The NBA was established as one of the major sports in the United States as early as the 1970s. But it rose to true prominence in the 1980s, with the intense Magic/Bird rivalry lighting up audiences. And then, through the 1990s, Michael Jordan’s international superstar status sent the sport into the stratosphere. It retains much of that global magic-dust today, with huge viewing figures, and big names that thrill and captivate audiences right across the world.
America’s exciting brand of basketball is easily more popular abroad than the NFL, and is one of the most watched leagues in parts of Asia. Its popularity is exploding even in such baseball-centric countries as China and the Philippines. Both of those countries have their own domestic leagues, but the NBA continues to draw huge amounts of yuan and pesos from the punters there.
The NFL may lead the way in the United States in terms of television ratings and betting popularity, but the NBA is a comfortable second, easily outstripping the NHL and MLB markets. Even the combined betting totals of those two can’t come close to the cash rolling through the NBA.
Online betting has revolutionized NBA markets, and these continue to grow larger and larger with each passing year. The sport easily has the most international appeal, with rosters full of foreign players hailing from countless countries across the globe.
While other major US and Canadian sports may have 90 years or more of history under their belts, the NBA wasn’t even established until 1949, when the Basketball Association of America (BAA) absorbed the National Basketball League (NBL). Many of the franchises in existence today were created during that merger – including such iconic names as the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks, and the Boston Celtics.
While the NBA doesn’t have the massive slate of games that Major League Baseball offers, they still throw up significantly more betting opportunities than the NFL. The season begins near the end of October, and culminates in June with the NBA Finals. Each team plays 82 regular season contests. Currently, the league has 30 franchises.
Eight teams from each conference make the playoffs. Playoff seeds determine matchups, and a best-of-seven series decides which team moves on to the next round. The Western and Eastern Conferences are whittled down to two teams each, and these contest the Conference Finals. The winners of those then move on to the NBA Finals to compete for the World Championship.
Basketball’s most popular wager is via point spread. Most bettors are familiar with point spreads due to the NFL, and the betting rules are very similar in NBA betting. Here’s an example:
New York Knicks +10 at Boston Celtics -10
In this game, Atlantic Division rivals New York and Boston face off. The Celtics are 10-point favorites in this game, a number they must cover from Celtics backers to win their bet. The Knicks must either win the game, or lose by fewer than 10 points for the Knicks’ backers to double their money.
Like NFL point spread betting, the default odds are -110 unless otherwise specified. Of course, if the Knicks lose by exactly 10 points, or the Celtics win by exactly 10 points, the wager will be counted as a “push”, and both bettors will have their original stake returned to them.
Calculation of the totals is very similar in the NBA to other sports. The oddsmaker will calculate the total based on the combined score of both teams in the game. This includes overtime as well. Here’s another example:
New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Ov\Un 203.5
A winning ‘Over’ wager would mean that both teams would have to score a combined 204 points for this bet to be a winner. Likewise, a bet on the ‘Under’ would mean that the combined score of both teams would need to be 203 points or fewer. As in point spreads, the total is still live after regulation and into overtime.
The average NBA total is probably around 190 points, with the lower end of the spectrum being around 177. The higher end is usually around 215. NBA totals have long been a favorite of professional level basketball bettors. Many sportsbooks know this, and offer significantly lower betting limits on totals when compared to sides.
Money line wagering requires only that the team wins the game outright. There is no point spread, and bettors will win their wager if they correctly pick the winner of the game. Again, here’s another example:
New York Knicks +130 at Boston Celtics -140
In this contest, the Celtics are the home favorites, and the Knicks the on the road underdogs. Money lines are calculated from point spread numbers, but the odds will still differ from sportsbook to sportsbook.
Parlays and teasers operate the same way they do in other sports. It’s tough to turn a profit with either bet type, but sticking to two- and three-teamer parlays or teasers is the best way to give yourself a chance to win.
The main difference between NBA teasers and their NFL equivalent is the amount of points that bettors are given. NFL teasers have a minimum of six points, while NBA teasers are usually in the region of four to five points.
Futures are long-term markets that are generally centered on a championship or conference title. In basketball, there are future odds for every team in the league to become the NBA Champions. These odds are updated throughout the season based on each set of results. In recent years, these markets have extended to take in Conference Championships.
The live betting craze has come over to basketball as well. NBA in-play betting is available with just about every sportsbook that offers a live betting platform. However, such options aren’t nearly as plentiful in NBA as they are in other sports. There are few stoppages besides halftime and quarter breaks, making it a tougher spot for exotic live betting props.
Instead, live betting NBA markets will revolve around point spreads and totals, and the odds will be continually adjusted to suit the action. As always, the amount of games available for live betting and the markets on offer will vary depending on the sportsbook. The more prominent the game, the more likely it is that it’ll be on the live betting schedule. Playoff games or primetime matchups are the most common offerings.
The NBA props markets have perhaps benefited the most from the increasing popularity of the league. While their markets aren’t quite up to the nearly unlimited amount of NFL propositions available, their numbers are increasing.
NBA props can be centered on either team or player performances. These can range from points plus rebounds for a particular player, to the amount that a particular team are expected to score in the game. The potential for propositions is basically unlimited – it depends on how creative your bookmaker is.
Like NFL props, NBA oddsmakers often find it hard to keep track of the large number of available markets. This means a potentially lucrative market for sharp bettors who can spot weak lines. Unfortunately, as in football, proposition bets have a low maximum betting limit. Some props can have betting limits as low as $100. Alternatively, some will offer as much as $500.
Regardless of whether they operate in primarily regulated or unregulated markets, every sportsbook in the world offers NBA betting. The main differences between sportsbooks will be their overall odds, selection of markets, wagering limits, and how quickly they post their lines. The standard bonuses and promotions will vary as well.
The reputation and credibility of a sportsbook must always be the first concern. After that, though, competitive odds and fair pricing will be the factors you should focus on. After you have found a trusted sportsbook, it’s time to look through their NBA markets. If you’re an avid live bettor, check that they offer in-play markets. If you’re a big teaser or parlay bettor, make sure these odds are fairly priced.
Betting limits are also a consideration. These probably won’t matter if you’re a newer sports bettor seeking to build your bankroll through careful use of deposit bonuses. But if you’re looking to bet four figures or more, the size of the limits should be a concern.
The NBA tends to have substantially lower betting limits than the NFL at US-facing online sportsbooks. The situation may be different in legal regulated global markets, but few Americans will have access to such sportsbooks.
Aside from betting limits, the time at which a sportsbook posts their lines is of considerable importance. Getting the jump on early odds before the line has the chance to move the following day, is something that many consider an important part of their handicapping arsenal.
Handicapping the NBA is a science, even though it often seems that the nightly results are largely random. The best team in the league could lose to the very worst, just because they had a bad night shooting. The variance on a daily basis is something that even the best handicappers can’t escape from, but they can do their best to put themselves in a position to profit if things go their way.
Watch a Lot of Basketball
This seems obvious, but even everyday NBA bettors fail to follow the league and watch the games. We all have lives, but if you’re an avid NBA handicapper who wants to succeed, it’s crucial to follow the league and watch the matches. Unlike baseball and football, which have plenty of advanced metrics and baselines to determine future results, the NBA is heavily dependent on matchups, and on the combination of players on the floor.
If an All-Star point guard goes down, how does that affect that team going forward for their next few games? Is their backup capable of carrying the load? Who will the offense run through? These are all questions that can help you determine a team’s worth after an injury. This, in turn, will help you win money. Injuries aside, it’s vital to understand matchups, and the type of defense and offense that teams run. This information is invaluable when combined with other handicapping tools.
Home vs. Away
This is one of the definitive angles in handicapping NBA games. Some bettors may see a favorable line and immediately bet it, not even pausing to consider how a team plays on the road rather than at home, or vice versa.
The oddsmakers will usually give the home team a 3-4 point advantage, but it may be better to gauge their value by looking at their record both in their home arena, and on the road. Many teams play totally differently away from their home arena, while others are less affected.
Undervalued teams facing one of the league’s better franchises will usually be offering their greatest value when they’re at home facing a tough opponent. These are ideal spots to consider underdog wagers.
82 games per season is a lot of matches, and these can take a toll not only on players’ bodies, but on their minds as well. Playing back to back games, or hitting the court three times in four nights, can be brutal even for the world’s most talented athletes.
Fatigue is a much larger factor late in the season, but back to back games against high scoring opponents can leave teams tired. Weaker legs equals more missed jump shots, and laxer defenses. These, in turn, lead to more losses, and perhaps lower scoring affairs. This is something to keep an eye on, especially as it relates to totals.
The inherent randomness of a single game can make NBA one of the most frustrating sports to bet on. But for those who stay along for the ride, it can also be the most profitable. Missed baskets here or there can be the difference between covering the spread and winning, or handing over your money to the bookies. I have only scratched the surface of NBA handicapping in this article. To beat the sportsbooks on the hardwood, you will have to be on top of your game.