A Beginner's Guide to Betting on Basketball

Basketball betting

Basketball betting is one of the fastest-growing sports gambling markets out there, with a global audience and superstar appeal drawing the attention of new fans learning how to bet on NBA games. The fast-paced flow and exhilarating swings make basketball one of the most fun sports to wager on.

How basketball betting works

There’s no shortage of basketball betting options during the NBA and college basketball schedules. Multiple matchups are on the board, allowing bettors to wager on their favorite teams as well as bet on the big games on TV each night.

Basketball betting lines explained

Like most major sports, there are endless ways to wager on basketball, but the most popular forms of basketball betting are the moneyline, point spread, and Over/Under totals.


Pick which team will win the game

Betting basketball moneylines is the most straightforward and basic betting market available, simply allowing you to bet on which team you think will win the game.

The moneyline odds for a game are based on each teams’ implied probability of winning and, because not all basketball teams are evenly matched, the moneyline odds will reflect those chances of victory. You can use our odds converter & moneyline calculator to see a team’s implied probability based on their odds.

Moneyline odds are most often displayed in hundreds (American odds) with one team set as the favorite (indicated by a negative value) and one team set as the underdog (positive value).

Howtobet Nba Moneyline

For example, the Los Angeles Lakers are -130 moneyline favorites versus the Toronto Raptors, who are +110 moneyline underdogs.

Because the Lakers are the stronger team (56.52 percent chance of winning), for every $10 you wish to win betting on Los Angeles you must risk $13 ($130 bet will win $100). Since the Raptors are the weaker team (47.62 percent implied probability), you can win $11 for every $10 risked ($100 bet will win $110).

Point spread

Betting the spread with basketball

NBA point spreads are the preferred odds market for betting basketball, as this method levels the difference in skill between the two teams. Oddsmakers analyze both teams and take the venue, current form, and any key injuries into consideration when calculating the perceived point spread between the two sides.

The point spread favorite is indicated by the negative value in front of the point spread and that team must win the game by more than that spread to win for bettors. The underdog has a positive value in front of its point spread and that team can either win outright or lose by less than that spread to cash in.

Howtobet Nba  Spread

For example, the Los Angeles Lakers are -2.5 point spread favorites hosting the +2.5 underdog Toronto Raptors. For the Lakers to cover the spread, they must win the game by three points more. For the Raptors to cover the spread, they must either win the game outright or lose by two points or less.

All point spreads are accompanied by a value or price to make the bet, better known as the juice or vig. Most point spreads have a vig of -110 which means for every $10 you wish to win, you need to risk $11. However, vig can be adjusted depending on current betting action and can vary from book to book.


Betting on basketball point totals

Another popular way to wager on basketball is via the Over/Under odds, also known as the total.

Oddsmakers measure the matchup between two teams, looking at both offensive and defensive production, and set an expected total number of points scored by both sides for the game. Once that total is set, bettors can wager on if the final score will go Over or Under that number.

As an example, the Over/Under total between the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors is 222.5 points.

Howtobet  Nba Total

A bet on the Over would need the final score of the game to total 223 points or more to win, while a bet on the Under needs 222 or fewer points to be scored.

Like point spreads, both sides of the total – Over and Under – have attached vig, most often set at -110. This value can adjust to betting action and may vary from book to book.

Three other popular basketball bets

There are other methods for betting on basketball odds beyond the moneyline, point spread and Over/Under totals. If you’re looking for alternative ways for how to bet on basketball, these are some of the most popular 



Parlays allow you to risk a smaller amount to win a bigger payout but carry a higher risk. Basketball parlays require you to tie two or more bets together. 

The more bets added to the parlay the bigger the potential payout but also the bigger the risk, as all bets in the parlay must win for the entire parlay to pay out.


Prop bets

Prop bets are a rapidly growing way to bet on basketball, allowing you to wager on different aspects of the game – not just the final score. 

Prop bets can focus on game events as well as team and individual player performances, such as “First team to 15 points”, a team’s total 3-pointers made, or a player’s combined points, rebounds, and assists.



Futures odds are long-running betting markets focused on overall results for a team or player, such as odds to win the NBA Finals and the player to be named NBA MVP. Another popular form of futures are season win totals, in which you can bet on whether a team will go Over or Under their set total of wins for the year.

These odds often open before a season begins and will take bets throughout the schedule, adjusting to results and injuries, until the market is decided.

Basketball betting tips and strategies

Keep these basketball betting strategies in mind when looking to handicap NBA odds. 

Basketball Count on current form

Don’t get caught up looking at the standings when betting on the NBA. Pay more attention to current form, weighing the past three games more attentively.

Even the best teams can go through slumps and losing teams can suddenly find their form. Find out what’s behind those recent results and if they’ll carry over into the game you want to bet.

Matchups Mind the matchups

Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. When trying to find the best NBA bets, take a close look at how those attributes match up against that day’s opponent.

If a team struggles to rebound and takes on a foe with a bigger, stronger frontcourt that dominates the glass, make sure you account for how that could change the narrative of the game and bet accordingly.

Basketball is a game of runs and these matchups and mismatches often fuel those deciding swings.

Covers Global Two Color Bandage Injuries and off nights

The NBA schedule is a grind and injuries will play a huge role in a team’s success along the way. If you’re looking to bet on a side, comb through the injury report and see which key contributors could be out of action as well as which players could be resting – a recent wrinkle to betting the NBA.

Big-name stars will carry the most impact on the NBA odds whether they’re playing or not, but there is an edge in finding undervalued injuries and how those could impact a team’s performance. A missing backup point guard or a sidelined wing defender may not move the odds but will have a say in the final score.

Line Movement Line movement

With NBA betting, as with all sports wagering, it’s often not about betting the best team but rather the best number.

Point spreads, moneylines, and totals will constantly adjust to action and injury news, so make sure you’re monitoring the opening NBA odds and where they’re moving to pinpoint the best time to place your bet.

Derivatives Dive into derivatives

The NBA betting odds can be chopped up into halves and quarters, setting sides and totals for different segments of the game. These derivative odds can hold added value not found in the full-game lines as teams present tendencies and trends that fly under the radar of oddsmakers.

Some teams are slow starters and find their form in the second half, making them a good bet to fade with the first-half spreads. Others come out firing with a quick pace on offense in the first quarter, adding value to the Over in the opening frame. Dive into the analytic splits to uncover the best derivative bets on the board. 

Scout The Schedule Scout the schedule

The calendar can sometimes dictate a team’s performance on the court, depending on rest spots, travel, and motivation. Situational betting – also known as spot bets – is a valuable tool to find underlying value betting on or against a team.

Chunks of the schedule could have a team playing multiple games in a short window, leaving them running on empty for the final outings of that stretch. The schedule can also allot an extended break from the action, allowing players and coaches to adjust their game plan as well as get injured bodies back. And as always, be mindful of “letdown” and “lookahead” spots around important matchups and big wins.

Covers Global Two Color Whistle Handicapping refs

An underutilized method of handicapping basketball odds is to dissect the guys blowing the whistle. Referees have a huge impact on the outcomes of the game, specifically the Over/Under totals, and Covers is one of the rare sources of unique betting data for every NBA referee assignment.

You can use this data to measure a team’s recent betting results when a particular ref is part of the officiating crew. Or, you can follow referees with one-sided tendencies to the Over and Under, as some refs will call more fouls than others. Those whistles result in foul shots, which means points are being scored with the clock stopped – a big boost for Over backers.

Today's NBA odds

Here are the current NBA odds for today's biggest games:

Ready to bet on basketball?

Depending on your level of readiness for betting on basketball, you can either try your luck at one of Covers’ free-to-play contests for the chance to win cash and prizes or you can start placing real money NBA bets at the best sportsbooks.      

NBA betting contest              

Want to try before you buy? Our King of Covers NBA contest is perfect for that. Make real NBA bets for free without having to deposit at a sportsbook. Bet the spread and Over/Under totals on the 2020-21 NBA season for the chance to win cash and prizes.

NBA betting forum

Want to learn more about NBA betting and meet a large, knowledgeable community? Check out Covers’ NBA betting forum to get picks, ask questions, and learn from experienced sports bettors.

Instant Replay: Basketball betting breakdown

If you’re learning how to bet on basketball, remember these key points:

  • Moneylines, point spreads, and Over/Under totals are the most common basketball bets.
  • You can bet on which team will win the NBA Championship with NBA futures odds.
  • Current form is more important than a teams spot in the standings when it comes to NBA betting.
  • Scout the schedule and watch out for back-to-back games when looking to bet on an NBA team.

Basketball betting FAQs

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