The Basics
4 Min
reading odds

Visiting an online sportsbook to bet on the NBA for the first time can feel like a daunting experience, with all the different numbers and strange terminology making your head spin like a 360 dunk.


The good news is, it’s not as complicated as it might seem! The team here at Bet Basics have put together this handy guide to reading NBA odds so you’ll have the confidence to place smart, informed wagers on the plethora of NBA betting markets available.



Odds are used by sportsbooks as a means of representing the probability of each betting outcome. There are a plethora of different NBA bet types available to wager on, but the odds for each of these markets will be displayed in the same manner.


With most US sportsbooks, the default manner in which odds are displayed is the ‘moneyline’ format, which also gets referred to as ‘American’ odds. In some instances odds might be displayed using the fractional or decimal methods, which may be easier ton understand depending on how your brain is wired. You can find an explanation of each of these methods here.


With that being said, moneyline odds are the most commonly used format in the US, so our guide will focus on teaching you how to interpret those. 


For starters, it’s important to note that moneyline odds represent the favourite with a negative (-) sign and the underdog with a positive (+) sign. 


The positive sign indicates the potential profit a bettor can make by wagering $100, while the negative sign corresponds to the amount a bettor needs to wager in order to turn a $100 profit.




Let’s put that into practice using this example of an NBA clash between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets to help us understand how to read odds for NBA moneyline, spread and total bets.


Moneyline: In this example, the Nets are the favourites for this particular matchup as indicated by the -245 odds, while the Knicks are the underdogs as indicated by the +195 odds.


A $100 wager on the Nets would result in a payout of $140.82 ($40.82 in profit, plus the initial $100 stake returned). A $100 wager on the Knicks meanwhile, would result in a $295 payout ($195 in profit, plus the $100 outlay). Confused? Not to worry, he’s a breakdown of how we calculated those numbers:

  • For favorites divide 100 by the odds and multiply the result by your wager amount. In our example, the calculation would be (100/245)x100=$40.82.
  • For underdogs divide the odds by 100 and multiply the result by your wager amount. In our example, the calculation would be (195/100)x100=$195.


If maths isn’t your strong point and you still can’t quite figure out how we landed on those numbers, the team at Bet Basics has a handy odds calculator to do the job for you! Click here to check it out.


Spread: In our example, the Nets have been assigned a handicap of -6 points by the sportsbook, which which is effectively giving the Knicks a +6 points head start. 


For bettors wagering on the Nets to ‘cover the spread’ (i.e. win the game despite the handicap), the margin of victory must be 7 points or more for their bet to win. Consequently, those betting on the Knicks require them to lose the game by 5 points or less (or win outright) receive a winning payout. If the Nets won by exactly 6 points, this would be considered a ‘push’ and you would likely be refunded the money you wagered.


Both scenarios are offering the same payout, with odds of -110 indicating you would need to wager $110 in order to make a $100 profit.


Totals: In our example, the line for total game points has been set by the sportsbook at 216.5 points. Bettors who choose to wager on the over (indicated by the ‘o’),are counting on 217 or more points being scored in the game for their bets to win. Betting on the under (indicated by the ‘u’), would require there to be 216 points or less scored in the game to collect a payout. 


As with the spread betting example above, the sportsbook has deemed both outcomes equally likely with odds of -110 indicating you would need to wager $110 in order to make a $100 profit.


Having a basic understanding of how odds are displayed for moneyline, spread and totals bets, gives you the knowledge to explore a whole new world of other NBA betting options such as props, live betting, parlays, and futures bets.


You now have the expertise required to go hunting for the best value odds available from different sportsbooks and quickly assess the risk/reward ratio your wagers. Having accounts at mutliple sportsbooks makes this process even more straightforward an our list of Bet Basics 100% licensed sportsbooks is the perfect place to start!

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