The Spread and NBA Playoffs – What Is It and How It Works

by Greg Landries
on April 19, 2017

Let’s face it; when it comes to the world of sports there are typically very few “equal” matchups with more inferior teams and fewer great ones. The spread is there to make the matchups fair and giving the superior team a way to lose the game by the spread, it in no way effects the outcome of a game.

The goal for a sportsbook is to make a spread that will result in equal betting on both teams, not just the favorite. This also allows the casino or book to make money, since it is not a lopsided wager on the superior team.

If the Golden State Warriors were facing the Brooklyn Nets, we are looking at a matchup against the best team in the league vs the worst team. Odds are 99% of bettors would just bet on the Warriors to win.  More than likely, that is a safe bet and you are going to win it. The main idea is to give both teams a way of winning in regards to wagering.

When you see a 26 point spread in a game and think wow there is no way a team will win by 26 or more points, Vegas knows what they are doing. A spread is not made by some Joe Schmoe sitting on his couch thinking, “ya know what, team x will win by 26 or more” these odds are made by in depth research and highly knowledgeable people.

The Spread and How it Works

Lets use the NBA playoffs as an example:

A #1 seed is usually the heavy favorite to win against a #8 seed. A 1-seed is clearly the better team. They have won their respective conference in comparison to the #8 seed who barely got into the playoffs. Their records are completely different, a . It is nothing against that #8 seed they are still a good team but there is a clear difference between these two teams.

If you look at the spreads throughout the NBA Playoffs the higher seed is typically a favorite in most of the match-ups (e.g. Warriors are going to be favorites over the Blazers).

What Does the +/- Mean Next to the Number?

When the sportsbook set the point spread at their number, the spread is at 15 points for Warriors vs. Blazers in game two of the playoffs. The Warriors are favored so the – will appear next them (e.g. -15) and the Blazers as underdogs (+15). The – means that team is being favored by 15 and the + is the points are being given to that team (underdog).

Now that you have a clearer understanding of what the spread is and how it works for the sportsbooks. We can take a deeper look into the process of betting on a spread and some of the reasons sportsbooks give the spreads they choose.

This a recent example of the spread. In last night’s game the Celtics were -7 against the Bulls.

First thing to realize is the Celtics were favored by 7 points against the Bulls, so once that final buzzer goes off someone that bet the spread will want the Celtics to cover winning by seven or more points.

If you bet against the spread, someone who thinks the Bulls will cover losing by less than seven points or even winning.

The final score of last night’s game was Boston 97 Chicago 111

If you bet the spread (Boston to win by 7 or more), you just lost your bet but betting on the Bulls to cover or beat the spread is a winner. They did not lose the game, so that 7-point underdog did not even matter.

Awesome you just won a bet! And it seemed so easy and you are probably thinking: How do people lose doing this betting stuff? Well the Boston Celtics were a 7-point favorite and anyone who bet on them to cover lost.

What to Look At

Congrats! You took a bet and won, but is taking a wild guess always the best way to bet? Absolutely not! You need to educate yourself on the teams that are playing. At the end of the day, so many other factors should go into the decision on your bet.

We will continue to use the Bulls vs. Celtics game as an example. Here are some different factors/statistics to look at prior to making the bet on a spread.

How well do the Bulls play on the road? They could be a strong road team that has a good record against the spread when away from home. It could also be the opposite, Chicago is a really bad road team, an awful road record, and rarely cover the spread.

Once it is playoff time, all of these teams have played one another. You can look at their regular season games and results. This can tell you a lot if say Chicago the inferior team has beaten Boston both times they visited the Celtics. For some reason Chicago has the Celtics number or it could be the Celtics have dominated the Bulls at home. There is a ton of different in game stats to look at between both teams, so you can make a safer bet.

The , playing really well and winning a ton of games including game one in Boston. In addition to the emotions that are going through Isiah Thomas still, we would have taken the Bulls with that spread.

One of when trying to bet a spread or find out why one may be so low or high. If a player like LeBron James, Steph Curry or any other star is not playing that will certainly effect the spread.

If a team is missing a key player out of their lineup, it can change a spread, but also change the way you think about betting on the game. It is really important to stay updated on injuries and players sitting out due to rest because of the effects it plays.

NBA Playoffs Spreads For Tonight

Here are some of the latest spreads from

Atlanta Hawks +5.5 vs. Washington Wizards -5.5

This is a tough call. The Hawks stayed in the game until they were outscored by 10 in the 3rd quarter, so they can definitely play with the Wizards. It would not be surprising to see the Hawks cover the spread and actually win this game in Washington.

Oklahoma City Thunder +7.5 vs. Houston Rockets -7.5

This may be the safest bet on the night, if you were to look at the result of game one. Houston absolutely dominated the Thunder winning by 31 points and it is hard to believe that game two will not be similar.

Portland Trailblazers +15 vs. Golden State Warriors -15

The biggest factor at this point is Jusuf Nurkic is out for game two. The big man would be such a great addition to the Blazers lineup but he is still not ready to play. Even without the big man Portland gave the Warriors quite a game going into the 4th quarter tied until being outscore by 12.

This can be a dangerous bet, a 15-point playoff loss is certainly possible but the Trailblazers are a team built on hustle and heart. They fight until the very end. It would probably be wise to stay away from this spread but if choosing one the Blazers will beat the spread.

Please continue to check back on future articles- we will take a full look at the money line, over-under, and prop bets.

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