Now that the NBA board of governors have approved the plan for basketball to resume activities, we know what to expect come July 31.
There will be a total of 22 teams that will play out an 8 game regular season schedule to determine final playoff seeding and to allow for players to have a small window to ramp up for postseason play. The 22 teams that met the qualifications to be invited to Orlando for the remaining duration of the NBA season include 13 teams from the Western Conference and 9 from the Eastern Conference.
Once the 8 game regular season is played out, the final regular season standings will be in place. If the 9 seed in either conference has a record that's within fewer than 4 games of the 8 seed, those teams will have a play-in game to determine who advances into the playoffs. For example, if the Memphis Grizzlies end the regular season with a record of 36-37 and the Portland Trailblazers end with a record of 33-41, they will be 3.5 games out of the 8th and final playoff position for the Western Conference and will trigger a play-in matchup between Memphis and Portland.
The higher seed (the Grizzlies in this example) would only need to win 1 of 2 games against the lower seed (Portland in this example) whereas Portland would need to win both games in order to advance.
Vegas has released the betting odds for the 22 teams that still have meaningful basketball games ahead of themselves, and we're going to detail a few teams to target as good bets to raise the Larry O'Brien in October that experts may be discounting.
Indiana Pacers (Currently 5th Seed in Eastern Conference, +10,000)
The Pacers have already clinched a playoff berth and are one of the most intriguing teams left in the race. While the brand of basketball they play is as boring as driving through the cornfields in their home state of Indiana, the frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner give the Pacers two big men that can stretch the floor out to the three point line, yet who are the most comfortable dominating in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Add to that Malcolm Brogdon, a 6'5" guard that can defend, small forward T.J. Warren, who has led the Pacers in points per game this season, and perimeter shooting support from Doug McDermott and the brothers Justin and Aaron Holiday, and you have a team that can control the pace of the game and prevent opposing teams from getting easy buckets in the restricted area.
The extended break may have been beneficial for a team that has thrived without its biggest star for most of the season, Victor Oladipo, by allowing the rest of the cast to get healthy themselves. Oladipo has announced he will sit out the restart ,so we won't get to see how Brogdon and Oladipo can produce together in playoff basketball as the team envisioned when acquiring Brogdon in the off season. But the Pacers may have a roster that can go all the way to winning the championship in a truncated season, as they've shown the ability to play winning basketball without Oladipo most of the season–riding the coattails of their breakout star Domantas Sabonis.
With 100 to 1 odds, the Pacers are one of the best bets you can make going into the NBA Playoffs this year.
Miami Heat (Currently 4th Seed in Eastern Conference, +3,000)
The Heat has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2019-2020 season led by the steady coaching of Erik Spoelstra and the play of their often controversial superstar, Jimmy Butler. While Butler's All-Star-highlighted 2020 campaign was to be expected, the play of fellow All-Star Bam Adebayo and the undrafted G-League star-turned-Rookie-of-the-Year-contender Kendrick Nunn have helped elevate the Heat into a team to fear leading up to the playoffs.
As a league shutdown like we've experienced this year is unprecedented, it's still to be seen how players will react to the layoff and how long it will take to shake off the rust. What is known, however, is that Spoelstra has experience coaching deep into the playoffs with two championships to show from the Lebron James-era in Miami.
Furthermore, Butler is one of the game's most intense competitors who is now in a situation where he is looked to as the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. Goran Dragic (16.1 PPG), Duncan Robinson (13.3 PPG), and Tyler Herro (12.9 PPG) have provided scoring support throughout the season, and the additions of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala bring veteran leadership to a young squad eager to make their mark as a championship contender.
With current odds at 30 to 1, the Heat are a great option if you want to place a bet on a team that isn't one of the preeminent favorites and would provide a nice payout if they managed to win it all.
Philadelphia 76ers (Currently 6th Seed in Eastern Conference, +2,800)
Last season the 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs in the conference semifinals by one of the most memorable buzzer beater shots in NBA history, as Kawhi Leonard hit the game winner for Toronto that danced on the rim before going in, effectively sinking the title hopes for Philadelphia. Toronto went on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks and advance to the NBA Finals where they beat the Warriors to earn their first NBA Championship. This was an outcome that many believed would be the 76ers' destiny before the start of the playoffs; but instead, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris saw the team retool this past offseason, replacing Jimmy Butler with Al Horford to shore up their frontcourt and give Simmons more opportunity to affect the offense with Butler no longer there to eat up possessions.
Embiid can be one of the most unstoppable forces when he's in good form, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career, which has prevented him from being able to optimize his talents when the team needs him in the postseason. Conditioning is no problem for Ben Simmons, but his inability to shoot from distance lets teams focus on clogging the paint and limiting the effectiveness of the point-forward.
While these are all the negatives to think about when considering the 76ers, there is a lot of good to focus on as well. This team has good size at every position and can match up with the Eastern Conference favorites the Milwaukee Bucks, going 1-2 against them on the season with their victory being a game in which Embiid and Simmons both scored 15 points or more. One of the losses came in a game where Simmons scored 5 points but left the game early after aggravating a back injury.
The 76ers have the pedigree on the roster to make another deep run this postseason, and the extended time off may have allowed Embiid and Simmons to nurse their bodies back to full health. With the Vegas odds having them just a shade above Miami at 28 to 1, they are a safer bet to come through and win the championship this year at a payout that may be the best value of the remaining teams going to Orlando this summer.
Nikola Jokic's presence will determine the Nuggets outcome this yearPhoto by Keith Allison Sports Photography
Denver Nuggets (Currently 3rd Seed in Western Conference, +2,500)
It was a toss up for me to decide if I wanted to put the Nuggets here or the Dallas Mavericks, and it came down to the supporting cast of players. While Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis make up a formidable duo, I struggled to point to who could step up if either of those two had an off night in a must-win game.
The Nuggets, however, have contributors deep into their bench and have 6 players averaging double digit points per game this season. Denver's 43 wins are only bested by the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in the superior Western Conference, and the versatile play of center Nikola Jokic has seen him lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists per game.
While the Houston Rockets are more likely to win based on Vegas odds, I don't think they can create a matchup in which Jokic won't pick them apart as they would deploy a mix of Robert Covington (6'7"), Jeff Green (6'8"), or P.J. Tucker (6'5") to defend the 7 footer. The Nuggets have a strong mix of shooters and finishers, allowing them to score at every level and Jokic gives them a centerpiece for the offense to revolve around which also lets them control the pace of games which can take faster paced teams out of rhythm in a series.
At 25 to 1 odds, the Nuggets may be able to get hot and ride the mismatch that Jokic presents all the way to the championship this year. The only downside to placing a bet on the Nuggets is that their All-Star center was diagnosed with coronavirus on June 23. As an increasing number of players have been receiving similar news, it's unsure how it will affect rosters once play resumes in Orlando.
Some teams have already begun to proactively sign replacements for players that don't expect to play the rest of the season. Keep an eye on what Denver is doing, and if they sign a free agent big man, then it surely indicates that they don't expect Jokic to make the trip back from Serbia, which would mean you can forget about Denver winning the title this season. Currently, the plan is still for Jokic to make it back for the restart, but it's a situation worth monitoring closely.
NBA Futures Odds obtained from vegasinsider.com
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.