NBA Betting: How To Bet Basketball

So there was no three-peat in the NBA. The Miami Heat were stumped and the San Antonio Spurs got their revenge. If you’re a betting man and you backed the Spurs the whole way, then you really cashed in. As you might recall, teams like the Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Indiana Pacers were all favored over them.

But before you get into the action, let’s do a quick walkthrough on how NBA odds and betting lines work:

Point Spread

Point spreads are the most popular way to bet on the NBA. Oddsmakers set a margin of victory (spread) and you, as the bettor, have to determine who will cover the spread. For example:

Miami Heat +5.5 -110
San Antonio Spurs -5.5 -110

The team with the minus sign in front of the number is the favorite. That also means that they have to win by that amount to cover the spread. In this case, if you bet the Spurs, they would have to win by six points for you to cash in. On the flip side, if you bet the Heat, they could lose by five points or less, or win the game, and you’d cover the spread.

On occasion, you’ll see a spread that’s a whole number instead of a half-point. For example, it could be San Antonio -6. If they win by exactly six, then that’s a tie or push, and you get your money back.

On one hand, you might think that simply picking an outright winner is easier but the point spread come into play because there are a lot of mismatches in basketball. Home-court advantage is extremely valuable as the home team wins the majority of the time. The point spread is a bit of an equalizer as it forces the favorite to have to win by a set margin or gives points to the team that’s not expected to win.


If you’re betting the moneyline – simply picking a team to win, regardless of margin – you’ll notice that the odds are quite different. Have a look:

Heat +210
Spurs -250

In this case, the Spurs are a -5.5 point favorite, so if you’re betting them to win outright, you’re getting a benefit. They don’t have to win by six points anymore; one point will do just fine. That’s why their odds are -250. That means for every $250 you bet, you’ll get $100 back. As for the Heat, on the spread they could lose by up to five points and you’d still win. However, on the moneyline, any type of a loss is a loss for them, so that’s why you would get a bigger payout betting them. For each $100 you bet, you would win $210. Of course, you don’t have to bet $100; you can pick whatever amount works for you.

With point spreads, the standard moneyline associated to betting it is -110 (so -5.5 -110 or +5.5 -110). You can see the difference there betting as it’s almost 1-to-1 whereas betting the Spurs in this case is far more expensive.


The total – or over/under, as it is often referred to – is where you bet on the combined score of the two teams. At the end of the game, if their combined score is above the number that the oddsmakers set as the total, then that’s an over. If not, that’s an under.

Let’s say the Heat and Spurs are faced with a total of 198.5. If the final score is 102-99, then that’s an over. If it’s 100-99, that’s an over. If it’s 87-86, then that’s an under. Simply add up the scores of the two teams after the game and compare it to the total.

Typically, people betting unders expect a low-scoring, defensive-style contest while handicappers betting overs expect free-flowing, offensive showdowns.


Futures is all about investing in the long term. If points spreads, moneylines and totals deal with the day-to-day outcomes, futures are long-term predictions into the future on results such as who will win the championship. Here’s a look at some sample odds:

Odds to win 2014-15 NBA Championship:
Miami Heat 7/2
San Antonio Spurs 5/1
Oklahoma City Thunder 13/2
Chicago Bulls 9/1

Let’s say you bet the Bulls at 9/1. That means for every one dollar you bet, you win nine if they win. So if you bet $200 and the Bulls win the Championship, you’ll win $1800. Of course, the same math applies to the other teams save for the fact that the odds change. If you bet $150 on the Heat, you’ll $525.

Remember, these bets are long term so they take longer to decide than the nightly action.