NBA Basketball Handicapping

by | Last updated May 26, 2023 | nba

NBA Basketball Handicapping 101
by Staff

When handicapping basketball games, there are oodles of things to consider. In this article, we’ll cover a few of them which are sure to increase your win percentage in your quest to beat the bookie.

Also, be sure to check out our free NBA picks section where we give away our selections for the day, including staff picks, favorite of the day, dog of the day, total of the day, consensus picks, line moves and more!

Line Movement

The first thing one should look at when handicapping hoops is line movement. Don’t be alarmed if you are unsure what a line move is. We’ve got you covered. Each day (or, in many cases, the night before game day), oddsmakers put out a “point spread” for the upcoming games. This point spread is referred to as the “opening line,” or you may even hear it called the morning line. A good place to view the morning line in comparison to the current line is Scoresandodds. com.



Theoretically, this opening line is created with the intent to get balanced action on both sides. Balanced action means getting the same amount of bets on each opposing team for the bookies to grab “the vig,” guaranteeing them a profit.

As the day goes on and betting patterns are formed or in some cases where new information comes out, a “line” or “point spread” can and will change. A good handicapper will try to decipher what the reason was for this line change. Was it because of a ton of money coming in creating a “one-sided” situation where all bettors were siding with one team with the other team getting minimal action, or was the line movement created by a key player sitting out or doubtful due to injury?

In summary, one should check this out and investigate the reason for the move. On a side note, one should not blindly follow and bet on line moves because sharps (astute bettors) and syndicates (large money betting groups) have been known to give a “head fake” where they get a ton on one side to move the line then come in right before game time and bet the other way once they’ve bought the line they wanted! Sneaky eh? You bet it is!

Public Consensus

Another thing to consider when betting on basketball games is finding out what side the public is on (consensus). You can do this by simply going to a site that tracks this kind of information, such as ( is another good site to check out) If the public is “one-siding” a game to the tune of 75% or better and the line isn’t moving at all, there’s a good chance you don’t want to be on the side of the public. If the book isn’t moving their line while getting one-sided, that is a clear indication that they like their position, and it’s never a bad thing to side with the bookie in such situations, as over time, it’s a profitable proposition fading the public. (Fading=Going Against).


Another great thing to consider when capping basketball is “motivation.” What is Team X’s motivation to beat Team Y? Seeing as though NBA basketball players make such fat salaries, oftentimes you’ll have to dig up motivation issues in order to get a good fix on the game because many times, these lazy fat-cats show up and just go through the motions. It’s human nature to be lazy when there’s nothing on the line, and with them being prepaid with enormous salaries, we can’t rely on them to show up each night giving it their all. (Players in contract years are somewhat of an exception.)

One great form of motivation is when Team X got their tails beat by Team Y in the previous match-up between the two, and they have revenge on their minds. Especially if it was a “home loss” that occurred on their home court in front of the home fans, which can be not only embarrassing but create a lack of respect by the winning team, which fires up the opposing team and oftentimes (not always of course) brings out a more fierce competitor.

Try studying teams off a home loss as well. There was a time a few years ago that when the Philadelphia 76ers lost a home game, they came back to not only win but they’d beat their opponents by a very convincing number. It could have been a fluke, but it was a pretty consistent occurrence, so we were led to believe that the coach used that as a motivator to get these overpaid thugs to get their butts in gear and play some ball!

Study the Boxscore Prior to the Game

Often, starting lineups are viewable an hour or two before a game. NOTHING is worse than betting on a game, turning the TV on, and then finding out the star player of the team you just layed down a massive bet on is out with the flu or some other issue. Before you place your bet, you should ALWAYS check not only the box score of the team you’re betting on to make sure the proper lineup is in place, but you should check the opponent’s box score to see if their normal lineup is in effect as well. Be sure to check the injured list as well. This will save you a few bucks over the course of the long 82-game NBA season.

Recent Scores and Outcomes

Before placing your bet, you should check out the teams last few games. What is their scoring average over the last few games? Are they scoring above their team average? Below it? How many points are they allowing their opponents?

Both of the above listed can be great indicators of what’s to come for the current day’s game. As with anything, today is a new day, and anything can happen, but teams can and do run in steaks, both good and bad.

To dig even deeper, look at the schedule and see past performances when these two teams meet. If it’s early in the season, this obviously doesn’t apply, but if you’re in mid to late season, this is a great tool to use. It may help you to decide that you are stronger on a play or totally bailing out of it for reasons such as the following:

We were hot to bang a huge line move that came out early, which told us it was sharp action, likely by a huge Vegas syndicate. The move was 2.5 points, and it was anti-public which had us licking our chops. We just about got down on it asap in case it moved more, which would have cost us some value. HOWEVER, being patient as we are, we capped the game and found that the two teams had met two times previous in the season, and the team we wanted to bet against had SMOKED the our team in both meetings by high double-digit teens. This left us a bit baffled, and for the better sake of knowing that “there’s always another game” and despite how tasty this baby looked, we backed off.

Well, as luck would have it, it turned out to be a good thing that we bailed because despite a line move that ended up being 4 points, the team we would have bet on got massacred once again. As you can see, the moral of this story is don’t jump in blindly without doing your homework. This is a screaming indication that past results can factor into a game and is well worth looking into. It’s rare that you’ll cap a game and have everything go in favor of the team that you want to bet on, but some variables simply can’t be overlooked, and if you come across one of these, bailout, there’s always another game.

Handicapping Turnovers

Simply put, some players and teams turn the ball over more than others. This could be due to a lack of team chemistry, a point guard that doesn’t handle the ball well, a ball handler that makes poor decisions, lazy teammates that don’t come to the ball, and a lack of “flow” on offense, etc. There are many more reasons as well.

Turnovers are a killer. Check some boxscores. Teams that turn the ball over more than their opponent are often times the loser of the game. Turnovers in basketball usually lead to easy uncontested layups or dunks and also create a huge sway in momentum. Momentum isn’t something you can handicap but is something you can count on if you can pick apart the teams that play well together and don’t turn the ball over vs. the teams that do give it away. We’re not big on stats to cap games, but this one is solid.


Statistics can be used to handicap, but most bettors use the wrong ones, so we don’t advise that you make this a very important part of your game-plan.

Example: Let’s say the Lakers are playing the Celtics. The Lakers are averaging 95 points a game, while the Celtics are averaging 92 points a game. One might figure that the spread would be close to a pick’em depending on the venue or maybe a line up to 4 points either way.

The information is worthless. What do you say? Worthless? YES. Worthless. The reason that it’s no good as it’s old news. What one needs to pay attention to is what the teams are averaging over the recent short term, say the last three to five games. This will give you a better indicator of what is more likely to happen.

We also recommend digging deeper as well checking out what the team has done in their last three to five home games as well as last three to five road games. Apply your facts that you find to if their on home/road for the current game to form a stronger opinion about what is more likely to happen. And with that said, don’t rely on it. Hell, anything CAN happen, but this makes for GREAT supporting evidence of how today’s game may play out.

Stats that should be checked out are recent scores of the team on home/road, how well a team rebounds (teams that can’t board, get beat down low for high percentage shots!), and offensive rebounds which provide for second chance points which are huge, free throw percentage and turnovers. These are the stats that we feel are important. The rest can be looked at but only used to help support your opinion, not create it.

Home Court Advantage

Many novice handicappers think home court advantage holds good weight. It doesn’t. The linesmaker has already factored this into the spread in most cases with a value that usually makes up for around four points.

So, in theory, maybe we should call it homecourt disadvantage because the sportsbooks know that the novice bettor thinks HCA (home court advantage) is worth something, so they may shade a line a little bit where they think they can get away with it. This is more common with local bookies than online books. If an online sports book hangs, a weak or bad line sharps are on top of this and will bang it good, so you won’t find it online as much as you will with a local.

We used to have a local that would shade all the in-state teams a bunch. We simply would bet the other team with him and the in state team online and create a nice middle for ourselves! For those unfamiliar with “middling,” we’ll hit that later.

Anyhoo, getting back to home court advantage, don’t put too much weight into it, it’s already been factored into the spread. Disclaimer: There are some very small college basketball and college football schools where the books are often times off on the value of the home court/field advantage. Everything we write about mostly pertains to pro sports or big colleges, but we’ll try to throw in the disclaimer whenever necessary.


Middling is for the more astute handicapper that has numerous options in which to place bets. (At many different online sportsbooks) A “middle” is when you bet on a team at one spread and then bet on the other team at a different spread giving yourself an opportunity to win both bets. These opportunities are rare and mostly only found by astute and well-seasoned professional sports bettors. Example:

Let’s say Pinnacle Sportsbook (Does NOT allow players from the US) has a line like this:

Lakers +5.5
Celtics -5.5

and Bovada Sportsbook (Accepts players from ALL countries) has a line like this on the game:

Lakers +7.5
Celtics -7.5

You could bet the Celtics at Pinnacle at -5.5, then the Lakers at Bodog at +7.5, and have the following possible outcomes:

The Celtics win by five or less. You win $100 at Bodog and lose $110 at Pinnacle for a total loss of $10.

The Celtics win by 6. You have effectively “middled” as you win with the Celtics at -5.5 at Pinnacle and cover your dog bet with the Lakers at +7.5.

The Celtics win by 7. Same as winning by 6.

The Celtics win by 8. You lose $110 at Bodog and win $100 at Pinnacle, making a $10 loss.

All you have to do is hit 1 in 17 middles to break even, so it’s a great proposition when available. The problem is finding a nice middle.

Some astute handicappers play middles by betting the opening line and then waiting for it to move during the day. How do they know this? Well, they’re astute! They’ve been around the game a long time and know a soft line that is likely to move when they see one. Believe it or not, despite each day and game being a new and different day and game, there is a “feel” that a good handicapper gets as the years go by, and you’ve been in the game long enough.


Scalping is an art that many will never even try to attempt. Scalpers, as they’re called, look for a game with a good-sized difference in Moneyline odds. The easiest way to explain this would be to give the following example:

At Sportsbook X
Blazers +105
Rockets -115

At Sportsbook Y
Blazers -115
Rockets +105

If you bet both the Blazers at +105 for $1000 and then the Rockets at +105 for $1000, no matter what happens, you have locked yourself in for some free money.

You’d lose $1000 on one and win $1050 on the other. You basically put up $2000 to profit a free $50. While these opportunities do exist, they are not common by any means, and when they do open up, the vultures come to feast. Astute/Sharp players watch “live line services” all day long in hopes of finding these opportunities. A line service is a company that astute bettors pay to receive live odds feeds of their current lines. The sharps are like hawks staring at the screen all day for free money opportunities. They do happen, but again, not common, and it takes a real keen eye to play the game. Books that are slow to move their lines are at risk of becoming extinct because there are some big boys out there tossing big loot around.

That brings us to another note. If you play at an online sportsbook that is slow to move their lines, get out because their not going to be around long!

The Use of Sports Betting Forums

Sports betting forums when used properly can be a great source as a handicapping tool. While most sports betting forums are full of recreational bettors looking to bet small loot on games and shoot the breeze with other sports enthusiasts, there are some good cappers to be found. As with a good middle or scalp, a solid, consistent/winning forum poster is rare but can be found, and the great thing is there’s no cost in doing so! It’s fun as well!

Being part of a posting forum community allows you to post your picks for all to see and comment on, share analysis on the day’s games, and coattail other handicappers that are hot or have a great long-term record. Good forums to check out include,,, and

Forums are also a great place for people to share common interests. Many of us simply don’t have buddies that bet on games for one reason or another, so it’s great to have a place to come to share camaraderie and information to help each other beat the book!