How to Bet on Basketball, including the NBA

A basketball player about to score a two-point field goal

This guide covers everything you need to know when betting on Basketball, including tips on how to place bets…

Basketball and the NBA

Basketball is one of the most entertaining sports on which to bet, as each game combines fast-paced action and a high number of points scored.

For the beginner, it’s also a relatively simple sport to bet on, as the main markets focus on the match winner, total points and handicap betting.

When you mention basketball, most people’s first thought is immediately of the NBA. This acronym stands for the National Basketball Association, which is the top professional league in North America. This is certainly the biggest basketball league, enjoying extensive international coverage, star players who are recognisable both on and off the court, as well as massive brand recognition and substantial marketing power.

Indeed, according to figures from CNBC, the NBA is expecting fans from 214 different countries to tune into games for the 2023/24 season, with a record number of 125 international players featuring on opening-night rosters. It may be a North American league, but the reach is truly global.

NBA Betting Guide  

Currently, the NBA comprises 30 teams, split into six divisions across two conferences. The Toronto Raptors are the only Canadian-based team competing alongside 29 American teams.

The Eastern Conference comprises the Atlantic Division, Central Division, and Southeast Division. Meanwhile, the Western Conference incorporates the Northwest Division, Pacific Division and Southwest Division. Each division consists of five teams.

In the regular season, each team plays 82 matches to decide who progresses to the playoffs. Starting from the 2023/24 season, there was a change in format, with an In-Season Tournament taking place over a five-week period during November and December. The inaugural event was won by the Los Angeles Lakers, who defeated the Indiana Pacers in the final. LeBron James was awarded the MVP (Most Valuable Player).

At the end of the regular season, there are a series of playoff matches to decide the eventual NBA champions. The format of these playoffs has changed several times over the years, with the most recent update in 2021. Since then, the top-6 teams in each Conference have qualified for the playoffs, whilst those teams finishing in seventh through to tenth in each Conference have progressed to a play-in tournament to decide the final four playoff contenders.

The playoff matches are all played on a best-of-seven basis, with the first team to win four games progressing to the next round, or winning the trophy if it’s the final.

When betting on NBA matches, bear in mind that teams may play on successive nights, and in most cases several times a week. Make sure to consider recent results, injuries, changes in momentum, etc., as things can quickly change when teams are playing so regularly.

NBA Finals

The NBA Finals is the name for the series of matches between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference winners, which decides the ultimate NBA Championship victor for that season. The best-of-seven series is contested until one of the teams reaches four wins. 

At the end of the 2022/23 season, the most successful teams were the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, with each having won 17 titles. The total for the Lakers includes the five titles they won as the Minneapolis Lakers. The Celtics hold the record for the most consecutive NBA titles, winning eight times between 1959 and 1966.

Is betting available on American college basketball?

Yes, there are many top-tier college basketball matches on which bets can be placed. These are found in the ‘NCAA’ section (National Collegiate Athletic Association) within the ‘Basketball’ section on our website. You’ll find many of your favourite NBA markets are also available on college basketball, though some of the rules do vary. For example, whilst the NBA matches are played over four 12-minute quarters, men’s college basketball is played over two 20-minute halves.

How to Bet on a Basketball Game

In the following sections, we’ll describe the most popular basketball betting markets and how you can place a bet on a basketball match. Before placing your bets, you should acquaint yourselves with the basketball betting rules. In the main basketball markets, overtime will count if played, unless a ‘draw’ option is offered.

Is Basketball easy to bet on?

Betting on basketball centres around three main markets: Match Winner, Handicap Betting and Total Points. There are various other betting opportunities available, which will be covered later in our basketball betting guide.

Betting in-play on a live basketball match is not for the faint-hearted, as the action is fast and furious. In NBA matches, for example, the expected total match points average around 230 per game. Therefore, an in-play punter must keep their eye on the ball, and on the scoreboard, as points are often scored at a frantic pace.

The most popular basketball tournament to bet on is the NBA, but bear in mind, as with many American sports, the matches are scheduled showing the away team first. For example, a match may be written as Denver Nuggets @ Boston Celtics. In this case, Boston would be the team playing at home. The betting odds are similarly displayed with the away team listed first. 

In Europe, the most prestigious international club competition is the EuroLeague, followed by the EuroCup.

Match Betting – Match Winner

The main Match Winner market on our website is the two-way option, including overtime and excluding the draw option. As you can see in the screenshot below, which shows NBA matches, the odds are listed with the away team first (2,1). The respective numbers are shown against the team names and above the columns. The date and time of the match is displayed and will be adjusted according to the time zone preferences set for your account. You may also find this market described as the ‘moneyline’ when referring to betting on who will win the match.

Basketball match winner betting
Basketball match winner betting

If you expand the market list (by clicking on the button with the number preceded by a ‘+’) you will see the Match Winner odds displayed with the draw option included. This can be found in the ‘Normal Time Result’ section. In this market, overtime does not count and the result at the end of normal time counts for all bets placed.

Basketball match winner betting odds including the draw option

The odds for a draw will vary between matches but is generally priced between 15.00 and 22.00.

Handicap Betting on Basketball

As the total points scored in a Basketball match will be a high number, one of the most interesting ways to follow a match is with a bet on the match handicap. You will also find this market referred to as the ‘spread’ on a basketball match.

In this market, the bookmaker allots the underdog a hypothetical points advantage. The points are allocated based on the expected difference between the scores of both teams at the end of the game. When offering odds on this market, the main handicap line will have prices that are relatively equal, given that the handicap reflects the expected final points differential.

NBA match winner and handicap betting odds
NBA match winner and handicap betting odds

How are handicap bets calculated?

To calculate handicap bets, simply add or subtract the handicap figure from the final score of the match, remembering that overtime counts on this market if played. In basketball terminology, if the favourite wins a match by more points than their allotted handicap, you would say they have ‘covered the spread’.

For example, if you place a bet on Utah Jazz at -1.5 points, they must win the match by two points or more for your bet to be a winning one. Similarly, if you bet on the other team, Detroit Pistons at +1.5, then your bet is a winning one if they win the match, the match is tied after the overtime period, or they lose by a single point.

On many matches, you’ll find a long list of different handicap options. This enables the bettor to select an option more heavily weighted towards one of the teams. Taking the above match as an example, if you think Utah Jazz will comfortably win the match, you could place a bet on them with a handicap of -5.5 points. The odds increase from 1.85 to 2.34, but they must then win the match by six or more points.

You can also move the handicap the other way, so the points line is more in your favour, but the odds decrease proportionately. The price offered on Utah Jazz +7.5 points would be around 1.22, but this covers your bet even if they were to lose by seven points.

Therefore, by adjusting the handicap, bettors have the flexibility to tailor their bets according to their predictions and risk appetite.

Handicap Betting – Handicap Draws

In the two-way handicap markets, you will notice that some of the lines offered are whole numbers (i.e., -1, -2, -3, etc.). If the scores are tied after being adjusted for the handicap, then bets will be void and stakes will be returned.

In the three-way markets, a price for a draw after factoring in the handicap is offered. In this case, if the scores are tied after being adjusted for the handicap, bets on the ‘handicap draw’ will be winners and those on either team will be losing ones.

Basketball Over/Under Points Betting

Another popular option when betting on basketball is predicting the total points scored in a match.

This will be offered as an over/under market and, as with the handicap betting market, there will be numerous options for the bet you wish to place, depending on the risk level you want to incur.

In the following screenshot, the lines available range from 228.5 to 244.5.

Under/Over points betting on a basketball match
Under/Over points betting on a basketball match

There are many statistical sites available online that can highlight trends in basketball. For example, the average score per team in an NBA match between 1998 and 2016 was around 100. However, since then it has risen, with the data for the 2022/23 NBA season showing the average points scored per team at just under 115 in a match. When making betting decisions using statistical data, it is worth checking whether trends are changing. This way, you can decide which records and years to take into consideration.

Half and Quarter Markets

As a basketball match is normally played in quarters, there are also opportunities to bet on different segments within a game.

Range of markets available on a basketball match
Range of markets available on a basketball match

Within the various markets, there are many different options for placing bets. These include betting on what happens in an individual quarter of a game or in one half. For example, if you think a team may make a slow start in a particular game, you could look at their ‘under points’ markets for the first quarter.

As well as markets offered for the individual teams, you can also bet on combined totals. In the example below, you can bet on the ‘each quarter’ or ‘both halves’ option for total points, depending on whether you think it will be a high or low scoring match. These options can offer very attractive odds but are much riskier than betting on an individual under/over line for any quarter, half or match.

Total match points in each half or quarter of a basketball match
Total match points in each half or quarter of a basketball match

Winning Margin

As the range of possible scores is very high in basketball, betting on the winning margin can be an exciting way to follow a match.

Here, you need to pick which team will win the match and by how many points they will be victorious. In the example below, the ranges of points are grouped into clusters. So, although the odds on each selection are attractive, your powers of prediction will need to be good.

Winning margin betting on basketball
Winning margin betting on basketball

Statistics Betting on Basketball

In addition to the regular markets on the NBA and some of the more prestigious international tournaments, you’ll find a section named ‘Statistics Markets’.

This section covers a wide range of betting options revolving around three-point field goals. You can place bets on:

  • Team to score most three-point field goals;
  • Handicap betting on team three-point field goals;
  • Total three-point field goals made, in the match and individually by each team.

These markets are available for the whole match, or individually on any of the four quarters.

A three-point field goal is a basket scored from outside the three-point line, which is denoted by the arc surrounding the basket.

Accumulator Bets on Basketball

With so many matches taking place daily, placing accumulator bets on basketball is a popular option.

Accumulator bets can be attractive, as the odds are multiplied if all your selections win. However, the more selections you add to your accumulator bet, the more chance you have that one of them may be unsuccessful.

An accumulator bet can cover different markets in different matches, as in the following example:

Accumulator Bets on Basketball

In this bet, all of the five selections would have to win for your bet to be successful. The total price combining all the odds is 17.541 (1.57 x 1.94 x 1.95 x 1.79 x 1.65) and, for a stake of €5, a winning bet would pay €87.71 (€5 x 17.541).

You may also see this type of bet referred to as a ‘parlay’. This term is predominantly used in the US to describe a bet where two or more selections are linked together. Winnings from one selection then run onto the next selection, and so on. All selections must win for the parlay to be successful. It may also be described as a ‘combo bet’.

Live (in-play) Basketball Betting

Betting on a basketball match once the action has started is a thrilling way to follow a live match.

However, with the ball moving from one end of the court to the other at a frantic pace and a high number of points being scored, the odds can fluctuate very quickly. When looking to place your bet, assess if the momentum in a match is changing and if it is an opportune moment to take a price before the odds start to shorten.

You’ll find all your favourite markets available when betting ‘in-play’ on basketball. For many of the matches, you can see real-time animations and updated statistics on the Marathonbet live basketball betting pages as the match progresses.

Bet in-play on basketball matches from around the world with live basketball odds from Marathonbet.

Basketball Tournament Betting

Outright markets are available on several of the major basketball leagues and cups, with prices updated periodically throughout the season. In the NBA, there are also prices available on which team will win each of the Eastern and Western Conferences. Betting on this type of market can also be described as a ‘futures bet’, where you are betting on a long-term outcome.

A list of odds for teams to win the NBA Championship outright
A list of odds for teams to win the NBA Championship outright

One thing to consider when betting on outright markets is that any playoffs count towards the final result. Taking the EuroLeague as an example, there is the regular season, followed by the playoffs, and then the Final Four competition. A bet on a team to win the EuroLeague will be settled based on the side that wins the Final Four competition, irrespective of who finished top of the table in the regular season (unless the market specifically stipulates ‘Regular Season Only’).

Scoring in Basketball

Points are scored by shooting the basketball through the hoop. A different number of points are awarded depending on the method of scoring.

  • A three-point field goal is a basket scored from outside the three-point line, which is denoted by the arc surrounding the basket.
  • A two-point field goal is a basket scored from within the three-point line.
  • A free throw is worth one point if scored. They are awarded when a player is fouled during the process of attempting to score.

Depending on the type of foul, up to three free throws may be awarded for one incident.

Once a team has reached a defined number of fouls within a quarter (the amount varies between competitions), a bonus is awarded to their opponents. During the bonus, the attacking team receives automatic free-throws for additional fouls, even if they are not in the process of shooting.

It’s also worth noting that it’s possible for both teams to have an active bonus at the same time if they both commit the requisite number of fouls within the same quarter.

Basketball Betting FAQs

Want to find out more about basketball betting? Check our FAQs for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

How do I bet on a basketball match?

Go to the Marathonbet website or app and select the ‘Basketball’ section, either in the ‘Sport’ or ‘Live’ section.

The ‘Sport’ section shows all the pre-match markets available. Click on the arrow to the right of ‘Basketball’ and a list of all the competitions will show, as well as each country for which there is league or cup betting available. One further click will show you all the current competitions available for betting in that section.

For example, if you click on ‘Basketball’ > ‘Turkey’ you may see a list like this:

How do I bet on a basketball match?

The prices for the main markets are displayed on the initial page after selecting a competition. To see all the additional markets, click on the ‘+’ in the column after the match name, and the betting page will expand to show all the different options.

What is an in-play basketball bet?

‘In-play basketball betting’, which is also known as ‘Live basketball betting’, is when you place a bet on a match after it has commenced. The prices continually update as the action unfolds.

What is overtime in basketball?

This is a period of additional play to decide the winner of a match if the scores are tied at the end of regular play. For example, an overtime period in an NBA match comprises a five-minute period. If, at the end of that first overtime period, the scores are still tied, then a second five-minute period is played. This continues until there is a winner. 

What is a moneyline bet in basketball?

This is simply another way to refer to a bet on the two-way Match Winner market.

How long is a basketball match in the NBA?

Each match comprises four 12-minute quarters, giving a total time of 48 minutes of regulation play.

What is the NBA All-Star game?

The NBA All-Star Game is the feature event of the All-Star Weekend, which takes place during the course of the NBA regular season. The line-ups are selected by fans voting on which player’s they would like to take part. The position of coach for the respective teams is awarded to each of the head-coaches with the best conference record at the time the NBA All-Star Weekend takes place.

When is the NBA draft?

The NBA draft normally takes place towards the end of June each year, during the NBA offseason.

What is the NBA draft?

The NBA draft gives the 30 professional basketball teams the opportunity to add new players to their roster. These can be players from other leagues, or aspiring stars who have come through the American college ranks.

There are two rounds of picks. The teams who finished in the lower positions in the previous season get the first choices, with the order of selection decided by a lottery. The champions from the previous season will have the final pick, which means that, in theory, the weaker teams pick the strongest new players, and the relative abilities of all the teams move closer together.

Can I cash out my basketball bet?

Yes, the Cash Out option is available on basketball, as well as on many other sports.

However, bear in mind that the Cash Out option is not available on every match. Depending on what is happening during the course of a specific match, the Cash Out option may be suspended or removed during that match.

Additionally, only selected types of bets, selections or markets have the Cash Out option.

A Cash Out banner
A Cash Out banner

You may also use the Auto Cash Out or Partial Cash Out functions when they are available.

Can I use my Free Bet on a basketball match?

Yes, if you have a Free Bet, it can be placed as a win only single on any Sportsbook event of your choice. The Free Bet can be placed on any pre-match or live (in-play) event.

If your selection is a winning one, the winnings from bets placed using your Free Bet will be paid as withdrawable funds; however, your Free Bet stake will not be returned with any winnings.

Virtual Sports Basketball

If you enjoy betting on basketball, why not take a look at the Virtual Sports section on our website? You’ll find a high-quality basketball simulation, Virtual NBA, available around the clock.

You can find more information in our blog article Virtual Sports NBA Basketball Betting Guide.

If you’ve found this article interesting, take a look at our other sports betting guides: How to Bet on Football and How to Bet on Tennis.