Of the four major American sports, the NBA is still regarded as the easiest to predict on a nightly basis. This perceived predictability is a double-edged sword; on one side, it’s nice to be able to handicap a matchup on your own and be fairly accurate more often than not. On the other side, the bookmakers are close to or spot on with their opening lines with more regularity than we’d desire.
Still, betting on NBA basketball offers great profit potential to those who know how to navigate this unique betting landscape. One big key to staying profitable in NBA betting is to understand how the lines are made and what they mean. Staying sharp in this area will allow you to find spots where the lines are off and ready to be hammered, and also when to stay away, which is a big skill in keeping a good margin in NBA betting.
Our ultimate NBA betting strategy guide comes directly from experts who have put their money where their mouths are and have made their livelihood as advantage bettors for years. They’re happy to share their insights and expertise to give you helpful strategies to improve your NBA betting prospects. Whether you’re new to NBA betting or you’re a seasoned gambler looking for a way to sharpen your basketball betting acumen, we’re very confident that you’ll find our tips useful.
Our guide is broken down into sections to help give you an easier read and help make things easy to find if you ever need to come back and get a refresher on a particular topic. Good to go? Let’s get started.
I. The Basics
These basic skills and strategies lay the groundwork for solid and informed NBA betting. You always want to have a good foundation to start with, and these tips help lay that groundwork. You might find some of these tips to be obvious, but simple disciplines go a long way. In the long run, keeping your betting game on the rails is one of the biggest factors that will separate you from winning and losing significant units of money.
While some of the tips in this section can be applied to most other forms of sports betting, they are listed here because of their unique value to betting the NBA.
Make a Bankroll Management Plan
Most folks budget when it comes to basic stuff like food or housing, but for whatever reason, they completely abandon this concept when it comes to gambling. But the bottom line is this: if you want to be able to gamble consistently and win, you have to have some basic bankroll management.
How you keep tabs on your betting bankroll is up to you; we’re not trying to force financial advice upon you. But NBA betting can be very intensive, and there is a lot of action to be had each night. To keep from hemorrhaging cash in a short amount of time, you want to have a good plan for what your overall bankroll is and what your standard bet will be based on the balance.
No matter how basic your method may be, having a way to keep an eye on your bankroll will help keep you from going off the rails with huge bets that could cripple you if they miss. You’ll also be more likely to avoid the temptation of chasing losses. A good plan is the best way to stay in the pocket with your betting system and find out what works and what doesn’t over an extended period of time.
Stay Informed on Player Injury and Rest Updates
There is no worse feeling than playing a betting line you think is way off base, only to realize after your loss that the line was “juicy” because a star player on the team you bet was out for the night with an injury or was being rested. Not only do you feel like a square for losing, but you feel regret because you know you could have made a better decision simply by checking out the injury updates.
This kind of stuff happens all the time, and it’s just a black hole for your bankroll. Please make sure you’re staying up to the minute on personal news when betting. In addition to knowing who’s in or out of a game, make sure you have the latest on things like minute restrictions or if a guy is playing banged-up and won’t be as productive. Incorporate the information however you wish; just make sure that you have it in the first place. Don’t bet blind.
We’re not blowing smoke just to make a point; this is a huge priority for any serious NBA bettor. This is because injury news about players often doesn’t break until very close to game time – sometimes mere minutes before tip-off! You must stay apprised of injuries or other happenings all the way to game time, and our advice to you is to place your bet as close to tip-off as you can.
This might sound cumbersome, but not only is there amazing value in saving money on a play you would have otherwise made, but you also will find easy profit opportunities betting the other way thanks to breaking news. There’s a reason the big sharps have little closed-circuit TV monitors in their private booths – they relish the opportunity to race a ticket in before the book can change a line or take it off the board altogether.
When news breaks, it takes time for books to adjust the lines. The sharks take advantage of this. The fish miss out or get eaten alive because they didn’t know the facts. Don’t be a fish; BE A SHARK!
Pay Attention to Schedules and Schedule Tracking
The premise is simple; teams don’t perform as well when they’re fatigued as they do when they’re fresh. Much like the injury tracking above, it’s also good common sense to make sure your betting horse isn’t limping into the arena on tired legs. But what was long held by sharps as a hunch has now become a legit game changer in the age of data. We’re sure some big shot at the books played a role as well, but the bottom line is that schedule tracking is a big thing to watch out for now.
What is schedule tracking, you ask? Schedule tracking is looking at a team’s schedule and looking for rough patches in the schedule that would lead the team to be tired or fatigued. The hope is that on these particular games, the betting line fails to reflect this crucial factoid and a team is overvalued, giving great value to a bet against that team. This is especially valuable for teams that the betting public likes no matter the case, as books have to keep the lines high to keep their action balanced.
There are multiple angles to look for when using scheduling to influence your betting. The most well-known example of a schedule-based betting trend is the “back-to-back,” which is the popular way of saying that a team will play on consecutive nights. Back-to-backs are a part of most NBA daily betting analyses when it’s in play, especially when the particular team’s games are on the road or have a road/home combo.
However, simply finding a team on a back-to-back is not enough to guarantee profit on your play. Like we said earlier, this is a majorly tracked trend now. The bookmakers now know that this kind of money will come in big and they’ve adjusted accordingly. Staying that crucial step ahead will require a bit more keen strategy. Thankfully, we’ve got just that in the next section, which focuses on skills you will want to incorporate specifically for NBA betting.
II. NBA Betting: Get the Edge
Having basic betting principles down is a great way to ensure that you’re not simply throwing your money away. Beyond that, you’ll want to have some skills specifically tailored to the sport you’re betting. Below are some of the strategies and tactics our experts employ to find the best lines and stay up on the books. We’re happy to share, and we encourage you to use them and improve upon them at home!
Read the Bookmaker
One of the most important principles Sun Tzu teaches in The Art of War is to know your enemy, and that’s what this tip is all about. Learning to think about the bookmaker’s intentions when putting out a line is definitely one of those “separator” skills – by that we mean that it’s one of those defining betting skills that separate the consistently profitable pros from the losing recreational bettors.
This is a “game behind the game” tip, but it’s extremely important in NBA betting (just as much as in NFL betting, in our opinion). The principle is to ask a very simple question: why did the book open the line at that number? Expert sharps consider it second nature to ask this question, but most folks never even think to.
We could list examples for days, but let’s discuss one to show you what we mean:
A and B are two evenly matched teams playing in a highly anticipated game where a lot of betting volume is expected. Team A is at home. After all the factors like home court advantage and such are factored in, the game is a true pick’em. So, what do you think the opening line will be?
Team A – (-1)
That’s right; if you thought zero, you’re wrong.
In this example, we said the game is a true pick’em, and it is. So why did the book open the line at -1? Great question! Now you’re learning.
This is a common example of the public’s inclination to bet the home team in true coin-flip situations. Another common perception (even amongst experienced NBA bettors) that are leveraged by the books in this example is that if a team is going to win, they’ll likely win by more than one point, so it’s worth it to lay the point and pay less vig than you would on a moneyline bet.
Bookmakers capitalize on these common perceptions by putting pick’em games out at Home Team (-1) or (-1.5) to make the public pay a premium on their habit. They’ll also put out Home Team (-1) opening lines even if the home team should open as a 1-point underdog.
The reason? If public perception is that the game is a flip, the bookmakers know they’re going to receive more bets on the home team. Therefore, they want that side of the action to pay the vig so they make their profit on the percentages in the long run. And overall, they do just that. So long as the game outcomes fall on the 50/50 line, they make money on the point and all the times the supposed “dog” comes through. You profit in this scenario by avoiding the trap of hammering what you think is a betting favorite only laying a point at home.
We aren’t saying that every opening line out there is a trap by the books. What we are saying is that by asking yourself what the book is trying to accomplish with a particular betting line (or price) and why the lines are where they are, you’ll find great opportunities all over the board on a regular basis.
Find the Shaded Lines
“Line shading” is a term referring to when a bookmaker anticipates heavy betting action on one side of a matchup and moves an opening betting line toward that side. Line shades can be small (one point) or large (3+ points) and are a great profit-seeking area of betting if you know how to find them.
Let’s say the Boston Celtics go on a hot streak (both in wins and ATS) that gets a lot of media attention. In such a case, more public bettors will start to come in wanting to ride the wave. To keep their betting handle balanced, the books respond by inflating lines involving the Celtics by a couple of points. So if the Celtics were supposed to be a (-9) favorite in a game, the books will put them out at (-11) instead.
There is nothing wrong with what the bookmaker is doing here. If the Celtics stay hot, the books could lose a lot of money each game from lopsided betting on them. So shading the line is the correct move on their part so long as it evens out their action. They can discourage enough sharp bets on the Celtics who want to bet for value, and they make the public take a bigger risk of a dog cover.
In scenarios like these, the value play is often (but not always) to bet against the shaded line and take advantage of those underdog points. Both the books and the sophisticated bettors know that the line has been swung to disfavor a cover by the Celtics. It’s literally a gift to you. Take it! More often than not, the public will be disappointed, while the sharps enjoy a nice score and keep on trucking. The bookmaker is satisfied that they got enough action on both sides, and all is well in the betting world.
The only downside with this sort of play is that it is based on short-term perceptions, so you can’t really plan for it. The only real way to find these opportunities is to keep up with NBA news and events and build up a bit of a bettor’s intuition of when the masses have caused a line shade.
Another great scenario where books shade lines hard is on second-half lines where the action got super lopsided in the first half. This is covered a little bit later in the guide in the Middling Second-Half Bets section.
The overall principle here is to remember that line shading can happen for any reason. Much like the first section talking about reading the bookmaker’s intentions, a big part of finding a shaded line is to try to find out if the book is trying to encourage or discourage action on a certain side. The best way to do that is to stay informed.
Fade the Public
We’re sure you see this a lot; it’s part of almost any expert betting advice on any sport that’s out there. Well, it’s there for good reason! The books are there to make money, and they make money by forcing the public to pay a premium for their popular notions.
Even if a notion has merit, it will lose value in the betting market by way of having everyone doing it. It’s not that being with the public is always wrong; it’s just that in this business, it’s going to be very costly to do so over time. Awkward as it might be to tell your best buds that you bet against the hometown team this evening, it beats losing money to mere sentiment. Being a contrarian bettor is a skill you simply must embrace to keep your bankroll intact.
Betting against the public is a great intuition to have, and just by embracing it, you will find yourself sniffing out inflated lines and finding trends where the public is giving too much or too little credit to a team based on reputation or media coverage or whatever whim of the day.
Our tip to you is just to make sure you don’t overdo it. It’s nice to have the skill and the fortitude to go the other way when it’s the right play, but make sure it’s the right play. It’s not enough to find the public’s money and go the other way. That is a losing system. Instead, make sure you combine your plays against the grain with other supplemental factors that make your bet more of a high percentage prospect, e.g., an inflated line or a scheduling trend.
Know How to Middle the Second Half
Now we’re betting some NBA! This is a sweet play that you’ll want to learn; it’s an absolute moneymaker, and it’s a part of every professional bettor’s arsenal.
For those not familiar, the term “middle” or “middling” refers to instances where swings in the betting lines allow for opportunities where a player can bet both sides of a game and potentially win both bets.
Atlanta is playing Boston, and the line opens with Boston as a (-5) favorite. You bet on Boston.
An hour before tip-off, it is announced that Atlanta is resting two of its best players that evening and they will not play. Betting action comes in very heavy on Boston, and the book responds by swinging the line on all the way up to a (-10) favorite.
The middling opportunity here is if you bet Atlanta (+10). No matter what, you will win one of your bets. But if Boston wins by 6, 7, 8, or 9 points, both tickets get paid.
This may sound like free money, but there is risk involved: while one of your bets will come through, if both don’t, you will be a slight loser by paying the vig to the house. Make sure you’re aware of the probabilities versus the price before deciding to take a middle.
Now that we have middling down, let’s make some money.
The tip we’re suggesting you look out for is when you’ve already wagered on an NBA game, and then the first half results in a blowout for one side.
Chicago is playing Detroit, and you bet Detroit as a (+3) underdog.
Detroit blows out Chicago in the first half and leads by 15 at halftime.
The bookmaker puts the second half line at Chicago (-6).
BEGIN HAPPY DANCE.
In this scenario, you already have an 18-point cushion for your (+3) bet on Detroit. Excellent.
But if you bet Chicago to cover the (-6) in the second half, Chicago can win the half by anywhere between 7 and 18 points and both of your bets will get paid (excluding O.T.). You now have an 11-point range where both bets will win. Most Excellent.
That example is not an exaggeration. Middling opportunities like these are out there throughout the NBA season. Sportsbooks make a ton offering half lines. But their weakness with some of these lines is that they have to put the line out based on where they think the bets will fall, the action that’s occurred, and the action they’ve already taken on the game. They also have to be wary of what competitors’ books are doing. And they have to do it all in very short time (while the teams are in the locker room).
Look for opportunities like these and crush the books when they give you a big opportunity like this. It’s a winning play that’s yet to be corrected in the betting markets, and we highly encourage you to take advantage of it.
The best way to take advantage of this play is to have access to multiple accounts across betting sites. It allows you to line shop all over the world and increase your chances of finding these great plays. If you’re interested, you can find information on safe and reliable sports betting sites on our main pages.
Here are some other great tips and trends to help you become a great NBA handicapper:
Energy and Morale
The art of gauging a team’s energy level has many components. Part of it is being in tune with their schedule, and part of it is staying in tune with locker room tensions or stress (and how these tensions are affecting performance).
This is a difficult betting nuance to write about, especially for experienced bettors. So much of what you analyze in professional betting are hard numbers – spreads, stats, scores, rinse and repeat. Asking you to place actual value on something like locker room drama is a tough sell.
But the numbers we crunch are often just reflections of the trends we find by using our senses to observe the teams. How did player rest become a big trend in NBA betting? Because we observed it, bet on it when others weren’t, and won big. More than any other method, this how the pros find new trends before anyone else.
Following this tip is asking you to trust your gut, scary as that can be for some. This isn’t for everyone; if you just want to be a snipe-the-numbers bettor, that’s perfectly fine. You can make good and consistent money just going the math route. But in our opinion, the truly elite sports bettors – the ones who make trends and bend lines – trust their intuition on how to gauge a team’s energy level and determine when a team is ripe to over/underperform a line that’s out there.
If you decide to use this factor in your betting system, our #1 piece of advice to you is simply to take notes on why you’re betting a certain way so that you can track your results over time.
Don’t Be Afraid of Road Favorites
More than the other major sports, NBA lines are influenced by two big betting habits: home court advantage, and a team’s previous game(s). Most public bettors fear losing a bet because the other team got a charge from the home crowd or “got home calls from the refs.” It’s the reason they play so heavily on home teams.
As a result, there are often great value plays for good teams that hit the road. Books know they’re going to get big action on the home underdog even after they shade the opening line toward them. Worse case, the sharps hammer them early, they move the line toward the road favorite, and they’ll get the home team bets on the back end.
This is especially true of teams coming off a big loss in their last game. If a solid team is on a road trip and they get blown out in one game, take a look at them in the next game if they’re a favorite. Not only are they a good team looking to bounce back, but they’re probably playing a clearly inferior team if they’re still listed as a favorite on the road despite the bad loss. You’re might benefit from a more significant point swing in your favor, as well.
Sometimes it pays to be early in this spot, but all the same, the play is there. You’ll have to sweat out some home calls here and there, but this play performs quite well over time.
III. NBA Betting: Keep the Edge
Once you have some solid betting strategies to wield, it’s great to see good results come in. Staying ahead, however, means never being complacent and always looking for ways to improve your betting system. This section has just a couple of tips that we think you should consider to help tighten up your game.
Track Your Bets by Team; Consider Specializing
Every bettor has strengths and weaknesses in their game. Some of it is just natural. For instance, time zones alone can determine what teams a person sees more often than others.
This tip isn’t about overall strategy so much as it’s about tracking your bets and making sure your results are consistent across teams.
When you bet a game, you’re betting on the performance of both the winning and losing teams. If you find that you’re crushing your bets on one team and whiffing more often than you’d like on others, take a step back and ask yourself why. Hopefully, you’ll reach the desired effect and find out if and where you might be weak in your observation of certain teams. Then you’ll know exactly where you must either improve your analysis or just save some of those losing bets.
If you find that you’re consistently doing well with a certain group of teams, e.g., the division your favorite team is in, consider specializing your bets to games involving those teams and branching out from there. You’ll have a little less to chew on, and your laser-beam focus on just a few teams can keep your good results consistent.
Track Your Results by Bet Type
You certainly want to keep good records of your results no matter what sport you’re betting – it’s the mark of a good handicapper. But we think it’s particularly important to track your NBA bets by bet type. By bet type, we primarily mean tracking your bets by:
- Spreads vs. money lines
- Straight bets vs. parlays (and if parlays, how many legs)
- Full-game bets vs. 1st/2nd half bets or bets on quarters
These are just the most basic examples, but you can track your bets by any kind of pattern that you think is worth a second look. The most important thing is that you actually do it. The point of it is to make sure that each type of bet you put down is making you money. If a certain bet you’re making is a drain on your bankroll over time, save that bet or transfer it into a bet type that performs well for you.
Tracking your NBA bets will also help you ensure that you’re not throwing away your money on certain types of bets. If you’re performing well on full-game and second-half bets, but you’re bleeding cash on first-half bets, stop betting the first half! Likewise if you’re grinding out a nice profit on straight bets, only to give it right back by gambling on frivolous long-shot parlays.
Bottom line: tracking your results by bet type will make you money, save you money, and help you identify your strong and weak betting areas.
We hope you found our guide helpful and fun to read, and we’re rooting for you find those trends that work for you and pad your bankroll. No matter what happens, remember to have fun and enjoy the games!