How to Read NBA Basketball Lines
By Loot, NBA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
While winning money on NBA wagering is supremely difficult, understanding the odds are really a cinch. Spending a little time with the concepts will have you up to speed before you know it. There are simply a few different numerical representations you need to know. They neither require good math or an advanced understanding of betting.
The Point-Spread: A good starting point is the point-spread, an element that rules all standard NBA betting. A point-spread is a number given to both teams in a game. One team is a favorite by that number of points, while the other team is an underdog by that same number of points. Look at an example:
Golden State Warriors +5 vs. Portland Trail Blazers -5
You see Golden State is playing Portland, with the Warriors at +5 and the Trail Blazers at -5. In other words, the Trail Blazers are 5-point favorites, with the Warriors being 5-point underdogs. If you bet on the Blazers at -5, they must win the game by at least 6 for the bet to be a winner. If you bet on Golden State at +5, a winning bet on them would result from them either winning the game outright or if they lose by a number under 5. If Portland won by exactly 5, the bet would be a “push” and all bettors would receive their bet amount back.
In point-spread NBA betting, both sides of a bet pay the same. But not all teams that face each other are the same in terms of quality. The point-spread is brought in to bridge that gap. If, for example, the best team in the NBA was facing one of the worst, the decision on who will win is a no-brainer. But if the better team is -13.5 and the opponent is +13.5, now there is something to think about. The favorite can’t just win the game, but must do so by 14 points and the underdog can lose by 13 and a bet on them would still win.
Just remember that a minus-sign indicates a favorite and the number you see next to the minus-sign is how many points that team is favored by. A plus-sign indicates an underdog and the number is by how many points. One way to look at it is that you either add or subtract points from the final score. Let’s say the Los Angeles Lakers are -6 against the Sacramento Kings who are +6 and the final score is Los Angeles Lakers 93, Sacramento Kings 90. If you took the Lakers at -6, you would subtract 6 from their score, which would make it 90 for the Kings and 87 for the Lakers--a loss. If you picked Sacramento, you would add 6 to their score and they would win 96-93.
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The Money Line The money line is a form of expressing odds that is widely used in all forms of sports wagering, including NBA betting. One form of NBA wagering is money line betting, where you simply pick the winner of a game, without the concerns of margins that you have in point-spread betting. With the point-spread removed from the equation, something else is needed to account for the varying quality on teams--odds. That’s what a money line is. Here is an example:
Orlando Magic +400 vs. Miami Heat -600
This is a somewhat-extreme example, where the favorite is a robust -600. Another way to look at it is that Miami is a 6-to-1 favorite. When you see -600 or minus-any-number, that is how much you must bet in order to win $100. To win $100 on Miami, you must wager $600. Orlando at +400 means you win $400 for every $100 you bet. When dealing with money lines, everything is organized around the mythical $100 bet just to make it a round number that is easy to work with.
We know a plus-sign denotes an underdog and a minus-sign indicates a favorite from what we know about point-spreads. A good way to remember it is that a plus-sign is how much you WIN if you bet $100, while a minus-sign is what you BET to win $100.
We should keep in mind that the money line is also used in point-spread bets. whenever we bet against the spread, it’s not a equal tradeoff where we win $100 for every $100 we bet. The general money line on such bets is -110, meaning we must bet $110 for every $100 we hope to win. If we look, we can usually find a better betting line, like a -105 line, where we only have to bet $105 for every $100 we hope to win. But the point is that the money line is an integral part of betting and needs to be understood. Thankfully, it’s just a matter of embedding it in your conscience. Then trust us, it never goes away.
Totals: Next to every listed NBA basketball game, you will see a number, which is called a “total.” That number is a projected combined total combined score posted by the bookie. The bettor can either bet “over” or “under” based on if you think the total combined score of both teams will not meet or surpass that number. Here’s an example:
Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs, Total: 191
The total is 191. You pick whether the total combined score of both the Mavericks and the Spurs will go “over” or “under” 191. And if the score is 100-91, for example, everyone gets their bet amount returned. Just like with bets made against-the-spread, you generally have to bet more than you stand to win when betting totals, with -110 being the more common betting line, meaning you bet $110 for every $100 you hope to win.
Sure, this stuff can seem a little confusing and foreign at first, but it’s really nothing that should make you feel intimidated. Bettors who have been wagering for a few months will have the same level of familiarity with the odds in NBA basketball as a bettor who has been doing it for many years.
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