams and hundreds of players — you can see where having a reliable source of fast information can be quite important.

And that’s one thing we do really well here at The Action Network between our NBA injury feed — the fastest in all the land — or our proprietary tools, which will organize all injuries into one place and even give you a percentage of each player actually suiting up or not.

You can use that information in a couple ways for betting. First, you can make sure you aren’t wagering on a team that could later be missing key players. It’s never fun to be holding a Lakers -4 ticket and then LeBron James gets ruled out and they move to +2.

Second, if you’re quick and willing to grind, you can sometimes get ahead of books, who are monitoring not just every game and market in the NBA, but also typically many other sports. If a key player like LeBron gets ruled out, the line may move 4-5 points, and you can potentially bet it before it does.

Betting Tip #2: Keep an eye on schedules

As athletic as NBA players are, they’re still human. They still get tired.

And because the 82-game schedule is so jam-packed, teams often find themselves in back-to-back situations, meaning they have to play two nights in a row. And it can get even worse: They could play three games in four nights, which sounds pretty exhausting even for the most fit player.

Now, it’s important to know that oddsmakers are not unaware of these situations, and they try to price them in. But still, we can see with historical data how schedules and rest can be really important in certain situations.

All teams on a back-to-back since 2004 have historically covered at a 49.7% rate, which obviously isn’t winning anyone money. But look at those teams against the Denver Nuggets, who play at elevation. From our proprietary Bet Labs software:

Teams in that spot have historically covered at a miserable 44.6% rate. If you’ve bet on all of those teams since 2004 at $100 a pop, you’d be down over $3,500. Not great.

And that effect can be magnified when looking at “rest advantage” spots. For example, home teams that have had three or more days of rest against a team on a back-to-back have posted a +4.2% return on investment over the last five seasons.

Knowing schedules can also help you potentially get ahead on rest situations. A lot of star players this season, for example, rested on the second leg of back-to-backs. A book, at least earlier in the season, may not price that in quite enough when they open the line. If you’re able to prognosticate a bit, you can grab a bet early before it moves.

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Betting Tip #3: Look at market data and (usually) fade the public

It is important to note that blindly following any betting system or trend isn’t wise, for two reasons. First, those are based on past data, which could change. And second, liquid markets trend towards efficiency, so even if it had an edge at some point, it may not in the future.

That said, looking at trends and systems can help you identify spots to target, especially ones where you’re fading the masses.

The reason that can be a profitable endeavor is that the betting market often moves based on money pouring into it. And in a very popular sport like the NBA, there’s a lot of money and it isn’t always from sharp bettors.

The public can push a betting line too far in one direction, whether it’s a super popular team like the Los Angeles Lakers, in a matchup that seems incredibly lopsided or after news that the public could overrate.

Here’s an example: If a team sees the spread move two or more points against them — say they opened at +6 and are now at +9 — and they’re unpopular bets (30% of the total spread bets are on that team), they’ve historically covered at a very high rate.

Why would that be? There are likely a few reasons, but the easiest one to explain is that the public is overrating the other side, perhaps due to an injury situation to a player that isn’t quite worth the line movement. In that situation, you can “fade the public” and get some value on the underrated team.

Here’s one more example. Let’s say the LA Clippers are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers. Total mismatch, right? Sure, and the spread is probably quite high as a result — let’s say it’s double digits in favor of the Clips.

A casual bettor will often think “the Clips are going to blow them out.” And, sure, that can definitely happen. But a daily sport like NBA is volatile, and remember that these are all professional basketball players. The difference between a star and an average rotation player isn’t as large as it might be in college basketball.

Books, as a result, might inflate the spread a bit knowing that the public is going to want to bet on the favorite (the Clips in this example), meaning you’re already getting some value on the dog out of the gate. Indeed, double-digit dogs on the whole have historically yielded a positive return…

  • All double-digit dogs: 52.5% ATS, +2.3% Return on Investment
  • Double-digit dogs getting < 40% bets: 52.6% ATS, +2.7% ROI
  • Double-digit dogs getting < 30% bets: 54.1% ATS, +5.5% ROI

And in cases where those double-digit dogs are getting very little support, the value has been even greater: Those teams with less than 30% of the spread bets, for example, have posted a 5.5% return on investment.

Again, don’t blindly bet trends and systems — but you can definitely use them to research where books might be inflating lines or getting spreads bet up too much. That’s where you’ll find some betting value, even if it feels gross to bet on the Cleveland Cavaliers right now.

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Betting Tip #4: Line shop!

While it may seem like it doesn’t matter that much whether you bet on the Lakers at -4 or -4.5 — how often will it land on the number anyway, you may ask — over the long run, it definitely makes a big difference for your expected value on NBA betting.

It’s already difficult enough to track all of the NBA information and win long-term in the betting market, so make sure you at least get the best odds in the market.

Among the states that have fully online, legal betting, many of them have a ton of options from which to choose. In New Jersey, for example, you can shop across eight different books to make sure you’re getting the best of the number. Again, why bet -4.5 when you can get -4?

And what’s even better: We’ll line shop for you. Check out our NBA odds page to see live lines at every book in your state, or download our award-winning Action app to easily view odds at any time.

See below for a full list of sportsbooks in your state:

State Available Books
New Jersey DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, BetMGM, SugarHouse, William Hill, bet365, Unibet
Colorado DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, BetRivers, FoxBet
Indiana DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, BetMGM
Pennsylvania DraftKings, FanDuel, Parx, Unibet
West Virginia DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM

Betting Tip #5: Track your bets and identify strengths/weaknesses

Speaking of our award-winning app, which has awesome features like live bet cover probability and odds shopping, it also lets you track all of your bets across nearly every sport.

And that’s valuable because you can identify where your strengths and weaknesses are as you start betting. Are you more successful on NBA player props than moneylines? That’s a good thing to know, and it can allow you to adjust your bankroll to maximize your winnings.

Check it out for free here.

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