The NBA is widely regarded as one of the most difficult regular season sports for gamblers to profit. Inconsistencies in several areas of the game, including effort by the players, leads to unpredictable outcomes.
With that being said, bettors can be profitable at online sportsbooks if they know what to, and what not to, look for before making a play. In fact, not all the factors that seem important actually show up in the final score.
In this article, I’ll get into some of the most common NBA betting mistakes that I see on a regular basis.
1. Evaluating Home and Away the Same for All Teams
It isn’t exactly news to say that playing at home is an advantage for the vast majority of teams regardless of sport. However, not all home-court advantages are created equal.
It makes sense why teams play better at home. They have the crowd on their side, they’re familiar with the environment, and they don’t have to travel long distances to and from the game. It should be noted, though, that some teams appreciate playing at home much more than others.
On the other hand, sticking with the 2019-2020 season, the Lakers had an entirely different story. The team was 25-10 at home, while performing even better on the road, at 27-9.
The overarching point is that you should definitely take whether or not a team is playing at home or away into consideration, but recognize that its impact is going to be different for each team. Make sure you do your research beforehand to get a better feel for what game location means for the teams in question.
2. Overestimating the Impact of Back-to-Back Games
I’m not sure when this one became so important, but over the past five or six years, I’ve observed the phenomenon of bettors thinking they have a lock every time they bet against a team on the second night of a back-to-back.
On the surface, it makes complete, logical sense. Playing on back-to-back nights—especially on the road— might feel like an arduous task, but the data shows that gamblers might be overrating its impact.
The most likely reason why this is the case is because sportsbooks know that NBA bettors have these games circled, and set their odds accordingly. This proves, yet again, there’s no such thing as an easy win in the world of sports gambling.
It’s easy to psych yourself out when it comes to back-to-backs. If you bet on the team playing in the second game of a back-to-back and lose, you’re going to feel like you made a stupid mistake – but in reality the scenario itself is essentially a coin flip.
3. Only Betting on the Spread
It seems like NBA games have a knack for coming down to the wire at the end of the fourth quarter. Now, I’m not suggesting that the point spread never comes into play—it does—but it’s true that underdogs routinely win outright.
If you’re considering betting on the underdog in an NBA game, you should be taking a closer look at the moneyline and evaluating if the odds make it a worthwhile play.
Obviously, there’s an inherently higher risk involved when betting on the moneyline for the sole reason that you aren’t getting any points. With that being said, there’s often a nice reward attached to that risk.
This probably goes without saying, but you should be focusing on games where the spread is roughly 3 to 5 points. If it’s less than 3, you probably aren’t going to get much value out of the moneyline. If it’s more than 5, it’s becoming more unlikely that the underdog is going to win the game with any sense of regularity.
Betting on the underdog to win straight up does take guts, but fortune, especially in the case of sports betting, favors the bold.
4. Ignoring Prop Bets
I know, I know. Generally speaking, prop bets are regarded as a bad idea. However, I’ve found them to be uniquely profitable in the NBA.
When I say prop bets, I’m not referring to all of the available options, but rather, points scored by a particular player. Most notably, the top two scorers on a team.
Predicting how many points a player is going to score on a given night is undoubtedly difficult, so it’s essential to use the odds to your advantage, as well as public bias. Typically, I save player props for the game following a contest where a team’s top scorer has a big night.
Continuing with the example above, the next game after Lillard scores 45, I would take the under on his point total, while taking the over for the second-best player’s point total (which we’ll assume is CJ McCollum).
What’s the reason for taking the under on Lillard? In terms of odds, sportsbooks know the public’s recency bias will cause them to take the “over,” even if the point total is set a little too high. The reason I would take the “over” for McCollum is because defenses are more apt to focus on Lillard following a big performance, which means there will probably be more opportunities for him to score.
It’s hard to win gambling at NBA sites if you take the same approach that you would toward other sports. It’s necessary to adjust your strategy to find the unique opportunities that are available with betting the league.
That means value becomes even more significant because you’re going to both win, and lose, a large number of games. If you’re able to make the wins help more than the losses hurt, you’ll be in a position to be successful.