Tips for betting on basketball

Basketball is one of the most popular sports among sports bettors. Not only NBA and NCAA basketball, but also matches of the Euroleague and the Spanish Liga ACB have seen a huge growth in sports betting turnovers. The bookmakers have responded with widening their offers for basketball betting, which resulted in a large number of available bets for basketball fans.
In this article we will show you the possibilities for betting on basketball, and what you need to pay attention to to increase your profits. We will start with the most popular bets, that you can find at every bookmaker.

The big three: Money Line, Spread, and Total Points

Basketball betting at Unibet
Basketball betting at Unibet
(Click to enlarge)

With traditional American bookmakers, you can usually only bet on three things at a basketball game: money line, spread, and total points. This also applies to American Football, by the way. But also in Europe, these will be the types of bets that are offered most often, because they are by far the most popular. Click on the image to the right to see an example of these bets for Euroleague basketball, at the popular online bookmaker Unibet.

First, there's the money line wager. Here you simply bet on the winner of the game. In basketball, a draw is of course not possible, so that only makes it easier.
It's called money line, because the bookmaker doesn't set the line in number of points (like with the other two bets), but in the amount of money that he will return when your team wins. Online at Unibet this bet is simply called 'match'.

The second possibility is betting on the spread. A bookmaker usually employs a team of professional handicappers, who determine how many points the favorite should be handicapped, to make the winning chances of both teams about equal. When there's a heavy favorite, the handicap will logically be much larger than when both teams are closer in strength.
Because not all bookmakers have the same expertise in handicapping basketball games (or other sports), they usually look at other bookmakers to see what lines they open with. This also applies to the money line match odds. Most bookmakers simply copy 'the Vegas line', because the Las Vegas sportsbooks employ some of the world's best sports handicappers. For online bookmakers, where the margins are usually smaller, they often turn to Pinnacle to see what their lines are, and take it from there. This way, the bookmaker has the lowest chance of making a costly mistake.

But even then, it still happens a lot that the bookmakers have made a wrong decision. It could be that they heard too late about some injured (star) player, or of another factor that would heavily influence a team's winning chances. People that follow basketball closely will often be able to recognize a wrongly placed line handicap, and to profit from the bookmaker's mistake by placing winning bets.

So a handicap basically gives one of the teams a virtual lead in the game. This usually comes in the form of half a point, so a draw will never be possible. In the image above you can see that Real Madrid is facing a handicap of 9½ points which they need to overcome to win the bet. If you're betting on Madrid here, they need to win the game with a difference of 10 points or more, in order to 'beat the spread', and win your bet for you.

When a handicap is rounded off on a whole point, it's possible that the handicapped result ends in a draw. This turns the bet into a regular '1X2' wager, where you can also bet on the X for a draw, after applying the handicap to the final score of the game.

Betting on the spread is much more popular than betting on the money line, because the payouts for the favorite are almost always much higher. It also makes watching the game a lot more exciting, because both teams will have an equal chance of winning the bet - at least, if the bookmaker has set the line correctly.

And finally, there's also the total points bet, where the bookmaker again has set a line that should give both sides of the wager an equal chance. In this case, you're betting on the total number of points that will be scored in the game, from both teams added together. Usually this includes overtime, which should be clearly marked on your betting slip, but it's important to always verify this, to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
The total points wager is an over/under bet, so your goal is to correctly predict if the total number of points scored will be more (over) or less (under) than the bookmaker's line.

To correctly predict this, you shouldn't only look at the playing style and star players of both teams, but also to the substitutes. A coach that has a strong and fully fit roster of players can keep substituting players, so the star players can take more minutes of rest, and over the course of the entire game, the players on the floor will be less exhausted, so they can maintain a high pace. This will always result in more points than when the coach does not have his strong substitute players available, meaning he has to give his starting five more minutes, so they have to save some of their strength to be able to last a full game.

You can also often place winning bets on the over/under by knowing which type of defence both teams will use in the upcoming game. A zone defence usually results in longer possessions and a slower pace of play, than with a direct man-to-man defence, so there will often also be less scoring.
It could also be that a team adjusts its defence to the opponent. You should be able to see this at the start of the game, that for example a team has switched to a zone defence, where they would normally rarely use that strategy. As soon as you see this, you could quickly place a bet on the 'under', before the bookmaker also notices it, and adjusts his odds or moves the line.
In order to do this, you need to use 'live betting' during the game, which we will discuss later on.

In short, there are many things that determine the true odds of the over/under, which is why this bet is so popular with basketball fans around the world. People that know a lot about basketball can make some impressive profits by betting on the total points, so it's definitely worth looking into.

1X2 (Match) bets

Besides the standard money line bet, there are many more possibilities for betting on a 1X2 at basketball.
Some examples:
  • Score at the end of the 1st quarter
  • Score at the end of the 2nd quarter
  • Score at the end of the 3rd quarter
  • Score at the end of the 4th quarter
  • 3-way handicap after the 1st quarter
  • 3-way handicap after the 2nd quarter
  • 3-way handicap after the 3rd quarter
  • 3-way handicap after the 4th quarter
When looking at the scores after each quarter, it's of course possible that both teams are level, that's why you can also bet on the 'X'. With the 3-way handicap, the bookmaker again gives one of the teams a handicap of a fixed number of points. Because this is not expressed in half a point, there are three possible outcomes: 1, X, and 2. Hence the name 'three-way' handicap.

Totals: Over/under

The over/under bet on the total number of points scored has already been mentioned, but over/under bets are also available for the total points after each quarter.
You can also bet on the total number of scored points by the home team or away team alone.


If you like flipping coins, then you can also bet if the total number of points scored (including overtime) will be an odd or even number. There's no real strategy here, it's a pure fifty-fifty proposition, minus the bookie's vig. We advise you to steer clear of this bet.

HT/FT: Half time / Full time

The HT/FT bet has been 'borrowed' from football, but can also result in big profits for basketball bettors. This is basically a combined bet, where you have to predict who has the lead at half time, and where both teams stand after the fourth quarter. This bet is for the score without overtime, because you're also able to bet on the X for a draw.
For example, with the HT/FT bet '2/1', you're betting that the away team has the lead at half time, but that the home team will have scored more points at the end of the fourth quarter, and therefore be the winner of the game.

Double Chance

The Double Chance bet is available for the score after the first, second, third, or fourth quarter, and not for the final score including overtime. In the Double Chance, you can bet on two of the three possible outcomes of the 1X2 bet. The possible bets are 1X, X2, and 12. A 'Double Chance 1X' bet will win when the home team has the lead at the end of the fourth quarter, but also if the teams are tied.

Draw No Bet (DNB)

The DNB wager also looks like a 1X2, only here you can't bet on the X. Draw No Bet means that in case there's a draw, the bookmaker will return you the money that you bet. Just like with the Double Chance, you can wager Draw No Bet on the score after each of the four quarters, but not on the final score including overtime.

Match specials

A common 'special' is a 1X2 bet in the following form:
  • 1: Home team wins with at least 6 points difference
  • 2: Away team wins with at least 6 points difference
  • X: Any other outcome (difference is smaller than 6 points)
When you're predicting a close game, where both teams will stay close to each other, you can use this match special to bet on it.
This bet is usually available as a regular 1X2, and also as a Double Chance.

Other special bets are 'races', where you predict which team will be the first to score 5 or 10 points, or which team will make the last score of the first quarter. You can also bet on which quarter will have the most points scored.

Player specials

The most popular 'player special' is an over/under bet on the total number of points that a certain player scores during the game. This is of course only available for a select few players.
Again, the bookmaker sets a line, based on his average points per game and his current form, among other things.
But it also applies here that a basketball fan can often know more about a certain player than his bookmaker, and therefore should be able to recognize when the line is set too high or too low, and see a profitable betting opportunity.

Season betting (Outrights)

And finally, there is also a large number of season bets that you can place at basketball, for the performance of teams and individual players. Popular examples are:
  • Which player will win the MVP trophy
  • Which player will become 'Rookie of the Year'
  • Which player will have the most points per game at the end of the season
  • Which player will have the most rebounds per game at the end of the season
  • Which player will have the most assists per game at the end of the season
  • Will this player be selected for the All Star team (yes/no bet)
  • Which team will win the championship
  • Which team will win the Eastern Conference
  • Which team will win the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference
  • Which of the two teams will finish higher in their division (head-to-head bet)
  • Will this team qualify for the playoffs (yes/no bet)
  • How many games will this team win during the coming season (over/under bet)
...the possibilities are of course endless.

Live betting at Unibet
Live betting at Unibet

Live betting at Bwin
Live betting at Bwin

With these bets, you usually have to get in as early as possible, to be able to get the best odds on your bets. So it's important to keep a close eye on the pre-season games, and of course the teams' draft picks, and quickly place your season bets as soon as you see something promising. After the first few games of the regular season have been won with ease, you will not be able to make big profits by tipping that team as division winner or conference finalist, because the bookmakers will also be quick in adjusting their odds.

Live betting on basketball

Two of the largest online bookmakers in Europe, Unibet and Bwin, both offer an extensive module for live betting, with the possibility to place your bets during the game. At both bookmakers you can also watch live streams of most of the Euroleague games. The available bets will be nicely displayed on your screen, right next to the video stream. This way, you can quickly act on the changing flow of the game, and place winning bets when you see that the bookmaker has incorrectly adjusted his odds to reflect these changes.
Click on the images to the right to see examples of the live betting modules at these two popular bookmakers.

Often you will find more available bets at live betting than you can find pre-match, as you can see in the screenshots to the right, which makes it definitely worth it to give live basketball betting a try.

Betting on basketball with the best bookmakers

All basketball bets that we have mentioned above can be found at the two largest online bookmakers in Europe - Unibet and Bwin. Both operate under a European gaming licence, and have a very high reputation as trustworthy online sportsbooks.

It's recommended to open an account at both bookmakers, so you will always be able to place your bet at the bookmaker that offers the best odds. More often than not, there will be a difference between bookmakers, so make sure that you can profit from these differences.

Follow this link to open a free account at Unibet »

Follow this link to open a free account at Bwin »

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