Picking a winner from a one-sided NBA matchup may be an easy task but playing the spread game is one of the toughest jobs a professional bettor can do on any given NBA day.
As always, the bookies are one step in front of the thrill-seeking bettors and look to turn the apparent 50/50 odds in their favor. So how can we fight back? How can we find that much-needed edge to turn a profit in the long run?
For starters, reading this guide should familiarize you with the basics and also help you understand the more advanced topics. The next step should be reading our pro NBA Parlay Picks, yet let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just start from the very beginning.
Point Spread Betting Explained
So, what is this point spread? Or just spread? In some cases, you will even find just an acronym ATS which means Against The Spread with the same meaning as the other two mentioned terms.
A straight up example will definitely help you understand these fuzzy terms from the get-go. It’s your usual Thursday Night NBA Action with a late show in LaLa Land between home team Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. The Lakers are heavy favorites with the addition of LeBron James. The Bulls are in rebuilding mode and on a tiring Western road trip. Alongside the Money line betting option – picking the straight up winner of the game – there is also the spread:
Los Angeles Lakers -9.5 (-110)
Chicago Bulls +9.5 (-110)
We all know what -110 means: if you bet $110 on either outcome, you will win an extra $100 as pure profit. But what does the first number mean? -9.5 tells us the Lakers MUST win by 10 or more points to cash in. For the Bulls, they must win OR lose by 9 points or less to get the bet right. If the away team lose by 5 and you bet $110 on Bulls +9.5, congrats, you are $100 richer.
Thus the spread is basically picking the margin by which an NBA team will either win or lose. Some say the margin picked by the bookie is the ‘breakeven’ point, however this is NOT entirely true as you will read in the next lines.
Before that though, what’s important to remember is this: the minus sign points at the favorite of the matchup. The favorite MUST win by more than the number shown after the minus to cash in a profit. The plus sign tells the story of the underdog. The underdog mustn’t necessarily win; they can also lose by a margin that is lower than the spread to print some more dollars.
Moving the Betting Lines
Worth mentioning is that you won’t always find the exact payouts presented in the example above. The payout line will slightly vary depending on several factors and so will the spread.
The opening line – when the bookmaker opens the betting round for an NBA game – however will most likely have the same payout: -110. Going back to our initial example, the Lakers – Bulls line can very well be an opening line. But what if LeBron James injures himself during practice? Obviously, that’s a huge mover and in a blink of an eye, the line could look like this:
Los Angeles Lakers -2.5 (-118)
Chicago Bulls +2.5 (-105)
Both the spread and the payout moved. Now, you have to bet $118 on the Lakers -2.5 to get $100 extra. If you think the underdog Bulls have a chance, they now have to lose by no more than 2 points to get a $205 ($100 pure profit) payout out of a $105 bet.
Injuries are the most obvious moving factors. The betting trends throughout the day can also move the spread and the payout structure. Betting trends? If a line is one sided – many more bettors wagered on the Lakers -2.5 for example than on the Bulls +2.5 – the spread may move by 1 point to 3.5 and also the payout could suffer with the bookies giving a -120 payout on the Lakers. The bookies look for that fine balance between Lakers and Bulls bettors, this is how they maximize their profit and minimize their loses in case of an unexpected turnout.
Just before tipoff, all bets are off and the last betting line is also the closing line. In our case, it may look like this:
Los Angeles Lakers -3.5 (-120)
Chicago Bulls +3.5 (-107)
NBA Point Spread Parlays
What about point spread parlays?
Well, they are definitely a viable option for any serious NBA bettor. Why? Because the bettor can minimize costs and maximize profit. Also, the payout is most of the time predictable and the bettor knows what he can get in advance.
As explained in our NBA Parlay Betting Guide, parlays are combo bets with multiple individual wagers linked together. Usually, to win a parlay, ALL picks must be correct. If one NBA pick is wrong, the bet is off and you lose money.
Point Spread parlays are multiple spread bets bundled together in one super bet. Obviously the odds are significantly increased compared to a single NBA point spread bet. So, let’s take these three choice as our next example:
Golden State Warriors -7.5 (-110)
Boston Celtics -3.5 (-110)
Portland Trail Blazers +1.5 (-110)
We could place three separate $110 wagers to win a total of $300 as pure profit if all turn out to be right, OR we could place a single NBA point spread parlay with all those three picks and cash in almost $600 as profit by placing just ONE $100 bet. Obviously, at the end of the day, all three picks must be correct.
If you don’t like your chances and choose to place a two-pick parlay – the Warriors and, let’s say, the Celtics – you can win an extra $265 on your $100 bet. If you feel lucky, you can try a four-pick point spread parlay and have a 12.4- to-1 winning odds.
Below you can see your odds and potential payout for a 2, 3, 4 or 5-pick parlay
PAYOUT BASED ON A $100 BET
|PROFIT BASED ON A $100 BET|
|2 Picks||2.65 to 1||$365||$265|
|3 Picks||6 to 1||$700||$600|
|4 Picks||12.3 to 1||$1330||$1230|
|5 Picks||24.5 to 1||$2550||$2450|
Please note payouts and profits are based on all picks having a -110 money line. The payouts/profits may and will most probably vary depending on your bookie’s fees and the money lines’ unpredictability.
NBA Point Spread Tips & Tricks
Now, that you’ve learned all there was to learn about point spread betting in general, let’s get into specifics and mention some worthy tips & tricks for the NBA Point Spread Betting.
Blowouts in the NBA
From time to time, especially mid- and late-season, you will see some big spread numbers, something like -17.5. This means the favorite has to win the game by at least 18 points for you to cash in. In other words, the favorite must blow the underdog out of the basketball court. Do blowouts happened that often in the NBA to make this spread worth your while?
Most NBA Basketball experts would say NO and we at bparlay tend to agree. The NBA teams are more evenly-matched than most of us think. Yes, maybe there is a skill gap between the Western and Eastern Conference and has been throughout the years. Yes, maybe the top NBA franchise plays against the team with the worst record but this doesn’t quite justify such a large spread.
Blowouts don’t happen that often in the NBA. Not all teams have Golden State Warriors’ three-point weapons and definitely not all Warriors’ players can shoot the lights off on every single night, in every single quarter. So we encourage you to bet on the underdog when you see such large point spreads as more often than not, the favorites won’t be able to cover that huge spread.
NBA Basketball Betting Trends
Let’s also look at the hard cold numbers and maybe spot a useful pattern or two.
Before we do that however, it’s important you understand the ‘breakeven’ point mentioned in the beginning of this guide. The truth is there is NO true breakeven point or a fair 50/50 chance in sports betting. Remember the -110 moneyline? To win $100, you have to bet $110. That extra $10 is the rake that turns the odds in bookie’s favor. The breakeven point in fact, is 52.4% for the bettor. In other words, the NBA bettor must have more than 52.4% winning chances on any given point spread bet to turn a profit.
According to TeamRankings.com, from 2003 to November 2018, only 2 NBA teams managed to cover the spread overall beyond that 52.4% threshold: the San Antonio Spurs (52.9%) and the Golden State Warriors (52.7%). On the other side of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Lakers (47.1%) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (46.2%) had the lowest coverage percentage. Keep in mind that the percentages tend to balance closer to 50% given a long-enough timespan.
As a home favorite, the Spurs, the Denver Nuggets, and the Indiana Pacers passed the threshold during the same timeline. As an away favorite, 10 NBA teams were above 52.4%.
Obviously, as we got closer to the present day and the timeline shrinks, the deviations are more often and even wilder. In the 2017 – 2018 for example, eight franchises had an over 52.4 coverage percentage. The top team, Boston Celtics had an impressive 62.6%.
Momentum As A Betting Edge
How can we use these trends in our favor? The naked truth is that we actually can’t. Sure, we can bet on the Spurs and Warriors and hope the trend continues into the future but do we have a large enough bankroll to sustain it? A .5% or a .3% can lead to high variance short-term. Maybe we could use our knowledge – given a long enough timeline, the percentages tend to even out to 50% – and say the Lakers have a better chance of covering the spread in the future since they are almost 3% below the ‘balance’ point.
Yet, since we don’t have an infinite bankroll plus NOT enough time to sustain, we could try another neat trick: use momentum as our ultimate betting edge.
All basketball fans have heard about momentum. In fact, we may use the term without even knowing it. When we say a player is red-hot, that player has hit a lot of shots and subconsciously, we expect him to continue making them, because he has momentum on his side. The same can be said about a red-hot team who has a long winning streak: we expect them to win even more games.
Are our expectations correct? It seems so, according to one The Sport Journal paper published in 2016. The two authors say in their paper: “Our results show that applying the momentum strategy to the NBA is profitable.”
In their take, they quantified momentum as a 4-game winning (or losing) streak. As a result, they tried the following experiment: bet on the 5th game if an NBA franchise has a 4-game winning/losing streak. If the team won before, then they will bet that team also wins ATS the 5th time in a row and this can go on and on – the team will win ATS the 6th time if they are on a 5-game winning streak, the 7th time in a row and so on until the streak is over. The same rule applies to the losing streak only that the bettor wagers the team will lose ATS.
The result? From 2001 till 2013 (included) 25 NBA teams had an average win percentage higher than 52.4% – the ‘breakeven’ point for the bettor. Only 5 teams were under the threshold: Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder (ex-Seattle SuperSonics), and the Washington Wizards. Moreover, if you have applied the momentum strategy in any season, from 2001 to 2013 (included) no matter the team, you would have been profitable on any year as shown in the paper with a peak in 2003 (314 NBA point spread bets and 215 wins for a whopping 63.05 win percentage).
How’s that for a clear betting edge?
Now go out there and use this edge to your advantage. Also, be sure to come back daily and check our expert NBA parlay picks – the final step towards becoming a profitable bettor.