How to bet on the NBA: Totals, point spreads, live betting and more
This betting explainer will teach you everything you need to know about betting on the NBA. Photo by Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press.

The NBA is one of the most popular sports to wager on in Ontario, which is the largest betting market in Canada and home to the Toronto Raptors.

There are many ways to bet on the NBA at NorthStar Bets, which has markets ranging from point spreads to player props, as well as same-game parlays and futures.

For those new to betting or in need of a refresher, this how to bet on the NBA guide will run you through the biggest markets that basketball-loving bettors like to wager on.

How to bet on the NBA

You can pick teams to win straight up (wagering on the moneyline) or back them to win by a certain amount of points (spread betting). These are bets you can place before a game starts or after the opening tip-off in live betting markets.

For those more interested in predicting individual outputs, you can place bets on how many points, assists, or rebounds a player will record in a game. That's when you wager on player props.

Let's dive into some of these markets with an explainer on how to bet on NBA moneylines.

Futures betting marketOdds (as of 01/23/23)Bet now
Raptors to make playoffs+240Add to betslip
Raptors to make play-in tournament-110Add to betslip
Raptors to win Atlantic Divison+50,000Add to betslip
Raptors to win Eastern Conference+5,000Add to betslip
Raptors to win NBA Finals+10,000Add to betslip

Moneyline

Betting on the moneyline is more common in lower-scoring sports like hockey and baseball, but this is still a popular form of NBA betting as well.

A moneyline bet is as simple as it gets: you pick who you think will be the straight-up winner of a game. Each team is assigned different odds that can vary considerably since the likelihood of winning will differ greatly in a matchup between a last-place team versus a division leader.

A team that is favoured will have a minus (-) sign before its odds, while the underdog will have a plus (+) sign. 

A favourite on the moneyline can see odds that reach -1,000 or even higher. A team's implied odds, or probability of winning, would be 90 percent at -1,000 odds, meaning you would have to wager a significant amount to even return a small profit.

As a result, you would get large plus-money odds on the underdog (say +450) in this matchup. Odds of +450 would mean the team’s probability of winning would be less than 20 percent.

Here's a look at how much you could win depending on certain odds:

OddsImplied win probabilityWager amountWin
-1,00090.91%$100$10
-11052.38%$100$90.91
+12045.45%$100$120
+45018.18%$100$450

There are other ways to pick winners as well, which will we check out in our next section and look at how to bet on NBA point spreads.

How to bet on NBA point spreads

Betting on the point spread is one of the most popular forms of NBA betting and requires a team to win or lose by a certain amount of points. A team that is favoured will have a minus (-) sign before the number that it must win by, while the underdog will have a plus (+) sign. 

If the Raptors were playing the Phoenix Suns on the road, they would surely be underdogs, so you would see a spread line that looks something like this: Raptors +8.5; Suns -8.5. That means if you bet the Raptors +8.5, they would need to either win outright or lose by eight points or fewer for you to cash your bet.

Alternatively, you would lose your bet if Phoenix won by nine points or more. 

Most spreads are set at -110 odds for both teams. So under this scenario, both the Suns -8.5 and Raptors +8.5 would have odds of -110. You can also bet on alternative spreads that come with different odds, which we will explain below.

Alternative spreads

Alternative spreads involve placing a wager on a number that’s different from the standard/main -110 line. For instance: Say the Raptors are 7.5-point favourites (-110) over the Cavaliers but you don’t like that number, you'd have the option to bet them at a different spread, be it higher or lower. 

So you could bet the Raptors to cover a 5.5-point spread or -4.5, and so on, and pay more juice (give a larger cut to the sportsbook) instead of getting them at -7.5. You would see a smaller return because your odds (say -150) of winning would be higher for this bet type.

On the flip side, if you are confident in a blowout Raptors victory, you might elect to tack on more points for them to cover above the 7.5-point spread and get plus-money odds as a result. This would increase your profit if that ticket was successful.

If you liked Toronto to win by double-digits, you could bet the Raptors to win by 10-plus points (covering a 9.5-point spread) and get them at +140 odds, for instance.

How to bet on NBA totals

Along with spreads, betting on the total amount of points scored in a game is a really popular choice for basketball bettors. You will also see totals referred to as the over/under or O/U. All three terms are interchangeable. 

Each game will come with a betting option where you can choose whether the two teams will combine to score more or fewer points than a certain number that is set. The over/under on the points total will typically be somewhere between 200 and 230 points.

Totals will vary from game to game depending on how good a team is offensively or defensively and who is available to play that game. If a star like LeBron James missed a game, that would have an impact on the total, spread and moneyline.

The availability of superstars, like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, can drastically alter betting lines. Photo by John McCoy/AP.

Like spreads, standard O/U odds are -110 for both sides. 

If the total was set at 207.5 in that hypothetical game between the Raptors and Cavaliers, you would have the option to bet on whether the teams eclipse that number or fall short.

A combined total of 208 or more would cash the over, while a combined score of 207 or less would mean the under wins.

Alternative totals

Like spreads, you can bet alternative totals as well. You will have the option to bet on different numbers than the 207.5 O/U in the above example, but the odds would of course change. If you chose to bet on an alternative total of say 209.5 points, the odds would alter to something like -135 for the under and +120 for the over.

You could also bet on a lower total, and in this instance pay more juice for the over (the more likely outcome) and have a chance to net a higher payout on the under because your probability of winning would decrease.  

Additionally, there are options to bet on team-specific totals as well.

You could, for instance, place a bet on the over/under of how many points you think just the Raptors would score in that game. You could also place a wager on the total, as well as moneyline and spread, for a specific quarter or half, which is known as a derivative bet.

Props

Player props involve betting on individual outcomes. These proposition bets provide users with a robust market option to choose from in addition to the outcome of a game. 

You can place a bet on how many points you think Fred VanVleet will score in a game (over or under 20.5, for example), how many rebounds Pascal Siakam will grab, or whether or not you think Gary Trent. Jr will drill more than 2.5 three-pointers in a game.

Siakam goes up against Milwaukee's Khris Middleton. Photo by Aaron Gash/AP.

You can also bet on a player's combined point/rebound/assist total. This market can be attractive if you aren't sold on betting on one specific category.

In this example, you might see Siakam's PRA prop listed at 34.5, meaning he would have to accumulate a total of 35 combined points, rebounds, and assists for you to cash your bet if you selected the over.

There are also markets for team props and game props, such as which team will have the highest-scoring quarter.

Futures betting

The futures market involves betting on outcomes that will happen at a later time. This is a great chance to find value ahead of the season or early on before certain teams and players start pulling away as favourites and the odds change.

For instance, you could have gotten Toronto’s Scottie Barnes around +1,500 odds to win Rookie of the Year ahead of last season, a number that was already cut in half coming out of the All-Star break. That meant there was considerably less value to be found at that point compared to the preseason.

A Barnes Rookie of the Year futures ticket at +1,500 odds means that you would have netted $1,500 on a $100 wager.

Other common futures markets include betting on season-long awards such as the MVP or the Defensive Player of the Year, the NBA champion, division winners, and the over/under on a team’s win total.

The futures market is open throughout the season, so you can place these types of bets at any time but the odds are constantly changing based on performance and injury.

Parlays

A parlay consists of attaching two or more bets to a single ticket but only wagering once. You need every outcome (known as legs) of your parlay to win in order to cash your ticket. 

The more bets you attach to a single ticket decreases your likelihood of winning but parlays are attractive to some because the payouts are bigger than a single-game wager. 

An example of a parlay bet looks like this:

LegsOdds
Raptors +7.5-110
Wizards -6.5-110
Celtics/Nuggets over 215.5 points-110

That comes out to +596 odds. Again, you would need all three outcomes of that bet to be correct in order to win. A $100 wager would payout $695.79. 

If you made $100 bets on each game as single-event wagers instead, you could profit $90.91 for each one or $272.73 total compared to $596 if they were parlayed.

You can also make a same-game parlay bet where you could combine a moneyline, over/under, player prop from a specific matchup. Like any parlay, these types of bets come with more risk because the probability of winning decreases the more bets you tack on the ticket.

Live betting

In-game betting is growing in popularity and gives bettors an option to react to the results of a contest as it plays out in real time. 

Live betting can offer great value if, say, a big favourite falls behind early and its moneyline odds go from -120 to +120. If you believe the team will come back, you would net a higher return by betting on them mid-game than you would have before the contest started.

Keep in mind: For heavy favourites, it will typically take quite a bit of time or a massive deficit before they turn into an underdog. That said, it would at least present an opportunity to back them to cover a smaller spread.

The odds are constantly changing throughout the game, so a big run or even a basket will alter the lines during play. 

Many markets are available for in-game betting, including the moneyline, point spread and total.

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NorthStar Bets editorial Insiders have no influence, direct or otherwise, over the setting of odds advertised on our platforms.