With the playoffs starting, we have reached a point in the NBA season that was never a guarantee due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bubble in Orlando has been a huge success for Adam Silver and the NBA, as they have been able to display the strength of the league by being able to quickly organize and execute a plan to safely resume their season. It has also been an opportunity to showcase some of the league's brightest stars, including Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The NBA is a league built on star power and storylines, and there was no shortage of either during the regular season play. Devin booker led his Suns team to an undefeated 8-0 record in the restart, just missing the playoffs. Jusuf Nurkic helped the Portland Trailblazers past the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday to secure the team's spot in the playoffs after the passing of his grandmother earlier that day. One of the favorites to win the championship this year, the Los Angeles Lakers, have been struggling heading into the playoffs and questions loom over their series with Portland, as they've been one of the hottest teams going into postseason play. Let's take a look at each first round series and we'll give you some of our predictions of what to expect in the upcoming weeks.
Bucks (1) +250 v Magic (8) +24,000
Series X-Factor Khris Middleton
Predicted Series Winner - Bucks
For fans of basketball there's a lot to like about the Orlando Magic. Aaron Gordon, the twice robbed dunk champion, is an athletic big man that can cut to the hoop and finish in the blink of an eye. Nikola Vucevic has transformed his game adding an outside shot that allowed the Magic to stretch the floor and open up lanes for Aaron Gordon to get to the basket. Markelle Fultz went from top pick to nearly out of the league with Philadelphia, but seems to have turned a corner in Orlando and is starting to look like the prospect that scouts once believed him to be. They also have a pair of young players in Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba that they are hoping develop into important players for the organization. Bamba has already been immortalized in Sheck Wes' song of titles after the player, but Mo will be out during the playoffs due to the coronavirus. The magic will also be without a fully healthy Aaron Gordon as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury and his status for the series against Milwaukee is uncertain.
Even with a healthy Aaron Gordon the Magic's chances of upsetting the Bucks in this series would be unlikely. But due to the fact that one of their main stars is coming into the series less than 100%, I do not see how Orlando could manage to win the series. Milwaukee will likely want to limit Antetokounmpo's minutes and keep him fresh for the rest of the playoffs. If the Bucks are able to get out in front of the Magic early in games they should be able to limit Giannis' playing time which will allow Khris Middleton to step into the primary scoring role to close out games in their series and defeat Orlando in this match up.
Raptors (2) +1,000 v Nets (7) +24,000
Series X Factor - Fred VanVleet
Predicted Series Winner - Raptors
The Nets have seen Caris Levert pick up his level of play during the restart in Orlando if they had a full complement of their starters including Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant the likely outcome of the series may be different. But under the current circumstances the defending NBA champions enter the postseason playing very well and will be a tough opponent for the injury ravaged Brooklyn squad to deal with. I anticipate Toronto's coach Nick Nurse will want to close out the series quickly to give his players the opportunity to head into the second round at full strength.
Toronto's highest profile fan, Drake, having a friendly conversation. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO
Point guard Kyle Lowry has already been playing with a playoff level intensity in the bubble and looks determined to prove that the Raptors' championship was not just a result of Kawhi Leonard's one-year rental. Since Leonard left for Los Angeles, the Raptors have seen Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet step into larger roles taking on added responsibilities after the finals MVP's departure. We may see a repeat of this matchup in the playoffs next year under considerably different circumstances but considering this year the only shots that KD will be taking will be on Twitter I'm comfortable saying Toronto will win this series with relative ease.
Celtics (3) +1,700 v 76ers (6) +6,500
Series X Factor - Kemba Walker
Predicted Series Winner - Celtics
One unfortunate event of bubble play was the injury to Ben Simmons which will certainly affect Philadelphia's attempt to make a championship run. With Simmons healthy I would be more inclined to select the 76ers to advance past the Celtics, however the loss of Simmons' defense will have a big impact on the outcome of the series. Simmons would have likely marked either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum,attempting to take one of them out of Boston's offensive gameplay. Coach Brett Brown is considering rookie Matisse Thybulle to replace Simmons in the starting lineup and while he is already an elite defender, Thybulle has struggled to make any significant impact offensively. Simmons' loss places more pressure on Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris to produce points in this series.
What I do hope to see from this series is the introduction of Kemba Walker on a national stage. For the entirety of his career up until this season, Walker has played in obscurity for Charlotte. Now the leader of a contending team it's time for Walker to show he is a bona fide superstar in this league and he has the supporting cast around him for the first time in his career to make a deep run into the playoffs. The series should still be competitive especially if Al Horford is able to elevate his play for Philadelphia, but I think that Boston has too much fire power on offense and the loss of Simmons is too much for Philadelphia to overcome. I'm taking Boston to move on here.
Pacers (4) +10,000 v Heat (5) +3,000
Series X Factor - Bam Adebayo
Predicted Series Winner - Miami
Coach Erik Spoelstra and star player Jimmy Butler of the HeatYahoo Sports
Over the past two seasons the Indiana Pacers have had unfortunate and untimely injuries to a superstar leading into the postseason. Last year it was Victor Oladipo who dealt with a serious knee injury which kept him out into the 2020 season. This year, newly minted all-star Domantas Sabonis went out just under a month ago and will likely miss the entirety of the playoffs. One of the best big men in the league this season, Sabonis, has proven to be a legitimate two way player and would have been a catalyst for the Pacers in the post season. Unfortunately for the Pacers without him matching up with Miami's Bam Adebayo will be a challenge.
The combination of Jimmy Butler and Adebayo along with young stars like Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro provide Coach Eric Spoelstra the kind of squad that can make a surprise run. They can shoot for the perimeter and play hard defense for 48 minutes. Butler may not be the most popular or well liked player in the league but the fact that he's a leader and has a burning desire to win is clear. The Heat can gain some momentum by winning this matchup and could be a dangerous opponent for eastern conference teams.
Lakers (1) +350 v Blazers (8) +6,000
Series X Factor - Damian Lillard
Predicted Series Winner - Lakers
It's rare that a 1 versus 8 matchup is so anticipated, but Bubble MVP Damian Lillard, has the Blazers roaring into the first round to take on the stumbling Lakers. Prior to the pause, LeBron and the Lakers were rolling and a championship seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but since play resumed, we have seen them struggle to play with any kind of consistency. Playing without Avery Bradley (opt out due to coronavirus) and Ramon Rondo (injury) to conclude the regular season surely has affected their defensive effectiveness on the perimeter, but Anthony Davis has twice posted single digit scoring outputs in 8 games.
Damian Lillard has our clocks stuck on Dame TimeAshley Landis Getty Images
Don't be surprised to see this series go 6 or even 7 games, but also don't be surprised to see LeBron and AD put it together and begin to regain their dominate form we saw for most of the regular season. If Portland is going to complete this upset it will be on the coat tails of Lillard, who is enjoying one of the best stretches of his career right now. Rondo is expected back soon which will take some pressure off of Alex Caruso playing so many minutes. The Lakers still enter this series the favorites to win, but the luck of the draw did not do them any favors with their first round matchup with the Trailblazers.
Clippers (2) +300 v Mavs (7) +4,900
Series X Factor - Kawhi Leonard
Predicted Series Winner - Clippers
The Clippers are one of the three favorites to win the NBA title this year along with the Lakers and the Bucks. They're one of the most complete and deep teams with a shot to win the Larry O'Brien trophy and they have the reigning finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard leading the way. They take on an exciting Dallas Mavericks team led by their European duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic who helped their team lead the league in offensive efficiency this season.
The promise that the Mavericks have shown this season must have fans salivating at the possibilities in front of them. But a lack of depth will leave them at a disadvantage in this series. The Clippers have a deep stable of veterans with plenty of playoff experience and should be able to game plan a defensive strategy that will slow down the production of the fast paced Dallas offense. Once Dallas has a chance to put a few more pieces in place around Luka and Porzingis, they should contend for many years to come. This year however, expect the Clippers to make short work of Dallas.
Nuggets (3) +2,400 v Jazz (6) +4,900
Series X Factor - Rudy Gobert
Predicted Series Winner - Jazz
The news broke Sunday that Jazz guard Mike Conley will be leaving the bubble for the birth of his son in Ohio. He is expected back at some point in the playoffs, but will obviously need to clear protocol before being allowed to rejoin the team. Whether Conley will be able to play for the Jazz in the first round is yet unknown. Bojan Bogdanovic, the team's second leading scorer this season opted to have surgery to repair a ligament in his wrist during the pause in order to be ready for the 2020-2021 season. While all of this would appear to be leading up to the Nuggets rolling over the Jazz, instead I think it opens up the opportunity for Donovan Mitchell to rise to the occasion and spearhead an upset in the western conference.
Mitchell can provide instant offense from anywhere on the court and has never been one to shy away from getting his shots up. More importantly for Utah however is what Rudy Gobert can do for his team by taking the Nuggets' best weapon away in Nikola Jokic. The perennial defensive player of the year candidate, Gobert, has the ability to completely close down the paint to opposing offenses the way Persian arrows blocked out the sun over the Spartan army, but possesses the agility to defend further out on a player like Jokic. Utah has quietly been one of the best teams in a competitive western conference for a few seasons now, and they have a chance to put the league on notice with a first round upset. Everything goes through Jokic offensively for the Nuggets, and if Gobert can limit Jokic's effectiveness, the Jazz will be celebrating a victory in this series.
Rockets (4) +1,300 v Thunder (5) +6,500
Series X Factor - Steven Adams
Predicted Series Winner - Thunder
Steven Adams defending Utah's Donovan MitchellAP
One of the biggest surprises of this season has been the success that Oklahoma City has had after seeing both Paul George and OKC fan favorite, Russell Westbrook, part ways with the team this offseason. General manager Sam Presti made deals sending George to the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari and acquired Chris Paul for Westbrook. Presti also accumulated a bevy of draft picks from both deals and are now set up to revamp their team with the additional picks through the 2026 off season.
The Rockets have been explosive with Westbrook and 2018 MVP James Harden in their backcourt. A lack of viable options in the front court leaves them with an untraditional roster structure, but second guessing the decisions of Daryl Morey often results in you being the one that looks bad. Even though the Rockets enter this series the favorites, the Thunder will have a secret weapon in Steven Adams to exploit the weakness of Houston at the center position. Adams is a handful and can dominate post play against formidable opponents. One of the aforementioned games that Anthony Davis posted single digit scoring was against Oklahoma City and Steven Adams. Without a clear defender to play on Adams, Houston will be forced to shift and double team him which will allow for open space for Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul to work in. Westbrook and Harden are decent defenders, but are not defensive stalwarts by any stretch of the imagination. A matchup against a team like the Mavericks may have suited the Rockets better in their first round draw allowing them to just focus on out scoring the opposition, but the Thunder play with a chip on their shoulder and have size and length to disrupt the Rockets' offense. Expect to see a mini upset here sending the Rockets home early and Daryl Morey back to the lab to think up his next major move.
*odds from VegasInsider.com 8/16/2020
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It's another eventful week in the NFL.
Four teams -- the Jets, Falcons, Saints, and 49ers -- are the first teams to get a bye week. After Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers narrowly escaped Thursday Night Football with a 28-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champs are the first team with five wins in the league. Who will join them on Sunday? We know that we'll get at least a second five-win team since the 4-1 Ravens are hosting the 4-1 Chargers. That is going to be an epic battle, so let's start with that clash of AFC contenders. Welcome to our Week 6 NFL Best Bets.
Playing on the road is a difficult task for any team, but if any team can escape with a victory, it's Justin Herbert and the Chargers. This isn't the Chargers of the last decade. This team is winning the close battles. Herbert is playing at an MVP level this season and already has led this team to big-time wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns -- two of the top teams in the AFC. This L.A. team is deep at the skill positions, can rush the passer, has an improved offensive line and a great young coach. What's not to like?
All that said, Lamar Jackson seems to be playing as he did during his 2019 MVP campaign. Not to mention, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is actually catching passes. He eclipsed 100 yards last week and scored two touchdowns (including the game-winning catch in overtime). Simply put, this is a tough team to bet against. It did take last-second heroics for the Ravens to beat the winless Lions and a pretty pedestrian Colts team. Overall, Baltimore hasn't faced a test like this yet this season. Take the points and the better overall squad. Chargers may win this game, but if they don't, they are not going to lose by more than a field goal.
PICK: Chargers +3.5
It's been a tough start to the season for the Chiefs. They had great odds to return to the Super Bowl and are now last in the AFC West heading into Week 16 with a 2-3 record. They desperately need this game. This is a great opportunity for the Chiefs to prove they are still elite by defeating a team that made the postseason last year on the road. The Chiefs are going to turn it around against a Washington defense that is allowing the sixth-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns this season. Patrick Mahomes is going to blow up. Tyreek Hill is going to dominate. Travis Kelce is going to continue to provide a steady source of receptions down the middle of the field. As long as the Chiefs' offensive line holds against Chase Young, it's going to be a long day for Washington's defense. Betting on Mahomes to right the ship isn't a really difficult choice.
PICK: Chiefs -6.5
Yes, the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league. Betting on them on the road against a divisional rival might seem crazy at first. However, the Texans are 7-3 against the spread as underdogs in their last 10 games. Plus, the Colts are emotional after completely giving away the game against the Ravens in which they blew a 22-3 lead late in the game. This is going to cause a bit of a hangover in that locker room. When New England suffered a terrible loss against Tom Brady and the Bucs, the Texans managed to cover the spread the following week. Look for history to repeat itself. Texans coach David Culley has Houston playing hard in spite of its lack of talent and quarterback Davis Mills appeared to take a step forward last week against the Pats. Houston has played pretty good pass defense, too. The Texans have allowed only seven passing TDs this season.
PICK: Texans +9
Sunday night will be an interesting matchup to watch as Geno Smith will make his first start in four years as the Seahawks travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. I hate betting on Ben Roethlisberger, but it's hard to envision the Seahawks covering the spread without the services of Russell Wilson. And as much as I think Big Ben should hang up his cleats, you have to give him credit for the way he dominated a solid Broncos defense last week. Roethlisberger looked better than he did earlier in the season and was able to get the ball to his playmakers -- Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and running back Najee Harris. Seattle's defense is one of the worst in the league and their secondary is even worse than their front seven. Look for the Steelers to light up Seattle in the passing game.
PICK: Steelers -5
Both of these offenses can put up a lot of points, though they go about it very differently. The Browns are a run-heavy team, and even though they will be without the services of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt is more than capable of getting the job done. Meanwhile, Arizona's offense runs through electric quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray is able to move the chains with his legs but he isn't afraid to toss the ball either. He loves getting his guys involved and his weapons are elite in DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk.
The Browns are coming off an 89-point slugest with the Chargers and hit the OVER in their other game against a high-end offense in a 33-29 loss to the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have scored 30-plus points in four of five games this year. Smash the OVER.
PICK: OVER 49.5
Week 2 of the NFL was full of breakout performances, thrilling finishes and potentially the start of the Justin Fields era in the NFC North as the Bears' win over the Bengals finds them in first place in the division.
We cap off the week with a Monday Night Football showdown between the Packers and the Lions with the winner finding themselves tied for first in the North. The Packers put up an absolute dud of a performance last week against the Saints in Week 1 while the Lions looked surprisingly effective while playing catch-up against the West-leading 49ers. The expectations for these two teams couldn't have been further apart coming into the season but with matching 0-1 starts on the books, I think there are a couple of interesting props and roster construction angles to exploit.
NFL DFS Showdown Picks
*Prices are from DraftKings
Captain: TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions ($9,600) ($14,400)
I'm normally not a fan of playing a tight end in the captain spot, but T.J. Hockenson is not your average tight end. He finished 2020 with an elite 18% target share in the Lions' offense and picked up right where he left off in Week 1, finishing with an 18.2% share on 50 routes run last week. Hockenson has always carried premium TD upside as a red-zone target but what was most encouraging about last week was that he ran nearly 55% of his routes out of the slot, leaving him a matchup against Chandon Sullivan, who's allowing a 67% catch rate in his coverage. In a game where the Lions are projected to be down early, expect Hockenson to get fed once again. His red-zone utilization gives him enough juice to take the captain's chair in my builds.
Core Consideration: QB Jared Goff, Detroit Lions ($10,000)
Two principles I take into Showdown slates apply to this play. Generally speaking, if I have a pass-catcher as my captain, I'm finding a way to get their QB into a flex spot. The second is that your build needs to tell a story. Mine is that the Packers come out with something to prove after getting embarrassed in Week 1 and that we'll likely see upwards of 50 pass attempts from Jared Goff as he attempts to mount a comeback. Goff is a surprisingly effective passer when getting good protection and this unit gave him a clean pocket on 86.7% of snaps last week. Expect that to continue tonight as Goff will continue to feast in garbage time.
Contrarian Play: WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers ($2,000)
I still chuckle at the thought of the return of Randall Cobb being on the short-list of demands from Aaron Rodgers in the midst of his holdout. I do, however, think there is something to be said about the importance of chemistry between a quarterback and his receiver and I expect that in a typical game (which Week 1 was not), Aaron Rodgers is going to find his spots to get Cobb involved. In a game script that figures to have the Packers up by a healthy margin, not many are going to look at the tertiary passing options for Green Bay and I think a $2,000 Randall Cobb could sneak in a handful of receptions at single-digit ownership..
Salary Relief: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions ($2,400)
This one fits perfectly into my narrative for the game as well. In a game where the Lions are likely to flirt with 50+ pass attempts and coming off a week where St. Brown ran routes on 75% of the team's passing plays, I will be overweight on Amon-Ra tonight. Lining up in the slot on 74.5% of plays means St. Brown will primarily see coverage from Chandon Sullivan, the most favorable of the options GB lines up in their defensive secondary. Expect St. Brown to see his target volume increase tonight. If Detroit can be more effective in getting to the red zone, he carries decent scoring upside with the way he's utilized in this offense. Plus, who doesn't love the extra motivation of playing against their big bro?
Monday Night Football Best Bets
Taking a look at the wagering side of this game; before we determine anything else we must ask ourselves what we think of these Green Bay Packers. I tend to look at last week's performance as the exception and not the rule. With that being the case, I am laying the 11.5 points and taking GB tonight. Over the past six seasons, oddsmakers have been fairly sharp when it comes to these larger spreads and NFL teams cover double-digit spreads more than 55% of the time. The total for tonight is sitting at 48.5 and given the somewhat surprising ability of the Lions to make up ground last week, I am confidently on the "over" side of that line.
Picks: Packers -11.5, OVER 48.5 points
Taking a look at the prop market, I am again mainly investing in the "GB Blowout" narrative:
D'Andre Swift: OVER 28.5 Receiving Yard
Coming off a 65-yard performance in a very similar game script, this one feels like a no-brainer. Swift averages nearly 8 yards per reception so this really boils down to whether you think he catches more than 3 passes. I certainly do and I'm confidently on the OVER for this prop. FanDuel is currently carrying the best odds at -110.
T.J. Hockenson: Anytime TD
I'm not the biggest fan of these "to score" props, but I'll break from the norm with this one. I am projecting the Lions to at least have a go at it in this game and there simply isn't a scenario where that doesn't involve a score for Hockenson. +220 odds at FanDuel sort of feels like stealing given that I see this game going over the 48.5 total.
AJ Dillon | UNDER 8.5 Rushing Attempts
I know that the betting public is forecasting a fairly comfortable win for the Packers, but let's not get carried away. AJ Dillon would have to nearly double his career average for carries to get to this number. Plus, it's a bit unlikely that this game gets so far out of reach that Green Bay brings in their backups. Even last week when they did bring in the second-stringers, Dillon only saw 4 carries. I'm expecting Aaron Jones to have a monster day on the ground, as evidenced by my Saturday article.
Week 1 is in the books and it's time to move on to the best bets in Week 2.
If you listened to my article earlier this week, you would have started 1-0 for taking the Giants with the points against Washington in that thriller of a matchup Thursday night. Now, let's dive into Week 2's best NFL bets.
Tennessee Titans/Seattle Seahawks Over 54
The Seahawks' offense was high-flying in the first half last week. Because the Colts never really threatened the outcome of the game, the Seahawks were able to take the air out of the ball and finish the game with an easy win while only scoring seven in the second half. While both the Titans' defense and offense looked atrocious, expect Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to have big bounce-back weeks and make this an epic high-scoring game. This has all the makings for a shootout in which both teams put up 30-plus points.
Cincinnati Bengals +2.5 @ Chicago Bears
Until that Monday night game, the Bengals had the honor of winning the craziest Week 1 game over the Vikings in overtime. The Bears' defense, which is supposed to be their strength, looked awful against the Rams, including one of the most blown coverages you'll ever see on Cooper Kupp's long touchdown. It was simply an awful week for the Bears. I don't think it gets any better until they remove Dalton and promote Justin Fields. If they don't do that prior to game time, the Bengals will run away with this one.
Los Angeles Rams -3.5 @ Indianapolis Colts
Coming out of Week 1 the Rams looked great on both sides of the ball. Matthew Stafford had a great first game, going 20 for 26 with three touchdowns. The Colts... They didn't look that great on either side of the ball. While Carson Wentz's overall numbers didn't look bad, most of the yardage and one of his two TDs came in the fourth quarter as they were chasing from two or more scores back, never actually threatening to win the game. I'm leaning towards the Rams winning this in a blowout and would consider alternate spreads.
Arizona Cardinals -3.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Kyler Murray appears to be a man on a mission to avenge last season's bitter ending after absolutely torching the Tennesee Titans in Nashville. The Vikings' defense, who hasn't been as formidable as years past, is going to have their hands full with Kyler. Last week they allowed Joe Burrow to complete nearly 80% of his passes, and Burrow isn't a threat to run nor has a receiver as talented as DeAndre Hopkins. If the Vikings offense doesn't step up and make this a shootout, things could get ugly in Phoenix.
Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 @ Los Angeles Chargers
Dak Prescott looked great in Week 1 and if there were any issues with his shoulder after throwing 58 times, he had 10 days to get healed up again and ready for the Chargers. I can almost guarantee, whenever the Cowboys go to play either Los Angeles team in their stadium, that there will be more Cowboys fans than LA fans. So while they aren't playing in Jerry World, they'll have more fan support. My concern for Justin Herbert and the Chargers is their efficiency in the red zone. His most potent weapons in Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler become less effective as they get closer to the goal line. That leaves Jared Cook and Mike Williams as your bigger bodies in the red zone, which isn't ideal. The Cowboys have a decent chance to win this one outright, but you can take the points for some cushion.
- Cowboys ML (+160)
- Titans +6.5 (-105)
- Steelers ML (-225)
- Rams -3.5 (-110)
Five Props To Consider
- Calvin Ridley OVER 6.5 receptions (+115)
- Tyrod Taylor OVER 34.5 Pass Attempts (-105)
- Aaron Jones OVER 88.5 combined yards (-115)
- Nick Chubb OVER 17.5 carries (-120)
- James Robinson OVER 9.5 carries (-125)
All five of these props have an excellent chance at hitting. I like the idea of wagering a three-leg prop parlay with the last three props listed (Jones, Chubb and J-Rob). Thanks me on Monday.