How NBA Lines Work

How to read NBA Odds—Lines, Spread and Totals

If you check out the free NBA odds comparison page or at a specific sports book and have any questions about what you are looking at then this is the perfect article for you. In this article, we’ll explain each part of an odds listing for professional basketball. Once you know what each number relates to in NBA odds and how the lines are set up, you’ll find that you’ll be able to understand the odds on each and every game that’s posted.

We’ll cover the rotation number, point spread, moneyline and over/under. Be aware that these elements go by other names. The rotation number may be called the rotation mark or number, the point spread is the spread or is often referred to as the line. In fact, sometimes odds themselves are generally called the line. When it comes to the over/under a common term you’ll find is the total.

Whatever sportsbook you go to all NBA odds are listed in a fairly similar manner. However there will be minor variations in how teams are posted. Many books will give you the odds on a game with one team on top of another, while others may list one team on the left and the other on the right. Whatever the case may be the first team listed is always the visitor and the second is the home club.

The first thing you’ll see will be the date and time of the game. This is on the far left of the odds listing. Just to the right are the names of the teams that are playing. In between the date and time and the team names is the don best rotation number.

The numbers run sequentially. If the Boston Celtics are playing the Miami Heat in Miami, and the Celtics, who are listed first as the visitor, are number 101, then the Heat will be 102. In the next game that’s listed on the odds sheet, the teams will be 103 and 104 respectively. The sequence of games continues for that day with each team in a game being given a rotation number.

Date/Time Rotation Number Team Point Spread MoneyLine Total
Jun 12th 101 Boston Celtics +2.5 +120 186.5
7:00 102 Miami Heat -2.5 -140 186.5

These numbers are universal. That means that every sportsbook will list the Celtics and Heat with the same rotation numbers. This makes it easy to identify what team a bettor is going to wager on, especially when placing your bet at a land-based book or over the phone. It serves as a type of shorthand for bettors and bookies alike as you refer to the number and not the team name when making your wager.

Thus, the first parts of the line read from left to right in the following manner—date and time of game, rotation numbers and the teams. These establish the game on which you are going to bet. Everything to the right of the team names is related to the actual odds on the game. To the right of the game, in this order, you’ll find the point spread, moneyline and over/under.

The point spread is designed to, in essence, make it tougher for bettors to make the right choice on a game and to even out the odds. In a big mismatch between a top team and bottom team chances are 4 of 5 times most of us can pick the outright winner. With the spread, a team either has to win by a certain number of points to payoff or it can lose by a certain number of points and still pay the bettor.

Spreads work in the following manner—the favorite team is listed with a negative number and the underdog has a positive number. The Boston and Miami matchup may be listed with the Celtics at +2.5 and the Heat at -2.5. Simply put Boston is a small dog and Miami is a small favorite. If you wager on Boston, you’ll make money if they win outright or lose by two or less. Bet on Miami and you’ll make cash if they win by three points or more.

More times than not a spread will be listed as a fraction or decimal. This is to prevent a tie in the spread, which would result in a push where all bets are off and all money is returned to the bettors. In our example if the spread has Miami at -2.0 and the final score was Miami 102 and Boston 100, the result would be a push.

The stake, the amount of cash you have to bet when the spread is in effect, is usually the same for both clubs and looks like this: -110. This tells you how much you have to bet to win $100. With the spread, you usually have to wager $110 to win $100. This can be translated into other wagers. If you bet $11, you’d win $10 or $220 to win $200.

Although many people contend the spread bet pays even money, it does not. If it did, your $110 wager would payout an equal amount, but instead if pays $10 less (10%). That means a spread bet is not an even odds wager, which would be shown as 1:1. It has less than even odds and is actually 0.90:1.00. Where does that 10% go? It is taken by the sportsbook in the form of a commission, which is known as vigorish or vig.

To the right of the spread you may see the moneyline (some sites list moneylines separately from the point spread). With the line, the team that wins the game outright pays off. Instead of using a spread, the bookmaker charges more to bet on the favorite and pays out less and less to wager on the dog while paying out more.

Using the Boston and Miami game, the moneyline would have the underdog Celtics at +120 and the Heat at -140. This line directly corresponds to the 2.5 point spread. With the moneyline, if a team is listed on the plus side that tells you how much you will win on a $100 wager. When a club is posted in the negative that tells you how much you have to bet to win $100. With Boston at +120, you would bet $100 to win $120 and with Miami at -140, you must wager $140 to win $100.

The moneyline and point spread have a direct correlation to one another. Below a chart lists the point spread and moneyline equivalents from 2.0 up to 10.5.

Point Spread Moneyline

Point Spread Money Line
-1 -120/+100
-2 -130/+110
-2.5 -140/+120
-3 -155/+135
-3.5 -175/+155
-4 -200/+170
-4.5 -220/+180
-5/-5.5 -240/+190
-6 -270/+210
-6.5 -300/+220
-7 -330/+250
-7.5/-8/-8.5 -360/+280
-9/-9.5 -400/+300
-10 -450/+325

The final number you’ll see in a NBA odds listing is the over/under or total for that game. Again, to prevent a push, this number will usually be expressed as a fraction or decimal and not as a whole number. The over/under is a projection of the total number of points that will be scored in the game by both teams. The sports bettor is wagering on the point total for that game as either being over or under the number on the odds listing.

In the Celtics/Heat game, the total could be listed around 186.5. If the total is 187 or better, then the over wins, if it is 186 or lower, that mean the under is the winner. Bookmakers create the number based on various criteria related to recent matchups between the teams, the points for and points against each team has averaged and other factors. Like the spread, this is a number that is not merely made up; it’s based on past performance and projected outcomes.

When you look at odds, the date and time, the rotation number and the team names establish the game on which you’re going to bet and the point spread, moneyline and over/under are the three basic bets related to that game. These are the basics of any NBA odds listing that you need to know and understand before you place a wager.

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