5 Reasons Why the NBA Regular Season Is Tough to Bet

NBA Logo Sportsbetting Basketball Player Lebron James

Most gamblers have accepted that the NFL is the most difficult sport to win on a consistent basis. With that being said, I believe there’s a real case to be made that the NBA should hold this label.

Over the course of an 82-game regular season, there are plenty of opportunities to either cash in or slowly drain your bankroll. Unpredictability is the enemy of sports bettors, and the NBA has it in spades.

In this article, I’ll go over five of the reasons why the NBA regular season is such a challenge for even the most seasoned sports bettors.

1. Effort Is Consistently Unpredictable

Of all the variables that must be taken into account when evaluating which way to bet, effort shouldn’t be the most unpredictable. Unfortunately, that is what bettors must contend with when gambling on NBA regular season games.

The long season (and especially the long playoffs) makes rest a valuable commodity in the NBA.

While rest sometimes takes the form of sitting out games entirely, it can also mean taking plays off or playing at half-speed until the fourth quarter. Bettors face the challenge of determining what type of effort they’re going to get from the best players, who almost always determine the outcome of the game.

Please Note:
While there can be some clues as to when a player is going to give less-than-maximum effort (such as the second game of a back-to-back), it still remains a mystery for the most part. If you’re evaluating which way to bet, ask yourself if most crucial players on each team have an incentive to go all-out in what appears to be an otherwise meaningless regular season. If a game is a primetime national TV contest, for example, this might indicate you’ll at least get something close to maximum effort.

The NBA has made it a point to instruct teams not to explicitly have the top players sit out since it became all too common over the past five or six years. This has led to an increase in half-effort games that leave gamblers wishing players would have just sat out in the first place.

At the end of the day, the best players in the league are always going to prioritize the playoffs in a way that requires a sacrifice in effort during the 82 games leading up to the tournament. Unfortunately, this is just something bettors have to contend with.

2. The Three-Pointer

The NBA has seen a drastic change in the style of play over the past decade (thanks, Steph Curry). Increased reliance on the three-point shot has created much more variance in a team’s performance on a game-to-game basis.

Even some of the league’s best teams can have an off-night for no other reason than the shots just aren’t falling.

Similarly, teams who seemingly have no chance of winning a game will surprise everyone with an especially hot night from the three-point line.

  • In many ways, when you lock in a bet on a regular season NBA game, you’re simply putting your money on which team you think is going to have a better shooting night. While the teams with premier shooters can be counted on to perform better more often than not, it’s still somewhat of a crapshoot trying to make this prediction accurately on a consistent basis.
  • In addition, whether a team is having an “on” or “off” night from the three-point can have major implications for those betting totals. Simply put, when teams are having a good night from three-point range, there’s not much defenses can do to stop them.

At the end of the day, all you can do as a bettor is follow the data and hope that a team’s performance is somewhat consistent with what they’ve shown in the past.

3. End-of-Game Situations

Anyone who’s a fan of basketball at any level knows that the last two minutes of a game can drag on forever, as teams play the free-throw game to make up a deficit. While it rarely works (admittedly, it does work sometimes).

It often has an impact on whether or not a team will cover the spread.

One of the most frustrating ways to lose, or “bad beats” as they’re known to those in the sports gambling subculture, is the late-game free-throw scenario where a (for example) 9-point favorite sees their lead cut from 11 to 8 in the final minute of a game. On the flip side, a 3.5-point underdog might see a two-point loss turn into a 4-point loss after a desperation foul with 0.8 seconds left on the clock.

Regardless of whether you picked the favorite or the underdog, this scenario I’ve laid out above plays out on a near-nightly basis in the NBA. Now, you might be thinking that it works both ways, and therefore doesn’t actually make betting on a game any easier or more difficult; essentially, you win some and you lose some.

To the argument above, I would say that you’d be right to point that out, but it still undermines the entire prediction process that takes place before placing a bet. You could be on the money when evaluating how a game will play out, only to have your bet fall apart in the waning seconds of the game due to garbage time fouls that are just a part of the end-of-game process in most games.

While the backdoor cover is seen in all sports, it’s more prevalent in the NBA than any other sport. Your only real hope is that you’re on the right side of things more often than not.

4. The Moneyline Gets Forgotten

Betting with the point spread gives you the best chance to win consistently, but it isn’t going to maximize your winnings to the degree you need to be successful. The reality is the best way to capitalize on the NBA is by utilizing the moneyline with regularity.

While the best teams in the league almost always beat the worst teams in the league outright (shocker, I know), when you look at the matchups between the teams that make up the middle 20, you’ll notice that it’s not uncommon for the underdog to win the game.

Please Note:
If you’re only betting on games with the point spread at -110 odds, it’s going to be extremely difficult to win at a high enough rate in order to be profitable throughout the course of an 82-game season. The solution? Bet the moneyline, especially on underdogs. I recognize that there’s a mental hurdle that needs to be overcome in order to bet your hard-earned money on an underdog to win outright. The sportsbook also knows this and uses it to their advantage. When you start to do the opposite of what the house expects, that’s when you become a profitable bettor.

The next time you look at NBA games to bet on, select a handful of underdogs in the +125 to +190 range and see if you’re able to get a couple of winners. The beauty of the moneyline is that you can win 40% of the time and still be profitable, whereas if you bet the spread, you have to win around 54% of the time.

It’s not easy to make the leap to becoming a moneyline bettor, but it’s the gamblers who take risks that seem to end up on top when it’s all said and done.

5. It’s Hard to Bet against Good Teams

The NBA’s best teams are loaded with the top premier talent.

Most sports bettors can agree that when you bet against the game’s best players and their teams, you’re putting yourself in a tough position. In the NBA, however, it’s necessary to take on that extra risk.

Looking at the data from the 2019 seasons provides some interesting revelations.

For Example:
Despite being one of the worst teams in the league, the Knicks covered the spread at the 7th-highest rate in the league. On the other end, the Rockets, despite being a playoff team, finished as the 3rd-worst team in the league against the spread.

The main takeaway is that the best teams in terms of overall wins and losses are rarely the best teams against the spread and vice versa.

In all cases, when you’re going to bet on a game, it’s a good idea to not just look at a team’s record overall but also their record against the spread throughout the course of the season.


Most NBA fans, whether they’re gamblers or not, recognize that the league is highly unpredictable on a night-in, night-out basis during the regular season.

Unfortunately, that’s just not going to change any time soon.

The next time you log into your preferred online sportsbook to make a pick, keep this article in mind and see if you can use it to help make smarter picks that result in sustainable success.

Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.