How to bet on the NBA: Totals, point spreads, live betting and more
Steph Curry and the Warriors provide bettors with plenty of wagering opportunities every time they play. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/AP.

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.

With single-game betting recently legalized in the country, now is the time to get familiar with the different ways you can bet on your favourite sports. 

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

There are many ways to bet on the NBA from game outcomes to player-specific results. You can pick teams to win straight up or back them to win by a certain amount of points. 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. Let's dive into some of these markets with an explainer on how to bet on NBA moneylines.

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 -1000 or even higher. A team's implied odds, or probability of winning, would be 90 percent at -1000 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:

OddsWagerTo win
-1000$100$10
-110$100$90.91
+120$100$120
+450$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. Sportsbooks will also offer 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 -110 line. For instance: Say the Raptors are 7.5-point favourites (-110) over the Cavaliers but you don’t like that number, most sportsbooks will give you 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, thus increasing 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 number that is set by the bookmakers. The over/under on the points total will typically be set 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. A sportsbook will give you the option to bet on different numbers in addition to the 207.5 O/U, but the odds would of course change. If you chose to bet on the 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.

Many sportsbooks will give you the option to wager 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 day. 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 +1500 odds to win Rookie of the Year ahead of the season, but coming out of the All-Star break he was sitting around +750 at some sportsbooks. So there is already considerably less value to be found compared to the preseason.

If you placed a bet at +1500 odds and Barnes went on to win, you would net $1500 on a $100 wager, more than $1200 extra compared to +250 odds, which is where he was sitting earlier in the season.

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 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. 

Toronto's Scottie Barnes is among the Rookie of the Year favourites. Cole Burston/The Canadian Press.

An example of a parlay bet looks like this:

Raptors +7.5 (-110)
Warriors -6.5 (-110)
Celtics/Nuggets over 215.5 (-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. 

Some, but not all, sportsbooks also offer the option to make a same-game parlay bet where you could combine a moneyline, over/under, player prop, and so on. Like any parlay, these types of bets come with more risk because the probability of winning decreases the more bets (known as legs) you tack on to 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 their moneyline odds go from -120 to +120. If you believe they 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 operators feature them as the 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. 

You can place in-game bets on the moneyline, point spread, and total, and some sportsbooks will allow you to make live bets on player props as well.

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