A couple of times in the last two weeks I have had people ask me if you are better off betting NBA sides or totals. It’s an interesting question, so let’s take a look at it.
The reason why this question gets asked more in the NBA than in any question is because NBA betting is difficult – or at least making a profit is. As a result, you’ll often hear the advice that it is much easier to win betting NBA totals than sides. This is total and utter garbage. There might be slightly more vulnerability in totals than sides – in large part because there is far less betting volume on totals – but that doesn’t mean that bettors should start betting basketball totals if they bet sides now. Totals are only more winnable if you know how to bet them, and if you are a winning totals bettor. There are lots of people out there who are good sides bettors who do very well in the NBA totals market as well. Being a winning bettor isn’t about jumping on the so called easiest bet to cash in. It’s about knowing your interests and your strengths, and employing those strengths by making the bets that make the most sense for you. Someone who isn’t suited to betting totals won’t win betting totals no matter how easy it supposedly is. On the other hand, someone who is disciplined, insightful, and committed can make money betting NBA sides if they work at it hard enough.
In short, if you want to bet the NBA you should make the sports bets that make the most sense for you. Here are four questions to ask yourself to help determine what is best for you:
What do you bet in other sports? – Each sport is a little bit different when it comes to betting on them – quite different, really. Fundamentally, though, there are similarities between all the major team betting sports – in sports handicapping you are looking for mismatches to identify an edge so you can find value and secure a long term profit. If you are successful and profitable over the long term betting sides in other sports then it probably makes sense to stick with betting sides in the NBA. You know what it takes to make a profit betting sides, so once you adapt your approach to the demands and peculiarities of basketball you can probably make a profit in the NBA as well. If you switch from betting sides in other sports to betting totals in the NBA then not only do you have to get used to betting on a different sport, but to making a totally different type of handicap as well.
What do you like to do? – I bet both sides and totals but totals more often for one big reason – I love doing it. I love everything about it. I like studying tempo and the shape of a game. I like considering all of the variables that are involved in player moves. I don’t like the number of factors that can turn what seems like a solid under into a big over in the closing minutes of a game, or the frustration of seeing a NBA team not go over because they take the last couple of minutes off but those unlucky things tend to even out over the course of a season.
I look at sports as something with a winner and a loser from the point spread perspective, so I enjoy handicapping because when you bet sides it is all about who is going to win the games and by how much. When you bet totals you aren’t worried about who wins or loses – just how many points are scored. Betting on totals works for me, but it may not for you. In order to be a successful long term winning bettor you need to understand what it is you like to do, what you are good at doing, and what the best way to combine those two is. For example, a strength of mine is looking at teams and assessing what their chances are of winning against an opponent, so I am drawn to moneyline betting. I also enjoy the puzzle of finding teams that are underrated. As a result, I bet a lot of moneyline underdogs. I’m successful with that, but I wouldn’t be nearly as successful with something I didn’t enjoy as much, or which I didn’t have the skills to do well.
What kind of a return do you like to make on your bets? – When you are betting totals you can often get a better than even money return when you are betting on the less popular side of the total. When you are betting sides you don’t often get a chance to win more than you bet. When you bet the moneyline you can make a fat return on the underdogs, and you pay a big price to bet on the favorites. Depending on your mindset and the amount of risk you are comfortable with as a sports bettor one of those types of bets is going to be more attractive than the others.
What does the situation demand? – The best situation is likely to be at least a little bit comfortable with both sides and totals. That way you can assess the situation and see where the opportunity is. Sometimes you will see a basketball game which doesn’t offer any value on the side, but for which the posted total doesn’t make any sense to you. Even if you are primarily a sides bettor you can still see these situations and determine if they make sense like you thought that they did and wager on them.