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How to Bet on Basketball

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in Tennessee and around the nation. It is also one of the most easily accessible sports for bettors to learn to handicap. With a starting lineup of only five players and just a few key bench players on each team, transitioning from a casual basketball fan into an extremely knowledgeable one takes a lot less time than it does with other major sports. This knowledge can be useful when you learn how to bet on basketball.

Basketball betting: Different bet types

In football, baseball and hockey, the impact that the best players on the team can have on the game is somewhat limited by the format of the sports. Patrick Mahomes is virtually unstoppable when he’s on the field, but the opposing team can keep him off the field if it grinds the clock down with its own offense. Mike Trout is a major threat every time he enters the batter’s box, but this will only happen four or five times a game on most nights.

Basketball players need in-game rest, but in general, the team’s best players will be on the court 70-75% of the time. This is why the cream tends to rise to the top and that we keep seeing the same elite teams and players in the NBA Finals every year. It is also why games are often too lopsided to be bet on the moneyline, which makes against the spread betting the most popular way to bet on basketball.

Against the spread

Against the spread wagering attempts to balance out the skill discrepancy, home court advantage, and other factors that make one team more likely to win than the other with a points handicap. For example, say that LeBron James and Anthony Davis’s Los Angeles Lakers are at home against the Washington Wizards. The Lakers are so likely to win this game that betting on them to win outright (on the moneyline) would be way too expensive, and betting on Washington to win outright would be way too unlikely for most bettors.

Instead, bettors can bet on both sides at -110 (bet $110 to win $100) using the spread, which could list the game at Washington Wizards +13.5 vs. Los Angeles Lakers -13.5.

In this instance, betting on the Lakers comes with a 13.5-point handicap. Los Angeles must win by 14 points or more for your bet to be a winner. On the other side, your Washington bet will be a winner in the unlikely event that the Wizards pull off the upset or if they lose by 13 points or fewer.

Spreads are very different from game to game depending on the discrepancies between the two teams. An evenly matched game will have a low spread of just one or two points, while some college games have favorites of over 20 or 30 points in lopsided matchups.


Totals betting, also known as over/under betting, is a form of wagering in which the sportsbook sets a projected total combined score between two teams, and basketball bettors can bet on whether the actual combined score of the game will go over or under this set total.

For example, say that the Memphis Grizzlies are hosting the Dallas Mavericks and the sportsbook sets the line for this game at 229.5 points. This means that a bet of under 229.5 points will cash if the two teams combine to score 229 points or fewer. A 109-105 Grizzlies win would add up to 214 total points, which is under the posted total. A Dallas win with a final score of 121-110 on the other hand would add up to 231 points and go over the posted total.

The average posted total in the NBA has risen significantly in recent years as the game has placed a lot more emphasis on 3-point shots and quick possessions. College basketball lines vary greatly from team to team as there are so many different playing styles at the college level.


While many basketball bettors prefer to stick to against the spread wagering, moneylines are still available on most games as well. It isn’t uncommon to see extreme pricing in lopsided games. Using the example above of the Washington Wizards visiting the Los Angeles Lakers, the moneyline on that game might be set at Washington +1000 (bet $100 to win $1,000) vs. Los Angeles -2000 (bet $2,000 to win $100).

But in more competitive games, the moneyline is often a reasonable alternative to the spread. For example, a game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers that lists San Antonio as a three-point favorite against the spread might also have a moneyline of Portland +120 vs. San Antonio -140. A Spurs backer anticipating a close game might prefer a moneyline wager to laying three points, and a Trail Blazers backer who is expecting an outright upset might prefer the better payout that the moneyline offers.

Half and quarter lines

Spreads, totals and moneylines are usually offered on both the first quarter in the NBA and the first half in the NBA and NCAA. These wagers are settled at the end of the quarter or half, so you don’t have to wait for the game to be over to have your Tennessee online sportsbook account credited.

Some sportsbooks also offer new lines on the second half of the game at halftime. Second-half lines are only available in NBA games as Tennessee’s sports gambling laws do not allow in-game collegiate betting.

Proposition bets

Proposition bets are bets on events or occurrences that take place within the game. Player props are among the most popular prop bets in basketball as they allow you to bet on the individual performances of star players. Will James Harden score over or under 29.5 points in today’s game? Will Steph Curry hit over or under 6.5 3-pointers?

Props like these vary at different TN sportsbooks and are only available on NBA games, as Tennessee does not allow player prop betting on college basketball games.

Game props include betting on which team will be the first to reach 10 points or 20 points. And team props go into specifics like how many total rebounds a team will have over the course of the game. All of these wagers are independent of the outcome of the game.


Future bets allow basketball bettors to bet on long-term events like what team will win the Western Conference in the NBA or what team will win the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The higher potential of upsets in March Madness makes futures betting on college basketball a bit more interesting than the NBA, where elite teams offering low long-term payouts almost always end up on top.

How to bet on basketball: Betting strategies

Basketball is a star-driven game, so most successful strategies on how to bet on basketball will revolve around knowing the key players on each team and how they are likely to perform against the players and defensive schemes they will see in their upcoming matchup. Here are a few betting tips that you can add to your basketball handicapping strategies to help you get the most out of betting on basketball.

Pay close attention to starting lineups and injuries

This tip may seem obvious to basketball fans, but it can’t be stated enough. Even one key bench player being scratched due to injury can completely change the complexity of a basketball game, from how the team operates its second unit to how it scores or plays defense in specific situations. And when it comes to being blindsided by a starter being out of the lineup due to a rest day that you didn’t see coming, all of your handicapping efforts that were factoring that player into the equation could be for nothing.

Follow team blogs and reporter accounts on social media for the latest status on starting lineups and injuries. Look for practice reports and coaches’ comments on player availability, and learn which coaches and teams are more forthcoming than others with this information.

Lastly, do your own research. If a team is playing on the second night of a back-to-back, check how many minutes each player played the previous night and how the game was paced out. A star player who got to sit out the fourth quarter of a blowout will likely be good to go at full strength today, but one who played 35 minutes in a nail-biter last night will probably have limited minutes even if he starts. The more you research these things, the more you will notice tendencies and trends that you can take advantage of.

Research big line movements

If you are paying close attention to starting lineups and injuries as suggested above, you won’t often be caught off guard by a big line swing that is due to a report of a star player being scratched from the lineup. This is the most common reason for a big movement in a betting line as sportsbooks are forced to quickly adjust the spread to account for this change, and it could help you catch an injury or event that you may have missed.

But as you start betting on basketball regularly and check lines often, you will notice that there are sometimes big line movements that are not related to injury or anything else that is immediately obvious in the news cycle. This is especially true in college basketball, where you might see a spread suddenly move from St. John’s +3 vs. Virginia -3 to St. John’s +7 vs. Virginia -7 for no apparent reason.

Once you have done your due diligence to confirm that there isn’t an injury or suspension or something of this nature involved, you can likely conclude that this line movement came in because a few sharp professional bettors placed large bets on the side that has moved up. As a result, the sportsbooks are now trying to entice public bettors to take the other team at a price that suddenly looks like a bargain.

Don’t fall for this trap by taking the side going against the sharp bettors. Consider taking the team that has moved big in these situations as the sharps may see something in this matchup that the betting public does not.

Look for value in good road teams

Home court matters in the NBA more than any other major sport in the United States. Home teams overall win roughly 60% of the time during the regular season and around 65% of the time during the postseason. There is no disputing the impact that home court can have on a game or series, especially when it comes to strong teams and loud fan bases.

But the advantage of home court in the NBA is so well-publicized and well-known that it’s already baked into the betting lines. A team that would be a 5-point underdog or a 6-point underdog on a neutral court is often listed as a 2-point underdog on its home court. And some bettors flock to these spots, betting on home underdogs and small home favorites almost automatically.

Considering how powerful home court advantage is, if a team is an underdog at home, there’s a good reason for it. There is nothing wrong with betting on home underdogs or home teams in general, but if doing so all the time was profitable, everyone would just bet on every home team. There are plenty of great spots in which to bet on the road team. Look for teams that play tough on the road and take advantage of the extra points that they will receive against the overly hyped home team.

Follow late-season momentum in college basketball

Late-season form doesn’t matter too much in the NBA as the start of the postseason puts the regular season in the rear-view mirror. Top seeds rarely have an issue kicking back into gear in the first round against weaker teams, especially with their home crowds behind them.

But in college basketball, momentum often plays a huge role in how teams perform in the NCAA and NIT tournaments. After all, these games take place at neutral locations in a single-elimination format and are coming immediately after conference tournaments. There isn’t really much time for a team currently in a rut to shake itself out of it. And there is plenty of room for a red-hot team to stay on a roll.

With so many matchups featuring teams that are unfamiliar with one another during March Madness and no seven-game series in which to work the kinks out, momentum matters. Roll with teams that are hot, and bet against teams that are struggling in the early rounds.