NBA Basketball Betting–Understanding NBA Betting Lines


Basketball is an internationally popular sport and as such you’ll find plenty of betting action on it worldwide. In North America, the betting interest is primarily focused on the NBA professional league and NCAA college basketball. There is a lesser degree of betting interest on the Women’s pro league (WNBA) and women’s college basketball. Internationally, you’ll also find betting on professional leagues all over the world with an emphasis on Europe and Asia.

Basketball is a favorite of ‘wise guys’ due to the sheer number of teams involved and the high point totals. It’s also popular among beginning and recreational players. Everyone is familiar with basketball so there’s no problem with understanding the rules. Betting on basketball is very intuitive since most of the pointspread formats and wagers are very similar to football. That means you’ll find most of the betting on pointspreads, totals and moneylines. You’ll also find unique proposition bets at some sportsbooks.


Basketball pointspreads are no different than football pointspreads. They may come in a wider range of prices (the majority of football lines are 3, 7, 10 and multiples thereof) but they’re based on the same concept. The linesmaker will assign a pointspread for every game with most having a favorite and an underdog. The favorite must win by more than the designated amount of points to cash the bet, and the underdog must win outright OR lose by less than the same amount of points. If the game lands right on the pointspread it’s a ‘push’ (tie) and all bets are returned. Most pointspread bets require the player to lay -110 to win 100 (or $1.10 for each $1.00 won).

Here’s an example of a pointspread from an actual NBA regular season game:

UTAH JAZZ -4 -110

If you bet the Utah Jazz -4 they must win by 5 or more points to cash your bet. A four point Jazz win is a push (or tie) and all bets are returned. Any other result cashes the ticket for the underdog.

A bet on the Washington Wizards +4 means that they must win the game outright OR lose by 3 or less. A four point loss is a ‘push’. Any other result means the favorite is a winner.

College basketball pointspreads are identical to NBA pointspreads. You may see higher prices in some college games due to the wider disparity of talent.


Moneyline wagers frame the bet in terms of odds expressed in moneyline format. The moneyline format is the most common way of expressing odds in the United States or at sportsbooks with a North American clientèle. In Europe or other parts of the world you’re more likely to see the odds in fractional or decimal format. No matter how they’re expressed, they all mean the same thing. For example:

-175 = 1.57 = 4/7


+155 = 2.55 = 31/20

We’ll use the US (moneyline) format but you can find more detail on converting moneylines from one format to another elsewhere on this website.

With a moneyline wager, the linesmaker will post odds on each team winning with a favorite and an underdog. There is no pointspread involved so a team just needs to win the game outright to cash the bet. Using the same game as above, here’s an example of moneyline pricing:


If you bet the Utah Jazz you must lay -175 for every 100 you want to win. Another way of saying it—you have to lay $1.75 for every $1.00 you want to win on the Jazz. If the Jazz win, you cash your bet and will get back your winnings plus your -175 stake.

If you bet on the Washington Wizards you’ll get back +155 for every 100 you wager; or you’ll receive $1.55 for every $1.00 bet. As before, you’ll get your 100 stake back plus +155 profit.

Just like football, moneyline wagers are a good strategy if you think that the underdog has a strong chance of winning the game outright.


Basketball totals are just like football, only they deal with larger numbers. Most basketball totals are -110 on each side but you might see a different moneyline for the ‘Over’ and the ‘Under’:

UTAH JAZZ UN 196 -110

If the combined final score of the game equals 197 or higher, bets on the ‘Over’ win. If the combined final score equals 195 or lower, bets on the ‘Under’ win. If the combined final score is 196 the game is a ‘push’ and all bets are returned. So if the Jazz win 100-97 the ‘Over’ is a winner. If they win 100-96, the game has gone ‘Under’. A 100-96 verdict totals out to 196 and that’s a ‘push’.


Some books offer a variety of different ways to play the side and total. One alternate format is to offer the player higher or lower pointspreads with adjusted moneylines. For example:

UTAH JAZZ -4.5 +100

Note that the pointspread is ½ point higher than the ‘actual’ game line we discussed above. Since this is advantageous for Wizards bettors, their moneyline has been adjusted to -120. Since it’s disadvantageous to the Jazz bettors, their moneyline has been adjusted to +100.

If you wanted to bet the Jazz at the ‘alternate’ price you’d lay +100 for every 100 you want to win (even money). The Jazz have to win by 5 or more to cash the ticket. Note that with the half point a ‘push’ is not an option—should the Jazz win by 4 or less, or lose the game outright bets on the underdog will cash. To bet the Wizards, you’d have to lay -120 to win 100.

You can also find alternate totals plays:

UTAH JAZZ UN 196′ -118

Once again, the extra half point on the total produces a differential on the moneyline. In this case, the extra half point makes the ‘Under’ a more likely result so the prices have been adjusted accordingly.