How to Bet on Basketball: Picking Teams, Types of Markets and Strategies

When people think of basketball they will most commonly think about the NBA but there are also professional basketball leagues in Europe which attract plenty of bets from native punters. The NBA is the most popular bet for English and American

How to Bet on Basketball: Picking Teams, Types of Markets and Strategies

Basketball is a popular sport that many people bet on. It can be confusing to know where and how to start, but this guide will make it easy for you! We'll talk about the different types of markets and bets available, as well as some strategies that are worth knowing if you want to beat the bookmakers.

Types of Bet: Lines and Spreads

Basketball is huge for betting purposes and the NBA is one of the most popular sporting leagues the world over. For that reason, combined with the fact many fans also like to bet on NBA games, there is a wide range of bet types, some obvious, some more complicated that you can choose to get involved.

You will recognise many of these bets if you have bet on other American sports where they are also employed. So let's take a look at the most popular first.

Handicap betting

You will find with most American sports like Football, Baseball, and Ice Hockey, handicap bets are the most common. The reason for this is that there are a lot of one-sided matchups in American sport. This isn't so much the case in basketball as there are a lot of closer games, but handicap betting is still the most popular approach.

The other reason why handicap betting is in place is that in most American sports a draw is not possible as at the end of the normal play time; if the scores are tied, games go into extra time to determine a winner. The handicap prevent such an outcome so that there is definite winner.

Point Spread

The point spread is a handicap bet on a basketball match and is usually the most popular type of bet to place on a basketball fixture.  

The point spread is also the most popular market in the nba betting tips page on OLBG. 

The idea of the point spread is that the team that is least likely to win is given enough of a head start to make both teams the same odds (so all bets will be a fraction odds on).

The bigger the difference between the two sides the bigger the point spread will be but betting on the point spread requires many of the same considerations in betting on the match outcome. When looking for a value match outcome bet you look for a team that the bookies have underestimated and when looking for a good bet in the point spread you look for a team that has been given a generous handicap for their match by the bookies. 

It is also worth shopping around with the bookies, the prices will remain the same but the handicaps will differ and you want to find the best handicap for your selection.

How to bet on the Point Spread

If you want to make a bet on the point spread on a basketball match in the NBA, you will have to find the game you want to bet on first and navigate to the point spread market on your bookmaker app.

You will have each of the two teams listed with a + or - and a figure next to them. let's take the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons from the Central Division.

Team Spread Odds
Chicago Bulls -4.5 1.91
Detroit Pistons +4.5 1.91

The first thing you may notice is that the odds are the same for either choice. This is the purpose of the handicap spread that you see in the middle column.

The idea of the handicap is the predictions from the bookmakers of how many points better one team is deemed to be over the other and a prediction to make the game as even as possible, hence the same odds, whereby the bookie feels with the point spread in place the teams now enter the game evenly matched.

All you have to do now is decide one of three things

  1. Can Chicago Bulls win by at least 5 points
  2. Can the Pistons lose by less than 4.5 points or Bulls win by less when 4.5 points
  3. Can the Pistons overcome the handicap and win by more points anyway.

If you bet the Bulls to win, they have to win by more than five points for scenario #1 to be a winner for you at odds of 1.91

If you bet on the Pistons +4.5, as long as they hit either #2 or #3 above and lose by less than 4.5 points your bet would be a winner

Why is there half in the spread?

The reason you see halves in the spread is so that it is possible to bet on either side of the handicap - If the number was whole it brings in the option of a drawn game where there would be no winning bets. 

A whole point spread can often be found with a 'push' (Stake returned/Void bet), should the draw be the result once the handicap is factored in.

Remember the Half-Point Handicap Rule

You'll find this half point included in many line bets in American sport outside basketball too.

Total Points - Under/Over

Another very popular bet on basketball matches is a bet on the total points scored during a match. You don’t have to call the exact number of points, simply bet on over or under the points tally suggested by the bookies. 

The points tally will vary between matches as per the points spread, the bookies select the points tally in order to create equal odds for overs and unders, so you should find you get a shade of odds on whichever outcome you select. 

Shopping between bookmakers should allow you to pick the best total points outcome selected by the bookmaker for your bet, so if you are planning to bet on overs you want the points offered by the bookie to be lower and if you are betting on under you want the points offered by the bookie to be higher.

How to bet on Totals in Basketball

If you have ever had a bet on soccer and played the total goals markets of under over 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 etc then you should understand how this bet works.

Of course there are many more points scored in a basketball game than you will find in your normal football matches, so the number is going to be much higher. generally speaking the totals rage most commonly between 190-210 points in total. You will find the figure somewhere between these two figures. So lets take a look at an example.

Off to the Atlantic Division now and the Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks

Understand where the game is being played!

The @ sign means the first team mentioned is playing away. This can be confusing at first as in the UK the 'home' team is always mentioned first.

Here the bookmakers have decided to offer a totals line of 204.5, providing the options to bet that there will be more than 205 points in total or less than 205 points. Again, often the odds will be the same either side of the spread, or very close.

Teams Under/Over Odds
Boston Celtics @New York Knicks Over 204.5 1.91
Under 204.5 1.91

Regardless of the outright winner of this game between the Celtic and the Knicks, what you are going to be interested in throughout the game is the number of combined points the two teams can put together.

Final Score

Celtics 98 - 103 Knicks - Total points scored, 201

  • Bets on Under 204.5 would be winners
  • Bets on Over 204.5 would lose

You Can Support Both Sides With Totals Betting

Watching and betting on Basketball on the Totals markets is my favourite bet. You are willing both sides to score a basket on every attack when you bet Overs. However, my favourite bet is to bet Unders and enjoy every miss!


For UK punters who prefer to make a prediction on the outright winner of an event after all time has played including overtime, the money line is the equivalent of a full-time result in football betting. predicting the outright winner of the event.

As mentioned there can be some very one-sided games, offering very short odds for the favoured teams. The best way to use the moneyline is to combine them in an accumulator to boost the overall odds of your return if you can correctly predict several games accurately. Beware though, you can have a 5 team accumulator, 4 winners, but if there is one losing prediction in the bet, then the entire bet will be counted as a loser ad you will lose the bet and your stake.

FUN FACT: In America, Accumulator bets are known as Parlays.

Types of Bet: Proposition Bets

A proposition bet is a bet that has no bearing on the outcome of the match directly, in so much as the final result or winner. Although some elements of the prop bet prediction may have a bearing on the final result.

If that sounds complicated, let's make s much easier by explaining it is the same as betting a correct score or first goalscorer in football in the UK. it is betting on just one element of the game.

Proposition bets can be broken down into three categories too. You can bet on the game as a whole, individual teams, or even down to specific players performances like points scored. Let's take a look

  • Game Props
  • Team Props
  • Player Props

Game Props

Game proposition bets will be based on events that can happen within the game. These will include things like which side will score the first points.

Team Props

Team proposition bets will be based around a single teams performance in the match. You will have options on these for both sides

Player Props

These are very specific propositions bets concerning the performance of a single player in a match. you may be predicting how Many points the will core or maybe even dunks!

Team To Score First Basket

This is a pretty self-explanatory bet on the first of the two teams to score a basket. 

This bet isn’t a great one for those who are looking for some entertainment in a game as it will be over very early whether it’s a winner or a loser but it can be a good bet if particular teams are very strong or slow starters.

Futures and Outrights Betting

Much like you can predict the premier league winners each year or the World Cup winners in advance in football, here in the UK we would understand this as Ante-Post betting. The same thing can be don in America and on basketball, but the term used is Futures betting

Futures = Ante Post

When betting on divisional winners of Championship winners in advance, it is known as futures betting in the US. The same as Ante-post in the UK!

There are of course, a whole host of futures betting markets you can involve in for the NBA with several conferences and divisions, and then the NBA championship at the end of the playoffs.

There is also an opportunity to bet on the Most valuable player (MVP) over the course of the season.

  1. Divisional Winners
  2. Eastern Conference Winners
  3. Western Conference Winners
  4. NBA Championship Winners
  5. NBA most Valuable Player (MVP)

MVP Betting

The MVP is the player deemed to have been the most valuable over the course of the season in the NBA. It's a bit like a Golden Boot at the world cup for the player scoring the most goals. Only in Basketball it is decided by a panel of sportswriters who casts votes. it is not awarded for point scoring.

Basketball Betting Advice

When people think of basketball they will most commonly think about the NBA but there are also professional basketball leagues in Europe which attract plenty of bets from native punters.

The NBA is the most popular bet for English and American punters though (college basketball also popular in the US) and the NBA season runs from November until June. 

There are 30 teams from USA and Canada and they are divided into East and West conferences. Each conference is divided into three divisions of five teams and each team will be kept busy with 82 games not including any matches in the playoffs, which are made up of the four best teams from each conference.

Basketball can be one of the most exciting bets for punters who are watching their sport as the action is very much end to end with regular swings in the score.

1. Make Your Own Point Spreads

One of the best strategies for picking value bets in the point spread is to look at a set of fixtures before you have looked at the bookmaker odds and spreads and to create your own spreads/handicaps that would make the game even in your opinion.

Once you have a list of spreads for the round of fixtures check the bookmaker spreads and whichever ones you disagree on most should offer the best value in your eyes, the more you disagree the better value the bet should be. 

If your point spreads are the same as the bookies for some matches or very close then those matches are best left along as you have very little edge. 

As long as you are a decent judge of the sport over the long term you should find this a profitable strategy.

2. Know As Much As The Bookies

In order to win money by betting on a sport in the long run you need to know at least as much as the bookies as this is particularly important for basketball, especially when it comes to knowing who is playing and who is injured. 

This will play a large part in how the bookies decide their spreads (if a spread looks too good to be true it probably is) and with basketball teams only made up of five players the dynamic of the team can completely be changed by one missing player, especially if that player is one of the more dominant or talented team members and most likely the point guard.

3. Follow NBA Betting Tipsters

Having run an OLBG basketball tipping competition for nearly 10 years we can see which NBA Tipsters are worth following. 

Each month when the NBA matches are played we receive a host of tips on the NBA Money Line, Point Spread and Game Totals.

A Basketball betting table is collated each month where you can check the best performing tipsters and their ROI and LSP.  

These nba betting tips are followed by hundreds of readers looking for helpful reliable advice from proven basketball tipsters. 

Fun Fact - Tipsters are Handicappers in America

Another difference in the betting world between the UK and America is that we know people who make betting predictions as TIPSTERS - In America they are known as HANDICAPPERS and the good ones known as SHARPS. Confusing for horse racing fans!!!

NBA Betting Further Reading

OLBG member botev1921 specialises in basketball betting and has written several blogs that will help punters looking to learn more about basketball. 

Take a look at How To Approach Betting On The NBA, Betting On The NBA - Players Market and Betting On The NBA - Accumulators And Value Selling Explained - they are well worth a read.

Click here to find Basketball discussion and tips on the OLBG Basketball Forum.

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