Along with football, betting on the National Basketball Association (NBA) is one of the most popular forms of sports gambling in the United States.
Like football, the most popular form of NBA betting when it comes to a game is with a point spread. We will get into the details later, but oddsmakers will determine that a team will be favored by a certain amount of points based on a number of factors. You would then bet whether a team will cover that spread (win by more than the point spread) or that the underdog will cover (either lose by less than the point spread or win the game outright).
One of the most popular spread-betting strategies is called hedging a bet. This is not only popular for NBA game betting odds, but for NBA championship odds (future bets) as well. In short, hedging is placing money on opposite sides of a wager as a way to either mitigate loss or give yourself an extra chance to win.
In NBA betting, hedging is a more viable strategy in other sports because of the nature of the game in the NBA. Going into more details on why you should hedge a bet (placing a second wager against their original bet), reasons can include:
A version of hedging called middling is popular in basketball betting. This is where your initial bet looks so good after halftime that you can bet on the opposite team for a second-half line and give yourself a great opportunity to win twice. To give you an example of this, say the Los Angeles Lakers are at home and the visiting Chicago Bulls are three-point underdogs. You bet Chicago at +3 and come halftime, the Bulls are winning by 15. After checking out the second-half lines, you see that Los Angeles is at -6 (oddsmakers figure that the Lakers will be more aggressive in trying to come back in the game). By making this bet, you give yourself an 11-point range where you can win both wagers—anywhere from the Lakers winning the second half by seven to 18 points. In turn, the only risk you take is that you lose one of the bets, so you essentially break even at worst but win two bets at best.
A futures bet is placing a wager on an outcome far into the future. In sports leagues, the most popular one is for a specific team winning that sport’s championship. In this case, in addition to the NBA Finals winner, you can also bet on Eastern and Western Conference champs, and even the division winners.
Suppose Brooklyn was +300 (betting $100 to win $300) to win the 2022-23 NBA Championship, followed by the Phoenix Suns at +400, the LA Clippers at +600, and the Milwaukee Bucks at +1000.
Breaking it down further, the Nets are +140 to win the Eastern Conference, followed by the Bucks, Philadelphia, and Miami.
As the season goes on, these odds will change depending on a team’s performance, injuries, and other factors. So say you take the Bucks at +1000, and they would play the Suns in the NBA Finals. If you bet $100 on the Bucks winning the championship, you would stand to win $1,000 if Milwaukee wins the series. Once the odds of the series itself comes out, say the Suns are slight underdogs at +110 going into the Finals. That means you would bet $100 to win $110 that Phoenix would win the title.
If you wanted to ensure that you wouldn’t lose your original $100 that you bet on Milwaukee, you could bet $100 on the Suns to win the series, in which case if they do, you have an overall profit of $10 if the Suns lose, but you still win $900 if Milwaukee wins. If you are feeling more confident that the Suns will win the series you can bet more to ensure that you would win more as a minimum, but the amount you would end up profiting on the Bucks should they win the title wouldn’t be as high.
As we mentioned above, spread betting is when you bet whether a certain team will either win or lose by a certain amount of points. It’s important to note that oddsmakers set the point spread not at the level of which they think a certain team will actually win by, but in order to create an equal amount of betting on each team. This way, sportsbooks can use the losing side’s bets to fund the winners. And the sportsbooks then profit due to the vigorish (aka the vig or the juice).
The vigorish is the house’s cut of your wager and is almost a fee to take and insure that your bet will be paid. This is accomplished through the odds of a spread bet. You’ll see a -110 next to most spread bets. That means you have to bet $110 to win $100 regardless of the side you bet on. That extra $10 is the vigorish, so the house essentially takes a 10% cut on each bet.
As discussed, you hedge just by simply protecting your original wager by placing a second bet on the other team. In the NBA, the key to placing a hedge bet is timing.
There are certain times where NBA lines will fluctuate, both before and during a game.
Prior to the game, watch the lines from about three hours until an hour before tipoff. If coaches are going to make any lineup adjustments, sit a star player, or make any other decisions that could alter the expected outcome of a game, it’s going to happen in that window. For teams who have huge stars, this can create a big impact. Imagine betting against the Milwaukee Bucks at -8 and you find out that Giannis Antetokounmpo is a late scratch. That could take the line down at least five points.
So if the Bucks are playing the New York Knicks and you have the Knicks at +8, you could then hedge by betting on the Bucks at -3. This means if the Knicks lose by more than eight points or lose by less than two (or win the game outright), you will break even, but if the outcome is a Bucks win that’s between four and seven points, you will double your money—assuming that you wagered the same amount on the two bets. You could also bet half in your hedge, assuring that you will not lose as much money as a worst-case scenario, but you also wouldn’t have the opportunity to win as much.
The middling strategy listed above is also the other most popular way to hedge a bet in the NBA.
Other times, you may change your mind on a bet you already placed and you feel like you need to lower your risk. Say you see that the Golden State Warriors are just a -2 road favorite at a lesser team like the Los Angeles Lakers. You may not have done your homework and just saw an enticing line and took the bet. Then, you find out that the Warriors are playing their fourth game in their last five days, and star Stephen Curry has also been in a bit of a scoring slump. These facts may cause you to have second thoughts about betting on Golden State, so you can either cancel your bet out by hedging the full amount on L.A., or you can bet a partial amount on the Lakers in hopes that you won’t lose as much money if your initial bet fails.
To summarize, there are several key factors to watch for in order to determine whether it’s the right time to hedge a bet. Consider the following:
Many of these strategies can apply to other sports where there are two outcomes, but it’s advantageous in the NBA because there are so many swings of momentum in a given game, and lineup changes can also cause big changes in a point spread. Hedging should be part of your repertoire if you’re going to be a serious bettor for the season, as there are always opportunities to be taken advantage of if you have a close eye. We invite you to check out the odds on Sidelines and try a hedge when the opportunity arises!