A closer look at NBA line betting

By Andrew D

December 26, 2022

Image Courtesy of Alamy


Even if you are a complete betting novice, rolling up fresh-faced and full of vim and vigour at the kerb leading to the world of sports betting, you are probably familiar with hearing about ‘the line’.

You might also have heard people refer to a ‘point spread’ or ‘the spread’. 

Well, luckily for you dear reader, they‘re all merely different ways to describe the exact same thing. 

Hereafter, we shall refer to these types of bets as ‘the line’ but what we have to say applies equally to them all. They’re the same remember?

Do pay attention. 

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Just as with any handicap, be it in golf or tiddlywinks, it makes the game more or less equal. The superior team has to work harder to triumph and chase after the beleaguered, weaker team. Now you can bet on either of them and the odds of winning will be the same.

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Remember how some folks refer to this type of bet as a ‘points spread’ You do? Lovely.

Well, you will certainly hear talk of ‘covering the spread’. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not a reference to protecting a buffet. Rather it means to beat the handicap and either absorb the handicap and triumph (favourites) or hang on for grim life and prevent the other team from catching up (underdogs). Notice that we didn’t say ‘winning’?

That’s because the underdogs don’t need to win in order for your bet on them to be a winner. They just have to lose by less than the line advantage they have been given.


Don’t worry, we will offer up some real-life examples shortly. 

Remember that the sportsbook is taking a cut of your bet as payment for the privilege of spending your money with them. This is referred to as ‘juice’ or ‘vig’ and is the way that they virtually guarantee profit for their already bloated bank accounts. You can expect to pocket $90 for every $100 that you lay down.

The sportsbook’s ultimate goal is to have equal amounts of money wagered on either side of the line

That way, no matter the result, they are happy. This brings us to an important element of line betting:


In order to ensure that betting on either side of the line remains consistent and reasonably equal, sportsbooks reserve the right to move the line as the game gets nearer. If they are worried that too much of the action is falling on one side, they will push the line so that it tempts punters to throw money on the other side instead. 

Lines can be made to move so significantly, in fact, that during the NBA betting scandal that rocked the sport in 2007, it transpired that the lines were being deliberately manipulated. Huge wagers were made early in the day via the Asian markets.

That pushed the lines in the opposite direction and then much, much bigger bets were dropped on the other side once the lines moved. The first bets were sacrificed in order to gain a better margin of error in the opposite direction. And the ace up their sleeve was that they had the referee in their pocket and he was able to ‘influence’ the game to within 6 points either way. 

You won’t have that advantage at your disposal…


In a matchup between the Atlanta Hawks (Go hawks!) and the Los Angeles Lakers, we might see something like this:

  • Atlanta Hawks (-7.5) @ L.A. Lakers (+7.5)

Naturally, the Hawks are the favourites (shut up) so their handicap is represented by a minus (-) sign. They have had 7.5 points deducted from their total score before the game even begins! 

Now they must claw back those points and win by 8 points in order to ‘cover the spread’ and for any bet on them to be a winner.

Why 8 points? Well, there are no half-points in the NBA, and the bookmaker does not want to have to return your stake money if they win by the exact amount of their handicap and effectively tie the game.

Pop on an extra half-point and that issue goes away. 

Conversely, the Lakers have a 7.5-point head-start represented by a plus (+) sign. They have to keep the Hawks at bay and stay within 7.5 points of their final score to prevail. So, what if the final score looks like this?

  • Atlanta Hawks 115 - 110 L.A. Lakers

In this scenario, the Hawks have won the game (yay!) but have failed to fully squash the impertinent Lakers. They have not covered the spread (-7.5) and any bet on the Lakers would be the successful one. They hung on and only lost by 5 points. Atlanta had a handicap of -7.5 and did not score enough. 

What if the end result had looked like this?

  • Atlanta Hawks 115 - 107 L.A. Lakers

Now the Hawks have beaten the Lakers by 8 points. They have covered the -7.5 spread and any bet on Atlanta is the successful one.

How about a totally unthinkable result?

  • Atlanta Hawks 115 - 116 L.A. Lakers

Clearly, the Lakers have easily maintained their +7.5-point buffer. In fact, they also won the game. Since it is impossible for the underdog to fail to cover the spread if they win the game, any bet on them is a winner. In this case, they have ended with a 1-point lead in the game itself and an 8.5-point lead when we take their handicap into account. 

Inclusivity for the win!


Even in games when there is virtually nothing to choose between the two teams, there will tend to be a marginal favourite. The key to successful line betting is the same tactic that is true of most types of betting. Namely:

Do your homework!

  • Look at the recent form. 

  • Assess any injuries and how they affect each team

  • Look at the prevalence of road games vs home games in recent days and weeks.

What can they tell you about the next game? Don’t just guess - look at how things went in the past. Did the Lakers perform well at home after a raft of away games? How were the Hawks away from home? Is this their first away game in this run? 

  • Are each team’s key players performing well at the moment? 

Analyse every scrap of information and data you can. Soak it all up and see what surfaces. The devil is in the details when it comes to sports betting. 

Luckily for you, there is no shortage of information out there and you can look at upcoming games from almost any conceivable angle. In fact, it is all too easy to become rapidly and completely overwhelmed. 

Stick with it. Practise and keep careful notes. Were any of your deductions correct last time? Any that didn’t work out as planned? Put in enough legwork and you will eventually gravitate towards your preferred sources and statistics over time. 

Any successful NBA betting strategy is nothing without the effort that goes into analysing the information you can glean from a vast, whirling vortex of baffling figures and seemingly meaningless statistics. 


Do your research, make your decisions and act swiftly and confidently thereafter. Lines will move over time, and not always in the direction that you want them to. But have the courage of your convictions and back yourself once you have made your informed decisions.

Be prepared to jump on any opportunities in line movement once the betting gets underway in earnest. If you have an online sportsbook site that shows you the percentages of betting then that can be very useful. High volumes of bets but low amounts tend to indicate the public. Lower volumes and higher amounts tend to indicate sharp betting. 

Should you always go with the pros? Not necessarily. But it’s good to know which way they’re leaning at least. 


There are no guarantees in sports betting. That much should be obvious. Bookmakers would cease to exist if it were possible to predict outcomes with any kind of certainty and consistency. Even the hottest ‘sharp’ professional sports bettors only expect to win 53-55% of the bets they place. Think of that. Just better than 50/50 if you flipped a coin. But that’s where the margins lie.

If you are drifting into the shark-infested waters of sports betting out of desperation, stop right now and wade back out. The waters are filled with the stripped bones of way too many gamblers who felt it was their only way out of a tight spot.

It isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact

You will almost certainly lose if you approach it that way. Sports betting has to be an engaging hobby and nothing more. Unless you are really going all-out to become a professional gambler. But you're not going to do that right? If you're reading an article describing how line bets work then it's fairly safe to say that ship has sailed...

Can you make a few dollars to boost your income betting on the NBA?


Will you?

Probably not. 

Most people lose. Of course, they do. You know that. The bookmakers would be long gone otherwise. It is true that they guarantee their profits by charging you to bet. But that in itself would not be enough if punters were winning more frequently. 


Here at The Jump Hub, we can’t claim to have all the answers. But we’ve surely had our share of wins and losses and can only offer up any pearls of wisdom that have grown over time. The truth of the matter is this:

You will have to put in a lot of time and hard work to get any kid of genuine feeling for how it all works. Only sportsbooks or mad-genius bettors have their own algorithms to input details into and offer up predictions.

The rest of us mere mortals have to balance good old-fashioned hard work with an instinct that grows over time

As far as we’re concerned, it’s more fun that way too. If the day comes when all we have to do is push a button and Robbie the Robot tells us which teams to place bets on, that’s probably when we’ll quit. 

You see, we stick to our own golden rules and only ever bet for entertainment purposes only. That’s where we find our thrills. In analysing the games and making informed gut decisions. If we lose, we move on. We haven’t risked enough to adversely affect our lives in any case. 

Here are the golden rules we live by:

  • Protect your bankroll

  • Never chase a losing bet with a rash, uninformed one

  • Only bet sober

  • Parlays are for suckers

  • When the fun stops, stop

Stick to those like glue and you won’t go too far wrong.

They’re all crucial but the one about protecting your bankroll is probably the one that will help sustain your betting activities for longer.

If you break the others then nothing will stop you from losing everything. But protecting your bankroll will give you the absolute best chance of success, even if you behave like a muppet regarding all the others.

Follow the link and read the article. Seriously, it’s the best advice we can give you when it comes to the business of sports betting. 

Do it now. You simply must not proceed in this endeavour until you have read about the single most essential step you can take to protect yourself.

Look after yourselves and each other. 

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