NBA point spread betting explained

NBA point spread betting online is a wager on how many points a team will win or lose by. This is one of the only wagers where you can bet on a team to lose, and as long as they keep the final score within the spread number, you still win your wager.

NBA Lebron James Los Angeles Lakers

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NBA point spread key takeaways

  • Betting on the NBA point spread is choosing the correct team to either win/lose by a specific margin set by the sportsbook.

  • A fan favorite for sure, point spread betting in the NBA is by far the most attractive type of bet placed by all bettors.

What is an NBA point spread bet?

Point spread betting in the NBA is an electrifying way to wager on NBA teams. Whether you think a favorite will win by a margin or you predict an underdog to pull an upset by keeping the game close with the potential to cover a large spread. You can almost always expect a thrill with a lot of ups and downs during the NBA contest.

In each NBA game there’s a favorite (the team predicted to win) and an underdog (the weaker team). If you’re betting on the favorite you’re betting that they will win the game by a certain margin. On the flip side, if you’re taking a wager on the underdog, you’re betting that the weaker team in the matchup will lose by less points than the same amount. If the underdog wins the game outright then the wager cashes also.

For example, let's say the Los Angeles Lakers are a -3 favorite vs the Celtics. This means the Celtics are a +3 underdog.

Boston Celtics+3-110
Los Angeles Lakers-3-110

If you bet the Lakers to win on the spread then you need the Lakers to win the game by 4 points. Conversely if you bet the Celtics on the spread then you need the Celtics to lose by 1 point, 2 points or win the game outright. In this example if the Lakers win by 3 exactly or the Celtics lose by 3 exactly it’s considered a push and bets are refunded.

NBA point spread betting explained

NBA Boston Celtics Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder takes on 'King James' at the rim © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Essentially, you’re predicting the team that’s the favorite will win by the margin set by the bookmakers or the team that’s the underdog to not lose by that same margin. The margin, also referred to as the ‘spread’, is the number of points either team has to cover in order to win.

As mentioned earlier, point spread betting in the NBA is the most popular wager type of NBA bettors. One of the reasons point spread wagering is also the most enticing way of betting NBA is because of the odds. Most sportsbooks will have each side set odds close to -110 on both sides. This gives equal un-juiced lines to the favorite and the underdog in this spot. Long term profits are secured by betting the books on standard lines near -110.

Point spread betting is best suited for skilled bettors who have profound knowledge of the two teams in the contest. A proficient gambler will consider injuries, travel situations, revenge narratives and other factors on both sides before placing a point spread bet on either side.

How to place an NBA point spread bet

Bettors can expect a convenient and simple process when placing a NBA point spread wager. Since it’s the most highly sought-after bet type in NBA wagering, you’ll always be able to find the point spread bet first on any home page of a given NBA contest. Clicking on the spread number will highlight that bet. For instance if the Lakers are 3 point favorites, you’ll see “Lakers -3” with the indicated odds typically beneath the spread. Afterwards, simplifying adding the desired wager amount then placing the bet will complete the wagering process.

Using a betting calculator to understand both your risk and potential rewards can be a highly productive tool to assist with math equations. Whether straight bets or parlays, users have the ability to enter their odds and the amount they’d like to wager to calculate profit. Our Odds Calculator can show you how much you'd win based on your bet total.

What do minus and plus odds mean?

Understanding betting odds are an essential part of understanding sports gambling of any kind. Odds are typically formulated by a variety of different factors. Computer algorithms, advanced mathematics and power rankings are just a few different components that determine who’s going to be the favorite (-) and who’s going to be listed as the underdog (+).

There’s also American, decimal and fraction odds. Decimal odds are used in large parts of the world such as Europe and Australia while fraction odds are typically used in the UK and Ireland. To keep the confusion at a minimum we’ll focus solely on American odds. Whenever there’s a minus (-) in front of the odds it means you'll have to bet more than the initial state in order to win that amount. For instance, if we use the example of the Lakers being 3 point favorites (-3) at -115 odds then it means you’ll have to bet $10 to win $18.70 on this bet. However if the Celtics were +3 on the spread at +120 odds then it would mean betters who risk $10 would win $22. Keep in mind that as the bet size increases so does the potential profit.

Why bet the NBA point spread vs the moneyline?

Most NBA bettors will typically place a bet on the point spread rather than the moneyline and for good reason. Unless there’s a small spread, let’s just say 4 points or less, you really start to lose value on the moneyline as the spread grows. For that reason specifically, as spreads get bigger bettors can expect less on their return because of the ‘juice’ paid.

‘Juice’ can best be described as how much the sportsbook charges for taking your bet. If your bet wins you get the juice and your profit returned. However if you lose, you’ve lost your original bet and the juice paid to the sportsbook to place the bet as well.

The difference between betting on the spread and betting on the NBA moneyline is that wagers placed on the moneyline only require the team you bet on to win the game outright. While betting on the spread requires the team to win by or lose by a specific margin. Certain factors influence point spread betting that most likely only more experienced bettors would know. Sometimes it’s the smallest pieces of information that makes bettors feel they’ve found an advantage and want to place a point spread wager on a team. For instance: updated injury news, rest advantages, revenge narratives or pre-game interviews are all key components to finding an edge on the team you’re wanting to place a wager on.

NBA point spread FAQs

What does a +7 spread mean?
Are points spread accurate?
What is a 2.5 point spread?
Why would you bet on negative odds?
What does betting the spread mean?
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Chris Cochran

Chris Cochran

Chris is a sports betting expert who has spent years learning how sportsbooks work and how to beat the markets. In addition to his own personal success with betting, Chris now also spends his time producing educational content for his followers across YouTube and Twitter. As a huge NBA, NFL and MLB fan, Chris enjoys the entertainment sports betting can bring, but also understands the hard work required to develop his knowledge and keep up with the markets in order to turn a consistent profit.

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