How to Bet on the NBA Point Spread

How to Bet on the NBA Point Spread

Welcome to NBA spread betting explained: Learn everything there is to know about NBA point spread betting including how to read NBA odds on the spread and make the best NBA picks possible.

After pro and college football, the most popular sport for bettors in the United States to place wagers on is pro basketball—the NBA. This guide will go over basketball betting, how you can do online betting on the NBA, and spread-betting strategies.

Like football, the most popular way to bet on the NBA is with a point spread. Many times, betting on the spread will put close to an even amount of money on each team and keep a game interesting even if the winner of the actual game isn’t in question. In fact, free throws at the end of the game will often determine the winner via the point spread.

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Not factoring in over-under or prop bets, there are two ways you can bet on the outcome of an NBA game—the point spread or the moneyline. With the moneyline, you are simply betting on the winner of the game. While this is an easier concept to grasp, the more a team is favored, the less money you will win compared to how much you wager. With the lines set on NBA basketball games with a point spread, the odds are closer to even-money, so it’s a more popular form of betting on basketball because it’s more straightforward about how much you can win on a single bet.

The Step-By-Step Process of Placing an NBA Bet Online:

  1.  Choose the NBA game to bet on. There are anywhere from approximately four to 14 games to bet on during any given night of the regular season, which lasts from October-April.
  2.  Analyze the Odds for Both Teams. We will get into factors like injuries, rivalries, and more below.
  3.  Choose the Favorite or Underdog. With the favorite on the point spread, the team you pick will have to win by a designated number of points. The underdog can either win the actual game or lose by less than the given point spread.
  4.  Choose Your Sportsbook and Place the Bet. Using a site like Sidelines gives you an advantage when calculating your betting odds because you can see what different sites are offering. You can find more favorable odds and sometimes promotions that will give you more of an edge. Once you find your site, place your bet.
  5.  Watch the Game Live to Track Your Bet. The thrill of sports betting is to be able to root for your bet in real time, making a sporting event even more exciting!
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How Point Spread Betting Is Different in the NBA

As we discussed, betting on the point spread in NBA basketball means that you’re not betting on a team to win the game, rather betting on whether they will cover the point spread—a favorite winning by a certain amount or an underdog winning outright or not losing by the given number. Here’s how the point spread in basketball differs from some other sports:

  • Basketball is a high scoring game and the point spread will reflect that. It’s not uncommon to see a significantly better team favored by 10+ points, whereas in sports like baseball and hockey, their version of the spread is generally set at 1.5
  • The value on betting favorites is in the spread. Since betting the moneyline on a big favorite returns such little value in basketball, it’s more popular to bet on the spread where the money will be about even, your favorite just needs to cover.

Using Sidelines will give you the most favorable spreads for each side of a matchup. For example, in this game featuring the San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks, Dallas is the favored team by the oddsmakers. The best spread available on Dallas is -4.5 at -109. We will go into what these numbers mean below. The best spread available on the Spurs is +4 at -110.

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Understanding NBA Odds

Using the example above, Dallas is set as a 4.5-point favorite (the minus sign before the number indicates the betting favorite), meaning that they must win by more than 4.5 points to cover the spread—or win a bet on them. The Mavericks winning by five or more points is a win for the bettor, and an outright loss of the game or winning by four points or fewer is a loss on the wager. The -109 after the spread means that you must bet $109 to win $100 on the bet.

Bets on both teams are generally around -110, which is considered an even-money bet in the betting world. A true even-money bet would be +100, but oddsmakers set them at -110 for the vigorish, also called the vig or juice. This works in what amounts to a service fee for the sportsbooks for placing and guaranteeing to pay your bet if you win.

The best bet on San Antonio in our example is +4, meaning that they are getting four points added to their total in the final score. If they win the game or lose by less than four points, the bet is a winner. If the Spurs lose by five or more, it’s a loss. In the case of spreads that are whole numbers, a push (tie) is possible; if Dallas wins the game by four, anyone who bets on San Antonio at +4 would get the money they originally wagered back.

Alternate Lines Explained

If you’re interested in giving up some potential winnings for better odds, you can look into alternate lines. With alt lines, you can essentially buy points. So if Dallas is at -4.5 at -109, you may be able to drop that to -4 or -3.5, but the odds will drop to -120 or further, meaning you would have to bet at least $120 to win $100. With this example, you’re buying a point for the $11 difference in what you would have to wager in order to win $100.

Who Are the Favorites and the Underdogs in Spread Betting?

We discussed how the team with the minus sign in front of them is the favorite, and the team with the plus sign is the underdog. But let’s delve a little deeper into how oddsmakers ascertain favorites and underdogs. First, there is a larger disparity between good and bad teams in the NBA than in other sports. Secondly, home-court advantage plays a big part in creating a point spread. Teams playing on the road are likely to be travel-weary and may also rest key players that they would normally play at home in front of their own fans.

Oddsmakers, however, know that the betting public believes in an inherent home-court advantage, so they are more likely to bet on the home team, and a game that could have a line of zero (called a pick ’em) based on the teams’ skill levels and how they matchup may actually have the home team set as a one or 1.5-point favorite.

If you look at the table below, you’ll see that underdogs actually covered slightly more than they lost over the course of the first half of the 2020-21 season, but road underdogs performed quite well, going 159-142-5, meaning you would have profited $254.55 if you bet $100 on every road underdog throughout the course of the first half of last season. This shows that point spreads on favorites could be inflated by a point or two.

nba points spread list

What Are the Outcomes of an NBA Point Spread Bet?

We discussed how to win, lose, or push an NBA bet earlier. The hardest thing for novice gamblers to grasp is that winning the game doesn’t necessarily mean winning the bet. And teams’ strategies in the closing moments of a game depend on the score, meaning that every point is important when you’re making a bet against the spread in the NBA, especially if the spread is around six or less.

An example of this is say the Los Angeles Lakers are four-point favorites at home against the New York Knicks. If the Lakers are leading by more than three points and less than around nine, the Knicks will foul the Lakers when they have the ball in order to extend the game. The strategy is that the Knicks hope the Lakers will miss their free throws in order for the Knicks to have additional chances to score. Free throws can make the difference between a four- and five-point line extremely valuable. If the Lakers are leading by three with five seconds left on the clock and are fouled, they will have a chance to make two free throws to push the lead to five (and likely a winning bet at -4). Say they make only one free throw and the Knicks miss a shot at the buzzer to give LA a 104-100 win. A bet at -4 is a push, whereas a bet at -5 would be a loss

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NBA Spread Betting Strategies

There are several strategies that experts employ that you can use to give yourself an advantage when it comes to NBA basketball betting. Remember, it’s the oddsmakers’ job to set a line that they believe will cause equal betting on each side; the line doesn’t necessarily mean that a certain team is expected to win by that amount. So if you can determine that a team should win by seven points but they are only a five-point favorite, you should place a bet on that game.

Here are the factors to consider:

  1. Look for Late Injuries and Lineup Changes. Since only five players start NBA games and anywhere from eight to 13 players get playing time at all, if a key player is missing a game, that will have a huge impact on the line. In addition, teams usually come out with their lineups shortly before the game starts, so these are crucial pieces of information to follow. For this reason, it’s best not to place bets on NBA games until right before it begins.
  2. Pay Attention to Schedules. The NBA can give teams some rough patches in their schedules. Teams from the east coast may go play four Western Conference teams over the course of five or six days. As you could imagine, by the fourth game, the team from the East could be travel-weary and also rest players. Teams also play back-to-backs, meaning two games in successive days. Oftentimes, a team will play on the and then return home the next night, so even though a team is playing at home, it doesn’t mean that they will be comfortable and well-rested—they may have played a grueling game in another city just 24 hours’ prior.
  3. Track Line Movement. Oddsmakers will consider these real-time factors when changing lines, but they can also change them due to how the public responds to the initial betting lines. If the public senses that the Milwaukee Bucks at -2 is a good deal at home against the Golden State Warriors and 75% of the bettors take the Bucks, the oddsmakers will add points to the Bucks’ spread to try and even up the betting again. Line changes mean that the public is heavily leaning one way or another and may know something the oddsmakers don’t, so watching for line changes can provide lots of information.
  4. Pay Attention to Live-Game Odds. If you’re really in tune with the action, you’ll follow live-game odds and jump on any potential disparity from the oddsmakers. One strategy is called middling the second half. This is where your initial bet looks so good after halftime that you can bet on the opposite team for a second-half line and give yourself a great opportunity to win twice. To give you an example of this, say the Golden State Warriors are at home and the visiting Phoenix Suns are three-point underdogs. You bet Phoenix at +3 and come halftime, the Suns are winning by 15. After checking out the second-half lines, you see Golden State is at -6 (oddsmakers figure that the Warriors will be more aggressive in trying to come back in the game). By making this bet, you give yourself an 11-point range where you can win both wagers—anywhere from the Warriors winning the second half by seven to 18 points. In turn, the only risk you take is that you lose one of the bets, so you essentially break even at worst but win two bets at best.

How to Shop for an NBA Point Spread Betting Site?

Sidelines can help you with choosing the online sportsbook that is perfect for you. By researching each site, you’ll find some offer potentially lucrative promotions, deposit bonuses, and more favorable odds over other books. Also look into withdrawal options, as these can differ from vendor to vendor.

After choosing the right online sportsbook for you, it’s time to choose your NBA betting odds and place some bets!

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