Basketball Betting: How to bet on the NBA?

Table Of Contents:

Where Is NBA Betting Legal?

For many years, states were prevented from legalizing sports betting by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, aka PAPSA. PAPSA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, paving the way for legal sports betting in the United States. As of March 2023, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia have all legalized online sports betting.

Numerous other states have legal sports betting, but only in person. Most other states have at the very least introduced bills to get the process started, so it’s likely only a matter of a couple of years before the rest of the states have legalized betting on NBA games.

As of March 2023, The following states all have a legal and regulated sports betting industry, where you can wager on the NBA:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington DC
  • West Virginia

Best Online NBA Betting Sites and Mobile Apps

Selecting a sportsbook to do your betting is extremely important. They aren’t all the same, and each sportsbook will have different odds and promotions. Each site will have their own quirks and offerings, and it can’t hurt to look around at each individual sportsbook before settling on a new betting home.

It’s also a good idea to have multiple accounts at different sportsbooks, so you can shop around and compare odds. One site might have better odds or better parlay payouts, but another could be better equipped for live bettors. There are already a lot of great operators out there, and with legalization spreading across the country, the number of options for bettors will only continue to increase.

How To Bet On NBA 

In the NBA you’ve got plenty of options for betting. You can bet on the money line, the point spread, the total in the game or even a whole slew of player props. Just find the best odds by shopping around at different sportsbooks for the wager you want to make, and you can then add it to your bet slip to lock it in.

The key to betting NBA games is finding teams that are undervalued in the market, and that’s where Pickswise can help. Here at Pickswise, we’re a one-stop shop for everything NBA, as we put in the time and crunch the numbers to come up with the best free picks around. Check out our NBA predictions all season long, since we’ll be providing free picks on the side and total of every game. We’ll also have tons of free prop bets, same game parlays and regular parlays, so don’t miss out!

Ways To Bet On The NBA 

The NBA is one of the most popular sports to bet on, with almost endless markets for you to make a wager. Volume in NBA betting is especially high during the playoffs. You can place a wager on every single NBA game that takes place, while futures markets are also available. With futures bets, you can bet on markets such as a team to win the NBA Finals or wins its conference, or a player to win the MVP award.

In the next section, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most popular markets. Each one has different strategies and angles to exploit, and the money line and point spread can be treated as entirely different markets. Let’s break each one down, starting with money line NBA betting.

Money Line Betting

Money line betting in the NBA is as basic as it gets. You’re simply betting on which team will win the game. With money line betting, you will typically have one team as the betting favorite and one team as the underdog. The favorite will be identified by a minus sign (-), while the underdog will be identified by a plus sign (+) next to their odds. For example, the Raptors might be an underdog in a game against the Bucks, so you would see something like Raptors +175 and Bucks -200.

There will always be a gap between the two odds, so you’ll never see Raptors +200 and Bucks -200. That gap is called the ‘vig’ and it’s how oddsmakers make their money. The bigger favorite a team is on the money line, the bigger favorite they’ll be on the point spread as well. If you bet an NBA team on the money line there are no pushes, since teams can’t tie. Overtime is included in all forms of NBA betting, but that’s not true for every sport. In some sports such soccer there will be a third option you can bet for the tie.

Money line betting comes with different strategies than point spread betting. On a money line, you might be more inclined to back a conservative defensive-minded team that will grind out games, but not win them by large margins. 

Point Spread Betting 

If you’ve ever had a bet on an NBA game there’s a good chance it was on the point spread. Bookmakers offer one of the teams with a head start of a certain number of points. For example, you might have the Raptors +6.5 and the Bucks -6.5. That means that for the Raptors +6.5 to win, they need to win the game by any score or lose by no more than 6 points. For bets on the Bucks -6.5 to cash, they need to win the game by 7 points or more.

Handicaps are often framed with half-point lines, to avoid the possibility of a tie, but when full-point lines are offered, such as Spurs -3.0, there is a chance the bet will be declared a push if the Spurs win that game by exactly 3 points and the bet is void so both sides get their money back.

Point spreads in the NBA will shift in the runup to tip-off, and can be quite volatile. NBA betting is like any other financial market – price point is everything. Getting the best number on a point spread is the key to long-term success.

Totals Betting

Sometimes when handicapping an NBA matchup you might have a good idea about whether it will be a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game, but no such strong opinion about which team will win. In those cases, a bet on the total points might be your best option.

Oddsmakers will give their assessment of how many total points the teams will score between them and you bet higher (over) or lower (under) on that number. The figure can vary by a fair amount. Slower NBA teams might still see totals in the 200-210 range, while the faster teams can nowadays see their totals creep into the high 230s and even the 240s.

Factors that influence how many points might be scored in a game include how a game will be officiated, the relative strength of the offenses and defenses in the game and the playing styles of the teams. A slow-paced team that relies on defense will see its totals set quite a bit lower than a three-point shooting team that loves to run and gun.

Player Prop Bets 

Player prop markets are offered by almost every sportsbook and present a chance to support a player to have a good or bad game in a variety of different statistical categories.

Oddsmakers offer over/under prices on individual players’ points, rebounds and assists etc and combinations of them such as points and assists or rebounds and assists – pretty much everything you can think of. There are also props on the number of three-point field goals a player will make in a game or players to record a triple-double and so on. If you think a game is going to be played at a very fast pace, then taking the over on some points and assists could pay off.

Similarly, if you think a game is going to be a defensive struggle with lots of missed shots, that could bode well for the over on rebounding props. It’s another area where knowledge of individual matchups can pay off. One team could have elite perimeter defense, but they struggle to defend around the rim because of a lack of size. In that case, you might want to target that team by betting the over on opposing teams’ centers. Certain players are going to play better against certain defensive schemes. Others might always perform well in front of a home crowd but struggle on the road. Those are all things you’re going to need to pay attention to when betting NBA player props.

Team Prop Bets

In addition to player prop bets, you can also make team prop bets in the NBA. Those include things such as how many total points one of the teams will score, or how many three-pointers they’ll hit in a game. They can also include alternate spreads. An alternate spread allows you to alter the point spread, while getting better or worse odds depending on if you gain points or lose points. If the Lakers are -5 over the Kings, a sportsbook might allow you to bet an alternate spread of Lakers -11 at +200 odds. Team prop bets aren’t quite as popular as player prop bets, but there are still plenty of opportunities to find some value. 

Futures Bets

Futures bets can be some of the most fun wagers you can make on the NBA. Rather than finding out if you win or lose on any given night, a futures bet at the start of the season allows you to ride with a wager for all 82 regular-season games and into the playoffs. You can bet on futures markets such as the NBA Championship winner at any point during the regular season.

You can also wager on a team to win their division or their conference. Futures bets can often offer huge payouts if you pick the right longshots. In the 2020-21 season for example, the Suns were as high as 80/1 at many shops to win the championship, and they made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

One of the most popular futures bets in NBA betting are season win totals. Oddsmakers will set over/under lines for how many regular-season games each of the 30 teams will win. You can take the over on teams you’re high on coming out of training camp, and the under on teams you expect to flop. Then you’ve got some skin in their game with each of their matchups. There are also player prop futures markets. You can take the over on Luka Doncic’s points per game for an entire season, then sit back and root for the Mavericks to play in shootouts every night.


Parlays are high-risk and high-reward. They provide the allure of a big payday, but as a result are much harder to cash. A parlay involves stringing multiple bets together on one ticket. You need each leg of the ticket to win in order for your parlay to be a winner.

For example, if you bet a Bucks, Clippers and Magic money line parlay, all three of those teams would need to win for that to cash. If two of them win and one of them loses, your bet is ruled a loser and you’d win nothing. If it does hit, you’d get a much bigger payout than if you’d bet on those teams in three separate bets.

It’s often popular to parlay big favorites together. Since most recreational bettors don’t want to lay -250 juice to back a large favorite on the money line, they might instead combine two or three -250 favorites together in a parlay. Others will sprinkle a few bucks on an eight-team underdog parlay every week, hoping to one day hit a jackpot. They certainly can be fun, and can sometimes be wise in the right situation, but it’s important not to get carried away. Generally speaking, oddsmakers want you to bet parlays and long-term it probably isn’t the best way to make money. But they sure are exciting.


Teasers are an interesting concept that more or less blend point spread and parlay betting. You still have multiple legs that all need to cash like in a parlay, but in return for that added difficulty you get extra points against the spread. Say you bet a 2-team, 5-point teaser. That means you take whatever the point spread is for those two teams, and get 5 extra points. Suppose the Rockets are +4 and the 76ers are -8. If you put them together in a 5-point teaser, your bet ticket would have the Rockets as +9 and the 76ers -3, instead of the normal spreads. In exchange for getting that extra 5-point cushion, both the Rockets +9 and 76ers -3 would need to hit for your teaser to cash.

For the NBA, the most popular teaser options are 4, 4.5 and 5 points, but you will occasionally see 7 points at some shops. Many sportsbooks differ in the odds they offer on teasers, so it’s important to shop around. Many of the best shops will give you -110 on a two-team, 4.5-point NBA teaser. If you have a three or more team teaser, keep in mind that ties reduce most of the time. So if you have a four-team teaser and one of the legs pushes but the other three win, you’ll still get paid out like you just bet a three-team teaser.

Live Betting 

However much you think you know about a game, you will know a little more once it gets started. This is where live betting comes into play. Hearing the crowd noise rather than having an estimate or seeing how a player looks on the court instead of using an injury report are two examples of how seeing some of the action can add extra precision to your handicap. In almost every way, live betting will provide you with better information than you had before the game.

Right away, you’ll often be able to tell how a coach is planning on managing the game and how well the other team is prepared for what’s being thrown at them. Some coaching staff are much better at making in-game adjustments to their gameplans than others, who either never learn or don’t have the flexibility in personnel to be able to change what they’re trying to do.

You can also identify spots where regression is likely when live betting. Say the Warriors are a touch unlucky at the start of a game, when they suffer a couple of bad calls while their opponent nails a couple of lucky 3-pointers. You can get value by live betting on them when your eyes tell you they weren’t actually playing poorly and have the ability to overcome the deficit over the course of the game. Many sportsbooks also allow bettors to cash out existing bets in the middle of the game, so if your team is up big you can take your money and run rather than worrying about a late comeback.

NBA betting Trends 

Trends can be very important when betting on the NBA. Since there are a whopping 82 games in a season, we can compile data with some pretty large sample sizes. Trends rely on historical data that might help predict the outcome of a future game. For example, if the Timberwolves have a strong trend where they’re 9-2 against the spread in their last 11 games as home underdogs, it might be time to pounce.

Other common trends include how a team usually fares at the end of a long road trip, or in primetime games. Bettors might fade Paul George in big nationally televised games, because of his perceived reputation for faltering under the bright lights.

Trends can be important to monitor, and they can tell you who to fade just as often as they’ll tell you who to back. Many bettors like to ‘fade the public’ by betting against the teams that are heavy public sides. It’s also important to not rely on trends that might not mean much. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, after all. If someone is trying to sell you on a bet because a team is 5-2 ATS the last 7 games they’ve played 3 days after it last rained, you might want to pass.

Five Ways To Bet Smarter On The NBA 


The most crucial concept for NBA bettors to remember is that the players are not trying to help you win your point spread bets (disappointing as that may be). The players are only interested in winning the match outright, and one point will be enough. That is not tremendously comforting news if you have backed a team as a favorite of 1.5 or 2.5 points, and it can regularly lead to nightmare scenarios.

The ‘backdoor cover’ is a situation where underdogs who have never been in the game steal the point spread with a pointless late score that does not affect the result of the match, but can do great damage to the pockets of bettors. An NBA team that’s up by 12 with a minute left won’t really be playing intense defense, perhaps letting their opponent score a couple of meaningless baskets that swing the point spread.


This is unique to the NBA, and you certainly won’t find it in the NFL where there are only 17 games and each one is of the utmost importance. Since there are 82 games in an NBA season, not every team cares the same amount about every regular-season game. Stars are frequently given rest days to keep their bodies fresh, so you’ll need to pay very close attention to who is and isn’t going to be in a lineup on any given night.

‘Tanking’ is also somewhat unique to the NBA, and it’s the only major sport where you’ll see a bunch of teams being happy to lose at the end of the year. Teams that are toward the bottom of the standings will start tinkering with rotations and losing late-season games to ensure they get a better draft pick. You’ll need to get a good sense of which teams are actively tanking the hardest, and of when good teams aren’t going to give maximum effort.


More favorites win NBA games than underdogs – that’s not a surprise as oddsmakers and bettors alike have tons of information available to help them identify the stronger side of each pair. In the 2020-21 regular season, favorites won just over 66% of games.

However, the results when it comes to covering the point spread were quite different. It was just about 50/50, with favorites cashing 51% of the time while underdogs cashed 49% of the time. Betting the favorite, or ‘the better team’, isn’t going to make you money long-term. If you had bet every home underdog on the money line during the 2020-21 NBA season, you would have finished the year up over 22 units.

Regular examples of why it can be smart to give plenty of thought to backing the underdog can be seen in the various US websites that chart the weekly fancies of the general public versus the bigger-staking professional bettors (often known as Pros vs Joes) based on reports from Las Vegas Sportsbooks.

Very often, the most popular picks of the smaller-stakes bettors will be the big teams who are on winning runs, while the ‘sharp’ money is more often on an underdog who might not be quite as bad as the prices suggest. Remember, that strategy is open to everyone, however big your betting bank. While home underdogs were quite profitable that season that certainly wasn’t the case on the road, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all equation.


Not all teams are created equal. Their approach to trying to win games will differ depending on the basketball philosophy of the coach (some are more defensively or offensively minded than others, some will lean much more heavily on 3-point shooting than scoring in the paint etc.) and the players available to them.

For that reason, it’s wise not to have too firm an opinion in your head about which teams are better than others when it comes to analyzing a game. Every team will play better against teams that match up well for them and not so well against others.

For example, say a team that has had a strong start to the season, thanks to an effective long-range shooting game, is playing against a team that has a worse record, but one that happens to have elite perimeter defense. It could make sense to fade the ‘better’ team in that scenario. Maybe the lesser team had been struggling because their interior defense had been shredded by opposing big men. But that won’t come into play against this 3-point shooting team. 


The tide finally looks set to turn in regards to legal sports betting in the United States. But even before sports betting is fully legalized, there is still a booming fantasy and daily fantasy industry, which can provide valuable information for bettors. Many Americans are still unable to bet online, or in person outside of a casino, but they have found other ways to have a legal interest in NBA matches and that’s where there is a mine of useful information to be found.

Fantasy basketball games are huge and the supporting resources are fantastic for bettors who don’t even play fantasy. Every pulled hamstring, tweaked groin and off-field indiscretion is pored over in great detail on countless fantasy basketball sites, ostensibly to enable people to decide who to release from their teams, add to their rosters or bench for that week’s games.

But knowing all the ins and outs is a huge help for regular bettors too. If you see that a rookie shooter has been gaining more reps in practice and is set to gain more minutes in the rotation with one of the regular starters dealing with an injury, maybe you should pick him up for your fantasy team – but you can also check the odds on his total points. Player props and fantasy are highly correlated.

When To Bet On The NBA Throughout The Season?

The NBA season takes up only about half of the calendar year, but fortunately NBA betting is available almost all year round. Over the summer is when futures betting dominates. You can get in all your wagers for season-long bets, including NBA Finals winner, division winner and regular-season win totals.

The preseason starts in the fall and you can start to ease yourself back in on those games while waiting for the real action to start. Regular-season games will dominate the betting picture all the way until spring. That’s when you’ll need to be at your sharpest.

Regular-season NBA games are great for finding spots, since oddsmakers have to hang lines on all 82 games for all 30 teams, which you can selectively choose from. You can also bet futures throughout the season, in the afternoon before that evening’s games start. That’s often the best time to find value, when oddsmakers might overreact to the current standings. Perhaps the Lakers get off to a slow start due to some injuries, and are 5-10 in their first 15 games. That might be when you can get the most value on an NBA Finals future with them.

Postseason betting is perhaps the most fun, and goes through the end of the NBA Finals in the summer. The fun doesn’t stop there though. Right after the NBA Finals you’ll be able to bet on draft props, as well as the NBA Summer League.

NBA Betting Strategies

Basic betting strategy

NBA betting is a lot of fun, but it’s also complex. It certainly isn’t easy. Oddsmakers are sharp making their lines, and they know what they’re doing. As such, you have to work hard in order to find an edge. There are a number of strategies you’ll need to implement to become a successful NBA bettor. Bankroll management is one of the most important ones. Remember, the best bettors in the world are just trying to hit at a 55%+ clip against the spread. There are going to be ups and downs, and even the sharpest bettor in the world is going to endure a losing streak. It’s crucial that you don’t get sloppy with your money and bet too much on any one game. If you don’t have smart bankroll management, one cold stretch could leave you with nothing left to bet when you start to heat up again.

Injuries are also very important in the NBA. Big-name players tend to sit out in the NBA more than in any other sport. A very minor injury can turn out to be a very major deal for betting, if a team decides to take it easy on their star player. One good strategy is to look for ‘cluster’ injuries. Maybe a team has not just one but a few injuries in their front-court, which will force multiple back-end roster players into the rotation. If you see a team with a banged-up front-court playing a team with a dominant big man, it might be time to pounce. You’ll need to pay attention to injuries, as well as learn about all the teams and familiarize yourself with all the NBA betting terms.

Intermediate betting strategy

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start going deeper with your NBA betting strategies. In order to beat oddsmakers, you have to find an edge you can exploit. You can’t simply bet against the team that has a star player hurt as that is probably already being factored into the line. To find your edge, you need to identify factors that aren’t already baked into the line. It can be wise to stake out a niche, finding something that you do well and stick with it.

Maybe you develop a system for first-quarter totals betting, identifying which coaches like to play it conservatively or open things up right out of the gates. Another crucial element of NBA betting is getting the best odds. Have multiple accounts with different sportsbooks, so you can compare odds and make sure you’re getting the best value, just like how you’d check the price of an item from multiple retailers when doing online shopping. It’s the same principle. The difference between -114 and -110 might not seem huge on the surface, but it’ll make a big impact on your bankroll long-term.

Advanced betting strategy

Once you become a seasoned NBA bettor you can take your game to the next level. That involves a lot of data. To be a true pro you’ll need to start logging all of your bets. This allows you to manage your bankroll most effectively, and to identify what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Don’t leave anything up to your gut or hunch, you can see exactly how you’ve done on every type of bet.

Keeping a log will tell you what your strengths are – you might notice you’ve been picking poorly against the spread, but are hitting 60% of your first-half totals. Once you’ve got everything down to a science, you can come up with your own power rankings and numbers to rival oddsmakers’. You’ll be able to start setting your own lines based on your rankings (which you’ll make by closely observing all 30 teams), and then seeing how they differ from the lines that oddsmakers actually set.

If you make the Heat -5.5 in a game but oddsmakers open them at -3, your power numbers will show you that’s 2.5 points of free value. Another concept experienced bettors need to understand is that in the NBA, it’s all about the number. NBA point spreads fluctuate up until tip-off, and numbers will move back and forth just like in the stock market. Treat your betting just like you would any financial market, because timing is everything. If you can consistently beat the closing line, you’ll be profitable long-term.

Things to avoid when betting on the NBA 

There are plenty of pitfalls with NBA betting, and many things you need to avoid. For starters, bet with your head and not your heart. Don’t let emotions get the best of you and never bet a team just because you want them to win. Bet them because you believe they will win. 

Treat your betting like you would any other business, and take it seriously. Don’t chase your losses. If you lose a big bet in the first half of a TNT Thursday NBA doubleheader, don’t bet 10 units on the second game just because you’ll be watching it and want to get your money back.

An easy trap to fall into is betting teams based on records. If a 15-25 team is a favorite against a 25-15 team, don’t just assume oddsmakers have made a grave mistake, there’s probably a pretty good reason why.

It’s also important to know when to not bet on a game, even if you really like one side if you don’t get the best number. If you identify the Jazz -3 as a spot you really like, but a couple of hours later the line has shifted to -4.5, it’s likely going to be wise to pass. Even a single point can be worth so much that it can shift a great bet to a poor one.

Luke Lindholm

Managing Editor for US Media Partnerships

Writer for Pickswise. Luke was born in PA but raised in MA and has been writing about major sports for 2 years. He plays soccer and basketball with a love for the EPL, NBA, NFL and NCAAF. Nothing runs faster than home dogs and betting the under is an act of maturity. Luke is a Liverpool and Patriots fan for life, YNWA

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