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What Is The Spread in NBA Betting? Real Examples

The beauty of sports betting is that there are so many ways to place your wager. Depending on the sportsbook, there are several ways to place your bet on NBA games. The moneyline, point spread bets, player props, and more are all types of picks available for any event, including MLB, NFL, and, most importantly, NBA games. The point spread bet, however, is one of the most common ways to bet on sports like basketball and football. If you aren’t quite sure what the spread is all about, consider this your guide. Below, you will learn all the information there is to know about the spread, how it works, and why it is a common way to wager on your favourite sporting events.

❓ What Is The Spread?

There is a rather simple explanation of what the point spread is before we get a bit deeper into it. The simple explanation is this: the point spread is the number of points a team must win by or stay within in order for that bet to win. The sportsbook in question is the one that sets the spread. You will likely find slightly different spreads depending on the sportsbook, and the line can change in the days and hours leading up to the game itself. The latter is especially true in the case of a sport like football, where there are weekly matchups rather than multiple games per team each week.

It is important to note that the spread is primarily used for basketball and football. Having said that, you will notice a variation in other sports. For example, the “spread” is referred to as the puck line in hockey or the run line in baseball. Why the difference at all? It has to do with the scoring. In the average baseball or hockey game, the total number of points (goals or runs, in this instance) is substantially lower. Because of that, the run/puck line is generally set at 1.5 or 2.5, depending on the matchup.

What The Spread Looks Like

Now that we have a basic understanding of what the spread is, how do you identify it? Let’s take a look at a matchup you might see in the NBA on a given night. In this matchup, the Denver Nuggets face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is the home team. The Nuggets enter the contest at +3. That means the Nuggets must either win outright or lose by three points or less to cover the spread. The odds of them doing so are -115, which means that it is slightly more likely than the Cavaliers winning by three or more, which is -105.

While it might seem like a lot of random numbers, a lot is going on behind the scenes to make this somewhat formulaic. The odds are calculated by a number of different factors. How the teams perform is a good place to start, but it is not the only factor. Sportsbooks will look at performance against the spread, recent game results, who is or is not playing in the game, and more. Public betting action can also sway the movement of a line. It is not uncommon for one team to begin as sizeable favourites, only for the line to shrink leading up to the game. This is to counteract the bulk of the betting action from being on one result.

Covering the spread and winning the game is not the same. It is all too easy to be confused by one team winning yet failing to cover the spread. In the game above, the Cavaliers would need to win by more than three in order to cover even if they win outright. They could also win by three exactly, leading to a push.

What Is A Push?

The push is the equivalent of a tie. The line can vary from sportsbook to sportsbook but will be in half or whole denotations. For example, we see the +3 spread attached to the Nuggets above, but you may find that the spread with another sportsbook is +3.5. The reason for this is the push. A push will see the bettor’s money returned to them as it is neither a win nor a loss. To erase the chance of a tie, the sportsbook will make the spread with totals of .5. In the example above, the Nuggets may be +3.5, which means that they could lose by three or fewer to cover. In the first bet, losing by exactly three would result in a push. The push complicates things but makes it less likely that the sportsbook will lose. Mitigating loss is the entire point of spreads and lines so that extra half-point can wind up making a difference one way or the other. From the bettor’s side, a push can also be annoying. That said, it is a better alternative to a loss, and pushes don’t happen all that often.

πŸ’‘ A More In-depth Explanation of The Spread And The Odds

In any matchup, there is a favourite and an underdog. When placing your wagers, you can determine who plays each corresponding role based on the symbol next to their odds. There are two symbols to be aware of: the + and . The underdog in the matchup will have a plus next to their odds. The higher the number next to the spread or the odds indicates a much bigger underdog. The larger the underdog, the less likely they are to win outright. On the flip side, the favourite is denoted with a minus symbol next to the oddsas well as the spread. The larger the number with the minus symbol next to it, the heavier the favourite. When you are betting on the spread, you are predicting whether or not the team will win and by how much. Picking a straight-up winner can be difficult on any given night, and choosing an underdog, especially one with high odds, is less likely to happen than them managing to cover the spread.

πŸ†š Why Bet on The Spread vs The Money Line?

So, the million-dollar question is, “why bet on the spread and not the money line?” After all, it has to be easier to choose the outright winner versus who will win and by how much, right? While that is technically true, there is more to it than that. The reason that spread bets are as popular, if not more, than the money line is because of the odds. Choosing the straight-up winner is difficult enough. But when betting on a heavy favourite, the odds make it less and less worth the risk.

Let’s think about it like this. The Mavs will be the heavy favourites when the San Antonio Spurs take on the Dallas Mavericks. How heavy of a favourite will they be? Whereas most favourites will be in the -200 to -300 range, the Mavs could be even higher at -400, offering little return on any investment. The odds are crucial in whether a bet is worth the timeand risk. In the example of the Mavericks, who are -400 favourites against the Spurs, the numbers don’t add up for betters. That is because a $100 bet on the Mavs money line would win a meagre $25. So not only is the win not worth the time, but risking $100 to win just $25 isn’t a worthwhile risk.

That is where the spread comes into play. In the matchup mentioned above between the Spurs and Mavericks, the point spread favours the Mavs by 13.5. Winning outright is no longer enough, as the Mavs must win by 14 points or more in order to cover the spread. The odds also drastically change with the point spread. While winning outright would put the Mavs at -400 favourites, the point spread makes the odds much more even. As a matter of fact, most point spread wagers will be in the -110 range for odds on either side.

Lowering the odds and making them much more even provides a much better winning opportunity. That same $100 bet on the Mavericks would now pay out $90.91 in the event of a win rather than $25. The tradeoff is that picking a winner is much more difficult, and it is far more likely that the Mavericks will win, just not by the 13.5 points by which they are required.

🎫 Other Bets Involving The Spread

The cool thing about sports betting is that you can utilize the point spread in a number of ways. The two most common ways to do so, particularly with basketball lines, are through the parlay and teaser. Let’s take a look at each. The parlay is any bet involving multiple bets or “legs.” The parlay can be as few as two teams, events, or players and up to 10 for most sportsbooks. If you feel confident about not one but several outcomes, the parlay can be the best way to potentially win big.


So, perhaps you feel confident that the Mavs will win by 14 points or more, the Toronto Raptors will win their game against the New Orleans Pelicans by more than five, and the Los Angeles Lakers will win their California-based battle with the Golden State Warriors by at least five. The parlay allows bettors to roll those bets into a single wager. What does that look like on your bet slip? Instead of taking each of those games as single bets with -110 odds each, making it a three-pick parlay changes the odds exponentially. Betting $100 on each of those games would net $90.90 for a win on each. With a parlay, however, the odds change to +595. That same $100 bet would now turn into a $695.79 winner if all three were to cash.


Teasers make things even more interesting. Let’s go back to the example of the Mavericks versus the Spurs. A teaser has the same foundation as a parlay bet, but there is one distinct difference, and it has to do with the spread itself (or the over/under, if that is your choice). The teaser is a variation of the current spread. Each sportsbook offers its own teaser, but they are most commonly of the 6-point variety. So, if the Mavericks are favoured by 13.5, then the bettor can tease the bet one of two ways. The first would be to add six points, making the line 19.5. The other way would be to take the six points and make the new line 7.5 points.

Teasers require at least two bets, though some require three, to place the wager. The odds can change exponentially depending on which way you tease the action. Taking the Mavs at -7.5 would be a much safer bet and lower the odds as well. So, instead of -110 for 13.5 points, you might be looking at something like -150 for the Mavs winning by 7.5 instead.

Spread(ing) the Action

There is one underrated aspect of the point spread, and that is how it can impact the viewing quality of the game. In most cases, the Mavericks will blow out the Spurs. They are teams at opposite ends of the standings. Instead of a boring game where the Mavericks winning is the expected outcome, the spread makes the game more interesting. Even if the Spurs aren’t really “close” to winning, keeping an eye on them to stay within that 13.5-point spread makes the matchup all the more enjoyable. Knowing more about the spread, how the odds work, and what you are going into with this type of bet can make it even more fun. With so many different ways to win, knowing the various bet options can provide you with more ways to win and more ways to enjoy the game. So watch the spread on your next wager and get in on the action today.

❓ FAQs About NBA Spread Bets

Spread betting is a popular form of sports betting, as it provides more betting options than simply betting on the winner or loser of a game. In NBA betting, a +7 spread means that one team is considered the underdog and is given a 7-point head start or handicap. This means that if you bet on the underdog, they must either win the game outright or lose by less than 7 points for your bet to win. At the same time, the favourite team would have a -7 spread, which means they are predicted to win by more than 7 points. Therefore, if you bet on the favourite, they would need to win by more than 7 points for you to win the bet.

In the NBA, a negative spread means that a team is favoured to win a game by a certain number of points. The negative number represents the point spread, which is the number of points the favoured team is expected to win by. For example, if the Los Angeles Lakers have a -6.5 point spread against the Houston Rockets, this means that the Lakers are favoured to win the game by more than 6.5 points. If you bet on the Lakers, they would need to win the game by 7 or more points, and therefore, you will have won your bet.

Covering the spread is a term used in basketball betting, specifically in reference to point spread betting. The point spread is a number set by bookmakers or oddsmakers, representing the expected margin of victory for one team over the other. When you place a bet on the point spread, you are essentially betting on whether a team will win by more points than the spread or lose by fewer points than the spread. If a team “covers the spread,” it means that they have won by more points than the spread predicted or lost by fewer points than the spread predicted.

The opposite of covering the spread in betting is basically when you bet against the spread or the odds. This happens when the team you have bet on either loses the game outright or wins by a margin that is less than the point spread.

πŸ“’ More Betting Guides For More Sports

Rowan Fisher-Shotton Sports Betting Journalist at GambleOntario photo


Rowan Fisher-Shotton

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Rowan is a sports betting journalist with an established presence in the sports media industry through his thought-invoking coverage and commentary surrounding major leagues like the NBA, NFL, and NCAA. While Rowan specializes in NBA, NFL, and NCAA college sports coverage, he consistently follows and reports on every major sport in North America.

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