Safe NBA Betting Strategies For Beginners

Safe NBA Betting Strategies For Beginners

Learn the basics of NBA betting including how NBA odds work, popular bet types, money management, and strategies for how to make the best NBA picks

There has never been a better time to start betting on the NBA than now. With dozens of legal betting sites and hundreds of different bets to make on each game, the options for NBA betting are practically endless. But, how do you go from someone who has never bet on the NBA before to an expert bettor? In this guide we will teach you NBA betting strategies and tips that will help the most inexperienced bettors learn how to become a serious NBA bettor.

What are the most common types of NBA bets?

There are more ways to bet on the NBA than ever before. Here are the most popular types of bets to make:

  • Moneyline
  • Point Spread
  • Total or Over/Under
  • Prop Bet
  • Parlay
  • Live Bet

Moneyline Bets

Betting on the moneyline involves predicting which team will win the game. In the table below, the Dallas Mavericks are a -175 favorite and the San Antonio Spurs are a +165 underdog. That means to win a dollar betting on the Mavericks you would need to bet $1.75, while a one dollar bet on the Spurs would return $1.65 if they won.

moneyline explained

Point Spread

Betting on the spread involves betting on by how many points a team will win or lose a game. In the below graphic the Mavericks are -4.5 favorites meaning that if you bet on Dallas, they would need to win the game by 5 or more points for your bet to be a winner. If you bet on the Spurs, who are +4.5 underdogs, you would win that bet if the Spurs win the game or lose by 4 or fewer points. Learn more about spread betting strategy and the point spread.

spread explained

Total (Over/Under)

Betting on the total, or over/under is a classic NBA bet. A total bet involves predicting how many points will be scored in a given NBA game. The graphic below features a game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Orlando Magic. The total is 225, meaning if you bet on the over, you would win if more than 225 points are scored, and if you bet on the under, you would win if less than 225 points were scored. (Exactly 225 points being scored would mean it’s a push.) Learn more about Over/Under betting.

NBA totals odds | Sidelines

Prop Bets

Prop bets focus less on the outcome of the game and more on individual players. So, prop bets will include how many points a specific player might score, or how many rebounds they grab or assists they dish out. For a random game, Julius Randle might have an over/under of 24.5 points or 9.5 rebounds and you can bet on either side of those props.


Parlay bets are wagers that incorporate two or more bets. So, suppose you wanted to bet on the New York Knicks to beat the Charlotte Hornets, and you also wanted to bet on the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. Instead of betting on both teams separately, you can merge both bets together by parlaying them and increasing your potential winnings. You can generally parlay as many bets as you want together on most sportsbooks. Your return will rise exponentially with each bet you add, but remember that every bet in you parlay needs to win for you to get any money at all.

Live Betting

One of the fastest growing forms of NBA betting is live, in-game betting where you can place bets on an NBA game while the game is being played. For example, suppose the Denver Nuggets are playing the Sacramento Kings. Denver was a -7.5 favorite before the game started, but the Kings got out to an early 21-11 lead. Live betting might move Denver down to a -4.5 favorite at that point. If you believe the Nuggets will come back, you can take advantage of the decreased spread (or increased moneyline odds) right there during the game

Best NBA Betting Tips and Strategies

  1. Increase Your Outs: The first basketball betting tip you need is that the best way to improve your odds is to increase your options. How do you do that? By having accounts with multiple sportsbooks. This way, you can price shop for the most valuable moneyline on the team you want to bet on. a favored team could be -190 on one book and -160 on another. Or if you see a -5 spread and think to yourself that you would love that same line at -4.5, look at the lines on other sites and you just might find the line you are looking for. The more options you have, the better chance you have of finding lines in your favor.
  2. Home vs. Away: In NBA betting, the advantage that the home team possesses has been steadily declining for over a decade. It’s still imperative to know which teams have strong home court advantages and which teams don’t. Additionally, certain teams play very well on the road while others, occasionally young or inexperienced teams, might struggle in road games. It’s also crucial to know that the home court advantage is already baked into the line.
  3. Betting Against Favorites: If you know how to do it correctly, there is money to be made in betting on the underdog. Any NBA team can defeat any of the other 29 teams in the league on a given night. So, if you feel that, say, a +8 home underdog has a puncher’s chance of winning outright against the team they are playing, that is definitely a game you should consider betting on. To bet on a large underdog, you should be able to at least envision them potentially winning the game, and not just covering.
  4. Betting on Momentum Swings: When it comes to live betting NBA games it is crucial to understand momentum swings. If a favorite goes down early, their odds might drop several points in live betting. If you can time your bet correctly, because live betting moves extremely fast, you might be able to get your bet in on a favorite at a much lower price than you could have ever dreamed of getting before the game started. With live betting you need to predict which outcomes are just momentum swings and which games are actually mismatches, where the favorite may never catch up.
  5. Understanding Outside Factors: One of the most unspoken but crucial factors in NBA betting is how tired an NBA team is. If a team you want to bet on has played four games in six days, they are likely exhausted and you might want to avoid that wager. However, what if both teams are playing the second half of a back-to-back, or are both in the middle of a brutal schedule. Did one team get to rest their starters in the fourth quarter the previous night while the other team went to overtime? There are all major factors to consider when betting on NBA teams.
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How to Read NBA Odds

Before you even consider betting on an NBA game, you need to learn how NBA betting odds work. When you are looking at betting odds the team with the minus (-) next to their name is the favorite, they are expected to win. The team with the plus (+) next to their name is the underdog and is predicted to lose.

Suppose, the Memphis Grizzlies are hosting the Washington Wizards and Memphis is a -1.5 favorite. If you bet on the Grizzlies, you would need them to win by more than 1.5 points. So, if Memphis ends up winning by one point, a bet on the Grizzlies would be a loser. Alternatively, if you bet on the Wizards, they would either need to win the game or lose by less than 2 points.

The number next to the +1.5 in the graphic below is -110. That means you would need to bet $1.10 for every dollar you hope to win. -110 is the standard moneyline for NBA games, though the Grizzlies in this game had -111 odds. In general you will almost always see numbers between -108 and -112.

Betting on the moneyline is simply betting on a winner. But all games are not created equally and the odds vary wildly from game to game. So, in this game the Grizzlies are -122 favorites, meaning you would need to bet $1.22 for every dollar in profit you are trying to win, while the Wizards are an even +100, meaning you can double your money exactly with a bet on Washington.

how to read NBA odds | Sidelines

How to Manage Your Betting Budget

The best type of NBA bettor is the one who manages his bankroll wisely. Your bankroll is the amount of money you have set aside to bet during the course of a season. Let’s say to use round numbers that your betting bankroll, or budget, is $500 for the whole NBA season. If that’s the case then your betting unit should be around $10.

A betting unit is the amount of money you generally wager on a given bet. That does not have to be a fixed number but many people like to keep the number the same from bet to bet. A betting unit is frequently no more than 2% of your total bankroll, which is exactly $10 in this case.

You do not have to bet ten dollars on each game, however. Suppose you are certain that the Chicago Bulls will cover a +4.5 spread against the Atlanta Hawks. This is your best bet of the season so far, the most confident you have been all year. With a bet like that, you might want to consider putting multiple units on the game. There is no maximum number of units you can bet on an individual game, but you probably don’t want to bet a significant chunk of your total bankroll, regardless of how confident you are that you have a winner on your hands.

Whatever your NBA betting unit is, you should always be tracking every one of your bets. That way you can tell what percentage of your bets have been winners, which teams you have had success betting on or have struggled betting against. The best bettor is a well-prepared one, so you should be doing as much research as possible before a game and then analyzing what went right or wrong after games.

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Common NBA Betting Errors

  • Emotional Betting: The most common error a bettor can make in any sport is the emotional bet. If you are a Phoenix Suns fan that does not mean you need to be betting on the Phoenix Suns every game. While a Suns fan might have more information about the team than a random bettor, your love for the team can also cloud your judgment. If you can’t separate your love of your favorite team from what your head is telling you, it might be better to avoid betting games that involve your favorite team altogether.
  • Poor Bankroll Management: Over the years, more bettors have been ruined by poor bankroll management than any other factor. No bettor is expected to win every bet, but you need to bet within your means. If you are the type of person who bets $20 on a game, or $200 on each game, that does not mean you need to bet on the entire slate of NBA games every night. Pick and choose your spots and you will see more long term success.
  • Chasing Losses with Larger Bets: Another massive mistake a bettor can make is to chase their losses by doubling down the next night. If you lost $50 betting on the Memphis Grizzlies last night, that does not mean you need to bet $100 on a game tonight to “double or nothing” your previous losses. Keep operating as if it’s business as usual and trust that your process will work over a longer time period, instead of getting desperate.
  • Betting Without Research: Modern online NBA betting is so accessible that it is simple to place a bet with just one or two clicks of the mouse. However, successful betting is done as a long process and if you want to be a winner over the long road, you should never place a single bet without doing your research first. Even if you have a strong gut feel, make sure that the data confirms it!

Get Your Start as an NBA Bettor Now

Now that you know many of the experts’ tips and strategies for being a winning NBA bettor, you are ready to become an NBA bettor yourself. The best way to learn is by experience, so take a night of NBA games, do your research, place some hypothetical bets and see how you do. Once you are comfortable with the process, you are ready to place some bets. Learn how to utilize a betting odds calculator, create a spreadsheet to track all of your bets, and then step up like a professional bettor, look up the NBA betting odds and start picking some winners.

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