Basketball Betting Tips

Tips For Betting On Basketball Online

Basketball betting is quite popular with recreational gamblers, while for some experienced gamblers it’s a bit of an Achilles’ heel. In this article, I explain the basics of “how basketball is bet”, including point spreads, moneylines and totals, and then share some strategy tips.

In a sport where multimillion dollar all-stars don’t show up every night and fouls at the end of the game can turn a sure win into a crushing defeat, you’ll most likely find great value in the strategy portion of this article.

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Basketball Betting Basics.

The three most common ways to bet on basketball are:

  1. The point spread
  2. The total
  3. The moneyline

...with the point spread being by far the most popular.

1) Betting on the point spread.

An example of a point spread is Cavs +5 / Celtics -5. Here the Celtics are favorites, as indicated by the (-), the Cavs are underdogs as indicated by the (+), and the point spread is five. For the purpose of settling point spread wagers, once the game is complete the point spread is subtracted from the final score of the favored team.

In this example, if the game’s final score is Celtics 99 Cavs 94, after taking 5 off the Celtics score we see the game is tied 94-94. In this case, all bets are refunded. If the score was Celtics 98 Cavs 94, after taking five points off the Celtics score, the Cavs win by one point. In this case, Cavs bets are paid and Celtics bets are graded a loss.

One final thing to note about point spread betting: unless otherwise specified, all bets are made at -110 pricing. This means you’ll need to stake $1.10 for each $1.00 you’re looking to win. This true no matter which side you chose and the markup, called vig, is the fee the bookmaker charges for his service.

2) Betting on the total.

After point spread betting, the second most popular betting option is total betting. Here you might see a line (see sports betting lines) such as Cavs +5 / Celtics -5 (188). The 188 is the posted total, and you can wager on whether you feel both team’s combined scores will go over, or go under, the posted total. Once again, unless otherwise specified, bets are made at -110 pricing, and if no price is listed -110 is always assumed.

3) Betting on the moneyline.

The final of the three most popular ways to bet on basketball is the moneyline. This is a bet made simply on who will win the game straight up. An example of a moneyline is Celtics -180 / Cavs +160. This line states that to win $100 on the Celtics, you’ll need to risk $180, whereas risking $100 on the Cavs pays $160. The $100 is simply a base; you’re free to bet in smaller, larger, or odd numbered increments.

To calculate a bet’s win or risk, convert the money line to a decimal, in this case 1.80 and 1.60. On the favorites, a moneyline in the (-), calculate how much you’ll need to risk to win a certain amount by multiplying the amount by its decimal; calculate how much a certain risk will pay by dividing it by the decimal. The same statement is true, yet reversed for an underdog, a moneyline priced with a (+).

For example, to figure out how much $60 will win on a Cavs +160 bet, the math is $60 x 1.60; to figure out how much you’d need to risk to win $60, the math is $60/1.60. If this is at all confusing, don’t worry too much. When dealing with online betting sites such as, you’ll be taken to a review screen where you can review the specifics prior to confirming your bet.

Now that we’ve covered the popular ways to bet on sports, here are some tips for betting basketball profitably.

Basketball Betting Tip #1: Always Get the Best Line.

As a general rule when betting basketball, if you can beat the consensus price by one point each time, it’s nearly impossible to lose. The way sports betting works is the more money a site takes on a certain side, the more likely they are to move the line.

Example, a site takes $30,000 more on a Celtics -4 bet than they do on a Cavs +4. This site is likely to change the line to Celtics -4.5 / Cavs +4.5, or they might also change the pricing to Celtics -4 -120 / Cavs +4 +100. A wise sports bettor once said, “I know far more winning line shoppers than I do handicappers”. There is a ton of truth to that, and to make the most money sports betting, you need to always shop for the best line. Doing this requires using multiple online betting sites.

Basketball Betting Tip #2: Not all Points are Equal (End Game Fouls).

In the intro to this article, we mentioned basketball can be a bit of an Achilles’ heel for some gamblers. There are many times where a sure win goes sour when the losing team extends the game by excessive following. Having analyzed years of NBA data, we’ve come up with the following probabilities for how often a game within a spread and a half each way pushes on the following numbers:

Points Probability
1 2.27%
2 4.03%
3 3.83%
4 3.48%
5 4.37%
6 4.16%
7 4.11%
8 4.20%
9 4.76%

There is a lot that can be done with this data. Most sites such as allow players to purchase half points at -110, and to purchase up to 2 half points. Let’s show an example of the math on a spread of +5 -110 and moving it to +7 -150. The math to calculate break even on a moneyline is risk divided by return. Keep in mind that return is stake and win together.

So $110 risked to win $100 is 110/210=0.5238 (52.38%) and $150 to win $100 is 150/250 = 0.6 (60%). The difference between these numbers is 7.62%; therefore, when comparing +5 -110 to +7 -150, we conclude that if the move of 2 points increases our win probability by 7.62% or more, the +7.5 -150 is the better bet; if it does not, the +5 -110 is the better bet.

The good news is that we started this article with push probabilities we can now use. We know that 5 pushes 4.37% of the time; however, when starting on 5, half of that is built into the other team’s -5 line. We conclude, therefore, that when moving from +5 to +5.5 we can only take credit for half of that 4.37, which is 2.185%.

Now when moving +5.5 to 6.5, we can take full credit for the 4.16% probability of pushing on six. Finally, when moving to +7, that gets us only a push; so once again we can only take half credit from the seven’s 4.11% push probability, which gives us 2.055%. Add these three mentioned moves together and you’ll see that moving the line from +5 to +7 increases our win probability by 8.4%.

To summarize, moving from -110 to -150 requires us to win 7.62% more often to break even. When moving a line from +5 to +7, we’ll win the bet 8.4% more often. Therefore, +7 -150 is a better bet than +5 -110. This is good news because it leads to getting burned by the end game foul shooting less often, reducing variance and increasing expectation. If you can follow the math we’ve done here, you can use this to analyze half point buys in other situations just the same.

Basketball Betting Tip #3: Second Half Betting.

When a basketball game is about to start, the line is generally considered efficient and tough to beat. The basic concept here is that anytime the recreational bettors cause the line to move in one direction, sophisticated bettors with large financial backing will bet the opposite side. In the end, it’s all balanced out and there aren’t too many +EV (see expected value in sports betting) bets left. This is not so much the case when it comes to half time betting.

When betting half times, the betting limits are generally much smaller than they were for the game. Also the lines maker, as well as the sharp bettor, has had less time to analyze the game. Even when the sharp bettor has found an edge, he often can’t get down as much action on it as he’d like due to smaller half time betting limits. As a result, the half time market is inefficient more often than the market on the full game.

The times when this comes into play most is in situations where recreational gamblers will have a large interest in a certain half time line. One such scenario is when a large favorite is down at half time. The fan biased still believes that this team will come back, and might even still cover the original spread; therefore, betting sites will often shade the line to give these fans a worse price.

If you’re a serious sports bettor and have the ability to handicap games from a historical and statistical standpoint, you’ll find many holes in half time bets. If you’re a recreational bettor, you can increase your win rate or reduce your loss rate by simply considering what most fans would do in this spot, and then bet the opposite of that.

We’ll leave it at that for now. As you get more experience in basketball betting, you’ll find more and more opportunities for +EV wagers. If you read my article on Hockey Betting, there is a concept there that we shared for prop bets that can apply to basketball as well. No matter what you decide to bet, we wish you the best of luck.

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