basketball

March Madness

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The first day of the NCAA Tournament did not disappoint.

These kids put their hearts on the line and left every ounce of energy out on the floor. March Madness certainly lived up to its name as several upsets occurred, highlighted by the No. 15 St. Peters’s Peacocks out-shooting the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats after a wild overtime game in the East Region. St. Peter’s became just the 10th No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed in tournament history. The upsets and overtime games didn’t stop there though. Creighton overcame a terrible first-half performance to defeat San Diego State in overtime. The No. 10 seeded San Francisco forced overtime against the No. 7 seeded Murray State but the favorite barely escaped. Murray State will have a prime opportunity to make the Sweet Sixteen now that Kentucky is out of the tournament. Will St. Peter’s be able to pull off another miracle?

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Most college basketball fans and bettors know that seeding can be quite inaccurate and it has historically proven to be true, particularly in first-round matchups between No. 5 and No. 12 seeds. Yesterday, New Mexico State held off a UConn team that many expected to make a deep run. Meanwhile, Keegan Murray’s 21 points for Iowa wasn’t quite enough to get past the No. 12 seeded Richmond Spiders. And although the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines were technically the favorite over Colorado State at most sportsbooks, Michigan was able to pull away fairly comfortably in the second half for the most-expected “upset” of the first day.

Other upsets were fairly close to happening. Arkansas survived an upset bid by the No. 13 seeded Vermont Catamounts in the West Region while fellow No. 4 seed, UCLA, just sneaked by Akron in the East Region. In the Midwest Region, the No. 13 seeded South Dakota State had a shot at taking down Providence but eventually lost, 66-57.

Thus far today, there have not been nearly as many upsets. It’s looking like Notre Dame (who had to survive a play-in game) is about to defeat the No. 6 seed in the West Region, Alabama. Outside of that, the favorites have dominated, though the No. 10 seeded Miami snuck by USC by two points. But Miami will have to face one of the top teams in the tournament in the second round, the Auburn Tigers.

Although we still have some games left to be played today to determine the final second-round matchups, let’s take a look at some exploitable matchups that we know we’ll see on television this weekend from a betting perspective. There are still plenty of upsets to come so it’s time to analyze the matchups and make some money at FanDuel Sportsbook.

Please Note: All odds are accurate from FanDuel Sportsbook as of 6:00 PM EST. on Friday, March 18.

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March Madness Round Of 32 Betting Guide

No. 8 UNC vs. No. 1 Baylor (-5.5)

At the time of publication, the Baylor Bears are 5.5-point favorites heading into a difficult matchup against an organization with some of the best basketball history in the NCAA. North Carolina absolutely destroyed Marquette yesterday in what was expected to be a very even matchup. The Tar Heels (25-9) blew out Marquette, 95-63 in the largest margin of victory in an 8-9 game in NCAA Tournament history. Baylor, the defending National Champions, have a tough task ahead of them. While I think Baylor will ultimately win this game due to their electrifying defense and strong coaching, UNC is known for making games close when they enter as the underdog. In fact, North Carolina is 8-2 overall and 7-3-0 against the spread in its last 10 games. The Tar Heels put up an average of 78 points per game, 14.8 more points than the 63.2 that the Baylor Bears allow. And North Carolina is 15-12-1 against the spread and 22-7 overall when it scores more than 63.2 points. If UNC can continue to score at a high rate (90+ points yesterday against Marquette), they should keep this game close enough to cover.

The Pick: UNC (+5.5)

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 3 Tennessee (-5.5)

This is another game with a 5.5-point spread but I think Tennessee isn’t getting the respect they deserve. The Volunteers could have been a top seed in the tournament, that’s how good this squad is. Tennessee dismantled Longwood yesterday, winning by a whopping 32 points. They won the SEC tournament, relying on a seven-man rotation for the most part. This team’s conditioning is outstanding. Coach Rick Barnes likes to play small ball but 6’9” senior, John Fulkerson, will be pivotal in this matchup. Although he usually comes off the bench, he has tons of experience and is Tennessee’s most valuable passer out of the post. Considering he comes off the bench, his 5+ rebounds and over a blocked shot per game are quite impressive. Despite the fact that Fulkerson is the most important big and Kennedy Chandler is the team’s best all-around player, Santiago Vescovi and Josiah Jordan-James will be the reason Tennessee continues to thrive in the biggest tournament of the year.

Three-point shooting matters more than ever during March Madness and Vescovi is a threat that Michigan will have to clamp down on to have any chance at pulling the upset off. Vescovi is second on the team with 13.4 points per game in large part due to his 39.6 percent clip from long range. He nails just about three three-pointers per contest. Plus, he’s a decent ball distributor (over three assists per game). Jordan-James on the other hand is a more physical guard. Surprisingly, he leads the team in rebounds (over six boards per game) and blocked shots. He also averages 1.5 steals per game and still managed to average over 10 points per game this season. He’s a bit like Draymond Green but he’s a guard. He does all the little things that will allow Kennedy Chandler to do his thing and put the Wolverines away.

Although Michigan defeated Colorado State by eight points and covered the spread, Michigan has gone 14-17 against the spread this year. Tennessee went 21-13 against the spread and has covered in seven of their previous 10 matchups. They only lost one of those 10 outings.

The Volunteers are more gifted on both ends of the floor and have a much deeper bench. Bettors should comfortably ride Tennessee to the Sweet 16. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a run at a Final Four appearance.

The Pick: Tennessee (-5.5)

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No. 5 St. Mary’s Gaels vs. No. 4 UCLA Bruins (-2.5)

UCLA was almost ousted by Akron last night so they have to be on high alert against a much better program tomorrow. This is a tough game to analyze simply because St. Mary’s does not have the elite athletes that wear Bruin uniforms. That said, coach Randy Bennett has clearly drawn up a playing style that systematically works with his personnel. The Gaels are all about tempo and shooting. This is the highest seed ever awarded to St. Mary’s and I would not be the least bit surprised if UCLA gets beaten by a team with fewer electric athletes. If you can hit from long range, you can beat anyone on any given day. St. Mary’s is great at forcing opponents to play to their preferred style of play. Heck, they beat Gonzaga one of the three times they faced off this season.

However, UCLA is a very physical team led by experienced college basketball veterans. Tyger Campbell will play a pivotal role in this matchup. He’s going to have to find the right balance between pushing the pace and slowing the game down. The Bruins also get to the charity stripe much more than the Gaels. That could be what decides this nail-biter. Still, after UCLA was last season’s tournament darling, I could see St. Mary’s winning this game outright. To be a bit safer, I’ll just take the points. After all, Saint Mary’s is 21-13-1 against the spread while UCLA is 18-15-1 against the spread this season. The magic number for the Gaels is going to be 63. The Gaels put up an average of 70.1 points per game, 7.5 more points than the 62.6 the Bruins allow to opponents. Saint Mary’s is 20-1 overall when it scores more than 62.6 points. If they score 63 points against UCLA’s debilitating defense, they will pull off the upset.

The Pick: St. Mary’s (+2.5)

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No. 12 Richmond Spiders vs. No. 4 Providence Friars (-2.5)

Despite the large gap in seeds, Providence barely escaped Vermont while the Richmond Spiders delivered Iowa a shocker of an upset in the first round. Both teams are coming off first-round performances in which they shut down very effective offenses. Providence limited South Dakota State to 57 points despite the fact that SDU is the 14th-ranked offense according to KenPom. Meanwhile, the Spiders held the third-ranked offense in the country in Iowa to 63 points, allowing just a 36% conversion rate from the field.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see Richmond coming, mainly because they aren’t a team known for their defense. I thought they would get smoked by Iowa. However, the Spiders have turned it around and have allowed just 62.4 points per game over their previous five contests. Richmond also has some momentum after defeating Davidson in the A10 Tournament Finals before upsetting Iowa in the first round of the big dance.

Providence was actually the team I expected to get upset in the first round by South Dakota State, partially due to their embarrassing loss to Creighton in the Conference semi-finals. They were blown out, 85-58. Perhaps I put too much emphasis on that performance (or lack of performance) considering the only other two losses Providence has suffered in their last 16 games were both to Villanova.

Overall, these teams are very similar when it comes to offensive production. Richmond averages 103.7 points per 100 possessions while Providence averages 103.5. Doesn’t get much closer than that. I think the difference in this game is going to be on the boards. Not only do the Friars have some very solid shooters in Jared Bynum and A.J. Reeves but they also have a huge advantage on the glass. Providence is 66th in the nation in rebound rate but the Spiders are just 285th. Had Providence not defeated South Dakota on the boards by eight, they may have lost that game.

Richmond’s senior point guard, Jacob Gilyard (13.6 PTS, 5.4 ASTs, 3 STLs per game), will do everything in his power to will his team to victory but I think the rebounding and shooting advantages may be too much to overcome. The Friars are 21-6 ATS in their last 27 games against a team with a winning percentage above .600. Look for that trend to continue.

The Pick: Providence (-2.5)

No. 15 St. Peter’s Peacocks vs. No. 7 Murray State Racers (-9)

Last but not least, let’s see if the Peacocks can keep this Cinderella story going after defeating Kentucky in overtime last night. Despite knocking out a powerhouse of a team on Thursday, I expect St. Peters’ story to end tomorrow at the hands of the Racers. Although Murray State has only covered the spread in four of their last 10 games, they were victorious in all 10 of those contests.

Although the Peacocks are a good three-point shooting team (35.4%) and are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 48.2%, St. Peters tends to try to score more inside. If I were coaching, I’d tell them to shoot more from long range since they aren’t much better from inside the arc than from beyond. St. Peters is converting just 46.1% of their two-point shots this season. We have to give the Peacocks credit for defeating the Wildcats but any time a team handicapped 22 points wins outright, there is a bit of luck involved. That luck will run out against the Racers.

Murray State is pretty strong on both sides of the ball. The Racers are holding teams to 29.8% from three-point range and 50.7% on two-pointers. The Racers have earned 20.6% of turnovers and held teams to 25.3% offensive rebounds. Those are pretty elite stats in college basketball. Not to mention, Murray State does an excellent job at keeping their core group of players out of foul trouble.

On the other side of the ball, the Racers are beasts on the offensive glass, earning 35.3% of offensive rebounds. K.J. Williams has been phenomenal this year averaging 18.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game while converting 54.5% of his attempts from the field and 33.6% of his shots from long range. Williams’ shooting percentages pretty much go hand in hand with how the entire team shoots as a whole.

The Peacocks have been a defensive team this entire season but they have a propensity for being too physical and racking up unnecessary fouls. Everybody loves an underdog but the buck stops with Murray State. While I don’t particularly love the significant spread, this team is coming off a 95-point effort against San Francisco (a superior team to St. Peters). The Racers score 79.7 points per game, 17.4 more points than the 62.3 the Peacocks give up. And when Murray State puts up more than 62.3 points, it is 15-7-1 against the spread and 26-0 overall. Lay the points and lock Murray State to move onto the Sweet Sixteen.

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Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers

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Seven games are on the schedule for tonight. This includes an Eastern Conference showdown on TNT between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers who we will use to make our Same Game Parlay of the night. Let's jump into some best bets for tonight's slate of games.

Best Bets of the Night

Game 1: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks (-1.5)

While Cleveland continues to be one of the surprising success stories of this NBA regular season, the Atlanta Hawks have lost five of their seven games played n February. The Cavaliers have been relatively strong playing away this season. They have a 17-13 record on the road this season. The Hawks are also starting to play better. Guys like Bojan Bogdanovic are starting to return to form while Clint Capela is back in the lineup and finally providing the Hawks with some much-needed size in the paint. The Hawks are the ninth highest-scoring team in the NBA this season, producing 111.7 PPG. However, the Cavaliers are ranked 23rd in the league in points produced each game. I think this game will be grounded in its defense. The Hawks have a good chance of defending the home floor tonight, especially because of how much they score each night. The Cavs and the Hawks should combine for less than 221 points tonight, which is a high point total especially because the Cavs are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NBA.

Bet: Under 221 Points (-110)

Game 2: Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat (-4.5)

Miami should comfortably defend the home court tonight from Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Miami has won their last five games in a row. The Heat is one of the teams in the NBA with the best home records. They’ve gone 19-6 at the FTX Arena this season. The Mavericks are also a very good team at home, but they are more challenged on the road. Dallas has an even road record of 13-13 this season. The Heat should win this game comfortably, especially because the Mavericks are still getting their trade acquisitions such as Spencer Dinwiddie acclimated with the team. Although the Mavericks (25th) and the Heat (16th) are two teams that score below the league average of points per game, I expect the Heat to score close to 115-120 points tonight. This means that if Dallas only scores 90-95 points, the total should exceed 209.5 points.

Bet 1: Miami Heat - 4.5 (-110)

Bet 2: Over 209.5 Points (-110)

Game 3: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans (+4.5)

This game should be an easy win for the Memphis Grizzlies. Although the Pelicans are playing at home, they are 11 games below .500. The 40-18 Grizzlies, led by superstar Ja Morant, are on fire with no signs of slowing down. They have won eight of their last 10 games, five of which were road victories. The Grizzlies are as good on the road as they are at home. They’ve won and lost exactly the same number of games at home as they have on the road with twin records of 20-9. Memphis is the NBA team that covers most of its bets (67.2 %). New Orleans is also in a transitional phase after the blockbuster deal which landed them C.J. McCollum. The Grizzlies should win this game by at least 10 points while the Pelicans continue to build chemistry with their new rotation.

Bet: Memphis -4.5 (-110)

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Same Game Parlay of The Night

Game: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 EST, TNT)

Leg 1: Danny Green, Under 6.5 Points

Danny Green has failed to score more than eight points in the last seven games. This season, he’s scoring 6.6 PPG on only 40.7% shooting from the field. He’s also only playing less than 24 minutes per contest coming off of the bench for the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s also very immobile on the court, mostly standing behind the three-point line giving ball-handlers little reason to pass him the ball. He hasn’t scored more than six points in his last four contests and won’t tonight against the Boston Celtics.

Leg 2: Tyrese Maxey, Over 16.5 Points

Maxey has been the 76er's best option at point guard all season, and as a result, is playing more than 35 minutes per contest. He’s also being very efficient on the floor offensively. Over his last ten games, he’s averaged 18.0 PPG (Up one PPG from his season average of 17.0 PPG). He’s shooting a very impressive 47.5% from the field this season and will need to have a big night scoring against the red-hot Boston Celtics. He certainly has more of an advantage than many guards Marcus Smart defends against.

Leg 3: Tobias Harris, Over 1.5 Three-pointers Made

Harris has been struggling as of late to score enough points as he should. He’s had multiple games below 15 points as of late and has failed to cover his over in points multiple times. As a result, we should steer clear of that and focus on him scoring at least two three-pointers tonight. If he scores 11 or 12 points which would be very low for him, there is still a good chance that six of those points come from shots taken beyond the arc.

Leg 4: Tyrese Maxey, Over 3.5 Rebounds

I’ve taken this prop multiple times, and it has hit every single time I can remember. My thoughts about Tyrese Maxey grabbing at least four or five rebounds each game are because of how many minutes he plays and how athletic he is. He is averaging a whopping 35.6 MPG this season. Over his last ten games, he’s averaged 4.2 rebounds per contest. As a result, I think Maxey hits the over in rebounds again tonight.

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LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

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We have a nine-game slate of NBA games scheduled for Wednesday night so let's get ready for some wagers and profitable parlays!

Last week, our two-leg parlay at +257 odds hit and we turned 15 bucks into over 50. The previous week, we netted over a grand on basketball and football. If you want sports betting advice and picks from real cash-winning experts, this is the place to be!

There are several intriguing matchups tonight, highlighted by a Western Conference clash between the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz and the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets. Fans will be treated to a late-night matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers. The biggest mismatch is between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks (12-point spread). The Sixers are also massive favorites with a current 10.5-point spread against a Washington Wizards team that will be without superstar Bradley Beal. With 18 teams suiting up tonight, let’s take a look at the top multi-leg NBA parlay of the night and our favorite same-game parlay. You may be surprised to see three road underdogs in our multi-leg parlay of the week! However, the Nuggets’ active roster is far superior to Utah’s due to all of the injuries sustained by Jazz players, so Denver may end up the favorite by the end of the day. That’s why it’s critical to lock in your bet before your sportsbook updates the lines. Now that we’re done with the house cleaning, let’s move on to the picks.

Please note that all odds and lines are current as of 11:30 AM EST from FanDuel Sportsbook on Wednesday, February 2.

Tonight’s NBA Schedule

Top Multi-Leg NBA Parlay of the Night

Leg 1: Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers (-4)

Orlando has won three of its last four games. This includes two big upsets against Chicago (a 21-point victory) on Jan. 23 and Dallas (a slight two-point margin of victory) this past Sunday night. Both the Pacers and Magic have less than 20 wins this season.

Although the Pacers have eight more victories than the Magic this season, the Pacers have lost seven of their last 10 contests. Their downwards trend is directly correlated with recent injuries to the team’s biggest stars. Currently, the Pacers are without their three most talented players. Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Malcolm Brogdon are all inactive this week (and likely next week too). Sabonis was on the verge of returning from an ankle sprain but just tested positive for COVID-19 Monday. He has been placed in the league’s Health and Safety protocols.

In contrast, Orlando’s starting five and bench are healthy. With the exception of Jonathan Isaac, who will be sidelined until late February due to an ankle injury, Orlando’s squad has remained healthy over the last few weeks. Outside of Isaac, backup guards Michael Carter-Williams and Markelle Fultz have yet to suit up this season. Of the three sidelined players, only Isaac was expected to see significant minutes this season. Relatively speaking, Orlando is very healthy, especially given the global pandemic and Omnicron variant.

On paper, Orlando won’t have a better opportunity to defeat Indiana than they do tonight. The Pacers are missing their three most valuable players and can only rely on Caris Lavert to produce offense consistently. Youngster Isaiah Jackson has stepped up in the absence of Turner and Sabonis, but Orlando’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba should be able to take care of business in the paint. Plus, with Brogdon and T.J. McConnel sidelined, the Pacers lack a true starting point guard to go up against the talented Cole Anthony. Anthony has dominated in his sophomore campaign, averaging about 18 points, six boards, and six dimes per game. Indiana may struggle to contain Anthony, who is one of three members of the Magic to be selected for the All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars competition. He will be joined by Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs. Anthony will also compete in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest.

Considering all of the information we have at our fingertips, there is definitely some value to be had with an Orlando Magic team that Vegas expects to lose by 4.5 points on the road tonight against the injury-ravaged Indiana Pacers..

Pick: Orlando Magic ML (+140)

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Leg 2: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers (-3.5)

The Lakers have one of the most unpredictable and constantly changing starting lineups in the NBA. Between injuries that have sidelined Anthony Davis and LeBron James for significant time this season and all the other COVID-19 issues in the sports world, the Lakers have struggled to put all five starters on the floor in any given game. Los Angeles has employed 22 different starting fives in 51 games this season. LeBron and AD have been limited to 36 and 30 games respectively and Russel Westbrook is finally demonstrating that he is human and cannot produce a triple-double every other night.

Although Westbrook has solid counting stats this season (18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game), the electric point guard was averaging 1.7 more points,1.8 more rebounds, and 1.8 more assists in one fewer minute per game at the very same point of the season last year with Washington. The superstar is quite clearly no longer in his prime. He’s still a good basketball player but he’s no longer considered a top-five or even a top-10 point guard in the Association.

Meanwhile, the Blazers just got sharpshooter C.J. McCollum back from a six-week absence due to a collapsed lung. Fortunately for Blazers fans, McCollum picked up right where he left off. He’s dropped 15+ points in each of his nine contests since returning to the hardwood and has produced 20+ points while shooting over 50 percent from the field in four consecutive games entering tonight’s clash with Los Angeles. Portland will continue to heavily rely on McCollum with Damian Lillard sidelined for the foreseeable future. Second-year guard, Anfernee Simons, is the player who has developed and proved the most during Portland’s injury-riddled season. Simons averaged 23.1 points, 6.7 assists, and a whopping 4.5 triples in the month of January. Considering the Blazers’ top two scoring options are guards, the team will benefit from the fact that the Lakers have the second-worst defense against opposing guards (in fantasy basketball). Los Angeles allows the seventh-most threes per game to opposing guards. Portland will attempt to exploit Westbrook’s mediocre perimeter defense and take a ton of shots from beyond the arc. It doesn’t hurt that Simons recently joined his two teammates as the only players in franchise history to knock down four threes in six straight contests.

Normal Powell has also enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season in his first campaign with the Blazers. Powell has started in Portland’s last four games and averaged 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 threes, and 1.0 steals over that span. The biggest hurdle Portland may face in tonight’s contest could be the health of their trustworthy big man, Jusuf Nurkic. The Bosnian 6’11” center is averaging a double-double this season (14.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game). Nurkic is coming off an ankle injury and is considered probable for tonight’s matchup against the Lakers. If for some reason Nurkic is ruled out, the odds will drastically change and your pick should change accordingly. That said, Nurkic should be able to play through the pain in a tough matchup against Anthony Davis (who is listed as probable on the Injury Report with a wrist injury of his own) In January, Nurkic was a dominant force with averages of 17.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 steals in 31.4 minutes per game.

Despite Damian Lillard’s underwhelming and declining performance to open the season before his abdomen injury forced him to miss all of January and probably most of February, McCollum’s six-week absence, Nurkic’s recent ankle sprain, and some serious injuries to role players such as Larry Nance Jr. (right knee inflammation) and Nassir Little (season-ending shoulder surgery), the Blazers are somehow still the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference. Despite the injury bug, the Blazers could have lost many more games if not for three-and-D specialist, Robert Covington. Ro-Co has been a beast on defense, ranking seventh in blocks, fourth in steals, and tied for second in total steals and blocks (stocks) over the last 30 days. His hustle stats have been critical to Portland’s survival in the new year.

The Blazers are coming off a nasty loss to the 14th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (15-34 record) and should come out of the gate with maximum energy after a day off yesterday. And even with all of their superstar power, the Los Angeles Lakers are a mediocre 24-27 and are just one spot ahead of Portland in the standings. And yet again, the Lakers won’t be at full strength. AD is probable to suit up at the Staples Center tonight but according to head coach Frank Vogel, LeBron is considered doubtful. Some have speculated that he may be sidelined for an additional week. Regardless, without LBJ, the Lakers are in serious trouble.

We are all aware of LeBron’s greatness. However, many people seem to think his numbers are declining at an alarming rate and that he’s no longer a dominating force in the NBA. That is simply not the case. These misconceptions exist partially because James finally missed the NBA Finals and his team was trounced by the Phoenix Suns in the very first round of the playoffs last year. Championships and titles matter, but they don’t tell the entire story by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, LeBron James is 38 years old and is no longer in his prime; At the same time, LBJ is averaging the second-most points per game (29.1) in his entire career. With LeBron sidelined, Los Angeles will have to rely on Malik Monk (starting in James’ place), Avery Bradley, Talen Horton-Tucker, Carmelo Anthony, and Trevor Ariza to step up for the all-time great who dropped 43 points in just 29 minutes in a win over these same Blazers on New Year's Eve. LeBron even converted 16-of-26 attempts from the field and nailed five three-pointers on 10 attempts (50%).

James has missed the last few games with a swollen knee and Los Angeles hasn’t fared very well in his absence. The franchise is 3-7 over their last 10 games, and on the season, they are just 7-14 against teams with a record over .500. The team is even worse without LeBron in the lineup with a 5-10 record in LBJ’s 15 total missed contests this season.

The Los Angeles Lakers have been on the receiving end of a ton of criticism recently and you can’t say that it has not been warranted. The Lakers have struggled immensely this season and it doesn’t seem like anyone or anything can fix the problem. After a reporter emphasized the Lakers’ mediocre 24-27 record, which is much worse than pundits predicted in the preseason, Russell Westbrook stated, “You get in the playoffs it’s 0-0.” Westbrook has made some boneheaded decisions both on and off the court over his career and he has been known to make head-scratching quotes to the press. This time, he’s right on the money. The Lakers are still slated to make the postseason and as long as the big three (LeBron, AD, and Westbrook) are healthy for the postseason run, Los Angeles can be a serious contender in the Western Conference even with a low seed and poor record. Despite the complaints about the coaching, player health, and execution, Vogel is absolutely right to manage LeBron’s load and prioritize his superstar’s health over regular-season appearances. That said, James is in no condition to suit up even if he wanted to after suffering a knee injury in a Jan. 25 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Since he’s been sidelined yet again, Los Angeles was blown out by 28 points in Philadelphia last Thursday and was defeated by Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

Given LeBron’s absence, the Lakers’ poor performance as of late, Portland’s great shooting from beyond the arc, and the Blazers’ propensity to play up to the level of their opponents, Portland provides massive value for sports bettors as 3.5-point underdogs on the road tonight.

Pick: Portland Trail Blazers ML (+146)

Leg 3: Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz (-2)

The Western Conference’s sixth-seeded Nuggets travels to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz. Both teams have above .500 records but rank in the bottom-10 of the league against the spread. Each of these teams only covers the spread 42% of the time. So rather than wagering on the spread, bettors should consider Denver’s moneyline. Avoid taking the minimal two-point spread as the Nuggets are a mere 12-16 (42.9% Cover) on the road against the spread this season. However, Denver is riding a hot streak as they were victorious in five consecutive games before losing to Minnesota last night.

The Nuggets are underdogs despite winning six of their previous eight games and having arguably the best player in the league in Nikola Jokic. Meanwhile, Utah is incredibly undermanned at the moment. It will be interesting to see Dan Snyder’s rotation given the number of injured players on Utah’s roster. This is also Denver’s final opportunity to get revenge as they were outplayed and defeated in all three of their previous meetings with the Jazz this season. However, Utah looked a lot different earlier in the season than they will appear tonight. The Jazz will be without the services of their top scorer, Donovan Mitchell (25.5 PPG), who is still being monitored for a concussion. One of the top centers in the NBA and the team anchor on defense who averages the fourth-most blocks per game in the NBA (2.3), Rudy Gobert, will also be sidelined due to a calf injury. The bad news doesn’t end there. In Utah's final game in January against the Timberwolves (a 20-point blowout loss), Joe Ingles went down with a significant injury. On Monday, an MRI revealed a torn MCL which requires season-ending surgery. Ingles was a pivotal piece of Utah’s rotation, evidenced by his 24.5 minutes per game.

So all in all, the Jazz are missing three crucial players including two All-Stars. And bench warmer Danuel House Jr. is still out of action, not that he makes much of a difference in the win-loss column. Still, lack of depth and conditioning could be an issue for Utah against a very talented Nuggets squad. It’s also important to note that Utah has been one of the worst defensive teams over the last six weeks, ranking in the bottom five in defensive rating. They have lost 11 of their last 13 games, are missing their best players, and have to go up against surging MVP candidate Nikola Jokic.

Hassan Whiteside is in line to make another start in Gobert’s absence. Whiteside had 12 rebounds and three blocks in Utah’s last game. He’s no match for Jokic but at least he’s a solid defensive presence. But without Mitchell and Ingles, Utah loses their most reliable three-point shooters. Mike Conley (still not 100% healthy after returning from an injury of his own) will still run the point and the most likely scenario is that Jordan Clarkson will move from the sixth man to starting shooting guard. Bojan Bogdanovic will serve as Utah’s primary deep-range shooter and Royce O’Neale will slot in at the other forward position. This leaves nobody of value on the bench so bettors should comfortably wager cash on the Nuggets tonight. Veteran Rudy Gay will see extended minutes and Eric Paschall should see an uptick in playing time off the Jazz bench. But do you really trust those guys to get the job done? Denver is rolling out the same lineup that they’ve been dominating with featuring Monte Morris, Will Barton, Jeff Green, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic.

Utah is looking to end a five-game losing streak tonight and would love to break out of their recent funk. They finished January with an abysmal 4-12 record. Something tells me that the losing streak won’t end tonight. I know this seems like a trap game since you would think Denver would be favored given Utah’s depleted roster. So lock this bet in before the line moves anymore. The spread has already decreased from two points to one point at certain sportsbooks. That said, if you hurry now, the Nuggets are +3 at BetMGM!

Pick: Denver Nuggets ML (+130)

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Same-Game Parlay Options of the Night

Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics (-6)

Leg 1: Boston Celtics Alternative Spread -3.5 (-196)

Boston is one of those teams that gets a massive homecourt advantage. In 27 home games, Boston is 17-10 compared to their road record of 10-15. In the opening month of the season, Boston defeated Charlotte on the road in overtime by double digits but the Hornets got revenge in a close battle a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, the road team was victorious in both matchups. However, Boston was missing two key starters in Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III in their recent loss to Charlotte. Jayson Tatum missed all seven of his attempts from beyond the arc and shot 4-of-19 from the field. That game was an anomaly There’s simply no way that will happen again as Tatum is averaging 32 points per game over his last six contests, including an incredible 51-point effort against the Washington Wizards in which he nailed nine three-pointers on 14 attempts. Tatum won’t struggle from long range again. Charlotte also had Gordon Hayward active in their lone victory over Boston this season but the veteran hooper will be on the sidelines for tonight’s battle between the two Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

The Celtics are currently on a two-game winning streak and have been victorious in four of their last five contests, including an impressive 30-point blowout of the third-seeded Miami Heat. The Hornets are below .500 on the road and were defeated by a mediocre Los Angeles Clippers squad by 25 points on their home court on Sunday. Charlotte isn’t the same team without Hayward in the lineup as the guards are asked to do too much of the offensive production. The Celtics have a 25-25-2 record against the spread, so to get an extra 2.5 points, I’ll take the slightly worse odds to ensure this bet hits. And it will, my friends.

Leg 2: LaMelo Ball To Score 20+ Points (-136)

Although Ball is averaging slightly less than 20 points per game this season (19.7), he’s dropped 20+ in four consecutive outings. He scored 19 points in the game before that so he’s clearly gaining confidence and scoring at a higher rate. In each of three previous outings with Hayward out of the lineup, the second-year stud has attempted 16+ shots from the field in each game and 18 shots from long range over that span. He is still a great ball-handler and passer but he is Charlotte’s primary scorer with Hayward sidelined. Marcus Smart is a talented defender but Ball is too crafty and has too high a usage rate to not surpass 20 points.

Leg 3: Miles Bridges To Record 6+ Rebounds (-250)

Bridges is the Julius Randle of the 2021-22 season and will undoubtedly earn the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. After shooting no worse than 50% from the field in seven straight contests, Bridges had nothing left in the tank in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. However, his struggles stemmed from the three-point line (missed all six attempts), yet he still somehow managed to score 19 points, and more importantly (for this prop), he hauled in nine boards. Bridges has tallied 6+ rebounds in six of his last eight outings and with Hayward sidelined, he may be asked to do a bit more on both ends of the court. It also doesn’t hurt that the Celtics allow the eighth-most rebounds per game to opposing forwards.

On the season, Bridges is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game and in his two previous meetings with Boston, he’s averaged 8.5 boards per contest. This one is easy money!

Leg 4: Robert Williams III To Record 12+ Rebounds (+108)

This is our biggest longshot of this Same Game Parlay but I believe in the 2018 first-round pick out of Texas A&M. Williams has gradually improved over the course of the season and although he is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game in 41 outings this season, he’s been a high-rising rebound machine recently. He continues to eat into Al Horford’s minutes and over his last 10 games, he’s averaging 11.9 boards. He produced 12+ rebounds in five contests over that span.

In 27 minutes against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 25, the big man hauled in a season-high 17 rebounds and added 13 points. This past Saturday against the Pelicans, the athletic center tallied 16 rebounds, matching his second-best total on the season. Williams is also one of the top offensive rebounders in the entire league (3.9 per game). In his one previous matchup against Charlotte, the fourth-year pro grabbed 16 boards in 36 minutes. He has proved to be the superior option in the frontcourt for Boston and should dominate Mason Plumlee and the rest of Charlotte’s big men in the battle for the boards in the paint.

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Steph Curry has came back from injury with one of his best seasons as a pro

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

As we're just over a week away from seeing the new play-in format the NBA has decided to go with this season, it means that teams are vying to be in the top 10 in their respective conferences to keep their postseason dreams alive.

We have seen LeBron James make public statements opposing the new format even though it was unanimously approved by the NBA Board of Governors last year. It's understandable that James would have negative feelings about the new format as his Lakers have struggled throughout the season as both him and superstar teammate, Anthony Davis, have dealt with injuries which have caused them to miss significant time.

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