Guide: How to bet on Basketball/NBA

During the frantic regular season in basketball, bettors can expect non-stop action, both with the amount of games played and the on-court action during games themselves. The world’s best players produce end-to-end quality during basketball games and it can prove a rewarding challenge to pick a point spread or money line winner.

With the NBA and NCAA offering a packed basketball fixture list throughout the regular and postseasons, there will always be something to catch a bettor’s eye.

If you’re just starting out with your basketball betting, or want a refresher on what kinds of wagers are available, check out our guide to the different types of basketball bets. Once you’re familiar with what kind of markets you can bet on, it’s time to think about how to approach your basketball betting strategy.

Keep your eyes peeled until the tip-off

The most important advice anyone can get when learning how to bet on basketball is to research. In all college basketball, NBA and WNBA matches, betting without research will always leave you short-handed, as you’ll be unaware of form, injuries, tactics and other important factors that can completely change the story of a match.

Basketball is also different from other sports – like football and baseball – because starting line-ups can change just minutes before the tip-off. Due to the intense physical and athletic nature of basketball, players can be benched due to illness, injury or tightened muscles.

So always keep your eyes peeled until the very tip-off. A last-minute injury to a key player on either side could transform the odds for totals, point spreads or the money line.

Injuries and fatigue

With basketball teams being five-man line-ups, injuries can have a much greater impact than in sports where there are bigger squads, like soccer. If your team is missing a LeBron James or a Stephen Curry, the stand-in will likely struggle to make as much of an impact as the star they are replacing.

So if you’re betting on the NBA, always watch out for injuries to key players and how they will affect match-ups. When important players get injured, books will also reflect this in their point spread and money line odds.

But, with such a packed regular season schedule, players don’t just have to get injured to perform at a lower level. Fatigue can have a huge impact on both a player and team’s performance, so basketball bettors should always watch out for how tired a player will be – or whether their coach will look to rest them after an intense game.

With so many games in a season, players are forced to travel across the country for games in quick succession. This can involve back-to-back days of action, so it’s always worth evaluating a team’s schedule. How far have they had to travel, how long have they had to recover and how tired did they look in their last game?

Energy is key in basketball, which is a sport like no other in its end-to-end nature. Coaches know this and have to manage their teams, limiting the amount of minutes their best players play. Watching out for this is as important as anything when studying how to bet on basketball.

Research team and player form

The issues of injury, fatigue and scheduling lead us to another important factor when betting on basketball: overall form. Like any sport, the most successful NBA teams can experience bad runs, or even whole seasons – so it’s vital to know exactly how the team you plan to bet on has been doing in the build-up to your wager.

As discussed above, assessing injuries and scheduling will help when looking at a team’s recent form. Other basics to look out for are how they have fared in their last few matches, their head-to-head record against the next team they are playing and how in-form their star players  are – in other words those who can make the difference by full-time.

From a player perspective, it’s important to know if someone the team particularly relies on is in scoring form. There are equally many different measures to study player form, which can be helpful if you are looking at odds and lines for different proposition bets, such as player points, rebounds or assists; as well as futures betting on who will be MVP.

Another important distinction is the difference between a team’s home form and away form. Home court advantage in the NBA is considered by many to sway the score in the home team’s direction – by at least a couple of points on average.

In general, some teams may perform much better at home, so home court advantage can be stronger for these teams. Always be sure to check out how a team performs at home compared to how it performs away.

An intriguing aspect of form towards the end of the regular season is the impact of a playoff place. Teams who have something to play for will usually be more committed than those who don’t; the biggest example is being within reach of a playoff place. If a team that can still make the playoffs is in action against a team with no chance of making it, there will be more at stake for one team than the other – and it may show in terms of effort levels.

The tactics

With any team sport, tactical matchups can skew the outcome of a game – often unexpectedly. Such tactical matchups are very common in the NBA, as teams are in action against each other so often – and know each other very well.

While an underdog may not be well-fancied to get a result against a favourite, their tactical ability to stifle certain players or approaches may make things less straightforward. During these examples, an underdog may be much likelier to cover the point spread, even if they don’t win on the money line.

For example, in recent NBA seasons, teams playing away as underdogs of +12 points or more have covered the line in over 50% of matches. It’s always worth keeping statistics like this in mind, as anything can happen in sport – and especially in an action-packed sport like basketball.

Statistics in general can help you when researching form, such as turnovers, team rebounds and three-point shooting percentages. And make sure you are always objective and neutral when you are trying to assess a winning wager.

Betting on your favourite team is absolutely fine and a fun way of having some more skin in the game. But if you are looking for profit rather than entertainment, it’s always helpful to take any bias out of the equation.

Live betting and timeouts

While everything we’ve referred to so far applies to pre-match betting, the same principles apply equally to live betting, were you can wager while a match is taking place. Here, research and form are still important but can sometimes take a backwards step in favour of what you are seeing out on the court.

Momentum swings are common in basketball, so there is plenty of opportunity for live betting on point spreads, totals, money lines and more – and basketball is arguably the most exciting sport to bet on live. If a team was a heavy favourite before the game, for example, but were losing heavily halfway through the third quarter, the odds would reflect that.

As momentum and energy are so important in basketball, though, live betting can offer plenty of value if you can see a team is starting to take charge of a match – despite being in a losing position. Timeouts can also make a huge difference as coaches intervene to make tactical adjustments, so these are always worth incorporating into your live college basketball or NBA betting.

Half-time betting

As well as live betting, sportsbooks will often offer half-time lines for NBA bettors. These are markets available only during the half-time break and not pre-match or in-play. This gives bettors the chance to assess the first half and think of the second half as a completely new match.

For example, a team that’s winning at half-time could have odds of -300 to win the game. But the team’s odds to win the second half could only be -110, adding more value to the bet. Perhaps a team’s best player was rested in the starting line-up and is about to come on at half-time, a factor that could equally sway the odds heavily for the second half.

If you prefer pre-match betting or betting live during the on-court action itself, there is no necessity to pursue half-time betting. However, if you’ve been watching a match and feel confident of certain outcomes, or that things will change in the third and fourth quarters, half-time betting provides the perfect mid-game alternative for your wagering.

The coach

With just five players on a court, the impact of the coach is very noticeable in basketball. And when betting on college basketball or the NBA, knowledge of what a coach is likely to do can help your bet that little bit extra, once you have searched individual teams and players.

The role of a coach affects your basketball wager in more ways than one. Live and half-time betting can be influenced by a coach’s decision, a team’s ability to cover the spread can be impacted by a coach’s tactics, while pre-match odds will be affected by the coach’s player management.

Certain coaches will have individual tendencies that are worth accounting for when assessing NBA betting. For example, if a team is winning by a wide margin, a coach could take his best scorer off, potentially reducing the game’s points total. Some coaches will also rest players more cautiously, or work players harder – with both approaches having obvious effects on a team’s form and fitness.

Grudge matches

With so many games played in the NBA – and so many trades made within the league – individual players can take their game to another level when playing a former team. The same can apply to individual rivals facing off against each other, or against a coach who clashed with them before, either personally or through the press.

On these less frequent occasions, it’s worth knowing about the potential storylines that could affect the outcome of your whole wager. NBA players have been known to produce some of the best performances of their career in their first games against previous teams once they’ve being traded.

March Madness

Some overall strategies will help you whether you are betting on low-profile basketball matches or the NBA playoffs. But there are certain times of the year – and certain competitions – that will offer you unique opportunities when betting on basketball.

Although March Madness only occurs during one month of the year, it’s one of the biggest events in US sports betting and is definitely worth focusing on if you are big on your basketball betting. March Madness is otherwise known as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and is a college basketball competition. It has 68 teams and 67 games, all in the space of three weeks (usually ending in early April).

This huge volume of games guarantees plenty of wagering action, drawing serious attention throughout the US – even from fans who usually just stick to the NBA. March Madness therefore doesn’t just offer a great opportunity to bet on basketball, it’ll be a great time to capitalize on some of the best sign-up offers and bonuses from sportsbooks.

There a few more specific things to consider that can help your betting, if you are looking for value and on the hunt for winning wagers:

Don’t bet on everything – With so many games in such a short space of time, it’s sometimes tempting to wager on every match during March Madness. While this can end up giving you a more entertaining experience overall, if you are looking for profit, or at least the occasional win, it makes more sense to focus on particular games you have looked into more than others. From a responsible gambling point of view, it’s also important not to get too carried away during March Madness.

Measure how teams performed down the stretch – In a postseason event like March Madness, teams’ overall standing throughout the year means less than how they finished the regular season. A team who hit form and gained momentum later on in the season will traditionally do better in the NCAA Tournament than teams that stuttered towards the end of the regular season.

Watch out for a strong defense – Teams with a strong defense have a distinct advantage in a competition with so much action in such a short space of time. While high-scoring offenses can get a team to March Madness, teams are prone to upsets if they are easily exposed defensively.

Taking advantage of the matchups – College basketball in general will have less historical data than a competition like the NBA, especially as March Madness can throw up several new matchups – as so many teams will take part. This leaves sportsbooks facing a more difficult time to price certain matches up, which gives bettors more opportunity to find the value.

The NBA playoffs

While March Madness is a huge event, the biggest postseason competition in basketball is, of course, the NBA playoffs. When looking at how to bet on basketball, wagering on the playoffs will require some adjustments to the regular season.

What is a team’s weakness? – With every series in the playoffs played as a best-of-seven, the strongest teams will identify their opponent’s weaknesses and take advantage of them. Offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebounds and turnovers are all worth assessing as two of the best in the business face off against each other. If one team ranks significantly low in one of these areas, it’s worth taking into account during your wager.

Who can go the distance? – By the time a team has reached the playoffs, they have already endured a marathon during the regular season. Sometimes, series winners and overall champions can be those that have been able to dig in the hardest – especially if two teams are evenly balanced skill wise. Here, injuries, fatigue and a coach’s player management are crucial added factors.

The showpiece finale – If you’re betting live, or just watching on the edge of your seat as your pre-match wager comes close to winning, bear in mind how many NBA playoff games are decided in the last two minutes of a match. How a team finishes a game can in some cases define their chances of winning the championship. Take a look at whether teams have tended to crumble or play smart in the last few moments of a game; if they consistently come good under the pressure, this is another factor worth accounting for during NBA playoff betting.

For the best odds and offers on basketball betting and the NBA, always compare before you bet. And, if you’re looking for something to wager on, you can read BetCompare’s guide to the biggest basketball events of 2020.