How to Read Odds: NBA Odds

How to Read Odds: NBA Odds – We live in a society that encourages people to have different sources of income. Interestingly, there are various creative ways that people can earn money, even from their favorite hobbies, games, and even sports among others. Sports’ betting has been on for a long while, and even though it is basically about earning on the likelihood that a team wins or loses, there are some technicalities to placing bets in a way that increases the bettor’s chances of winning. 

When betting at a sports event, it is imperative to know how to read odds, as well as understand the meaning. You also need to be able to perform calculations on potential winnings as a function of multiple bets in cases where there are changes in the odds as the event starts unfolding. As stated earlier, odds are used to identify the likelihood of an event occurring, and the pay out if the event occurs. Interestingly, there are different ways that this information is conveyed.

NBA Odds

Odds reading in sports are peculiar to the different sports and have different approaches to get desired results. The odd reading techniques that are applicable to tennis may not work for basketball, and so you need to identify how to read odds and make informed decisions when betting. Reading NBA odds involves knowing the functions of the different numbers, as well as the set up of the lines.

There are some associated terms that you need to get familiar with, and they are:

  • Odds 
  • Point spread (the line)
  • Over/under
  • Rotation number (or rotation mark)
  • Money line

Most sports books have similar listings of the NBA odds, with one major difference being the way the different teams get posted. In some sport books, the odds are positioned with the teams on each other, while in other books, the teams are listed on the right and left pages accordingly. It does not matter how it is arranged, the visitor is usually the first team that gets listed, while the opposing team is the home team.

Another important information that you will notice on the odds listing page is the time and date of the game, which is located on the listing’s far left. On the right side you will find the names of the teams that are involved in the competition. Don Best’s rotation number and sequence is fixed between the names of the teams and the time for the competition. The rotation numbers are listed sequentially, and that invariably means that if the Miami Heat are playing the Boston Celtics in Boston, and the Heat who are visitors get listed first with the rotation number “101”, then the Celtics’ rotation number becomes 102. For other games that may be available for that day on the list of odds, the respective teams will follow the sequential order of the rotation number.


Date Time Rotation Number Team Point Spread Money Line Total (Over/Under)
August 21, 2020 101 Miami Heat +4.5 +180 186.5
11:45 am 102 Boston Celtics -4.5 -220 186.5


The table above is a graphical representation of what an odds list looks like using a game between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics as example. Every number that gets inputted in a sports book are universal, and that means that the numbers attached to any team have the same rotation numbers anywhere else. Having a universal rotation number makes it easy for a bettor to identify the team to place a bet on or against, especially when placing your bet online, over a phone or with a physical book. With the rotation number, the bookie or bettor can make their wager without referring the team names.

At first glance, you can see that to the left of the team are the date/time, rotation number, and team. To the left of the team are point spread, money line, and total. 

The Point Spread

The point spread feature takes away the pleasure of making easily making the right choices when trying to make the odds even out when placing bets. For instance, if there is a match between a bottom team and top team, it is easy for many people to predict the outright winners of the game, and that would take the fun out of betting, because 9 out of 10 times most people would predict correctly. With the point spread, it is designed such that for a team to win, it has to be according to a specific number of points, or on the flip side it can also lose by a specific number of points, and the bettor would get paid.

For illustrative purposes, let’s use the table to make point spread clearer. The favorite team gets listed with a negative point spread number (-4.5 in this case), while the underdog is given the positive point spread number (+4.5). If you place a bet on Celtic, you will earn money if there is an outright win or if they lose by 4 or less.

Most times, the amount staked is the same for both teams and looks something like -220. This is an indicator of what you need to bet in order to win $200. The point spread feature makes you pay the wager that way. It may interest you to know that the sports book takes the extra pay as a type of commission that is referred to as vig or vigorish.

Money Line

The money line is just to the right of the point spread column, and it is an indicator of the outright payoff of the winning team. Rather than applying a spread, more charges are set by the bookmarker to bet on the bettor’s favorite. The money line in the aforementioned Celtics versus Heat game has Miami Heat at 180 and Boston Celtics at -220. It corresponds with the 4.5 point spread. The money line indicates the amount to win when a $100 wager is set when a team gets listed on the plus side of the money line column. On the flip side, the negative side indicates the amount you need to bet in order to win $100.

Here’s an example of a Point Spread / Money Line chart for clarity:

Point Spread Money Line
-1 -120/+100
-2 -130/+110
-2.5 -140/+120
-3 -155/+135
-3.5 -175/+155
-4 -200/+170
-4.5 -220/+180
-5/5.5 -240/+190


Over and Under (Total)

In an NBA odds listing, the last set of numbers to pay attention to is the ‘total’ or ‘over/under’ for the game. This projection is used to indicate the total points that can be scored in the game, and the bettor places the wager based on whether the game will turn out as under or over the total points. If the total won at the end of the game is above the total on the odds listing, then over wins, and if it is less, then the under wins.

With this, you have a better idea about placing your wager with the odds presented.