NBA Handicapping, Odds, and Picks
The NBA is one of the most popular leagues in the world, thanks to increased exposure in foreign countries and star players from all over the globe. According to their website, NBA games are broadcast in 47 languages in 215 countries, lands as diverse as Iceland, Australia, and Afghanistan. Though the bulk of the NBA’s viewership is American, gambling on the National Basketball Association is popular the world over.
Gambling in the NBA increases during championship season, especially during the World Championship itself, though die-hard fans place bets on preseason games and bet multiple games per week. Though the NBA doesn’t enjoy the massive fan-base of the NFL, all the biggest bookmakers offer NBA lines, a testament to the amount of action the league earns.
Handicapping Basketball Games
Like baseball, basketball is a statistically-dense contest. The NBA has a long season (each of the league’s thirty teams plays eight-two games per season) and player’s careers are generally shorter than with other professional sports. The combination of lots of stats, 1,230 games per season, and the up-and-down nature of NBA athletic ability makes handicapping basketball games difficult.
On the plus side for handicappers, teams are small; each squad has five starters and is limited to fifteen or fewer total players under contract. That means it’s a bit easier to look into a team’s statistical performance; if you know a lot about the 150 best players in the league, you can easily handicap any team’s ability against another
But like any sport, upsets happen. In fact, since most NBA teams play each other multiple times per year, you could say America’s professional basketball league has even more parity than the NFL. If you are new to NBA wagering, spending the time it takes to read about each team’s starting line (and probably their sixth man) is well worth it; like its stat-heavy brother baseball, pro basketball offers plenty of information about its teams and players. Using that info to help you make smart bets is what handicapping is about.
Understand that handicapping basketball (or any other sport) is not the most important aspect of gambling strategy. Shopping around to find the best possible odds is a much easier way of getting a bigger return on your investment. But handicapping should be some part of your overall approach; it’s good to understand, for example, why betting against Miami at home versus Washington is a generally bad idea this season.
How to Read Basketball Odds
Since you can pick the ways your odds are displayed at most sportsbooks, reading decimal odds if that’s your fancy, having a basic understanding of how to read round ball lines makes you a smarter gambler.
The two most common ways that books express odds for the NBA (and other basketball wagering) are point spreads and money lines. Money line wagers are bets placed on one team winning without the use of point spreads. A money line shows you the amount you need to wager in order to win $100, if you’re betting on the favorite or the amount you will win for every $100 you wager on the underdog.
Sportsbooks set money line odds to represent the likelihood of one team winning; to show which team is the favorite the sportsbook uses a negative sign and a number. The number is the amount you have to lay to win $100. For example, a line that reads -110 means you have to pay $110 to win another $100. A positive money line number, such as +110, indicates what your wager of $100 will win you, in this case an additional $110.
Here’s a real-life example of what a money line wager looks like, taken from a random game in the 2012 season:
Orlando Magic -115
Golden State +105
The book feels confident enough in the Magic’s ability to win on the road to leave a difference of “ten cents” between the two teams’ money lines. The heavier the favorite, the greater the difference in cents, though books don’t like to put more than about forty points difference between any two teams.
Point Spread Beats in the NBA
The use of point spreads is not unique to the NBA; this number represents the amount a favorite must win by in order for a wager on that team to pay off. A common NBA spread at online bookmakers is ten points; if you bet on the favorite with a point spread of ten, they’ll need to win by eleven points or more for your bet to win. Point spread wagers in the NBA are usually 11/10 bets, meaning for every eleven bucks you wager, you stand to win $10.
Here’s an example of what a point spread might look like:
Think the Raptors can handle the Nuggets on the road? They’ll need to win by 10 or more for your gamble to pay off. If you think Denver will win OR lose by less than 10 points, you do what is called “taking the points.” The point spread adds intrigue to straight money line bets, since a seemingly dominant team still has to cover the spread in order for your bet to win.
Finding NBA Picks
Finding NBA picks is a little too easy; plenty of bad information is out there. Paid services, sold as an eBook or over the phone, are common. The good news is, you don’t have to shell out cash to find helpful advice for your NBA betting.
Sports bettors seem to be really social folk; you can take your pick of dozens of different forums dedicated to handicapping talk, picks for different sporting events, and general chat about the world of sports gambling. Becoming active in one of these forums will introduce you to plenty of people who are more than happy to talk NBA picks, all at no cost to you.
The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful gambling season is as little as a percentage point or two so don’t get caught up in the short-term. Understand that an NBA season is long, read up on league stats, shop for the best lines, and get active with other fans who wager on the National Basketball Association. You may not get rich betting on pro basketball, but you can will a little extra entertainment to your NBA viewing and pocket some winnings along the way.