The NBA is more than just a sport.
It’s an entire entertainment industry, influencing fashion, music, film and almost every other aspect of pop culture. The faces of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James are as recognizable for their basketball as they are for the brands they represent, like Coca-Cola, Nike and Samsung.
But even in a league of superstars where fame stretches far beyond the reaches of a basketball court, there is a hierarchy.
Scoring titles, MVP awards and global recognition are great, but for the men who play professional basketball, nothing defines greatness more than NBA Championships. Michael Jordan won six of them. Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan each retired with five. LeBron James is at three titles and counting. For the player, a championship ring is the ultimate prize.
The NBA Finals, a thrilling, best-of-seven series following an already-grueling two months of playoff basketball, following an equally grueling 82-game grind, is where they crown the king of the league. It’s also where you will find the best NBA betting.
From who will win the title and how many games it will take, to who might get suspended and which coach is most likely to be fired in the future, NBA Finals betting has it all.
Single game bets
Just like all season long, you can place wagers on individual games. Here are the typical bets that you will always see:
- Point spread
Early in the NBA Playoffs, the regular season results influence the point spreads and moneylines. Studying to find the right playoff matchup can pay off in favorable lines. This is not exactly the case in the NBA Finals – by that point, the regular season is a distant memory. It’s all about how teams have done on their playoff road to the Finals.
For these types of bets, you should focus on injuries and the overall health of each team as it enters the Final, seven-game series. While the NBA Finals results ultimately tip heavily in the direction of the favorite, on a game-by-game basis, there will be upsets. If you can isolate the time they’re most likely to happen, you have an advantage.
Betting on the Finals as one complete event is another popular way to bet. Instead of taking it game-by-game, bettors examine each team and its tendencies in totality to place a series bet.
There is the most obvious series bet type — the winner. You lay down money on the team you think will ultimately prevail in the best-of-seven series. For these bets, you play the odds, which are typically weighted heavily toward the favorite.
For example, in 2018, the Golden State Warriors paid -1,075 for its sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even if you laid down $1,000 on Golden State, you profited less than $100 on the winning bet.
In 2017, the Warriors paid -300. Except for the Cavaliers’ win in 2016 when they beat Golden State in seven games, the favorite won five of the last six NBA Finals. Top seeds are far and away the most common seed to win the championship. In the history of the NBA Playoffs, only seven No. 3 seeds, one No. 4 seed, and one No. 6 seed have won the Finals. Never in history has a fifth, seventh or eighth seed won the NBA Finals.
Another series bet type is the correct score bet. Instead of taking the Sixers to win the Finals, you would take the Sixers to win 4-2. This offers better odds and a bigger payout than just the win bets, and it adds an extra layer of rooting interest. You have money on the Sixers to win, but for two games, you will be rooting for them to lose. That layer of conflicting interests adds more fun.
Because of the higher odds, it also allows bettors to hedge on sure bets. Let’s say you think the series is going to be very one-sided. You could put money down on a team to win 4-0 and 4-1 and still make money because the higher odds will cover the outlay of the losing bet.
The flipside is true for more competitive series, where you could take both teams to win 4-3. As long as the series goes the distance, you win, regardless of which team takes the title.
The last series bet type is the over/under on total games played. Looking at the last two NBA Finals, it might seem like blowouts are typical. The Warriors swept in 2018 and won in five games in 2017. However, that is far from the norm. In a seven-game NBA playoff series, the most common number of games played is six, which happens 36 percent of the time. Five and seven games are tied for second-most at roughly 25 percent each.
Other proposition bets
The total number of games played and the eventual winner’s correct score are common proposition bets. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the type and number of prop bets available for a big event like the NBA Finals.
The more common props to play are:
- NBA Finals MVP
- NBA Finals leading scorer
- NBA Finals points per game (broken down by individual players)
All of those props see plenty of action, especially the over/under bets on points per game for each team’s superstars. You can also find those PPG bets for every starter.
The less frequently played, but equally, as fun props are:
- Will there be a game-winning buzzer beater?
- Will a player be suspended?
- Will there be an ejection?
- Over/Under on technical fouls
- Over/Under on flagrant fouls
- Odds of an on-court streaker
All of these are real prop bets (even that last one), and all of them receive action before the Finals begin. For reference, that streaker bet typically pays 25-to-1. (Although when the Warriors move to San Francisco for the 2019-20 season, that average payoff may drop.)
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when betting the NBA Finals. The depth of team, because the road to the Finals is grueling. Home-court advantage and which teams might be able to steal a win on the road. These superstars shine the brightest on the biggest stage.
Because it seems that almost every game comes down to the final 2 minutes, take an extra close look at who is best equipped to win in crunch time. High free-throw percentages, good defense and a pass-oriented offense (as opposed to a superstar that likes to take it one-on-one) are all effective ways to choose a top team in the game’s closing moments.
Bottom line: Do your research, choose the plays that are right for you, and by all means — have fun.