Learn How to Bet on Basketball
NBA Betting Guide: Tips, Terms, and Sportsbooks
Introduction to Basketball, including How to Bet on Basketball
The NBA was founded in 1946 and after two merges with other leagues, we saw the final product of professional American basketball being played by 1976. The NBA has grown to 30 teams, but two of those -- the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers -- have dominated the rest over the years, winning 17 championships apiece since the league's inception.
It's been great to watch the league grow, but now where we'd like to see it grow is through your wallet.
There's a ton to know about how the game works. From offensive and defensive statistics to more team focused notes like total points, there's a lot to know about basketball and how it all goes down on the court. Points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and more awaits your attention in each and every game.
But what's even more important than knowing how the game works? How to bet on it. Use the information below to get a grasp of the game and how to effectively bet on basketball.
NBA Betting 101: The Basketball Betting Basics
There are three different answers you may want when trying to figure out how to bet on basketball:
- “I see Bucks -180 and Kings +160. What on earth does that mean?
- “I know how to bet and what all those numbers mean, but I don’t know where to bet.”
- “I know how to bet, but I want to sharpen my handicapping skills and become a more profitable basketball bettor.”
Let’s start with the basics.
How Do Moneyline Odds Work?
A popular bet in basketball is the moneyline, which requires you to pick the winner of the game. But it’s not a 50-50 proposition in most cases – you won’t get paid the same for taking the Celtics to beat the Wizards in Boston as you would for taking the Celtics to beat the Heat in Miami, given the ability of each team.
So each team is assigned moneyline odds by the sportsbook based on their ability, and bettors have to pay a corresponding price. Here’s how they work:
- Celtics -300
- Hornets +250
American odds like these are centered around $100. So if you bet $300 on the Celtics at -300, you’d win $100 if Boston wins. If you bet $100 on the Hornets at +250 and they win, you’d win $250.
You don’t have to bet $100, of course. If you bet $3 on Boston, you’d win $1. Bet $1 on the Hornets, win $2.50.
Are There Point Spreads in Basketball?
In football and basketball, the most popular betting option is the point spread – it’s a bet on the margin of victory in that game.
Let’s use that same example from above.
- Celtics -11.5 (-110)
- Hornets +11.5 (-110)
Because Boston is so much better than Charlotte, sportsbooks are saying it’s about a 50-50 chance that they win by 12 points or more.
What About Over/Unders?
Another popular betting option in basketball is wagering on the total (aka the over/under).
You’re betting on the total points scored by both teams going over or under the number set by sportsbooks.
With NBA scoring on the rise over the last two decades, most totals in 2022 are set at well over 200 points, with each team expected to score more than 100 points every game.
The Bulls-Timberwolves total on April 10, 2022 was 230.5. Chicago won 124-120. That means anyone who took the over cashed their bet because 244 points were scored.
But depending on the teams and situation, you may have to risk a different amount on the over or under.
Bulls vs. Timberwolves
- Total: 230.5
- Over odds: -125
- Under odds: +105
Like the moneyline example above, you have to pay more for betting the over than the under. Sportsbooks and bettors have determined the game going over 230.5 is more likely than it going under.
For every $1.25 risked, you’d win $1. For every $1 risked on the under, you’d win $1.05.
Rockets vs. Hawks
- Total: 230.5
- Over odds: -105
- Under odds: -115
Sportsbooks believe it’s more likely the game goes under than over, so you have to pay a bit more to take the under.
Totals are not just limited to the full game. You can bet the first quarter over/under (set at 1.5 or 2), alternate totals, and more.
NBA Betting Tips
With an understanding of the basics for how to bet on basketball, here are some NBA-specific tips to get you moving towards profitability!
Because NBA teams play multiple games a week throughout the season, it's also important to consider how fatigue, road trips, and back-to-backs can impact your bets. How much is there to gain by studying rest situations?
Check out the articles below for some additional information.
NBA Betting Tools & Utility
Figuring out the correct wager you want to place on a straight bet can be tough based on the odds, and gets even harder when you want to create one of your favorite 10-leg parlays. The Action Network's got you covered with out betting calculator that will do the math for you!
Books set point spreads on games that help you understand how many points the favorite is expected to win by over the underdog. So it's up to you to decide if they'll cover that spread, or if the projected losing side can make it a close game -- or even win the whole thing.
It's always a good idea to check out what the public consensus is on a particular game you're thinking of betting on. The Action Network has you covered here as well. Side with the public or fade them to get an edge. Win or lose, make your choice.
Sometimes, having experts share their insights on a game can help you take a side in a game you're undecided on. The Action Network has a panel of experts that share their takes and picks on every game being played on the hardwood each day. Take a look at their records and history, and see who you'd like to follow or fade as the season moves forward.
You want to get the best bang for your buck when betting on a game, but it's tough to tap through each sportsbook on your phone to find the best line. The Action Network's Odds page will show you all the lines available for the biggest sportsbooks out there, as well as the two best options on each side of a game.
Injuries are a part of any sport, and besides for the implications they have on the court, they can also effect betting lines and how you should wager on a game. Keeping track of injuries every day can be tough, so check out The Action Network's Injury Report each day to make sure you don't suffer a bad beat that could've been avoided.
Best Sportsbooks for Basketball Betting
Different sportsbooks provide different odds when it comes to game lines, player props, futures and more. Take a look at our options and picks on where to go for your different NBA bets to find those best odds, so you can make the most profit.
NBA Futures Betting Odds
Futures betting lets you select champions, awards and more across different parts of the NBA ahead of time, meaning you'll get huge odds and the potential to win big at a smaller risk margin. Futures can be bet on at nearly any point in a season, but you'll find the best odds during the preseason -- which also makes predicting things like who will win the NBA Finals or be named MVP even more fun when you make the call before the season's even started.
NBA Team Odds
The NBA has leapfrogged MLB as the second most popular sport in the United States thanks to a load of talent, performances and highlights over the last few decades. From the Magic-Bird Rivalry and Michael Jordan's Bulls, to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers three-peat and the LeBron-Warriors era, we've seen no shortage of star power that's taken the world by storm come and go in this league.
As the Warriors retool, LeBron enters the final seasons of his career and more young and talented stars rise up the ranks, the NBA looks set to continue dominating the sports landscape for years to come...
Find your favorite team's odds below:
Atlantic Division Betting
Filled to the brim with history, the Atlantic Division is home to the Boston Celtics, who are tied for the most championships in NBA history and the New York Knicks, the most valuable team in the league that play in the most famous arena in the world in Madison Square Garden. The Toronto Raptors are the most recent champions in the division, having won it all in 2019, while the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are among the most star-studded contending teams in the league right now.
Could we see a champion come out of the Atlantic this season?
|Atlantic Division Teams|
Central Division Betting
From the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, and Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers to LeBron James' two stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Central Division has seen a seamless transition between teams as eras kept moving along. So it make sense that it is now the Milwaukee Bucks' turn. The defending NBA champions won it all last season for the first time since 1971 and are looking to repeat this time around. The Bulls and Cavs look to compete in the upcoming playoffs, but which of the three will make a real dent and deep run?
|Central Division Teams|
Southeast Division Betting
One of the quieter divisions in the league in terms of success over the years, the Southeast Division is lucky to have had the Miami Heat represent them in the playoffs over the past two decades. The Heat have made six NBA Finals appearances since 2006 and brought the Larry O'Brien Trophy to Miami three of those times. Otherwise, besides for an NBA Finals appearance by the Orlando Magic in 2009 and a surprising Eastern Conference Championships appearance by the Atlanta Hawks in 2021, the Southeast has been quiet.
Could the emergence of young stars like Charlotte's LaMelo Ball help catapult this division onto the right track?
|Central Division Teams|
Northwest Division Betting
Always a division with a number of competitive teams, but never the division with THE team. The Northwest has seen a number of deep playoff runs by its squads, from Karl Malone and John Stockton's Jazz, to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's Thunder and more. Damian Lillard has kept the Portland Trail Blazers afloat over the years and well, while Carmelo Anthony and Nikola Jokic have split keeping the Denver Nuggets relevant during the last two decades as well.
With three teams heading into the playoffs, could we finally see a champion rise out of this crop of teams?
|Northwest Division Teams
Pacific Division Betting
The Pacific Division is home to the most storied franchise in NBA history in the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have a never ending list of Championships, Hall of Famers and decade to decade running accolades throughout the entire run league play to date. Then there's the Golden State Warriors, who are looking to extend their mid-2010s dynasty that saw them win three NBA Titles over five straight NBA Finals appearances. The Los Angeles Clippers have the stars (when healthy) in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to contend, and the Phoenix Suns are looking to return to the Finals -- but win it all this time.
|Pacific Division Teams
Southwest Division Betting
The Southwest Division has seen its fair share of success over the years between the San Antonio Spurs dynasty and the magical 2011 run by the Dallas Mavericks. The Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol/Mike Conley Memphis Grizzlies and James Harden/Chris Paul Houston Rockets came close in their time as well, but we've now entered a new era in the Southwest.
Could Luka Doncic's Mavs win it all? Will Ja Morant be able to lead the young Grizzlies to a title? Or could a healthy Zion Williamson join Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum to finally bring a championship to New Orleans?
|Southwest Division Teams