When it comes to wagering on sports, the NBA is often thought of as the easiest league to handicap. Teams are split into the “haves” and “have nots” in terms of talent. And for the most part, you know which team is going to show up and win the ball game. However, if it were truly that easy, we’d all be living on a yacht somewhere in 85-degree weather.

The NBA is only a cash cow if you know what to look for and how to properly and effectively wager on it. There are golden spots littered throughout the NBA season that are begging to be sought out and hammered hard. The problem is that Las Vegas (read: sportsbooks) knows exactly which spots to look out for as well, and they adjust their lines accordingly.

Can you beat the books when it comes to NBA betting? Absolutely. However, you need to follow and stick to a certain set of guidelines when making  your picks for the daily NBA card from October through June.

Betting the NBA Point Spread

Similar to football, point spread betting is the bread and butter of the NBA. It is the most common and most popular way to wager on not only pro hoops, but college basketball as well. Sportsbooks give teams points based on a system we’ve yet to figure out. Since there are a ton of points scored in every basketball game, the point spread is a way to even out the playing field when a really good team is taking on a really bad team.

Let’s use the example below to give you a better understanding of how the point spread works.

Miami -4.5 (-110) at Toronto +4.5 (-110), Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.

The above contest pits Miami vs. Toronto on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. The sportsbooks have made the Miami Heat favored in this contest by 4.5 points. If you believe the Miami Heat will not only win the game but win by more than 4.5 points, you will bet them on the spread and hope for the best. Because there are no ties or half points in basketball, if the Miami Heat wins by five or more points – no matter the score – you will win your bet.

If you believe in the Toronto Raptors enough to believe they can either win the game outright or lose by four points or fewer, then you would grab the Raptors plus the points.

It’s important to understand the price you are paying to get a specific line. All standard point spreads are listed at -110. That means that in order for you to profit $100, you must bet $110.

Sportsbooks do offer you the option to “buy points,” which means you would be paying a premium to move the spread up or down based on which team you like. If you bought a half-point on the Heat, you’d make them four-point favorites, but you’d be paying -120. If you bought a full point, you would make them 3.5-point favorites, but you’d be paying around -130 to do so. The same concept applies when buying points for Toronto.

The NBA Moneyline Bet

This is the easiest wager to understand, no matter what sport you are betting on. The money line betting option allows you to place a bet on the team you think is simply going to win the game. Overtime is included in the outcome of the bet as there are no ties in basketball.

Example: Miami Heat (-220) at Toronto Raptors (+160), Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.

If we use the same two teams, you will notice that the odds have changed drastically. Since the Heat are favored to win this game, you would have to wager more money in order to return $100.

The Heat are -220 on the moneyline, which gives them a 68.73 percent probability to do so. The Toronto Raptors are listed as +160 underdogs, which gives them a 48.46 percent chance of winning the game. Note** The probability does not add up to 100 because of the implied vig (the sportsbooks cut for taking your bet) baked into the line.

In this case, if you are a bettor that properly manages your bankroll, you’d likely have a unit system in place for wagering amounts. Let’s say one unit for you is $100. If you wanted to bet the Heat to win the game, you would have to bet $220 to win $100. If you wanted to take the underdog Raptors, you would risk $100 to return a profit of $160.

When betting on NBA spreads, there is a lot of things to take into consideration.

Item No.1: You must be aware that home court is worth around three or four points, depending on the team. Teams tend to play harder at home to please the home fans. And as such, Vegas builds the line with that in mind because momentum is a hell of an added boost when playing in front of a packed stadium.

Item No.2: It’s important to understand what team you’re betting on. The Lakers and Celtics are the public’s go-to teams. And as such, Vegas bumps up the line a point or two because they know they are still going to get action on them. Finding those inflated lines well help you hone in on live underdogs that are simply getting too many points.

Item No.3: Read the injury report. Basketball is a sport that features five starting players and about two or three guys on the bench that can actually make a difference in a ball game. Knowing who is in or out of the lineup is incredibly important information to know before making your bet.

Item No.4: Scheduling quirks in the NBA are not all that uncommon. Teams are obligated to play back-to-back games and three games in four nights, and travel for extended road trips. There are spots in every team’s schedule that have a glaring asterisk beside it because the team is likely not going to be up for the challenge. Find those spots and bet against them. 

Item No. 5 This last tip holds true in every single sport you will likely wager on in your life. Fading the public is perhaps the best way to make money. If you’ve heard of the saying, “the house always wins”. The house, in this case, is Vegas (sportsbooks), and therefore Vegas always manages to come out ahead. A good rule of thumb for fading the public is betting against teams that are garnering 65 percent or higher of the action. I’m not telling you to blindly fade. However, when you find the right spot to do so, hammer it home.

NBA Total Bets

This betting option is another straightforward concept as sportsbooks will offer an “over/under” for every game that’s on the board for the night. I’ve seen totals as low as 185.5 for games featuring teams that play at an extremely slow pace, but I’ve also seen totals as high as 242.5 that feature teams that play little to no defense and have some of the top offensive stats in the league.

If we look at an example, you will see this on your respective sportsbook:

Miami Heat/Toronto Raptors “Over” 194.5 -110 or “Under” 194.5 -110

If you think both teams are going to combine to score at 195 or more points, you will take the over and you would need to bet $110 to win $100. If you think the defense will reign supreme, you can take the “under” and hope for 194 or fewer points to be scored. Similarly, you’d have to risk $110 to win $100.

Pro Tip No.1: Statistics are your friend. Use them. Memorize them. Abide by them. Basketball is a funny sport. You can tell how good a team is by their offensive numbers and how well they play defense. If you are looking to bet totals to go “over” the number, you will want to make sure that both teams play up-tempo styles of basketball and that they have a high field goal percentage and free throw percentage. It’s crucial not to be left out to dry by a team that can’t hit their damn free throws. If you want to bet an NBA “under,” the things I would look for are teams that play at a very slow pace – meaning they average fewer possessions than other teams because they eat up a lot of time on the shot clock before making their move to the basket. And you want to be sure the teams are defensively responsible and can play defense in crunch time.

Pro Tip No.2: If after all the research is done and you are still not sure which way to go, I like to look for live underdogs who I believe have a chance to win the ball game. Live underdogs will likely come out with a sense of urgency and will need to score points to keep up with the better team. That will, in theory, force the better team to play well and in turn it, should help run up the score. Conversely, if two elite teams are playing each other, the tendency is for each team to clamp down defensively in order to grind out a win.

Futures Bets

If you are someone who doesn’t enjoy having their money tied up for the duration of the season, then this betting option is not the one for you. If you can afford to have money tied up for eight months or just wanted to get down a few bucks on your favorite team to do well this year, then you can find some big odds on the betting board. Below are the most common futures bets you can get some action on.

No.1: Who will win the NBA Championship? This is pretty straightforward. You must pick a team that you believe is going to win the NBA Title in June. The best teams like the Lakers and Nets will have lower odds like +550 or +600 to start the year. The worst teams like the Pistons or Timberwolves will have odds upwards of +20000. As you can see, one is more likely to happen than the other. These odds are subject to change as the season progresses. However, once you place your wager, those odds are locked in for you.

No.2: Who will win the Eastern or Western Conference: This betting option stops one step short of the NBA Finals. You simply have to bet on which team will make the NBA Finals from their respective conferences. The odds are a tad bit lower, but there is still plenty of value to be had if you find the right team.

No.3: Division Winners: This bet is as it sounds. You are picking the team you believe will win their respective division.  

Pro Tip No.1: Look for a team that has a mix of veteran presence and young players that are hungry to make a name for themselves. You should also want your team to have good depth and a good bench rotation, because playing your starters tons of minutes in the playoffs is a sure-fire way to have fatigue set in. It’s important that the bench players know their roles and can contribute when called upon.

Pro Tip No.2: These bets last the entire season. Don’t tie up your entire bankroll by betting futures. Unless you are throwing a few bucks on your favorite team to win it all, then fine. But if you want to bet on a daily basis, having too much exposure on futures bets is a very bad idea. Chances of them hitting are slim, and that will only take away from any profits you do turn betting the daily basketball card.