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How to Bet on Basketball: 8 Profitable NBA Tips for 2021

Looking to step up your basketball betting? These eight tips from Action Network betting analyst Raheem Palmer will help you get there.

Raheem Palmer


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The NBA regular season is a grind, not just for players and coaches but for bettors and oddsmakers alike. There are 30 teams and an 82-game season in addition to a two-month-long postseason. Like any other major market, predicting the outcome of an NBA game is difficult.

Yet, it’s even more difficult to consistently beat the point spread set by oddsmakers enough to overcome the vig (or juice) needed to make a profit — typically 52.38% on -110 bets.

However, there are ways to gain an edge betting the NBA. With a new season on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to discuss my approach to betting NBA on a nightly basis and learn more about how to bet on basketball effectively.

How to Bet on Basketball

Click the links to jump ahead.
1. Betting Early
2. Study Injury Reports
3. Scheduling Advantages
4. How to Bet Totals
5. Live Betting Tips
6. No Teasers
7. Line Shop
8. Track Your Bets

1. Bet Early

One of the best ways to gain an edge when betting NBA games is to start betting as soon as the markets open each morning. If you’re on the East Coast, that means you have to be available to bet around 8-9 a.m. ET.

In a market as big as the NBA, nothing slips between the cracks. Injury news, inefficiencies within the market and lines that are off are corrected quickly as the sharpest bettors and betting syndicates in the world look to snatch up the value on NBA sides and totals before the value is sucked out of the line.

Oddsmakers and bettors get more information on games as we get closer to tip-off, so betting early allows you to capitalize on the mistakes on the initial lines that oddsmakers release before they are corrected.

Since bookmakers adjust their lines based on the action they receive, injury news an other factors, the lines become more accurate and harder to beat as the day gets on.

One of the biggest predictive indicators of a winning long-term bettor is to consistently beat the closing line. Betting early allows you to generate Closing Line Value and get better odds then what the line closes at tipoff.

We’ve compiled some numbers on NBA point spreads against closing lines over the past 10 years using information from our Bet Labs database. You can see in the chart below that there’s a ton of value in getting ahead of the market as your win percentage increases with every half point that bettors beat the closing line.

Although limits do increase throughout the day, the ability to get CLV decreases the closer you get to tip-off, so if you’re looking to get the best of the number consistently, you should be betting early.

Now, there are times when it is advantageous to bet later in the day.

Imagine a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings at Staples. Since the Lakers have LeBron James and are a popular team, it’s likely we’d see the public push the Lakers’ line up to the point where you can find more value on backing the underdog Kings closer to tip off.

Sports betting is the ultimate multi-player game. You aren’t just competing with just the bookmaker, you’re competing with thousands of other sports bettors who are shaping the market with their opinion.

Understanding what the vast majority of the public, as well as seasoned professionals, think about a game will allow you to properly read the market and know when to time your bets to get the best value.


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2. Study and React to Injury Reports

The impact of injuries can’t be understated when it comes to NBA betting. Unlike football where there’s 11 players on each side of the ball or baseball where there’s nine players, a basketball team only plays five players at a time, meaning one player can have more impact on the game than in any other team sport.

While you can gain an edge from betting early, sometimes you can find yourself in the dark on injury news which comes out throughout the day. My suggestion would be to approach the NBA in shifts. Bet in the early morning, but make sure you’re available in the afternoon to stay tuned into injury news and look to bet on games where an injury could have a significant impact to game.

In the era of load management, it’s common for star players to sit out of back-to-back games, so you need to anticipate which players might sit out based on recent play, news reports and the betting markets. There are slower moving sportsbooks that aren’t as quick to react to injury news when moving their spreads and totals and that is one of the best spots for bettors to gain an edge.

Understanding how coaches approach playing also plays a significant role here. Certain coaches prefer to go all out during the regular season, while others are more likely to sit stats. For example, New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is known to push his team to play hard every night while San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, or L.A. Clippers head coach Tyron Lue more likely to load manage their stars.

Coaches can sometimes tip their hand a bit leading up to games when talking to beat writers, so pay attention to what they say (and don’t say) in their press conferences and media availability.


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3. Look for Scheduling Advantages

Although the NBA has taken steps to reduce the amount of back-to-backs, NBA teams will average 13.5 back-to-backs, with no-rest games (the second of the back-to-backs) this season. While this accounts for less than 17% of their 82 games, these are spots bettors can capitalize on.

Unfortunately, this season there are no stretches where a team plays four games in five nights, so that’s not something we can isolate. However, the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers and San Antonio Spurs have have stretches where they play eight games in 12 nights.

Keep this in mind during the season and look to fade these teams during these stretches where they’re likely to have tired legs.

The two-game series is a newer scheduling quirk introduced during the pandemic to reduce the travel during last season’s condensed schedule. There will be 23 two-game series in the same arena and there’s certainly an advantage to seeing two teams play back-to-back.

Last season the team that lost the first game of the two-game series was 27-14-12 (65.9%) against the spread.


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4. Totals: How Many Possessions Will a Game Have? 

Pace is one of the biggest factors when handicapping totals in the NBA. The number of possessions in a game can determine how high-scoring a matchup will be just as much as a team’s offensive efficiency.

Last season, the Washington Wizards ranked 18th in Offensive Rating, but were third in points per game (116.6) because they played at the fastest Pace in the league (106.4). Calculating Pace will provide you with a solid expectation of the number of possessions for the rest of the game.

Here’s Basketball-Reference’s definition of Pace as well as their formula:

Pace – Pace Factor (available since the 1973-74 season in the NBA); the formula is 48 * ((Tm Poss + Opp Poss) / (2 * (Tm MP / 5))). Pace factor is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team. (Note: 40 minutes is used in the calculation for the WNBA.)

There are plenty of questions to ask yourself when looking to play totals:

Is this a matchup between a fast pace team playing a slow pace team? Which team is likely to impose its will on the other stylistically? Are one or both of these teams at the end of a road trip with tired legs? What is the team’s strategy coming into the game?

If we go back to Game 5 and 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Suns and L.A. Clippers, both games went over the closing total, as the Suns made a commitment to play faster and get into their offense quicker.

Game 5 had  97.5 possessions, and it flew over the total of 213.5. The Game 6 total was adjusted to 214.5 and the total went over in that game as well; the Suns found efficient offense against a tired Clippers team that had played every other day for nearly a month.

There are other questions as well. How efficient are these offenses playing, recently and is it likely to slow down? What does the shot quality look like? Are these teams finding open 3-pointers but failing to make them? Are these teams collectively playing above expectations offensively? What kind of positive or negative regression can we expect from these offenses?

If you have a model, you can compare your line to the market line, but you can also look at the recent play of both teams and figure out if you have an edge or not.


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5. Live Betting

Live wagering has become one of the most popular forms of betting, as it allows sports fans to place a bet after the game has already begun.

Since in-game odds change frequently based on what’s happening, bettors can use the ever-changing odds to their advantage, capitalize on the volatility of a game, set up arbitrage or middling opportunities, and even hedge previous bets to make a profit.

The models and algorithms that sports books use to create live lines are only as good as the information being put into them, and there’s a ton of new information received after the game starts that we didn’t have before.

Here are some basic rules for live betting:

  • Bet during commercial breaks or stoppages
  • Capitalize on pricing mistakes due to bad data
  • Live bet injuries
  • Calculate possessions for live totals
  • Capitalize on volatility — as the cliche goes, it’s a game of runs
  • Learning rotations is the key to success

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6. Don’t Tease Basketball

This should go without saying, but there are still some recreational bettors who may not be familiar.

NFL teasers have value because a football game typically contains around 12 possessions. Teasing a game six points accounts for nearly one touchdown and gives you enough room for each teaser leg to cover the 72.3% threshold needed to break even.

NBA games on the other hand have an average of 100 possessions so teasing a spread four points is just two possessions, which could be covered in less than a minute. There’s simply too many possessions in a basketball game for it to be worth it to tease it.

To break down the math, take a look at standard two-team four-point teasers at (-110 odds) in basketball. Adding four points to a team’s spread gives a team a 66% chance of covering, far below the 72.3% of the time needed to break even. Fair odds on such teasers are closer to +130, but you’re still paying -110, which would give you negative expectation long term.


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7. Line Shopping

This is important for any sport. Always have access to multiple sportsbooks to shop for the best line. If BetMGM has the Milwaukee Bucks listed at -3.5 for a games and Caesars has them at -3, Caesars is where you should be betting. As I noted earlier, a half point of can drastically change your win rate.

The same is true for the vig. Some books have a spread or total at -120 while others have it at -110. To break even on -110 bets, you need to win 52.38% of your wagers. To break even at -120, you need to win 54.5% of the time. That’s almost a 2.12% edge.

You can always find the best, most updated line for any game by checking out the Action Network’s NBA odds page. And if you’re completely new to betting, you can find sign-up offers specifically for your state here.


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8. Track Your NBA Bets 

One of the best things you can do to become a profitable NBA bettor is to track your bets — everything from a point spread to moneyline to a prop bet — in The Action Network App. Our app tells you what your ROI is for every wager type and you can begin to recognize your patters to determine your strengths/weaknesses.

After tracking your bets in our app, you’ll know where to put your energy going forward when placing wagers.


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