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How to bet on... Basketball

Basketball may not be a typically British game but that’s no reason why betting on it should be a foreign concept. In fact, many of the disciplines involved are very similar to those employed when punting on more mainstream sport, as Gareth Bracken explains

With its four quarters, high scoring and fast action, basketball is every inch the archetypal American sport. It may be surprising to learn then that betting on it isn’t all that different from more familiar team sports like football, rugby or cricket, and this is what should make it so appealing to the novice punter.

As with all sports betting, it’s important to pick your battles. In this instance, that means selecting the right markets to play. The golden rule, according to Bodog basketball trader Jon Thompson, is to not make selections simply for the sake of it. “The only time you ever really want to get involved is when you feel you have an edge or an opinion,” he explains. The opinion in question could relate to individual match betting or betting on an overall conference (league).

When it comes to match betting, it’s best to keep it simple. “The most popular markets are Match Winner, Points Handicap and Total Points,” says Dinos Stranomitis, sportsbook trading manager at Expekt. “These are the ones that people should go for.” He adds that in recent seasons bookmakers have introduced other markets such as team totals, half-time winner/handicap/totals, quarter winner/handicap/totals, player points scores, top match scorer and “a number of others depending on the imagination of the odds compiler in question”.

Such markets are far too unpredictable for the liking of Daily Mirror basketball blogger Colm Heaney, who prefers to stick to championship and conference betting. “I find it best to bet on the overall NBA championship winner,” he says. “Either that or each-way betting on the championship, which is essentially a bet on a team to win their conference.” Heaney likes this kind of bet because the winner is “rarely a team out of the blue.” He advises punters to “be wary of long shots and stick to the top three or four teams,” adding: “It’s rare for outsiders to even reach the final.”

Naturally, a basketball beginner wouldn’t be aware of who the top sides necessarily were, while even those with an element of knowledge would do well to improve it for betting purposes. This isn’t difficult to do if you’re prepared to put the time in. “Watch some of the many games on ESPN,” says Heaney, “or even attend one of the two regular season games in London.” Boylesports basketball trader David Tarbet suggests another method that can work alongside live game viewing. “A good way to improve knowledge and understanding of the game would be to play fantasy basketball,” he says. “In this way you will quickly learn about the players and teams and their strengths and weaknesses, and you can then apply this knowledge to your betting.”

It’s also worthwhile keeping up with the latest news, especially as things can happen quickly in basketball. “Be aware of the trade deadlines and the fast moves that players make,” explains Thompson, adding that it’s also vital to have an understanding of the salary structure that’s in place, in order to assess which general managers are making best use of their budget. As is so often the case, the internet is a great of way of ensuring you stay up to date. “There are lots of good blogs and websites,” says Heaney, “including and”

Building up a decent knowledge base will then help with forming more detailed opinions on teams, games and conferences. Stranomitis says that four main factors dictate odds compilers’ prices, and should therefore inform betting decisions. These are team quality, recent form, team news and team motivation. “A person with a good knowledge of these factors, plus a good understanding of how they affect probabilities, has an advantage,” he says.

Gaining this understanding involves learning how to weigh up the different factors, including realising when some elements or developments are being overplayed. “People sometimes exaggerate the importance of certain pieces of information,” says Stranomitis. “A team missing one player does not mean they will start the game with one less, but someone will come from the bench with big motivation to prove himself.” He adds that “another common belief that usually leads to bad conclusions is ‘X team needs to win’ which should immediately raise the question ‘is the team actually able to win?’”

Heaney feels that it’s always worth noting who is playing at home, as away teams who have been on the road for a number of weeks can often struggle. He also makes the point that, when considering a side’s form, it’s important to look at who they’ve been up against in recent weeks and assess whether or not it’s been a particularly tough run of games. Thompson adds that team news is especially relevant when betting on European basketball, as “one team may have a key player than can be worth up to ten points on the handicap and affect the total points as well.”

Just as important as being aware of what to look out for is having the ability to avoid common errors. Heaney warns against thinking that showmanship equates to a successful side. “Don’t get sucked in by the flash stuff – the slam-dunks and so on,” he says. “Look for solid, functional, sound teams.” Thompson advises on the removal of any rose-tinted spectacles as well. “If you support a particular team then make sure you are aware of their strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “Having knowledge of a team can make you money from betting against them as well as for them.”

Other lessons worth heeding are common to all sports betting. “You should always only be betting what you can afford to play and a staking plan is always a good start. Try to grade your selections and attach your stake accordingly,” says Thompson. Tarbet advises that “a good rule of thumb is to never stake more than 2% of your bankroll on any one bet.” If you do make a misjudgement with a wager, Thompson says it’s worth trying to work out why, rather than simply steaming back in. “Chasing losses is always a problem for beginners. If you get a game wrong then sit back and try to analyse where and why you went so wrong,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to take several days break before finding what you consider to be another betting opportunity.”

It may take a bit of time to familiarise yourself with the way basketball works but it will be well worth the effort once you’ve got to grips with it all. Get used to the idiosyncrasies and you could soon be courting big profits. It’s an addictive sport and you might easily find yourself becoming a genuine fan of the NBA – and that can only help your basketball betting career.


• Consists of 30 teams, split into six divisions

• Three divisions make up the Eastern Conference and three make up the Western Conference

• The season begins in late October and each team plays 82 games in the regular season, 41 home and 41 away

• During the regular season, a team plays other teams from their division 16 times, teams from the other two divisions in their conference 36 times, and teams from the other conference 30 times

• The regular season ends in April, with the play-offs commencing later in the same month

• The play-offs consist of 16 teams, eight from each conference

• Those 16 teams are made up of the six divisional winners plus the five teams in each conference with the next best records

• Eight teams are seeded and a straight knockout tournament format follows, with each game being a best-of-seven contest

• Eventually two teams will be left, one from each conference – known as the conference winners – and they contest the NBA Finals in June


• Basketball is played professionally in Britain in the British Basketball League.

• The league formed in 1987 and operates as a franchise system with no promotion or relegation

• Between 1999 and 2002 the league was divided into Northern and Southern conferences

• Twelve teams currently compete in the league

• The top eight finishers in the regular league season progress to the play-offs, a knockout tournament that ends with the winners crowned as the play-off champions

• The 2010 play-off champions were the Everton Tigers, although the Newcastle Eagles were victorious in four of the five years previous to that

• Three other competitions operate alongside the league, namely the BBL Cup, BBL Trophy and BBL Cup Winners’ Cup
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