How does Handicap Betting Work in the NBA?

By Andrew D

August 03, 2022


A lot of betting sites will refer to handicap betting as line or spread betting, so be sure to watch out for those terms and know that the same rules and conditions apply.

The sportsbook sets a line for the NBA game in question. More often than not for the number of points scored. You pick which line you want to take and hand over your hard-earned dough.

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A handicap is an adjustment made to a bet so that the chances of victory become equal for both sides. Or, they are evened up a little at least. The handicap is something that is unavoidably subjective. The bookmaker compiles all their data and determines which of the teams (if any) has an advantage.

If one team is predicted to be the winner in a straight battle, they are “handicapped” in the betting line so that they start with a deficit.

That would be represented like this:

  • Team A: – 4.5

We’re taking 4.5 points away from them before they even start. 

Why the .5? 

Because that ensures that the bet cannot be a “push” – where the game is tied and nobody wins. Clearly, it’s impossible that a team wins by 4.5 points so it’s just a mechanism to guarantee a result either way.

Likewise, the underdogs are not expected to win, so they are given an extra head start to increase their chances.

That would be represented like this:

  • Team B: + 4.5


Well, they started at -4.5, so in the eyes of the bet, they lost the bet by 2.5 points. They needed to win by at least 5 points to ensure a winning ticket.

On the other hand, for a bet on the underdog to be a winner, they have to lose by less than the handicap. So in our example of + 4.5, they can afford to lose by up to 4 points and the ticket still wins. The handicap would still have them ahead by that extra .5 and you win.

Each handicap is the line that is set by the betting site to get as close to even as possible. Handicaps are usually priced at -110 each. Meaning that the chances are as close as they can estimate to being even.

For each handicap, the odds are bound to change. The less likely any given team is to cover that line, the higher the odds.

Do your research

You have to be on top of your game before you even begin. See if these lines make sense or not. Predict what they will be before you even check them. Before you head to your betting site, work out who is the favorite. A crucial skill for any sports bettor is to become their own handicapper. 


You now have a good baseline to build from and compare the actual basketball handicap betting markets. 

It is only when you can accurately predict how NBA teams are being viewed by the sportsbooks that you can truly begin to take advantage. You need to be able to spot when lines look wrong and dig out that elusive value when you think they’ve miscalculated. 

If you’ve decided that favorites the Phoenix Suns can clear a deficit of more than 3 points against the underdog Los Angeles Lakers, then you might place a bet on them with a bigger handicap. 

Maybe 4.5 or even 5.5

The odds for those outcomes will be longer and therefore return more money if your deductions turn out to be correct. 

It’s best if you can learn to make your predictions before actually seeing the odds because they are bound to influence you if you check them first. 

And you will gain great satisfaction once you start to be proven right more often than not

As discussed earlier, handicap bets are, by their nature, subjective and this is exactly why they can sometimes provide extra value. 

It’s usually fairly straightforward for any student of NBA games to set a favorite and an underdog. 

But working out just how much of a favorite one team is over another is more challenging.

The Jump Hub is not only focused on the NBA. Here we take a look at some of The Best NCAA Basketball Teams to know which teams to keep your eye on during March Madness!


As money starts being laid and up-to-date information is received and collated, handicap lines are going to move. They move all the time and different bookmakers offer alternative prices. Sites that have more risk at any given time might need to have their odds change to mitigate that risk. 

You have hopefully done your due diligence and are ready and raring to go early. This gives you the opportunity to take any early prices on a handicap line that has yet to be corrupted by money pouring in later on. There might be opportunities to do some high-value spread betting before the bookmakers have received all the latest information. 

Algorithms that bookmakers employ for betting purposes can only make predictions based on the data that they are given. Maybe the news that a certain player is injured has not yet hit. But you’ve been keeping an eye on Twitter feeds and gossip sites that discuss every conceivable angle of a basketball game. You might just have the edge you need. 

But it won’t last long so you have to be organized and strike fast while the iron is hot

It’s also true that the odds might move in the other direction. Maybe lots of money is placed that affects a conclusion that you arrived at earlier. Now the line that you put your money on nice and early offers even more value. If you stand by your reasoning and trust your NBA betting strategy then now is not the time to be cautious. Back yourself and put fresh bets on the new, different lines. 


But this is a game of managed risk. If you feel confident that the favorite wins by a big lead and have done the requisite stat-crunching then these are the opportunities you have to take advantage of. 


There are many alternatives for players who prefer to bet on something else. When it comes to basketball, the over/under totals markets are the most popular ones. You can bet over/under on the final score of the match, sometimes including OT. However, you can also bet on over/under for each quarter, or for a half. On top of that, over/under bets can also be placed on each team individually. Additionally, bettors can place bets on players instead of teams.


When you bet on the under (-) in a handicap market, you’re effectively saying you think the favorite is going to win by whatever margin the bet stipulates (in our previous example, 4.5 points)

Typically, the value here lies with Moneyline bets instead.

This is especially true if you have learned how to manage your bankroll in sports betting. Higher stakes are required to make a profit but a win is easier to predict than the number of points by which it will happen.

Conversely, when betting on the underdog, handicap bets offer a lifeline. Provided your chosen team doesn’t lose by more than their allotted handicap, your ticket still wins.

Handicap lines tend to offer higher odds than straight bets or some other bet types. That is because the degree of difficulty in predicting the outcome is higher. 


Remember – Do your research!

It’s no good just rocking up and throwing money at whichever team wears your favorite colored jerseys. You might snatch a few wins here and there but it is a poor overall strategy. It will only lead you one way.

  • Peruse betting tips. 

  • Look at the form. 

  • How have the two teams been performing of late? 

  • Has one side been on the road relentlessly? 

  • Was the final score close the last time they played? 

  • What has changed since then? 

  • Injuries? Roster adjustments? 

  • How does the home team typically perform after a previous win? 

  • How about after the team lost? 

NBA betting is complex and multi-layered. How far you want to go down the rabbit hole is entirely up to you. But don’t expect to just casually toss money around and for more of it to come back to you than you spent. 

You’ve got to put in the hard work. Not many sports are as complex or in-depth as basketball when it comes to anaylzing statistics and the minutiae of the situation. 


For a really great look at the mechanics and levels of effort required to take this seriously, check out our article – ‘How to build an NBA betting model


The National Basketball Association offers us a plethora of entertaining, challenging options when we feel the urge to do a spot of sports betting. 

The handicap bet is just another of those interesting basketball betting markets to approach. Learn to understand how and when to use it and you will find it an excellent weapon to have in your arsenal. when waging war on the bookmakers we must use all of the tools at our disposal to their maximum effect. 

We all lose money betting. It’s just the way it works. 

At The Jump Hub, not only do we review odds for individual games but also the latest odds for the NBA futures markets, including one of the most popular NBA Futures bets, the NBA MVP (Most Valuable Player) Betting market.

Even the best “sharp” bettors can only expect to win around 55% of the bets they place. 

The system is not designed to work in your favor and will chew you up and spit you out fast if you let it. 

Learn to recognize and acknowledge your feelings towards gambling. Speak to friends and family if you think you might be taking things too far or have lost a sense of perspective. 

Here at The Jump Hub, we have always maintained this fundamental truth: 

Sports betting, like any other kind of gambling, should be done for entertainment purposes only

It should enhance your experience of watching your favorite sports without meaning rack and ruin if things don’t go according to plan. They won’t. This is only a potential bread-winning stratagem for very, very few people. And none of them bet with their hearts and chase impossible scores to get back on track. They are methodical and disciplined. They separate themselves from the emotional aspect of gambling and follow the rules and strategies that they have created and imposed upon themselves. And they still lose almost half the bets that they make. 

That’s how difficult this is to do effectively

And does that honestly sound like fun? Shouldn’t the thrill of laying a few dollars down be the reason to do so? If spreadsheets out the wazoo and an almost robotic attitude to placing bets sound like something you would enjoy then, by all means, consider it. 

Otherwise, treat sports betting as what it is. A hobby. Something to spice up your life. To give you a tingle of excitement when it looks like your hunch was right and LeBron James is going to hit your prop bet tonight. 

That the underdog team has a bit more fight left in them than most people gave them credit for. 

That the Boston Celtics can get payback over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Playoffs. 



Everything from betting the handicap line and putting straight bets on the heavily favored teams, to some intuitive in-play betting as games unfold. 

Ask yourself if you are betting obsessively. Are you chasing one bad result with a rash bet to try and make up for it? Are you playing the betting market with money that you don’t have, or can’t afford to lose?


Pay attention to how you’re handling the situation and look after your mental health. 

Always remember the golden rule:


When the fun stops, stop

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