With the Eastern Conference Finals match up set to begin on Tuesday night between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, the Lakers will be waiting for the winner of Game 7 between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers to determine the Western Conference Finals.
The night will see both the beginning and an end to a series, and one team's season will be over by the end of it. The NBA postseason has provided memorable moments already, from Luka's buzzer beater to the Raptors' double-overtime win to force Game 7 against Boston. But the league's biggest star, LeBron James, sits in waiting while trying to add another championship to his Hall of Fame resume.
Luka Doncic GAME WINNING BUZZER BEATER!!! Clippers vs Mavericks Ending Sequence, Luka-Morris-Luka GW www.youtube.com
After dismantling the Houston Rockets' explosive offense by changing up their lineups and inserting Markieff Morris and Alex Caruso alongside LeBron James, the Lakers were able to take away the perimeter opportunities that the Rockets have capitalized on all season to outpace their competition. By playing a smaller lineup to combat the Rockets' strengths, the Lakers made Mike D'Antoni's squad look confused and frustrated throughout the series.
It appeared that Lakers' coach, Frank Vogel, had a defensive game plan centered around taking everything away except James Harden. That sounds crazy, but Harden is going to get points regardless of how you defend him, so by focusing on taking away those open teammates spotting up for corner threes, the rest of the Rockets were largely unable to get in rhythm. That included Russell Westbrook who finished Game 5 with only 10 points in 36 minutes.
The Lakers were daring Westbrook to take open three point shots and were rewarded for it. Westbrook went 7 for 27 from three point land during the West Semi Final, which is just a tick above 25%. LeBron James was spectacular, averaging 25.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game in the series.
Those second-round numbers 👀 https://t.co/xhhvozj9Py— Los Angeles Lakers (@Los Angeles Lakers)1600188424.0
It will be interesting to see if the Lakers will utilize the smaller lineup they had success using against Houston against their next opponent. Both the Nuggets and Clippers have formidable big men, so you should expect to see more usage of JaVale McGee and possibly Dwight Howard.
The Nuggets have managed to bring their series with the Clippers back to even after being down 3-1. Denver overcame a 3-1 deficit in the first round of the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, however completing two such comebacks in one postseason has never been accomplished. Standing in front of them will be a determined LA Clippers team and the reigning Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard.
This happened the last time Kawhi Leonard played a Game 7. https://t.co/F2WXrLGGMc— Bleacher Report (@Bleacher Report)1600183786.0
We are already aware of Kawhi's ability to perform in big moments, but it will be up to his counterpart, Paul George, who has been infamously dubbed "Playoff P" due to his spotty play in the playoffs during his career, to step up and put in a big performance in Game 7 to prevent one of the preeminent favorites to win the championship from going home early, like the Bucks did over in the East.
Although the Clippers boast possibly the deepest and most talented roster in the league, I like the Nuggets to continue their winning streak and upset the Clippers to move onto the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. Nikola Jokic has proven to be too much to handle at times during this series, and the Clippers don't have a good answer for him defensively. Because Jokic can cause mismatches all over the court and has the vision to find open teammates, I think the duo of the Joker and Jamal Murray will continue their excellent play, especially in the second half of games (82 combined points in the second halves of the two comeback victories), and close out the Clippers.
The @nuggets come back from 19 DOWN to erase a 3-1 series deficit and FORCE GAME 7 Tue. (9/15) at 9pm/et on ESPN!… https://t.co/p2ky7iC3Ll— NBA (@NBA)1600026629.0
The Heat have surprised many by reaching the Conference Finals, but they are well coached by Erik Spoelstra, and Jimmy Butler has provided the kind of leadership that this young team has responded to. The return of a healthy Goran Dragic to the rotation has given Miami a real boost, as he's been chipping in 21 points per game during the postseason, and his leadership on and off the court is a stabilizing factor for the Heat. Rookie, Tyler Herro, has proven to be willing and able to take big shots in big moments and is a large reason why this team is thriving in the playoffs.
Shooting just a hair under 40% from three point range in the playoffs, Herro gives Butler and fellow all-star Bam Adebayo a reliable option to pass to when the paint clogs up. Butler has described the Heat as having a dog mentality heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, but a gritty and battle tested Celtics team stands in their way of getting to the NBA Finals.
Happy birthday, @JimmyButler They said he went to Miami for the weather, the beaches, & the nightlight. They sa… https://t.co/APXc9edjna— 𝙃𝙀𝘼𝙏 𝙉𝘼𝙏𝙄𝙊𝙉 (@𝙃𝙀𝘼𝙏 𝙉𝘼𝙏𝙄𝙊𝙉)1600103397.0
While the Heat have been surprising, the Celtics have managed to resurrect themselves in the wake of the disastrous Kyrie Irving experiment and become a legitimate threat to win the NBA championship this season. Kemba Walker has seized the opportunity in Boston to propel himself into the role of the unquestioned leader of a title worthy young squad.
Jayson Tatum has established himself as a superstar in the league with his play this season, and Jaylen Brown has also taken significant steps forward with increased opportunities this year. Gordon Hayward has provided a steady fourth option for the Celtics and can still score when asked to, but he's also begun to excel as a passer and rebounder, as it seems he's settling into his newfound role. Add in Marcus Smart, who continues to be one of the best defensive players in the league, and you get a team that has the potential to win now and in the future.
Here's the uniform sched for @celtics during the ECF. C's going with black unis for all home games: Game 1 - Statem… https://t.co/kg6vNOYQ8O— Marc D'Amico (@Marc D'Amico)1600197109.0
Western Conference Semi Finals Game 7
Denver Nuggets over Los Angeles Clippers (4-3)
Eastern Conference Finals
Boston Celtics over Miami Heat (4-2)
Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles Lakers over Denver Nuggets (4-3)
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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.