NBA betting lines are pretty simple to understand. If you know how to read an NFL line, then you won’t have any problem with an NBA line. The hardest part is actually interpreting and understanding line movement (if you’re looking for the lines on today’s games, check out our NBA odds here.)
It’s also very important to know how the NBA line is set and why it is set in this manner. I’m sure you’ve heard many different ways of how the oddsmakers/sportsbooks set the lines, but you’ll probably be surprised how the line is actually determined (unless you’ve previously read some of my other sports betting guides).
Understanding and interpreting NBA betting lines is very important to becoming a successful handicapper. Reading the line is the easy part. Knowing why the line moves is the harder but more important part. However, the most vital aspect is being able to find value from soft lines, as well as taking advantage of line movement.
We’ll take you through what you need to know to better understand NBA betting lines. Let’s keep it simple and first look at how to actually read and interpret them.
The Basics Of NBA Betting Lines
Let’s look at a real world example. If you were to look online or in the paper, it might look like this:
(112) Boston 184o -110(113) LA Lakers -8 -110
The numbers in parenthesis identify the game. They are used by the sportsbook to keep track of the event and mean nothing as far as the odds go. As you can tell, the two teams playing are Boston and the LA Lakers.
The 184o is the total that is set for the game and the -110 means you would need to risk $110 to win $100. The -8 is the point spread that the Lakers are favored by and the -110 are the odds for the point spread (risk $110 to win $100).
If you bet on the Lakers and they win the game by 9 or more points, then you would win your bet. However, if they win by 7 or less (or lose), then you would lose your bet. The same goes for Boston. If you bet on Boston and they lose the game by 7 or less (or win the game out right), then you would win your bet. If they lose by 9 or more then you would lose your bet. However, if LA wins by 8, then the game is a push and all bets on both teams would be refunded.
The standard odds for a point spread are -110, as shown above. This means you would risk $110 to win $100. Although you can bet any amount, it’s just that $110 to win $100 is simple to calculate. As I just said, you can bet any amount allowed by the sportsbook, but you’ll still get 11/10 odds (check out our recommended sportsbooks that can offer reduced vig…very important to take advantage of lower juice).
You can also bet the amount of total points scored by both teams, which for this game is 184. You can either bet that the total will go over or under this amount. To win a bet placed on the over, the combined score must be more than 184 points. To win a bet placed on the under, the combined score must be less than 184 points.
If the combined score is 184, then it is a push and all wagers are returned to the bettors. Check out our NBA totals page for a much more in depth explanation of totals betting along with some great tips and strategies.
It’s important to know when it comes to NBA betting lines that the extra money you have to put up (the $10 between $110 and $100) is called the vig/vigorish or juice. This is basically the sportsbooks commission if you lose the bet. If you win the bet, then you’ll get your original wager back, $110, along with the $100 that you won. If you lose the bet, then you will lose the original $110 that you risked (again, you can bet any amount allowed by the sportsbook).
As I’ve probably said a million times, the vig/juice and point spreads can vary from sportsbook to sportsbook and from game to game, so it’s extremely important to shop around at different sportsbooks to make sure you’re getting the best price for the game you’re wanting to bet.
It’s essential to have at least five funded sportsbook accounts so you can find the best NBA betting lines possible…this is absolutely crucial if you want to be a successful NBA bettor.
How NBA Betting Lines Are Set
Most people think the line is set as a prediction on what the final point differential will be between the two teams. I’ve also read many “supposedly” sports betting advice sites that state the line is set to get an equal amount of action on each side so the book can sit back an collect their 10% juice. Well guess what, they’re both wrong.
Sportsbooks take uneven action all the time. It’s extremely difficult to get an equal amount of action on each side, especially on the NBA where you only have so many hours to place bets.
The sportsbook is in it to make as much profit as possible and they are happy to have a rooting interest…as long as they think the side with the most action is likely to lose.
The managers of sportsbooks think like sharps and have access to much more information than the majority of people placing bets i.e. squares. Since the majority of the betting public love to bet favorites, you’ll see the oddsmaker/sportsbook shade the lines to get as much money out of the squares as they can before the sharps jump on board taking advantage of the value on an underdog.
It’s certainly a very delicate balance. Tremendous value can be found in betting so called bad teams or underdogs because the sportsbooks will try to shade the lines as much as they can in their favor to suck as much money as possible out of the squares.
I’ve learned this over the years from many professional handicappers and this is why underdogs can be great +EV. To find out a little more detail about how the lines are set, check out a great book by Stanford Wong called Sharp Sports Betting and also go to the NFL Betting Lines page for some great quotes from Mr. Wong’s book.
I can assure you that the information in this section will be invaluable in helping you become a better overall handicapper. Any sharp bettor will tell you that value and +EV situations can be found in watching NBA betting lines. Now that we know the intricacies of how they’re set, let’s take a look at why they move and how we can take advantage.
Why NBA Betting Lines Move
Once the NBA betting lines are set, they rarely will remain the same…especially on totals. A number of factors can adjust the line including the amount of money being bet on one side, where the sharp action is coming from, injuries…etc.
It’s also important to know that the line will not always be the same at all sportsbooks. As for online sportsbooks, BookMaker and The Greek are known for setting and adjusting the lines, while most everyone else follows there lead…these two books are known to cater to the sharpest bettors.
With this being the case though, there’s still many online sportsbooks that are slow at adjusting their lines (or not adjusting them at all for some reason or another), creating great value for the smart NBA handicapper. The key is to have multiple accounts to take advantage of the best lines.
Going back to line movement though, the main reason NBA betting lines adjust throughout the day (besides injuries) is because of the amount of action coming in on each side or the total. However, all line movement isn’t created equal and it’s important to know the difference.
As I stated before, sportsbooks will set/shade lines in their favor to draw unsophisticated bettors (the public/squares) into making “sucker” bets that are typically on the favorite or the over. Now if they continue to get more and more action on one side from the public then they may start shading the line to draw more action on the other side.
However, it’s a very delicate balance because if they start moving the line to much, then sharps will jump on the other side. Trust me, sportsbooks know who their sharp bettors are and when they start betting on one side, you’ll see a lot more line movement than if unsophisticated bettors are taking one side.
While sharp action may only be $5,000 on one side while public action might be $20,000, the sharp action will always move the line more because they are much more informed bettors than most individuals. Heck, you might even see the public pounding one side but the line is going the opposite way it normally should. This is called reverse line movement and is something very important to look for.
As I always say, we want to be on the same side as the sharp sports bettors as well as the sportsbook. They have much more information than the general public as well as much more sophisticated betting systems and software.
Sharps tend to bet the lines early and then again late. So it’s very important to look for line movement early as well as large line moves late. It normally means the sharp bettors have found value or some kind of advantage in the line. The tricky part for you however, is to know if that value is still there after the line has moved.
Most people don’t have the time to sit around and watch lines all day, so if you’re serious about NBA betting, then you must have some kind of live odds service. My favorite site for the most up to date NBA betting lines is Sports Insights. They do a great job at showing how much money is being bet on each side (by percentage), but more importantly where the smart money is being bet. You’ll also be able to see line movements in real time which can be a huge advantage for getting the best NBA betting line at the sportsbooks where you have accounts.
Ask any professional handicapper and they’ll tell you that following and understanding line movement is a crucial key to being successful at betting on any sport. It’s not a skill that can be obtained over night, but you certainly can learn from spending some time at studying the odds.
Understanding how to read NBA betting lines is important, but interpreting why they move and taking advantage of it is absolutely critical.