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How to bet on basketball

How to Read Basketball Odds



Even though the NBA season is over, a very exciting summer lies ahead for basketball fans. The Olympics are on their way (27 July – 11 August), and some would say the US team has never been stronger.

So, bear with us as we explain everything you need to know about basketball betting – how to read basketball odds, how to calculate them, and what your options are. You will be able to get started with betting before you head over to and claim some of the top sportsbook offers.

Reading NCAA basketball and NBA odds is very simple but requires that users understand the spread: +/- points system. Normal odds will include a number next to each team which is either + or -.

Types of Bets

The most popular bets are win/loss moneyline bets and point spread bets which we will explain later in this article. But you also want halftime lines, quarter lines, and total points bets for each segment of the game.

The fast-paced nature of basketball and the quick shifts in edge make it the perfect sport for in-play (or live) betting. This is a must-know when talking about how to bet on basketball.


Moneyline odds are one of the most straightforward and popular ways to bet on basketball. Unlike point spread betting, where the focus is on the margin of victory, moneyline betting is simply about picking the outright winner of a game. In this format, odds are presented with either a positive or negative sign, indicating the underdog and the favorite, respectively.

For example, if the Boston Celtics are listed at -150 and the Indiana Pacers at +130, a bet on the Celtics would require you to risk $150 to win $100, while a $100 bet on the Pacers would yield a $130 profit if they win.

The negative number represents how much you need to wager to win $100 on the favorite, whereas the positive number shows how much you can win with a $100 bet on the underdog. This simplicity makes moneyline odds appealing, especially for novice bettors who are more interested in picking a winner without worrying about the point spread.


How to bet on basketball

In basketball line betting, the sportsbook handicaps the game by creating a margin that attempts to equalize both teams. The margin is referred to as the line. Most NBA lines give users odds close to -110 as the margin between -110 and 100 are the house margins.

An example of NBA lines would be Warriors -10.5, and Pacers +10.5. Basically, the sportsbook is awarding the Pacers 10.5 points as a head start to equalize the basketball betting odds on these NBA lines.

The odds on this type of bet will almost always yield close to even money.  

If the number is (+) then that many points will be added to the end score to decide the winner of the bet. For example, if we took an NCAAB line where there was +5 for Team A and -5 for Team B and the end score was 99-100 in favor of Team B, a wager placed on Team A would still win due to the fact they have a +5 point head start.

The important part to remember when making line bets is that the team that is the favorite in the game must cover the spread (the number of points awarded to the underdog) and the underdog must lose by no less than the spread. If a game ends in a draw, bets are refunded.

Keep in mind that odds can change based on injuries and rumors nearing game time. Whatever line you bet on, however, will not change in your betting slip.


Over/under betting, also known as totals betting, focuses on the combined score of both teams in a basketball game rather than the game’s outcome. Bettors wager on whether the total points scored will be over or under a predetermined number set by the sportsbook. This type of bet is appealing because it allows bettors to focus on the offensive and defensive dynamics of both teams rather than choosing a winner.

For example, if the over/under for a game between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers is set at 215.5 points, a bet on the “over” would win if the combined score of both teams is 216 or more, while a bet on the “under” would win if the total is 215 points or fewer.

Over/under betting requires consideration of various factors, such as team playing styles, pace of the game, and recent performance trends. This betting format adds an extra layer of excitement, as every basket contributes to the potential outcome of the wager.

How To Calculate Probabilities

A required NBA betting strategy to ensure you’re getting the most out of your bets is checking implied probabilities.

Implied probability converts your betting odds to a percentage by taking into account the sportsbook margin when expecting the probability of a certain team winning.

Implied odds can be calculated for each of the three different odds types using the following formulas:

American odds – Negative odds / (Negative odds + 100) X 100 = implied probability

Example for NBA Betting lines: if you bet on odds -200, then 200/ (200+100) X 100 = 66.6% is implied probability.

When the sportsbook implied probability is lower than your own calculated probability then you have a good betting opportunity on your hands.

Decimal odds  – (1/ the decimal odds) X 100 = implied probability

For example, for college basketball betting lines, if you bet on odds of 5.00, then (1/5) X 100 = 20% is the implied probability.

Fractional odds – the denominator / (the denominator + the numerator) X 100 = implied probability

Example for NBA Betting lines: if you bet on odds of 5/2, then 2 / (5+2) X 100 = 28.5% is implied probability.

Basketball Betting Picks

The two most popular basketball leagues in the US are the NBA and the NCAA. Let’s take a look at each of them.


NBA best bets come in the form of handicaps, moneylines, and over/unders.

When betting on lines and handicaps it’s a good strategy to look at past performances between teams and the most recent games. Be sure to look at injury lists and whether key players are expected to be rested in a certain game before placing your bet.

Some of the other bets you can look towards wagering on are over and under bets. With them, you will have to predict whether both teams will score a combined number of points over or under an amount set by the sportsbook.

Example of NBA best bets: Lakers and Celtics to score over or under 210 points. A good NBA betting strategy is to look up the past meetings of teams and predict whether the teams will have a similar score.

Example of NBA prop bets: On FanDuel, and other top sportsbooks, you can place bets on players to score a certain amount of points, grab a number of rebounds, or even who is most likely to win the MVP. Below are the current NBA Championship winner odds courtesy of FanDuel.


College teams tend to be a lot less consistent than the professional ones. That makes college basketball wagering a lot more dynamic, especially if you’re betting on the Elite 8.

As the players are much younger, sometimes as young as 18, you can generally expect more volatile performances.

Team cohesion is very important when betting on college basketball. A LeBron James-style player rarely dominates the college court.

So when considering a college team to bet on, evaluate an entire team’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t fall into the trap line of thinking that a single player or two might be “hot”.

Hot streaks come and go and it’s best to look at the whole picture before placing a bet on a college team. You don’t want to fall prey to the hot-hand fallacy.

How to Calculate Different Types of Odds?

The NBA or college basketball odds can be given to you in three different formats: American, Fractional, and Decimal.

All three NBA & college basketball odds types provide the same chance to bet on basketball but do so within different systems.

It might be hard at first, but you can learn how to read odds relatively easily.

American Odds

American odds use a completely different system to that of fractional or decimal. They represent how much a bettor will have to wager to win $100. So the basketball betting odds provided were -135 it means you must risk $135 to win $100 from the sportsbook.

Whereas the odds of +350 on an underdog means you risk only $100, but you win $350.

All three odds types can generally be interchanged very easily at most top sportsbooks so you should have no trouble finding the odds type that is best for you to bet on basketball.

How to read basketball odds

Decimal Odds

With decimal odds, you will be given a specific number which will be the odds of your bet winning. So for example, if we took basketball betting odds on a game between the Lakers and the Celtics using the decimal system, odds would be given to each team in numbers such as 2.20 for the Lakers and 1.75 for the Celtics.

If you placed a wager on the Lakers using these odds for $10 you would receive 10 x 2.20 = $22 in total, whereas if you placed a $10 wager on the Celtics at 1.75 odds you would get 10 x 1.75 = $17.50.

Decimal odds are arguably the easiest to comprehend and should be used as a default for beginners who bet on basketball.

Fractional Odds

Fractional odds are similar to decimal odds when you bet on basketball in the sense that the odds given will be multiplied against your bet to decide your winnings but use fractions instead of numbers to display the odds. Another difference is that the amount you will win will be provided as profit instead of total winnings.

For example, if we took the same NBA betting odds on the Lakers vs Celtics NBA lines game, the odds would be displayed as 6/5 for the Lakers and 3/4 for the Celtics. So if you bet $10 on the Lakers using the odds you would still win 10 X 6/5 = $12 in profit.