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|Date||Match Up||Rating||Score||Result||Profit||Lead Time||Analysis|
|05-20-18||Rockets +7.5 v. Warriors||Top||85-126||Loss||-105||13 h 57 m||Show|
The set-up: The Golden State Warriors took away the homecourt advantage from the Houston Rockets in their best-of-seven Western Conference finals with a solid 119-106 win in Game 1. However, while many seemed to think "that was all she wrote" for the Rockets in this series, Houston made a strong statement with a 22-point victory in Game 2. However, the series now shifts to Oracle Arena for the next two games, where the Warriors own a 15-game home winning streak in the playoffs (the streak has equaled the Chicago Bulls in 1990-91 as the longest streak in NBA playoff history). In a showdown of the league's two highest scoring offenses, the team that shot the best prevailed in each of the first two meetings. Led by Kevin Durant going 14 of 27 from the floor in a 37-point effort (plus Thompson's 28 points), the Warriors outshot the Rockets 52.5 percent to 45.9 in the Game 1 win. The Rockets then countered in Game 2 with a more balanced approach, with Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza combining to go 23 of 33 (69.7%), accounting for 68 of Houston's 127 points in the win. Houston shot 51.1 percent, while Golden State shot 45.9%.
Houston: The Rockets didn't win 65 games (seven more than Golden State) in the regular season by accident. Houston sees an opportunity to take back control of the series and insists it is unfazed as it enters two straight games in Oakland. "The challenge is you're playing Golden State," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "That's why they've won 15 in a row, not because of the building, but because they're good. I mean, everybody, all these players are used to playing in hostile environments or loud or whatever. I mean, it helps a little bit. Sometimes you feed off the energy also from the other crowd. So you try to take them out as soon as you can and take out the crowd, but they're a good basketball team." PG Chris Paul had 16 points, six assists and three steals in the Game 2 win while fighting through a calf issue that he says will not hold him back for Sunday's tilt. Paul has outscored Curry 39-34 in the series and been more efficient, but also has struggled from long range, shooting just 3 of 12 on three-pointers. After a 41-point effort in the Game 1 loss, Harden had a more modest 27 in Game 2 plus was only 3 of 15 on threes. Eric Gordon led the way in Game 2 by scoring 27 points while making 6-of-9 from three-point range in Game 2 after averaging just 9.7 points and hitting 5-of-18 from beyond the arc over his previous three contests. Tucker scored 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting in Game 2, after going 35 minutes without a field goal in Game 1 plus Ariza was 7-of-9 from the floor (19 points).
Golden State: KD has been an unstoppable force so far (he's averaged 37.5 points on 55.1 percent shooting in the series) but Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggled to shoot a combined 10-for-30 from the floor. "I've gone 0-for-11 before shooting 3s and 1-for-8, whatever the case is," Curry told reporters Friday. "I always shoot that next shot with the optimism and confidence that it's going in. So, you can work on stuff between practices and games to get your rhythm, just seeing the ball going in and working on your mechanics, but [I'll] never lose confidence in myself. That'll never change." Curry is 2-of-13 in the series on threes and Thompson, after an excellent Game 1, shot 3-of-11 overall, scoring just eight points in the Game 2 loss.
The pick: The Warriors lost just once in four playoff series en route to the championship last year (16-1), suffered their third loss of the 2018 postseason in Game 2. They have rebounded to win by a total of 34 points in the game after each of their first two losses. However, the Rockets had the best road record in the NBA during the regular season (31-10), and have won three of four on the road in their first two playoff series. "I'm feeling great," Curry said in the aftermath of the Game 2 loss. How do we really know, though. Curry missed Golden State's 4-1 victory over San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs and then the opener against New Orleans in the second round with a sprained left MCL. He has started the last five games but has been well below his usual high standard in the first two against the Rockets, averaging 17.0 points while missing 11 of 13 three-point shots. The Rockets have attacked Curry on defense, prompting many to question the former two-time Most Valuable Player's health. The Warriors will be hosting a Game 3 for the first time since 2014 and they lost that game 98-96 to the Los Angeles Clippers, with Paul contributing 15 points and 10 assists to the winning effort. Take the points and make Houston a 10* play.
|05-19-18||Celtics v. Cavs -6||Top||86-116||Win||100||16 h 12 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers have little margin for error after losing the first two games of this series at Boston. It's not so much that the Celtics won both Game 1 and Game 2, Boston is 9-0 this postseason at TD Garden, but how they won them. Cleveland dropped the first two games by an average of 19.0 PPG and even a monster Game 2 effort by LeBron James (42 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists) on Tuesday couldn't prevent a 13-point loss. "We've got to be tougher, mentally and physically," Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters. "We've got to come out swinging. We've got to be aggressive. I think we've got to be physical, and we've got to have a physical mindset, you know, that they're coming in, playing tough. They're aggressive, and we've got to match that." That sounds good but the fact is, of the 300 teams to take 2-0 leads in best-of-seven series, 281 won the series. Boston surely doesn't want to provide a glimmer of hope,as the Celtics are well aware that LBJ has led his team to seven straight NBA Finals appearances (the last three years with the Cavs). The Celtics are looking to move one step closer to the franchise's first NBA Finals berth since 2010. "We're going to have to be really focused, really locked in, really consistent," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters. "It's even harder to communicate on the road. You've got to be great communicating." Boston: Shooting guard Jaylen Brown is back healthy and has been the team's highest scorer in this series with solid back-to-back 23-point outings (17.8 PPG in the playoffs, overall), while rookie SF Jayson Tatum leads the team this postseason at 18.1 PPG. PG Terry Rozier (17.4-5.6-5.6) has filled in for the injured Kyrie Irving admirably and veteran C/PF Al Horford is averaging 17.1-8.4-3.6 this postseason. PF Morris checks in at 12.9 & 5.4 plus reserve guard Marcus Smart (10.5-4.0-5.0) continues to be a presence on both ends of the court. However, he is just 7-of-21 shooting (33.3%) this series, as part of a struggling Boston bench. Also note that Tatum is averaging 13.5 points through two games of this series, after a franchise rookie record stretch of seven straight 20-point outings. Cleveland: It's always mostly about LBJ with this team but with Boston's starting backcourt of Brown and Terry Rozier outscoring the Cavs' starting guards 72-12, Tyronn Lue knows that can't continue. In particular, shooting guard JR Smith is averaging two points on 2-of-16 shooting, including 0-of-7 from three-point range. Then there is PG George Hill, who is averaging four points and 0.5 assists in the series. James was bothered by a strained neck after Game 2 but the extra days of rest figure to leave him near full strength. The Cavs are a veteran team but the bottom line is, only four players remain from the 2016 championship team (James, Kevin Love, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson) plus Kyle Korver represents the only other current Cavs player on the 2017 Finals team that lost in five games to Golden State. This veteran group lost its composure in the second half of Game 2, blowing an eight-point halftime lead and missing all eight threes in the fourth quarter! The pick: OK, so where are we? Boston may be 9-0 at home in the playoffs but the Celtcis are just 1-4 on the road, with statistical drops in just about every major category when playing away from TD Garden. The Celtics are also a young team missing its two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Meanwhile, the Cavs are 5-1 at home this postseason, although they are a 'money-burning' 1-5 ATS. While the Cavs aren't what they once were (remember, Irving used to play for them), but organizationally they are the three-time defending conference champs. Remember that stat which said " of the 300 teams to take 2-0 leads in best-of-seven series, 281 won the series?" Note that of the 19 teams who've made the comeback, two were led by LeBron James. LBJ has topped 40 points five times this postseason and is averaging 33.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists. "With a little help from his friends," LBJ's Cavs get back in this series with a convincing win. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|05-15-18||Cavs +1 v. Celtics||Top||94-107||Loss||-105||16 h 51 m||Show|
|05-13-18||Cavs -1.5 v. Celtics||Top||83-108||Loss||-105||36 h 38 m||Show|
|05-09-18||76ers -1 v. Celtics||Top||112-114||Loss||-102||28 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics have never lost a playoff series after taking a 2-0 lead (36-0 all-time) and in this series against the 76ers, won Game 3, as well. Yes, Philly won Game 4 at home to stave off elimination but both the 76ers and Celtics are well aware that all 130 teams which have fallen behind 0-3 in a best-of-seven series (including Toronto just losing to Cleveland in the 2018 postseason) have failed in their attempt to make a 'miracle' comeback. The Celtics were outplayed by the 76ers in Monday's 103-92 loss but the post-game mood wasn't overly somber. "It's 3-1, we get a chance to go back to Boston," forward Marcus Morris told reporters. "Nobody's head is down. We're all motivated. We're happy. It would've been better to end it (Monday), but so be it. We go back to Boston and play." As for the 76ers, they are still maintaining hope that they can become the first team to rally from a 0-3 deficit and win a playoff series. "This thing can be done," Philadelphia forward Robert Covington told reporters. "We've done it before as far as finishing the season strong so why can't we do this? We're playing against history, but we've played against history before so why can't we do something great?" Philadelphia: T.J. McConnell will draw his second straight start after posting 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes in Game 4. McConnell started just one game during the regular season but he provided a tone for Monday's win by making 9-of-12 from the floor and not committing any turnovers, as part of Philly's three-guard lineup (joining Simmons and Redick). "He changed everything," 76ers center Joel Embiid told reporters. "He was pressing full court the whole time doing his job, running the offense, getting guys involved, making shots, layups." SF Covington came of the bench, while PF Saric had his best game of the postseason in Game 4, scoring 25 points and adding eight rebounds (he had averaged 12.3 points over the first three games of the series). Simmons bounced back from his one-point effort in Game 3 with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Embiid added 15 & 13 (he's averaging 20.6 & 12.7 in seven playoff games). Boston: The injury-ravaged Celtics suffered another one in Game 4, as Shane Larkin injuring his left shoulder running into the wall known as Embiid. Head coach Stevens said Tuesday he won't know until Wednesday's shoot-around whether he'll have his backup guard. The Celtics were sloppy as their four-game playoff winning streak came to an end. "I mean, obviously, what did we end up with? Fifteen turnovers," Stevens said after the game. "The offensive rebounds were enormous for them, just the extra possessions. Neither team shot it great, but they were really good tonight." Guard Terry Rozier has emerged as a postseason hero with Kyrie Irving out for the year, but he will need to bounce back from his first sub-par game of the series. He had just two assists and scored only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 4. Rozier averaged 22.3 points over the first three games of the series and has scored 20 or more points on five occasions during the postseason (18.3-5.5-6.1 in 11 playoff games). SF Jayson Tatum is averaging 23.3 points in the series and has extended his rookie franchise postseason record of consecutive 20-point games to six.
The pick: Boston having never lost a series in which it has gone up 2-0 in plus the fact that teams falling behind 0-3 in a series are 0-130 all-time, make Philly's chances at coming all the way back to win this series seem futile. Throw in that Boston is also 6-0 SU at home this postseason and it's more than fair to say Philly's postseason hopes are 'on life-support.' However, the 76ers can win here and still lose the series, so let's stick to this Game 5 analysis. Philly did not play well in Game 1 but had chances to win in each of the next three games, finally breaking through in Game 4. Note that Game 4 was not exactly Philly at its best. We haven't seen that yet. My bet is we will see that tonight, as Philly starts to make Boston 'sweat' with a win that sens this series back to Philly for a Game 6. Make Philly a 10* play.
|05-08-18||Jazz +12.5 v. Rockets||Top||102-112||Win||100||13 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: Houston Rockets drilled the Jazz in Game 1 of this series but then lost Game 2. However, the league's best regular season team (65-17) rebounded with back-to-back double-digit victories at Salt Lake City to take a commanding 3-1 series lead." Houston is that good. Give them credit. They know how to control a game," Jazz head coach Snyder told reporters after a 100-87 loss on Sunday in Game 4. Chris Paul ate up Utah's defense with a string of short jumpers en route to a 27-point, 12-rebound, six-assist effort for Houston, his best game of the 2018 postseason. James Harden added 24 points, while center Clint Capela had 12 & 15, his fifth double-double in his last six games. The Jazz shot 38.6% as a team, including an awful 7 of 29 (24.1%) on threes. The Rockets are aiming for their eighth trip to a conference finals and their first since 2015, when they lost to Golden State,
Utah: Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell is doing his best to be the leader on the offensive end (24.4 PPG in the playoffs) but PG Ricky Rubio has still not played in the series due to a hamstring issue. That's allowed the Rockets to key in on the 21-year-old, who was 8-of-24 from the floor Sunday as the Jazz shot a playoff-low 38.6 percent. Joe Ingles had 27 points in the Game 2 win at Houston but averaged just 10.5 on 34.8 percent shooting in the two contests at home. Mitchell and Ingles shot 30 percent and 34.8 percent at Vivint Smart Home Arena, respectively, with both missing 10 of 14 three-pointers. PF Derrick Favors was limited to 16 minutes in Game 4 due to a sprained ankle, as injuries have taken their toll on Utah.
Houston: Harden and Paul get the bulk of the headlines but center Clint Capela's ability to raise his game has made Houston particularly dangerous this spring. He had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots in Game 4 and is averaging 15.4 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in the playoffs, all increases from the regular season. The Rockets are undoubtedly the better team and for the most part, have been the more aggressive team. Heading into Game 5, Houston has made 75 FTs to Utah's 55. Harden has made 36 free throws in the series, while Mitchell leads Utah with just 12.
The pick: The Rockets would love to put Utah away here and move on to an all but guaranteed showdown with teh Warriors. However, a win doesn't figure to come easily. Utah's Snyder said after Game 4, "We missed 22 shots at the rim. We had our chances and didn't convert. Some of them were contested. Some of them were open. You're not going to get any better shot." I expect Mitchell and Ingles to shoot much better than they did in the last two games plus how can Jae Crowder shoot any worse? He was 2-of-17 from the floor over the last two games. after going 13-of-23 over the first two. As for the Rockets, despite a 13-point win in Game 4, Harden and Paul combined to make just 2 of 13 three-point attempts. For the series, Harden is converting on a modest 36.0% of his threes, while Paul is making only 29.4% of his three-point attempts. What's also to be noted is that Houston is just 20-25-1 ATS this year at home (including playoffs), as well as 10-18-1 ATS when laying 10-plus points. Make Utah a 10* play.
|05-07-18||Raptors +6 v. Cavs||Top||93-128||Loss||-110||33 h 1 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseasons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors were finally the favored team here in 2018, after winning a franchise-best 59 game during the regular season. In looking ahead to another matchup with Cleveland, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan said, "Sometimes you have to keep it together, because there's nobody better than the guys you've failed with. You might not have accomplished the goal, you do understand how to regroup." Well, it's been the same old, same old so far, as once again LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have the Toronto Raptors on the ropes after taking Games 1, 2 and 3. The Cavs now look to deliver yet another damaging blow in this one-sided rivalry by completing a four-game sweep Monday night at home.
Toronto: LeBron James knocked down a running buzzer-beater to give his team a 105-103 victory in Game 3 on Saturday. "Our goal in the timeout was to trap him and make someone else beat us," Toronto head ach Dwane Casey told reporters of a play that will haunt him. "He split the trap and went 100 miles an hour down the floor and lost them. We just didn't execute. It was probably my fault that I didn't make it clear that we wanted to trap him and get the ball out of his hands. We had it started in the backcourt, and for whatever reason, we let him out of the trap." The Raptors couldn't contain LBJ (see more below) plus their task of winning Game 3 was made all the more difficult when leading scorer DeMar DeRozan struggled the way he did, producing just eight points (more than 15 below his average this postseason) on 3-of-12 shooting. That led to a benching of DeRozan during a critical portion of the fourth quarter. "It's extremely hard, extremely hard," DeRozan told reporters of sitting on the sidelines while his teammates made a late push. "I just want to be out there helping my team, way more than anything. It definitely sucks to be watching ... we've got to give credit to those guys. We fought hard and gave ourselves a chance to win." The Raptors made Game 3 close behind the efforts of Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 of his 27 during the comeback. Lowry is averaging 22 points on 62.9 percent shooting in the series.
Cleveland: LeBron James is putting on a display this postseason that will be talked about for ages. The game-winner on Saturday capped a 38-point effort for the superstar, who is averaging 34.8 points on 54.7 percent shooting to go along with 9.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists during the playoffs. "I've been doing that since I was like six, seven, eight years old," James told reporters of his latest clutch moment. "Maybe even before that. There's a picture floating around of me beside a Little Tikes hoop with a saggy Pamper on and I was doing it back then and all the way up until now, at 33." However, maybe even more important for Cleveland's long-term outlook this spring, was the second straight solid game for big man Kevin Love, who had 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 16 rebounds (he had 31 & 11 in Game 2).
The pick: Teams that fall behind 0-3 in the playoffs are 0-129 in NBA history, giving Toronto virtually insurmountable odds to come out on top against a team it cannot seem to solve. However, we are talking ONLY about Game 4 here and the Raptors can lose and still "get the cash! I noted before Game 3 in taking the Raptors that Cleveland did win both regular-season meetings at home with the Raptors but those wins came by a total of just nine points. Also, the Cavs were 0-4 ATS at home this postseason and a 'money-burning' 13-31-1 ATS at home on the year. After Toronto's Game 4 cover, the updated numbers for Cleveland are 0-5 ATS at home this postseason and a 'money-burning' 13-32-1 ATS at home on the year. Take the points and make Toronto a 10* play.
|05-07-18||Celtics v. 76ers -6.5||Top||92-103||Win||100||31 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics needed seven games to dispatch the Bucks in the opening round, as the home team won all seven games. Meanwhile, "The Process" was coming to fruition with the 76ers taking care of the Heat in five games. Making things look even worse for Boston was the fact that not only were the Celtics without Kyrie Irving (not to mention Hayward) but they had to open this best-of-seven series with Jaylen Brown injured. He had been Boston's top scorer against the Bucks, until getting sidelined during the team's Game 7 win over Milwaukee. Brown sat out Game 1 of this series but Boston was able to win that game with ease, 117-101. Then, with Brown coming off the bench in Games 2 and 3, the Celtics were able to rally from a 22-point deficit to beat the 76ers 108-103 in Game 2 plus earn an OT at Phiily in Game 3. The Celtics will now take a commanding 3-0 lead into Game 4, as the 76ers look to avoid a four-game sweep.
Boston: The Celtics received 24 points from rookie Jayson Tatum while Al Horford scored the final five points of the game as they earned a stunning 101-98 overtime victory Saturday. Philly's Marco Belinelli’s jumper with less than a second left in the fourth quarter caused confetti to fill the air at the Wells Fargo Center, but his foot was inside the 3-point line and it only tied the game, then Boston rallied in overtime to win. The veteran Horford scored seven of his 13 points in overtime and had a key steal in the final seconds that snuffed out a chance for Philadelphia to win the contest. Tatum is averaging 24.3 points in the series and guard Terry Rozier continues to shine while leading the team in scoring during the playoffs at 19.0 PPG.
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid scored 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds (he's now registered five straight double-doubles in the playoffs) but the 76ers shot just 39.2 percent from the floor on Saturday, while turning the ball over in key situations. Rookie PG Ben Simmons did rebound from his 'ugly' Game 2 performance (one point, five turnovers) to score 16 while recording eight rebounds and eight assists in Saturday’s setback. “I have a lot of growing to do,” Simmons told ESPN.com. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is averaging 20.3 points in the series but PF Dario Saric is 5-of-23 from three-point range in the last five games, after draining 11-of-23 in the first three playoff contests. SF Robert Covington had just one point in Saturday’s loss, going 0-fo-8 from the floor.
The pick: Philly is well aware that a series win is highly unlikely. It's been well documented that all 129 teams have failed to win a series after falling behind 0-3. However, this Philadelphia team has had a terrific season and I see them "winning one for the Gipper" here in Game 4. Yes, the 76ers are just 2-2 SU & ATS this postseason at home but they finished the regular season on a 21-1 SU run at home, going 17-5 ATS. Lay the points and make Philly an 8* play.
|05-06-18||Rockets v. Jazz +6||Top||100-87||Loss||-105||34 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets put their Game 2 loss at home to the Jazz behind themselves with an impressive display of basketball in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series at Salt Lake City . The Jazz upset the Rockets 116-108 in Game 2 as an 11-point underdog to temporarily wrest home-court advantage from the top-seeded Rockets. However, Houston answered in convincing fashion when the series shifted to Utah, opening a 30-point halftime lead and cruising from there to a 113-92 victory. James Harden scored 25 points and handed out 12 assists, while Eric Gordon added 25 points off the bench (he had totaled only 22 points in Games 1 and 2, combined). Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell has taken a leadership roll for Utah this postseason but scored just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Houston now looks to take a 3-1 series lead when the teams meet Sunday at the Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Houston: Shooting guard Eric Gordon was a big factor in Houston's turnaround, as he made 8-of-13 from the floor in Game 3, after shooting under 50 percent in each of his first seven games this postseason. Also, the All Star duo of Harden and Chris Paul combined for 18 assists against one turnover in Friday's game (Paul added 15 points). Harden is now averaging 30.4 points in the postseason, identical to his league-leading average during the regular season. Houston is also benefiting from having made 59 free throws in the first three games of the series, compared to only 39 for the Jazz.
Utah: "I didn't really do much as a whole, like I wasn't there," Mitchell told the media after Game 3. "That can't happen. That will probably be what I take away the most. It's like I would have been better off just not showing up, because that's what I did. I didn't show up at all for my teammates, and I'll fix it." PG Ricky Rubio (hamstring) has been doing some agility drills and light work on the court as he approaches a potential return but Utah also has another injury concern in the form of Derrick Favors, who left Game 3 with a sprained ankle. Favors, who averaged 12.3 points on 61.7 percent shooting in the first round against Oklahoma City, told reporters he hopes to play in Game 4. The Jazz also need to get a bounce-back effort from Joe Ingles, after he followed up a 27-point effort in Game 2 with a six-point showing in Friday's loss.
The pick: Houston has now won all three meetings in Utah this season by double digits. That hardly bodes well for the Jazz but don't forget how well Utah played down the stretch, going 29-6 over their last 35 regular season games. This is pretty much a "must-win" for Utah, as a comeback from 3-1 against Houston would be h highly unlikely. Take the home dog Jazz and make Utah a 10* play.
|05-05-18||Raptors +5 v. Cavs||Top||103-105||Win||100||13 h 22 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseasons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors were finally the favored team here in 2018, after winning a franchise-best 59 game during the regular season. In looking ahead to another matchup with Cleveland, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan said, "Sometimes you have to keep it together, because there's nobody better than the guys you've failed with. You might not have accomplished the goal, you do understand how to regroup." Well, it's been the same old, same old so far, as once again LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have the Toronto Raptors on the ropes after taking Games 1 and 2 in Toronto. The Cavs now look to deliver another damaging blow in the one-sided rivalry when the teams meet for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Saturday.
Toronto: As noted, the Raptors won a franchise-record 59 games during the regular season to earn the top seed in the East for the first time but the Raptors are down 0-2 and Toronto is searching for answers as it heads to Cleveland. DeRozan had 24 points and Kyle Lowry 21, as the Raptors shot 54.3 percent as a team but they offered little resistance at the other end (the Cavs shot 59.5%) while forcing just three turnovers, giving the Cavaliers a 24-8 advantage in that category this series. Toronto has been outscored 34-8 in points off turnovers (Cleveland set a franchise record with just three turnovers in a 128-110 win in Game 2), and by 12 points in the fourth quarter. DeRozan is 0-for-13 from three-point range over his last three games, plus after putting up a double-double in Toronto's first playoff game of 2018 (23 & 12), PF Ibaka has averaged 5.9 & 5.4 over his last seven games.
Cleveland: James had 43 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in Game 2 and hasn't needed much help during the playoffs. However, he was given a boost in Game 2 with a breakout effort from big man Kevin Love. After averaging 10.9 points on 31.9 percent shooting through the first eight playoff games, the veteran had 31 points on 11-of-21 shooting in Thursday's win, plus added 11 rebounds. James has scored at least 44 points in each of his last three playoff home games, so it will be up to the Raptors to change the narrative in Game 3.
The pick: Is that possible? Sure. Note that Cleveland did win both regular-season meetings at home with the Raptors but those wins came by a total of just nine points. The Cavs are 0-4 ATS at home this postseason and are now a 'money-burning' 13-31-1 ATS at home on the year. Make Toronto a 10* play.
|05-03-18||Cavs +6.5 v. Raptors||Top||128-110||Win||100||11 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseasons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors were finally the favored team in 2018, as the teams met for Game 1 of this year's Eastern Conference semifinal series. If Game 1 is an indication, nothing much has changed. LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers once again got the better of the Toronto Raptors, winning 113-112. The Cavaliers will now attempt to maintain their postseason dominance over the Raptors with a chance tonight to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, before heading back home for Games 3 and 4.
Cleveland: LBJ recorded his 21st career playoff triple-double (26-11-13) as Cleveland erased a 13-point deficit in the second half and survived multiple chances for the Raptors to win late in regulation and again in the closing seconds of overtime. JR Smith (20) and Kyle Korver (19) came up big for the Cavs, who never once led in regulation. The Cavs take the court tonight having won nine of 11 playoff meetings with the Raptors over the last three postseasons. One reason being, that Cleveland has hit at least 13 three-pointers in all five playoff games against Toronto over the last two seasons.
Toronto: "A lot of things, we did to ourselves," head coach Dwane Casey told the media after the game. "I think we're a better team. We just didn't make the shots down the stretch. I know it sounds simplistic, but we had our open looks, had our opportunities, that we didn't cash in on, and some other things we could clean up defensively." Toronto has certainly heard all the talk of being owned by Cleveland and it seemed to lose its mental edge when the Cavaliers made things tight down the stretch on Tuesday. That said, center Jonas Valanciunas had 21 points and 21 rebounds to become the first player in franchise history with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a postseason game. However, the Raptors also committed 14 turnovers that led to 21 points for Cleveland, while forcing just six TOs.
The pick: The Raptors changed their approach in Game 1, trying for a more balanced attack and creating an athletic and effective bench. Why not, after being eliminated two years in a row by the Cleveland Cavaliers? However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For as much as the Raptors controlled Game 1 at the Air Canada Centre, they could not close it out (note: the Raptors missed their final 11 field goal attempts in regulation!) and the Cavaliers eked out a 113-112 overtime victory. The Raptors shot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc (9-for-28) and while they shot 42.9 percent (39-for-91) from the floor overall, they shot only 20.8 percent (9-for-24) in the fourth quarter. I had Cleveland in Game 1 and will take the points again here, in Game 2. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|05-02-18||Jazz +11.5 v. Rockets||Top||116-108||Win||100||13 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: As great as LBJ is, most believe that James Harden will win this year's MVP award. No one will get any arguments from the Utah Jazz. Harden scored 41 points in Houston's series-opening 110-96 victory to continue his season-long assault of the Jazz. He averaged 34.3 points in four meetings with the Utah in the regular season, including a 56-point outing, and the defensive-minded Jazz once again had no answers on slowing down the MVP candidate. Defensively, the Jazz were overrun by the Rockets' exceptional three-point shooting (17 for 32) and victimized early by some leaky transition defense. The Jazz lacked energy in the first half following a short turnaround from the completion of their first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder less than 48 hours prior to tip-off. However, Utah isn't fretting over the Game 1 loss as it also lost the opener of its first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder before recovering to win in six games.
Utah: The Jazz were inundated with a number of causes behind their Game 1 loss but it all starts with the team missing starting PG Ricky Rubio (hamstring). Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell and veteran swingman Joe Ingles produced five assists each plus Utah received steady play from guards Dante Exum an Alec Burks off the bench. However, the Jazz missed Rubio's ball-handling skill and passing acumen. Mitchell picked up a large portion of the ball-handling and he committed four turnovers to go with 9-of-22 shooting while scoring 21 points in the opener. Mitchell's point total was his lowest in seven games this postseason (27.4 PPG this postseason) and he was also hampered by a sore ankle, although he insists won't be a problem in Game 2. The Jazz also missed the defensive presence of center Rudy Gobert, despite the fact that Gobert logged 35 minutes in the Game 1 loss. A Defensive Player of the Year candidate and league leader by a healthy margin in defensive real plus-minus, Gobert was a non-factor on that end, failing to record a block for the first time this postseason and just the eighth time overall. Gobert averaged 2.3 blocks and ranked second in the NBA in block percentage (6.0), yet the Rockets had success attacking the rim with Gobert stationed there to defend it, shooting 8 of 9 with Gobert within three feet of the rim. Gobert finished with 11 points and nine rebounds
Houston: Harden received complementary help in Game 1 from PG Chris Paul (17 points), center Clint Capela (16 points, 12 rebounds) and forward PJ Tucker (15 points) in the opener. However, reserve SG Eric Gordon, who averaged 18.0 PPG during the regular season, missed all six of his shots in Game 1 and is shooting just 31.4 percent from the floor in the postseason while averaging a modest 12.5 PPG.
The pick: The Rockets have been the NBA's best team so far this regular and postseason but head into this game just 20-24-1ATS on their homecourt. It remains unclear whether Rubio will return later in the series but I will back Utah (with some big points) in this Game 2, as the Jazz are 33-9 SU over their last 42 games. Take the points and make Utah a 10* play.
|05-01-18||Cavs +6.5 v. Raptors||Top||113-112||Win||100||12 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: LBJ led the Cavs to a first-round victory over the Indiana Pacers but if took seven games. James had 45 points in the Game 7 clincher (105-101) and he's now a perfect 13-0 in opening round playoff series in his career. However, the Cavs hardly looked dominating, as the Pacers covered SIX of the seven games. LeBron averaged 34.4 PPG in the series, with only Kevin Love (11.4) joining in in double digits in scoring for the seven-game set. The Toronto Raptors are the East's top seed (won a franchise record 59 games this regular season) but also didn't have an easy time of it in the first round. Toronto took a 2-0 lead over the Wizards but WWashingtonm won Games 3 and 4 at home, before the Raptors closed them out in six games. The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseaons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors are finally the favored team and hope to play like it when the teams begin their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup Tuesday night with Game 1 in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan, who averaged 26.7 PPG vs. Washington, feels that his team is finally ready to topple Cleveland, even if the roster is roughly the same. "Sometimes you have to keep it together, because there's nobody better than the guys you've failed with," DeRozan told reporters. "You might not have accomplished the goal, you do understand how to regroup."
Cleveland: LBJ played 41.2 minutes per game in the series with Indiana, after playing all 82 games during the regular season. James, who admitted after Sunday's win that he was "burnt right now," produced 29.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 8.0 eight assists in three matchups with the Raptors during the regular season plus averaged 36 points in last year's sweep of the Raptors.
Toronto: DeRozan (26.7 & 4.8 APG) and Lowry (17.2 & 8.3 APG) need to play great plus Toronto would love to see reserves Wright (10.7) and Miles (9.3) continue their solid play off the bench. Center Valanciunas (13.5 & 9.3) posted good numbers but played little during the fourth quarter for most of the series. PG Ibaka was the Game 1 star (23 & 12) but averaged a "missing in action" 6.0 PPG over the series' last five games. Toronto can't afford that.
The pick: Toronto figures to have a big advantage when the teams go to their benches and the Raptors' reserves were given a big boost with the return of guard Fred VanVleet for Game 6 against Washington (he missed four games in the series due to a shoulder injury. Cleveland knows all about VanVleet's ability to provide a spark, as the second-year pro averaged 15.7 points and five assists in 25.3 minutes off the bench against the Cavaliers this season. However, this series is still about "King James," and remarkably he is showing no ill effects of his heavy workload. He's like the "Energizer Bunny." James became the NBA's career playoff leader in steals and minutes played during the first round, after he became the points leader in 2017. James ranks first in points (6,404), first in minutes played (9,415), first in steals (399), third in assists (with 1,543), sixth in games played (224), seventh in rebounds (1,993) and 19th in blocks (216) in the all-time playoff ranks. Make LBJ (I mean Cleveland) a 10* play.
|04-30-18||76ers v. Celtics +3.5||Top||101-117||Win||100||13 h 18 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics open their seven-game series tonight at TD Garden and missing will be Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Kevin McHale, Hal Greer, John Havlicek and Billy Cunningham. The point being, it's a new day and new time in this rivalry. The Process" is no longer a punch line, as the 76ers won their final 16 regular season games and then eliminated the Heat handily in teh first round of teh 2018 playoffs, 4-1. As for the Celtics, the era of Pierce, Garnett and Allen had come to an end when Brad Stevens took over in 2013-14, with the Celtics going 25-57.However, that season was no more than a speed bump, as "Butler Brad" has Boston back among the Eastern Conference elite, despite battling key injuries. The Celtics needed everything they had to survive a seven-game, first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks and their reward is an Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with one of the hottest teams in the league in the rested Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia: The Sixers eliminated the Heat back on April 24 and the extra rest cannot be a bad thing for star center Joel Embiid, who returned from an orbital fracture to play the final three games of the series with the Heat. He averaged 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in those three games and shot 8-of-14 from the floor in Game 5. JJ Redick was Philadelphia's top scorer versus the Heat with 20.0 PPG but rookie PG Ben Simmons was nothing short of "special" in his first-ever postseason series, averaging 18.2-10.6-9.0 and 2.4 steals. The Sixers have waited through years of tanking to get back to respectability and now get their latest shot at their long-time rivals.
Boston: The Celtics rose to the challenge of a Game 7 (nothing new there) against the Bucks this past Saturday, shooting 53.6% in a 112-96 win. However, the big question heading into Game 1 of this series will be the status of shooting guard Jaylen Brown, who left the clincher against Milwaukee due to a hamstring injury. Brown had been Boston's top scorer through six games and hopes to not miss any time. "I was told that if we got in a pinch that he could play," head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the win. "We decided that that was not going to happen. With hamstrings, let's see how he feels tomorrow." Brown averaged 17.9 points against the Bucks (also 4.7 RPG), just a shade behind Horford's 18.1 PPG (and team-high 8.7 RPG). Three others also average in double digits in Rozier (17.6-4.3-6.7), Tatum (15.4 & 5.3) and Morris (13.3 & 4.9).
The pick: This is the NBA's top rivalry in terms of series played. The teams meet for the 20th time in what has always been the Celtics but also been the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia Warriors/Sixers. The rivals last met in the playoffs in 2012, when Boston won a conference semifinals matchup in seven games.However, as noted above, that was then and this is now! The Celtics won three of four meetings during the regular season, including a matchup in London on Jan. 11. No many could have imagined at the start of the 2018 playoffs that Boston would have been a home dog against the 76ers in a Game 1 matchup at Boston. Make Boston a 10* play.
|04-29-18||Pacers v. Cavs -5.5||Top||101-105||Loss||-105||16 h 46 m||Show|
The set-up: LeBron James returned to Cleveland after a four-year 'mission' in Miami and has led the Cavs to three consecutive NBA Finals (won one and lost two). However, his three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers will host the Indiana Pacers on Sunday afternoon, trying to avoid a first-round exit. Cleveland went into Indiana on Friday with a chance to close out the series but got rocked 121-87. James was the only starter to score in double figures with 22 points, as the remaining four starters combined for a total of 22 points. The Cavs shot only 31.6% from three-point range (12 of 38) and adding insult to injury, made just 9 of 16 FTs (56.2%). Meanwhile, the Pacers played their most complete game of the series in Game 6, shooting 56.3 percent from the floor and forcing 15 turnovers. Oladipo led seven Pacers players in double figures, as Indiana shot 15-of-30 from three-point range.
Indiana: Oladipo had lost his shooting touch in Games 3, 4 and 5, going a combined 12-of-50 (24.0%) from the floor but recorded a triple-double with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 6. He became the third Pacer to post a playoff triple double. Domantas Sabonis, the other key acquisition in the Paul George trade, had 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting and is averaging 20 points on 26-of-35 shooting (74.3%) over the last three games.
Cleveland: Jeff Green (13) and Rodney Hood (12) came off the bench in Game 6 to join LBJ in double figures but overall, it was brutal game by the Cavs. Kevin Love managed just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting and is now averaging 11 points on 32.4 percent shooting in the series, after posting 17.6 points on 45.8 percent during the regular season. "He's a huge part of our success or our non-success," James told reporters of Love. "Obviously, we try to go to him, we want to go to him. Obviously, we can't make the shots for him. He has to step up and knock those down. Those things you can't control." Making matters worse is that no other Cavs player is averaging double figures for the series.
The pick: The Cavs have been 'living on the edge' all season and now face this do-or-die game. James is 4-2 all time in Game 7s and more importantly, has never lost an opening round series (12-0). Meanwhile, the Pacers are 3-5 in Game 7s, including 2-5 on the road. Indiana is also trying to avoid being eliminated by a James team (Cavs, Heat) for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. "The pressure is on both teams," Indiana head coach Nate McMillan said. "The loser goes home. So, for us, we take it one game at a time and we prepare ourselves for that next game. The next game is on the road. We understand the conditions we're playing in, but to say they feel more pressure than us? No. The losers go home. So there's pressure on both teams." I think he's 'whistling past the graveyard.' We saw Milwaukee fail miserably on Saturday in Game 7 at Boston (just not ready for primetime) and I believe the same fate awaits the Pacers. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|04-27-18||Raptors v. Wizards -1.5||Top||102-92||Loss||-108||11 h 9 m||Show|
The set-up: The Bucks won Game 6 at home last night to send the Boston/Milwaukee series to a Game 7, as the home team has each of the first six games (5-1 ATS) in that matchup. The Wizards will look to "repeat that script" tonight when the host the Toronto Raptors at the Verizon Center. Toronto's 108-98 win over the Wizards in Game 5 gave the home team a perfect 5-0 SU & ATS mark in this series . DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and handed out five assists to lead the top-seeded Raptors in that critical Game 5 win, while Delon Wright chipped in 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench. The Wizards had a chance in Game 5 but were outscored 29-20 in the 4th quarter, as they shot 8 of 24 in the final 12 minutes. John Wall was 2 of 6 in the fourth, while backcourt mate Bradley Beal missed five of six shots in the final stanza.
Toronto: Head coach Dwane Casey discovered something down the stretch in Game 5 with an odd grouping of DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, C.J. Miles, center Jonas Valanciunas (who had yet to play in the fourth quarter this series) and Wright. DeRozan scored 30 points before the fourth quarter while Wright scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth, Valanciunas totaled six points and seven rebounds, helping the Raptors control the glass by a 15-12 margin in a game where they were outrebounded 50-35. Besides the relatively new lineup, the Raptors also reverted to its style of emphasizing three-point shooting. Toronto made 11 of 25 three-pointers, after attempting just 18 (made seven) in Game 4.
Washington: The Wizards won Games 3 and 4 at home to even this series, before the Raptors seized a 3-2 series advantage with Wednesday's win in Toronto. However, are confident they can force a do-or-die Game 7 with the Raptors. "We love our chances," PG John Wall told reporters of the eighth-seeded Wizards' quest to stave off elimination at home. "We're very confident." Wall is averaging 26.6-5.8-12.2 in teh series and his fellow All Star backcourt partner, Bradley Beal, is averaging 21.4 PPG. Five others are contributing between 9.4 and 1.4 PPG in the series but Washington could sure one of that group to "step up" here in Game 6. Kelly Oubre, who is 3-of-16 from three-point range in the series, might gain a larger role if fellow forward Otto Porter Jr. is unable to go. Porter has been wrestling with a bone bruise in his left leg and will be reassessed Friday. Head coach Scott Brooks knows he needs more from Porter, who averaged 14.7 points this season but has been held to single digits three times in the series. "We need Otto to be more than a 9-10 point scorer for us to win this series," Brooks told reporters.
The pick: Here's the bottom line. As noted, the home team is 5-0 SU & ATS in the series so far, but that's only part of the storyline. The Wizards come into this game having won their last eight playoff games in the nation's capital and have yet to lose to Toronto at home in a postseason game! Enough said. Make Washington a 10* play.
|04-26-18||Celtics v. Bucks -4.5||Top||86-97||Win||100||12 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The Celtics will be in Milwaukee for Game 6 of this first round series against the Bucks, a series in which the home team has won each of the first five games (4-1 ATS). The second-seeded Celtics took a 3-2 series lead with a 92-87 win at home Tuesday night, meaning the host Bucks face a do-or-die Game 6 tonight. Al Horford switched from power forward to center and led Boston with 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Celtics survived an old-fashioned defensive contest. "We needed to make an adjustment and do something," Horford told reporters of the lineup changes, which included the return from injury of guard Marcus Smart and a rare start for rookie forward Semi Ojeleye. "Coach (Brad Stevens) saw that and he went with his gut and that, and a combination of Marcus Smart, I think paid off for us tonight." The Bucks shot well over 50 percent from the floor in the previous three games before being held to 36.8 percent in Game 5, with Giannis Antetokounmpo being limited to just 10 shot attempts.
Boston: Smart had been out since March 11 with a thumb injury but added an instant dose of defense and toughness that Boston lacked while allowing an average of 110 points in losing games 3 and 4. Smart only scored nine points in 25 minutes of work but was a force on the defensive end. Ojeleye had just five points in his 31 minutes was one of the main reason the "Greek Freak" was quieted. Boston was outplayed in Games 3 and 4 in Milwaukee but during the regular season was an impressive 27-13 SU on the road.
Milwaukee: "It's on me. I had open shots, but they wasn't my shots," Antetokounmpo told the media. "I think my teammates did a great job finding me, but coming the next game, Game 6, I've got to be more aggressive and make more plays." Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 23 points but was just 9-of-21 from the floor after shooting 40-for-65 through the first four games of the series. Antetokounmpo is averaging in the series and Middleton. Interim Bucks coach Joe Prunty said his team needs a better all-around effort if it wants to keep its season alive for another day. "It's not just one guy, it's everyone we call on," Prunty said. "We need them to come in and play solid defense, we need guys to come in and knock down shots."
The pick: A loss tonight by Milwaukee would not only end the Bucks' season but also mark the final game played at the Bradley Center, their home since 1988. The team is moving into a new facility located right next door next season. The Bucks are looking for their first series victory since 2001 and it's also heard to ignore that they never won a series after trailing 0-2, going 0-17 in such situations. Meanwhile, the Celtics have never lost a series they led 2-0, winning all 35 times going into their current situation. League history tells us that teams are 19-276 all-time when trailing a series 0-2, including this postseason. Will the Bucks make that 19-277? Maybe in Game 7, but not tonight! Lay the points and make Milwaukee a 10* play.
|04-24-18||Bucks +3.5 v. Celtics||Top||87-92||Loss||-116||19 h 53 m||Show|
The set-up: The Celtics 'held serve' at Boston in Games 1 and 2, with the Bucks' returning the favor in Games 3 and 4 at Milwaukee. The two teams will both battle history Tuesday night at TD Garden in Game 5. The Bucks are looking for their first series victory since 2001 but have never won a series after trailing 0-2, going 0-17 in such situations. Meanwhile, the Celtics have never lost a series they led 2-0, winning all 35 times going into their current situation. League history tells us that teams are 19-274 all-time when trailing a series 0-2, including the Portland Trail Blazers going out in four straight against the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 playoffs (the Spurs, T-wolves and Bucks can add to that sorry history by failing to win their respective series this postseason).
Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo is enjoying his time in the spotlight and his reputation for being a clutch player, which was evidenced when he tipped in the winning basket with 5.1 seconds left in Game 4 to give the Bucks a series-tying 104-102 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists through four games and small forward Khris Middleton has been the second half of Milwaukee's "dynamic duo," averaging 25.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Jabari Parker, the 2014 draft's overall No. 2 pick, came up big in the back-to-back victories by averaging 16.5 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots and 1.5 steals, after averaging one point and three rebounds with no blocks or steals in the first two games. The Bucks set a franchise record with 14 blocks in Game 4, with 21-year-old backup C Thon Maker swatting away five shots for the second straight game.
Boston: Shooting guard Jaylen Brown continues to excel while picking up the scoring slack in Kyrie Irving's absence. He had 34 points, eight rebounds and three steals in Game 4, his second 30-point effort of the series (he's averaging a team-high 23.8 points in the series). Point guard Terry Rozier scored 23 points in each of Boston's two home wins came back to earth by averaging 9.5 points on 5-of-19 shooting in the two losses in Milwaukee. Marcus Smart (thumb) is eyeing a return for Game 6 if he gets cleared for contact. Boston returns home after shooting 41.4% and 40.0% in the two losses in Milwaukee.
The pick: Is it really as simple as coming home for Boston to regain its mojo? Can the Bucks reverse their awful postseason history while in the process, end Boston's perfect record of going 35-0 in series in which the Celtics have gone up 2-0? The winner of this game can't take the series tonight but the winner will put itself in prime to position to win. Antetokounmpo is the series' best player plus I believe Milwaukee is the better team with Irving sidelined for Boston. Make the Bucks an 8* play.
|04-23-18||Rockets v. Wolves +6||Top||119-100||Loss||-110||33 h 24 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets owned the NBA's best record at 65-17 during teh regular season and guard James Harden is likely to take home his first MVP trophy this season. He is the best player on the team with the best record in the league but he is not the whole team. The Rockets proved that in Game 2 of their series with Minnesota, as despite Harden going 2-of-18 from the floor in Game 2, Houston still managed to post a 102-82 win. Meanwhile, Minnesota clinched its first playoff berth in 14 years with a win against Denver in the regular-season finale but the T-wolves failed to get their offense going in tteh first two games of this series. In particular, All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns needed to get more involved, as he had totaled just 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the first two games, after averaging 21.3 PPG during the regular season. Minnesota's first home playoff game since 2004 gave the Timberwolves all the juice they needed to win Game 3 and get back into their first-round Western Conference series against the top-seeded Rockets. Minnesota shot 50 percent from the floor, 55.6 percent from three-point range (15 of 27) and handed out 29 assists against seven turnovers in Game 3 while rolling to a 121-105 win. Karl-Anthony Towns enjoyed his best game of the series with 18 points and 16 rebounds plus the team's best player, Jimmy Butler, scored 28 points after averaging 12.0 in the first two games. Harden scored 29 points in Game 3 to bounce back from that 2-of-18 shooting effort in Game 2 but the Rockets head to Game 4 shooting just 31.5% from three-point range.
Houston: Yes, Harden bounced back in Game 3 but Eric Gordon continued to struggle. Gordon averaged 18.0 PPG during the regular season, is averaging just 10.3 PPG in the postseason on 28.2 percent shooting and is 6-of-26 from 3-point range (26.1%). The Rockets have noted that they now need to make an adjustment. Houston wants to get back to its defensive approach and limit Minnesota as it did in the first two games of the series. The Timberwolves averaged 91.5 points per game in the first two games and shot just 38.8 percent from the floor in Game 2. "We knew that was going to be a lot more comfortable coming home," Paul said. "They make a lot more 3s tonight, 15 for 27, and we got to be better defensively. We were just opening up the lane and letting Teague drive and all the other guys, so we know we got to be better."
Minnesota: Butler and Towns finally came through but again, the team shot 50 percent, including 15 of 27 on threes. Starting PG Teague also had his best effort of the series in Game 3, scoring 23 points and handing out eight assists. Teague is averaging 15.3 PPG in the series and his backup, Derrick Rose, is averaging 14.0 PPG on 48.7% shooting after averaging a modest 5.8 PPG in nine games with Minnesota in nine games at the end of the regular season.
The pick: Only the Warriors scored more points during the regular season than the Rockets' 112.4 PPG. However, Houston has scored 104, 102 and 105 points in the first three games of this series (that's just 103.7 PPG, almost 10 point less than the team's regular season average). Towns not only got more involved on the offensive end (his lack of shots had been a topic all series), as he engaged defenders down low. At the other end of the court, the Timberwolves' defensive effort became contagious team-wide with power forward Taj Gibson defending James Harden one-on-one, resulting in a poor shot attempt. Minnesota has been able to harass Houston into poor shooting from behind the arc and if that continues, this series will be tied at two apiece. That's my bet. Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|04-22-18||Warriors v. Spurs +7||Top||90-103||Win||100||17 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Golden State Warriors struggled down the stretch of the regular season due to injuries, losing 10 of their final 17 games. However, Golden State got a break in drawing the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs in the first round. The Warriors have won and covered each of the first three games of this best-of-seven series and on Sunday, can sweep the San Antonio Spurs out of the postseason for the second straight year. The Warriors knocked the Spurs out in the Western Conference finals last spring and are trying to do the same two rounds earlier this time around Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The teams could not have had a more contrasting series over the first three games, as for everything the Spurs have done wrong, Golden State has done right. It's been a totally dominating performance so far for the defending NBA champions.
Golden State: The Warriors are without Stephen Curry (he is out rehabbing a knee injury) plus they did see Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston exit late in Game 3 after rolling ankles, although neither injury is considered serious. "We want to not come back, limit our road travel and expand our time to rest so we can get our best guys healthy, like Steph (Curry), KD and Shaun," shooting guard Klay Thompson told reporters. "That’s our motivation." The Warriors have limited San Antonio to an average of 96.7 points in the series and the defensive effort of All-Star forward Draymond Green is the key. "He's been fantastic, defensively," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters of Green. "He’s been all over the place. This is a team that you have to disrupt. They're excellent with their execution ... and Draymond is as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in terms of recognizing a play and blowing it up." Meanwhile, KD (27.3 PPG) and Thompson (25.7 PPG on 63.3% shooting, including 65% from beyond the arc), are handling the offensive end of the court.
San Antonio: LaMarcus Aldridge is being asked to carry the team in the continued absence of Kawhi Leonard, who is away from the team while rehabbing a quad injury (does anyone really know what's up?). Aldridge turned in his second straight double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in Game 3. Veteran PG Tony Parker came off the bench and enjoyed his best game of the series with 16 points in 17 minutes on Thursday, while fellow PG Patty Mills is stepping up as well, averaging 17.5 points in the last two games after scoring just five points in Game 1.
The pick: "Our guys focused in and we came in and we played," said Aldridge after Game 3. "It's been the same thing. We just aren't making shots that are there" He's right about that, as the Spurs are shooting a woeful 24.1% on threes through the first three games. However, this is a prideful bunch and I expect a great effort from the Spurs in this one. Upset alert? Just maybe but let's take the points and make San Antonio an 8* play.
|04-21-18||Rockets v. Wolves +6||Top||105-121||Win||100||12 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets owned the NBA's best record at 65-17 and guard James Harden is likely to take home his first MVP trophy this season. He is the best player on the team with the best record in the league but he is not the whole team. The Rockets proved that in Game 2 of their series with Minnesota, as despite Harden going 2-of-18 from the floor in Game 2, Houston still managed to post a 102-82 win. Minnesota clinched its first playoff berth in 14 years with a win against Denver in the regular-season finale but the T-wolves have failed to get their offense going in this series. In particular, All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns needs to get more involved, as he's totaled 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the first two games, after averaging 21.3 PPG during the regular season.
Houston: The Rockets' supporting cast stepped up to help Harden on Wednesday, with Gerald Green coming off the bench for 21 points and Trevor Ariza adding 15. Fellow All Star Chris Paul added 27 points and eight assists in Game 2, after a so-so Game 1 in which he shot just 5 of 14 with 14 points. All-in-all, the Rockets only shot 36.5 percent from the floor in Game 2 and James Harden was limited to 12 points, yet Houston won by 20 after squeaking by with a three-point win in Game 1. "We haven't played very well so far," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. "It'll be crazy up there. They haven't been in the playoffs for a long time. It will be a very loud crowd. We have to do our part, play defense and take the crowd out of it. We have to be ready for all they got. Whatever they have left, we're going to get it full throttle right when we get on the floor to start the game."
Minnesota: The T-wolves know all about "not playing well!" Not only has Towns been a "no-show" but the team's best all-around player, Jimmy Butler, has averaged 12.0 PPG on 41.2% shooting (averaged 22.2 PPG on 47.4% shooting in the regular season). Minnesota was actually the aggressor early in Game 2, leading after the first quarter. However, the T-wolves shot 38.8 percent from the floor for teh game. Swingman Andrew Wiggins scored 13 poinst and was one of just three players on the team to score in double figures (Butler had 11 and Nemanja Bjelica scored a team-high 16 points, after going scoreless in Game 1).
The pick: Minnesota remains confident despite being in an 0-2 hole and is excited to play the franchise's first home playoff game since Game 5 of the Western Conference finals in 2004. "It feels good," Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins told reporters after Friday's practice. "Houston took care of business up there and now we’ve got to do the same up here. I know the fans will be excited, the atmosphere will be crazy and the whole team, we're confident. We're ready." Minnesota was one of the league's best teams at home with a 30-11 record this year and a loss here, all but ends the series. Minnesota can draw confidence from the fact that the Rockets are shooting only 29.2 percent from three-point range in the series. The home dog 'barks' in this one. Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|04-20-18||Raptors +2 v. Wizards||Top||103-122||Loss||-108||12 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Raptors beat the Wizards in Game 1 by eight points, as the dynamic backcourt duo of DeRozan and Lowry totaled a modest 28 points. PF Ibaka (23 & 12) was the star, while Wight (18) and Miles (12) played big roles off the bench. However, in Game 2's 130-119 win, DeRzoan (team's leading scorer at 23.0 PPG) exploded for 37 points on 14-of-23 shooting.Center Valanciunas accounted for a double-double (19 & 14), while Miles (18) and Wright (11) again played well off the bench. The Raptors will try to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round Eastern Conference series when they visit the Washington Wizards on Friday. The Wizards fell behind early in Game 1 and were down 44-27 at the end of the first quarter in Game 2. "We need a better start," Washington head coach Scott Brooks told reporters. "All five guys need to lock in defensively. They've gotten free for a lot of jump shots, and give them credit, they made them. ... But we've got to be a little better. We've got to have a better start. It's not the only thing, but we've got to start there and then go from there."
Toronto: DeRozan was the star in Game 2 plus Valanciunas outplayed his counterparts on Washington up front but PG Lowry also added a double-double with 13 points and 12 assists. Toronto was the East's highest scoring team during the regular season (111.7 PPG) and appears comfortable being the hunted after winning the East with a franchise-high 59 wins (only the Rockets won more games this season).
Washington: PG John Wall averaged 26.0 & 12.0 APG in the first two games but fellow guard Bradley Beal (also an All Star) is off to a slow start offensively in the series. He was held to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in Game 2 and returns home averaging 14.0 PPG while shooting 11 of 28 (39.3%) in two games. A bright spot for the Wizards was reserve Mike Scott, who had 20 points off the bench and was on the floor when Washington rallied in Game 2. Head coach Scott Brooks may opt to go with the 6-foot-8 Scott in place of 6-11 Marcin Gortat, who has struggled at both ends thus far. With the Wizards down 0-2, he has little to lose.
The pick: Clearly, the Wizards face a "must win" in this contest but one wonders if Washington can match Toronto's overall firepower or the team's depth (see the contributions of Miles and Wright, above). However, as noted above, the Raptors seem comfortable playing the role of the "Big Dog!" Back in 2015, the No. 5 Wizards -- led by veteran Paul Pierce -- pulled off a what was a mild upset of the No. 4 Raptors, closing out the series with a 31-point rout. Not yet ready to predict a Toronto sweep but I will make the Raptors a 10* play here in Game 3.
|04-20-18||Cavs +1 v. Pacers||Top||90-92||Loss||-109||11 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers scored just 80 points in a Game 1 loss to the Pacers and needed LeBron James to come out aggressive in Game 2. LBJ did just that, scoring the team's first 16 points on his way to a 46-point effort. However, the Cavs barely hung on in a 100-97 Game 2 win. The series is now tied at one apiece (although the Pacers are 2-0 ATS), as the venue switches to Indiana. The Pacers dominated the first quarter en route to a Game 1 victory and remain confident heading home despite the tight loss in Game 2. "We really wanted to go home 2-0 but we got one on the road," Indiana center Myles Turner told reporters. "We did our jobs. I can't wait to be back in front of the Indy fans. I hope these guys are ready, I know they are."
Cleveland: The Cavs were embarrassed in Game 1 and head coach Tyronn Lue decided to make a lineup change for Game 2. He inserted veterans Kyle Korver and JR Smith into the starting lineup in place of Jeff Green and Rodney Hood. Korver went 4-of-8 from three-point range to help space the floor. Smith did little offensively (just five points) but after shooting 38.5% as team (including 8 of 34 on threes), the Cavs connected on 50.7% of their shots, making 11 of 28 three pointers. Lue said he plans to stick with his Game 2 lineup in Game 3 and praising the job Smith did on Victor Oladipo, the Pacers leading scorer, and the fact Korver took two charges from Oladipo.
Indiana: Victor Oladipo scored a game-high 32 points in Game 1 but was limited to 22 in Game 2, although he did make 9-of-18 shots.Oladipo is averaging 27.0-4.5-5.0 in the first two games with Turner adding 17.0 & 6.5. The Pacers have shown excellent depth with eight players getting 17-minutes plus, although all five starters are averaging 32-plus minutes. The Pacers shot 52.6 percent from the floor in Game 2 but struggled to a 6-of-22 (27.3%) effort from three-point range, while committing 17 turnovers.
The pick; I realize the Cavs have been an awful defensive team for most of the season but that hasn't been the team's problem in this series. After all, the Pacers have scored 98 and 97 points in the first two games. The Cavs finished fifth during the regular season in both scoring (110.9 PPG) and FG percentage (47.6%) and in this pivotal Game 3, I expect the Cavs to bring their "A game." After all, LBJ has never played on a team that has lost a first round series. Why start now, when he's coming off arguably, his best regular season ever? Make the Cavs an 8* play.
|04-19-18||Blazers +3.5 v. Pelicans||Top||102-119||Loss||-105||13 h 26 m||Show|
The set-up: The New Orleans Pelicans are in the playoffs for just the second time in Anthony Davis' six-year career. His first visit came back in 2015 when the Warriors swept them in an opening round series, despite Davis averaging 31.5 & 11.0. Davis' second time around in the postseason has so far, gone much better. The Pelicans have won the first two games of the first round series with the Trail Blazers in Portland. Davis has averaged 28.5 & 13.5 in the first two games while combo guard Jrue Holiday and veteran PG Rajan Rondo have risen to the challenge, as well. Portland entered the series having won 21 of their last 24 home games but now find themselves in an 0-2 'hole.' Star PG Damian Lillard (26.9 PPG in the regular season) has been unable to get untracked in the first two games, averaging 17.5 PPG while shooting just 31.7 percent. Head coach Terry Stotts said his Portland squad has to return serve by accumulating road wins. "We've got to win two games in New Orleans, and hopefully it's the next two," Stotts told reporters. "It's easy math - we've got to go and win two in New Orleans, and I feel we're very capable of winning both games."
Portland: "Coming into the playoffs, you know teams are going to lock in, and they're going to try and make the game hard for you," Lillard told reporters afterr the Game 2 loss. "And I give a lot of credit to them for executing their game plan but the opportunities I do get, I've just got to be better. It's as simple as that." McCollum (20.5) has been the team's leading scorer but starting center Jusuf Nurkic (in the regular season) was limited to 15 minutes on Tuesday due to suffering a leg bruise in the third quarter. Nurkic needs to be healthy, as he's the only consistent scorer outside of Lillard and McCollum.
New Orleans: Jrue Holiday scored a career playoff-best 33 points in Tuesday's 111-102 victory and is averaging 27.0-5.0-5.5 in the team's two wins. As for PG Rondo, he is reminding all why he's earned the tag "Playoff Rondo." He has once again elevated his play, averaging 11.0-9.0-13.0. Head coach Alvin Gentry appreciates the calmness he provides to younger less-experienced players. Also, let's not forget the contributions of 6-10 forward Mirotic, who has averaged 16.5 & 9.5 to give A.D. some 'cover' up front.
The pick: The Blazers are known for being a strong home team but Portland did go 21-20 SU on the road during the regular season. If there is ever a "must win" for a team in a series other than when one is facing elimination with a loss, it's Game 3 of a series in which a team is down 0-2. I'm a big fan of Lillard and I believe he keeps his team 'alive' in this series by leading them to a Game 3 win. Make Portland a 10* play.
|04-18-18||Wolves +10.5 v. Rockets||Top||82-102||Loss||-108||14 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: More than a few teams made significant off-season moves last summer in the hope of competing with the Warriors but clearly, Houston turned out to be the one team which accomplished it. "We've enjoyed the year. It's been a great year," Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "Now it's time for the second phase of it. I think everybody's anxious to get started." The Rockets finished an NBA-best 65-17 in the regular season but while they won Game 1 of the opening round series with the Minnesota T-wolves 104-101, it was no "walk in the park." James Harden, the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP award (30.4-5.4-8.8 assists) "came to the rescue," scoring 44 points on 15-of-26 shooting, including seven straight points during a decisive run in the fourth quarter (he also added eight assists).
Minnesota: The good news was that Minnesota was able to harass Houston into 10-for-37 shooting from behind the arc but they were not able to contain Harden. Jimmy Butler drew the primary assignment on Harden and said, "I've got to do my job more effectively. What do you want: a free throw, a three-pointer, a layup? He got whatever he wanted in that game and I've got to be better at taking it away." Minnesota must also better utilize the talents of Karl-Anthony Towns on offense. Towns was second on the team in scoring during the regular season, averaging 21.3 points while attempting 14.3 shots per game. In the series opener, he scored only eight points on nine shots and was unable to take advantage of the situation when he occasionally worked against smaller defenders in the Rockets' switch-oriented defense.
Houston: Harden did some offensive help in Game 1 from center Clint Capela, who collected 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds. However, Paul made just 5 of 14 shots (1 of 6 on threes) and added a modest four assists. Once again, the Rockets were able to shake off their poor shooting and were able to thrive in the paint. Houston outpaced the bigger Timberwolves 54-44 on paint points with Harden feasting both on driving layups and pinpoint passes to center Clint Capela.
The pick: Houston took all four meetings in the regular season against Minnesota with the Rockets also going 4-0 ATS. However, I took the T-wolves in Game 1 and easily covered. That ATS win came despite poor games by both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, the team's top-two players.I'm going right back to the well again here in Game 2. Make Minnesota a 10* pick.
|04-15-18||Wolves +11.5 v. Rockets||Top||101-104||Win||100||14 h 10 m||Show|
The set: The Minnesota Timberwolves needed to win an OT contest at home vs. the Nuggets in the team's 82nd game of the regular season to end the NBA's longest playoff drought. Minnesota outlasted the Nuggets 112-106 on Wednesday, with that victory allowing the T-wolves to enter the postseason for the first time since 2004.However, there is no rest for the weary, as Minnesota draws the Houston Rockets, who completed the regular season with NBA-best record of 65-17, seven games better than the defending champion Warriors. Houston took all four meetings in the regular season against Minnesota with the Rockets also going 4-0 ATS.
Minnesota: The T-wolves have been in "playoff mode" for some time and needed to win their last three regular-season games to stay alive and finally clinch a spot in the postseason. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler returned for the three wins and lead the way on Wednesday, scoring 31 points. Minnesota hovered around the third or fourth spot in the West for much of the season before falling off when Butler went down with a knee injury. Butler's return sparked the team down the stretch. Butler is the team's best defender, while leading the team ins scoring at 22:2 PPG (he adds 5.3 RPG & 4.9 APG). Minnesota's starting-five is impressive, with Butler being joined by center Towns (21.3 & 12.3), SF Wiggins (17.7 & 4.4), PG Teague (14.2 & 7.0 APG) and PF Gibson (12.2 & 7.1).
Houston: more than a few teams made significant off-season mobves in teh hopes of competing with teh Warriors but clearly, Houston turned out to be the one team which accomplished it. "We've enjoyed the year. It's been a great year," Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "Now it's time for the second phase of it. I think everybody's anxious to get started." Houston is led by James Harden, who is the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP award this season after leading the league in scoring at an average of 30.4 points, while grabbing 5.4 rebounds and adding 8.8 assists. The difference for the team this time around in the playoffs is that Harden has another future Hall of Famer in the backcourt with the addition of PG Chris Paul (18.6-5.4-7.9)., who is in awe of his teammate. Center Clint Capela also produced a "career season, " averaging 13.9 & 10.8., while leading the league in field goal percentage (65.2%). The Rockets finished the regular season second in the NBA by averaging 112.4 PPG (guess which team was 1st?).
The pick: The Rockets blitzed the T-wolves four times during the regular season, claiming the first three meetings by 18 points each and led by 25 in a 129-120 road victory March 18. Houston, the most prolific three-point shooting team in the league by volume, hit 69 of 159 threes in those four games for a robust 43.4 percent. Considering that the Timberwolves finished 23rd in defensive efficiency during the regular season, any expectation that they might lock down the Rockets this series is foolhardy. Relying on Towns (he led the NBA with 68 double-doubles), who paced the team in points (1,743), rebounds (1,012), blocks (115) and three-pointers (120), plus Butler in the post, Minnesota might unlock a pace that could prevent Houston from its usually lethal combo of layups and open threes. Matching the Rockets offensively might be as sound a strategy as anything for the Timberwolves . If it's posible, Game 1 would be the perfect opportunity. I'm in! Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|04-15-18||Pacers v. Cavs -6.5||Top||98-80||Loss||-106||9 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the regular season a disappointing 50-32. They enter the playoffs as the East's No. 4 seed but will be in search of earning their fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals (LBJ is looking for an 8th consecutive visit!). The Cavaliers will have homecourt advantage in the first round but after that, the Cavs would need some upsets to have homecourt advantage in any future series. In contrast to Cleveland, Indiana was a surprising contender for homecourt in the East behind All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, who led the team in averaging 21.3 PPG. "We've just got to go out there and play at a high level," Oladipo told reporters. "It's not going to be easy, but it ain't been easy all year for us. We've got to go out there with that mentality and try to win it. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to go make it close and have fun, we're trying to win." Indiana did win three of the four meetings this season but all four came before Cleveland remade its roster at the trade deadline.
Indiana: Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis were the key players the Pacers received from the Thunder in the Paul George deal. Oladipo has been terrific and in about 24 1/2 minutes per game, Sabonis has averaged 11.6 & 7.7. Indiana was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Cavaliers last spring (with George!) but the Pacers are a different (better?) team this time around thanks to the presence of Oladipo and Sabonis, plus four other Pacers who average in double digits with Stephenson (9.2 & 5.2) and Joseph (7.9) also being regular contributors. Oladipo is now Indiana's best player plus Sabonis has teamed with fellow center Turner (12.7 & 6.4) to give the Pacers an excellent center combo. Collison is Indiana's new PG and he averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 assists, while leading the NBA with a 46.8 three-point field-goal percentage.
Cleveland: The Cavs traded Kyrie Irving last summer for Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder, and two draft picks. The Cavs also signed Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. Then, on Feb. 8, Thomas, Crowder, Rose, and Wade (and Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert) were all traded away for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. With a revamped roster, the Cavs battled through some inconsistency with the new rotations and injured players until putting everything together and finishing the regular season with wins in 11 of the last 14 games. Can the team's new dynamic work in the playoffs? Cleveland's advantage over every other team in the East is the presence of LBJ, who played in all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his career. James averaged career highs in rebounds (8.6) and assists (9.1) while adding 27.5 points on 54.2 percent shooting.
The pick: I agree the Cavs look vulnerable and I also agree that the Pacers are better this season, than last. However, look at what LBJ-led teams have done in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They have won 21 games in a row in the opening round (an NBA record) and have never lost a first-round series (12-0), nor even a Game 1 of any first round. The last time his team lost any game in the first round was back May 6, 2012, when the Miami Heat lost by two to the New York Knicks in Game 4. Make the Cavs an 8* play.
|04-14-18||Pelicans v. Blazers -5.5||Top||97-95||Loss||-102||15 h 48 m||Show|
|04-10-18||Warriors +7.5 v. Jazz||Top||79-119||Loss||-110||13 h 50 m||Show|
The set-up: It's been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors but at 58-23, the Warriors have long ago clinched the West's No. 2 seed. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz punched their ticket to the postseason with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday but are still waiting for the seedings to shake themselves out. The Jazz will try to lock up homecourt advantage in the first round when they host the Warriors on Tuesday. Utah finishes up at No. 3 seed Portland on Wednesday and is coming into the postseason as hot as any team in the NBA after going 28-5 over its last 33 games to surge from nine games under .500 to the top half of the West playoff bracket. As noted, the Warriors are locked into the No. 2 spot and priority No. 1 has to be getting themselves healthy and back in rhythm before heading to the postseason. Golden State snapped a two-game slide with a 117-100 win at Phoenix on Sunday but come on, it was the Suns!
Utah: The Jazz have began their surge shortly after center Rudy Gobert returned from a knee injury. He is averaging 14.5 points and 11.5 rebounds over the last 33 games. Gobert is getting plenty of help from rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who led the way in the clinching win with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. The Louisville product is averaging 20.5-3.7-3.7 on the season.
The pick: The Warriors have suffered two straight lopsided losses to Utah and they fell 129-99 to the Jazz in their other visit to Salt Lake City back on Jan. 27. However, don't be too sure the Warriors will 'mail it in,' here. If Golden State wins, it would finish the season at 59-23 and if the Raptors were to lose Wednesday night in Miami, those teams would finish with the exact same record. However, because the Warriors won both regular season meetings, Golden State would earn the homecourt edge in a possible Finals' showdown. Anyone think that Golden State doesn't believe it is more than capable of getting past the Rockets in the West? Maybe I'm 'all wet' here but I'm taking the points and making Golden St a 10* play.
|04-10-18||76ers v. Hawks +10||Top||121-113||Win||100||11 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: The NBA's regular season ends Wednesday and its hottest team, the 50-30 Philadelphia 76ers ,will play tonight in Atlanta and then wrap up their season with a home game against the Bucks. The 76ers will go for their franchise-record 15th consecutive win when they visit the 24-57 Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday in their final road game of the regular season. Philadelphia, which won just 10 games only two seasons ago, clinched homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 109-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. The Sixers can also clinch the No. 3 spot with wins in their last two games. In stark contrast, The Hawks are fighting to finish above the Orlando Magic (also 24-57) and out of the East basement. The Magic's final game is a home contest Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards.
Philadelphia: It's been more than just a little surprising that the 76ers have continued to thrive despite being without All-Star center Joel Embiid (22.9 & 11.0). He was sidelined with an orbital fracture back on March 28 but Philly has won all six games that he's sat out and he is not expected to play in the final two games of the regular season. Embiid's absence is allowing rookie PG Ben Simmons to step into the starring rol, and he is averaging 14.7 points on 61.1 percent shooting, 10.9 assists and 10.1 rebounds during the winning streak. Simmons is trying to hold off Utah's Donovan Mitchell for the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award. Simmons is third on the team in scoring at 16.0 PPG, while adding 8.1 RPG and APG. SG Redick checks in with 17.0 PPG, PF Saric at 14.7 & 6.8 and SF Covington at 12.8 & 5.4. Additions like Belinelli (13.3 PPG in 26 games) and Ilysova (10.5 & 6.8 in 21 games) have been huge plus last year's overall No. 1 pick (Fultz) has averaged 7.4 & 4.1 APG in his eight games back on the court.
Atlanta: The Hawks have been checking out current players with an eye towards the future. Small forward Taurean Prince has made strides all season long and is off a 33-point effort while adding eight rebounds and five assists in Sunday's 112-106 win at Boston. Prince has scored 20 or more points in each of the last three games and 10 of the last 15 games (he's averaging 14.8 & 4.8 on the season). Atlanta bested Boston, despite being without injured starters Dennis Schroder (19.4 & 6.2 APG) and Kent Bazemore (12.9).
The pick: The bottom line is, the Hawks have continued to play hard for head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks have won two straight for only the second time this season and three of their last five. The 76ers have won two previous meetings with the Hawks (each one by exactly 10 points) but note Phily is 21-19 SU on the road, averaging 107.7 PPG and allowing 107.0. Meanwhile, the Hawks have been outscored by a modest four points per game at home this season. Take the home dog and make Atlanta an 8* play.
|04-09-18||Blazers v. Nuggets -4||Top||82-88||Win||100||13 h 44 m||Show|
The-set-up: The 45-35 Denver Nuggets are tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference but currently, would lose a tiebreaker and miss out on the postseason with the way things stand now. However, the Nuggets can make it easy on themselves by winning their final two regular season games, starting with the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.
Portland: The Blazers are 0-3 on their current four-game road trip, losing losing in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. "One gives us home court for sure, and if you win these last two -- 50 wins and the three seed. It is getting tight because we have things we can still get done, but for us it’s more about how we’re playing," said star guard Damian Lillard. He has his match right and scored 33 points in the latest setback in San Antonio, after sitting out at Houston on Thursday to rest an ankle injury. Lillard (26.8-4.5-6.6) and McCollum (21.5) have carried the Blazers all season, although center Jusuf Nurkic (14.3 & 8.8) continues to be a key component, recording a double-double in each of the last three games.
Denver: SG Gary Harris (17.7) has missed the last 11 games with a knee injury but is coming close to a return. However, Tthe Nuggets are playing well without him, behind center Jokic (18.3 & 10.6), PF Millsap (15.0 & 6.4), guard Murray (16.7) and swingman Barton (15.5-5.0-4.1). Barton led the way with 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting in Saturday's win and is stepping up down the stretch. He is averaging 20 points on 51.4 percent shooting, seven rebounds and 4.6 assists during the five-game winning streak.
The pick: The game has big meaning for both teams, as the Blazers are trying to hold off the Utah Jazz to stay in the third spot, but their postseason seed will likely be determined when they host the Jazz on Wednesday night. The Nuggets are on a roll and with two more wins, will be in the postseason. I won't step in front of Denver's current streak with a Portland team wrapping up its fourth road game in seven nights. Make Denver a 10* play.
|04-08-18||Mavs +13.5 v. 76ers||Top||97-109||Win||100||3 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers held off the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday 132-130, moving one step closer to clinching the East's No. 3 seed (76ers are 49-30, a half-game up on the Cavs). Philadelphia nearly squandered a 30-point lead but held on Friday night to run their winning streak to 13 straight, the longest for the franchise since the 1984-85 team also won 13 in a row. The 76ers need one more win to clinch their first 50-win season since the 2000-01 squad led by Allen Iverson won 56 games and reached the NBA Finals. As for Dallas, after reaching the playoffs 15 times in a 16-year run (from 2001-16), the Mavs went just 33-49 last season and now get set to play their final road game of the current season with an even worse record, sitting at 24-56. Dallas has dropped he first two of the team's three-game trip at Orlando and Detroit, falling to 9-31 on the road this season.
Dallas: The Mavs have been competitive on this trip, with a five-point loss to the Magic and an overtime setback at the Pistons. The team's young players are seeing extra "PT" and are making the most of their expanded minutes. Rookie PF Johnathan Motley is getting an opportunity to start with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (ankle) done for the season and followed up 14 points in 41 minutes on Wednesday with his first career double-double with season highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds on Friday. J.J. Barea (11.6 & 6.3 APG) has also been shut down for the season and even small forward Dorian Finney-Smith has seen some action as of late. He was undrafted last year but signed with the Mavs and played in 81 games last season (4.3 & 3.4). He has been hurt for most of this year but he had 14 & 6 against the Magic and 15 & 10 against the Pistons. Harrison Barnes leads the team in scoring (18.8) and rebounding (6.1) plus rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. (15.1 & 5.1 APG) has been one of the NBA's top 'freshman' all season.
Philaderlphia: Many felt the the 76ers would fall off after Embiid (22.9 & 11.0) ) was sidelined with an orbital fracture but they have continued to win, going 5-0 in the games he's missed so far. Embiid won't return until sometime during the postseason. No player came up bigger than rookie PG Ben Simmons against the Cavs, as he scored 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting, added 15 rebounds, 13 assists and four steals in Friday's win. He's third on the etam in scoring at 16.0 PPG, while adding 8.2 RPG and APG. SG Redick checks in with 16.9 PPG, PF Saric at 14.8 & 6.8 and SF Covington at 12.8 & 5.4. Additions like Belinelli (13.3 PPG in 25 games) and Ilysova (10.4 & 6.5 in 20 games) have been huge plus last year's overall No. 1 pick (Fultz) has averaged 7.3 & 4.3 APG in his seven games back on the court.
The pick: Philly had not yet gotten its act together when these two met back on Nov. 28, a game in which the Sixers held on for a 112-110 win after blowing most of their double-digit 4th-quarter lead. The team Dallas faces now is a well-oiled 'machine,' even without Embiid. However, this is a YUGE number and while the Mavs are averaging just 102.4 PPG (28th) on the season, they have averaged 107.0 PPG over their last three, despite missing Dirk and Barea. Dallas may be just 9-31 on the road but the Mavs are 20-19-1 ATS away from home. Also, Philly may just have a bit of a letdown after the team's dramatic 132-130 win over the Cavs. Take the points and make Dallas a 10* play.
|04-06-18||Cavs +3.5 v. 76ers||Top||130-132||Win||100||11 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers have matched their longest winning streak in 28 years (12 in a row). The 48-30 Sixers now sit just a half-game back of the 49-30 Cleveland Cavaliers for teh East's No. 3, team which comes to Philly tonight. Philadelphia ended an 11-game losing streak against the Cavaliers when they last met on March 1 and the squad feels it is now in a sustained groove entering the rematch.
Cleveland: LBJ (27.5-8.7-9.12 had 33 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists against Washington, just his latest stellar performance. Love (17.4 & 9.3) is back in the lineup but it was recently announced that Jeff Green will start from here out, meaning Love will be asked to play center, a position he's not comfortable with. The Cavaliers will likely be short at point guard on Friday with George Hill (ankle) expected to miss his fourth straight game and Jose Calderon (hamstring) likely to sit out his second.
Philadelphia: 76ers have continued to win despite losing All-Star center Joel Embiid (22.9 & 11.0) to an orbital fracture, as they've won all four games in which he's missed so far. Embiid won't return until sometime during the postseason but starting power forward Dario Saric (14.9 & 6.9)) is expected to play on Friday after a three-game absence due to an elbow issue. Veteran Ersan Ilyasova (10.1 & 6.3 in 19 games with Philly) started in Saric's place and recorded back-to-back double-doubles, as the team's season-long trend of players responding to opportunities continued. "They play for each other," Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown told reporters. "They really co-exist well. It's stuff with our culture you've been building over the years, and the people we have included into this program have played for each other. I really think they get along well." Rookie PG Simmons may never be the eqaua of James (will anyone?) but he's a remarkably versatile player, averaging 15.8-8.1-8.1.
The pick: The Sixers are red-hot but the Cavs aren't far behind. In this showdown game (very important to each team), I have to favor the Cavs and LBJ, with Embiid sidelined. Make the Cavs an 8* play.
|04-05-18||Clippers +7 v. Jazz||Top||95-117||Loss||-110||13 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Western Conference playoff chase has been a logjam behind the Rockets and Warriors all season, as eight teams have been fighting for the final six spots. With the NBA season entering its final seven days (April 11), Portland has clinched a playoff (will likely earn the No. 3 seed) but the next five teams are all withing one game of each other. The 45-33 Utah Jazz have won 26 of their past 31 games but haven't yet clinched a playoff spot (currently own the No. 4 seed), as they get set to welcome the Los Angeles Clippers to Salt Lake City. As for the 42-36 Clippers, they have no margin for error with four games remaining in the regular season when it comes to landing a Western Conference playoff spot. Los Angeles resides in 10th place in the West, one game back of No. 9 Denver and two games back of the T-wolves and Pelicans, who are both 44-34 and own the final two Western Conference playoff spots.
LA Clippers: The Clippers recovered from a 19-point deficit to defeat the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, keeping their postseason hopes alive. Head coach Doc Rivers was thrilled about his team's comeback against the Spurs, as a defeat would have been close to a death knell per the postseason chances. Veteran Lou Williams was struggling through a poor outing before he tallied 15 fourth-quarter points to finish with 22 while recording his third straight 20-point outing. Williams is averaging career highs in points (22.2) and assists (5.3) this season. Tobias Harris, acquired from Detroit in the Griffin trade, scored 31 points against the Spurs and is averaging 19.9 & 6.1 in his 28 games with LA (is Blake really missed?).
Utah: The Jazz have won three straight and are a half-game up on San Antonio for fourth place in the Western Conference after the Spurs dropped an overtime decision last night to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Jazz had just beaten the Lakers 117-110 the night before, at home. PG Ricky Rubio (13.2-4.6-5.4) was superb against the Lakers, scoring 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting and also recording eight assists and six rebounds.Center Rudy Gobert (13.7 & 10.9) collected 16 rebounds against the Lakers and is averaging 13 per over the last five contests. Rookie guard Mitchell (20.4-3.6-3.6) is the favorite for ROY honors. He has scored at least 20 points in a season-high 10 straight games and has 44 games with 20 points this season. That’s the most by any rookie since Blake Griffin had 55 such games during the 2010-11 season.
The pick: The Jazz are 2-1 versus the Clippers this season but that's after losing 18 of the previous 20 regular-season meetings between the two clubs. Sure, the Jazz are fighting for playoff positioning but the Clippers are fighting for their playoff lives. LA is a money-making 24-15-1 ATS on the road this season and I'm taking the points. Make the Clippers an 8* play.
|04-03-18||Hornets -4.5 v. Bulls||Top||114-120||Loss||-105||13 h 7 m||Show|
The set-up-up: The Charlotte Hornets were mathematically eliminated from the postseason race over the weekend on the heels of three straight losses. The 33-44 Hornets dropped a 119-102 decision at home to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday and are embracing the player-development portion of the schedule through the end of the season, as they get set to visit the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. The 26-51 Bulls know all about being out of the postseason race but they come into this contest having won two straight games for the first time since mid-January.. However, Chicago threw a wrench into the East standings by knocking off the playoff-bound Washington Wizards 113-94 on Sunday, as 12 different players logged at least 15 minutes for the Bulls, who shot 52.4 percent from the floor.
Charlotte: All-Star guard Kemba Walker (22.6 & 5.6 APG) was limited to 26 minutes on Sunday, as Charlotte expanded the minutes down the roster, allowing Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to get more "PT." While Stone made his presence felt on the defensive end, Monk contributed on the offensive end of the floor by scoring 16 points in 24 minutes. Center Willy Hernangomez picked up some extra minutes at the expense of veteran Dwight Howard (16.7 & 12.3) and responded with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes. However, Howard did record his 49th double-double of the season (10 & 10), tying him with Larry Johnson for the franchise record. A lot of good Howard's presence has done, as Charlotte's win percentage is .436, compared to .439 last season, without him
Chicago: Zach LaVine (left knee) and Kris Dunn (toe) have each missed the last nine games and Chicago has announced both will be shut down for the rest of the season. Veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday combined to go 8-of-11 from the floor and each played 17 minutes but it was the younger players doing the bulk of the damage in Sunday's triumph. Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen (15.0 & 7.5) scored a team-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while hauling in six rebounds in 25 minutes. Bobby Portis (13.2 & 6.8), 23, played just 16 minutes in the win but made his presence felt with 18 points to mark the 11th time in the last 12 games that he reached double figures.
The pick: Chicago has taken two of the first three meetings this season between these "going nowhere" teams and as noted, both are somewhat in "player-development mode." However, no LaVine (16.7) and Dunn (13.4-4.2-6.0) doesn't bode well for Chicago here, as Walker and Howard, along with a number of other veterans, are still playing for contracts next season. I'm making Charlotte a 10* play.
|04-03-18||Warriors v. Thunder -4.5||Top||111-107||Loss||-107||13 h 7 m||Show|
The set-up: The NBA's regular season ends April 11th and the 45-33 OKC Thunder are just a half-game back of the Spurs for the West's No. 4 seed (the last one which comes with a homecourt advantage) but they are also just one game up on the T-wolves (the current No. 7 seed) and 1 1/2 games clear of the 8th-seeded Pelicans. The Thunder had dropped three straight games by a total of just eight points before figuring things out down the stretch on Sunday by snapping their slide with a 109-104 win at New Orleans. OKC and Golden State have no love between them and while the Warriors are
Golden State: Durant (26.3-6.8-5.4) was ejected in his first game back vs/ the bucks but has led the way in back-to-back wins while averaging 28 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists against Sacramento and Phoenix. Thompson (19.9) is playing with his thumb wrapped but it doesn't seem to be hampering his shooting stroke, as he is 20-of-38 from the floor over the last two games. Heading into this game, Curry (26.4-5.1-6.1 will miss his sixth consecutive game with a sprain of his left medial collateral ligament, guard Patrick McCaw is also out after a scary Saturday night injury that left him with a lumbar spine contusion, as is forward Omri Casspi with a right ankle sprain. Super-sub Andre Iguodala (knee soreness) and Kevon Looney (flu) are listed as doubtful, while Durant (rib soreness) and Thompson (fractured right thumb) are both listed as probable. That's more than a few "ifs."
Oklahoma City: "This is a huge win," Paul George told reporters after the Thunder beat the Pelicans on Sunday. "This is a great win, playing against an opponent who is in the same position for us. A must win for both teams. It was a step in the right direction for us to pick up a game like this on an opponent’s floor." However, George (21.6 & 5.7) is shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor over the last five games and was just 9-of-24 on Sunday. Westbrook (25.4-9.8-10.2) recorded a triple-double with 26 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists on Sunday, breaking out of his own shooting slump by going 9-of-17 from the floor. Carmelo Anthony (16.3 & 5.8) completes OKC's "trio of stars," a group which has so far, underachieved (the playoffs will have the last say).
The pick: The Thunder won the first two meetings thi season but the Warriors took the most recent meeting, 112-80 at home back on Feb. 24. OKC has looked shaky as of late (again!) but while the Warriors are off their first back-to-back SU wins in almost a month, their 'victims' were the 25-53 Kings and the NBA-worst Suns (19-59). Impossible to ignore Golden State's 4-12 ATS run since. ate Feb. Make OKC an 8* play.
|04-01-18||Bucks +4 v. Nuggets||Top||125-128||Win||100||12 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: The 41-35 Milwaukee Bucks are well clear of ninth-place Detroit after a 124-122 overtime victory against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday. However, the Bucks are jockeying for position with Washington and Miami for the final three playoff spots in the East. Milwaukee currently owns the No. 7 seed, one game back of Washington and only a half-game ahead of the Heat. The Nuggets may have a similar 41-35 record to that of the Bucks, but as they begin a three-game homestand Sunday against Milwaukee, Denver sits two games behind Utah and New Orleans, who are tied for seventh and own the final two postseason spots in the Western Conference. The the Nuggets have a favorable schedule down the stretch but so do the Jazz and Pelicans.
Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.3-10.0-4.8) recorded 27 points and 16 rebounds Friday, giving him five 25-point, 15-rebound games this season, second-most in the Eastern Conference to Philadelphia's Joel Embiid (six). Eric Bledsoe (17.7-3.9-4.9) added 39 points and is averaging 24 over his last four games. Swingman Middleton (20.3 & 5.2) had 28 points, as Milwaukee's version of a "Big 3" combined for 94 points against LA. Jabari is averaging a modest 11.0 & 4.1 in his 25 games back but is showing progress. Meanwhile, John Henson (8.8 & 6.9) remains day-to-day after missing his second straight game Friday with a finger injury plus Malcolm Brogdon (13.3 points) has missed the last 26 games with a quad injury but is working his way toward a return before the regular season ends.
Denver: The Nuggets continue to play without their second-leading scoer Gary Harris (17.7), who has missed the last seven games with a knee injury. "Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see him for a while,'' Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told the Denver Post. "Just being completely honest. Obviously, I am not a doctor, but in talking to our training staff, Gary has been working hard to get back, but I think he is still a ways away.'' Denver features six double digit scorers even without Harris, led by center Jokic (17.8 & 10.6). He's followed by guard Murray (16.5), swingman Barton (15.2-4.9-4.1) and now healthy PF Millsap (14.8 & 6.3)).
The pick: Jokic is an under-the-radar star, who has 14 triple-doubles since the start of the 2016-17 season, fourth-most in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook (65), LeBron James (29) and James Harden (25).
|04-01-18||Thunder -1 v. Pelicans||Top||109-104||Win||100||10 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: The final day of the NBA's regular season is April 11th and seven teams are vying for five playoff spots in the Western Conference, separated by just three games from the 4th through 10th spots. The 44-33 OKC Thunder and the 43-33 New Orleans Pelicans square off Sunday, with both teams suffering through ill-timed three-game losing streaks.OKC currently owns the No. 6 seed but is just a half-game up on the Pelicans, who own the eighth and final playtoff spot. New Orleans holds a two-game edge on the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets, who are both currently on the outside looking in.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder saw their stars struggle in a 126-125 overtime loss to Denver at home on Friday, as Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George combined to shoot 25-of-65. OKC wasted their franchise-record 20 three-pointers, as the Thunder blew a six-point lead with 2:22 left in regulation and hurt themselves with missed foul shots and layups. "We just have to finish them," Westbrook told reporters after Friday's loss. "We did a good job of locking in when we needed to get stops. We just need to put the ball in the hole." OKC's three straight losses have come by a combined eight points and all were against West playoff hopefuls, making for a frustrating slide.
New Orleans: Anthony Davis struggled in scoring only16 points on 6-of-19 shooting in the 107-102 loss at Cleveland on Friday. However, Jrue Holiday continued his stellar play and kept New Orleans close while Davis struggled. He scored 25 points on 12-of-18 shooting after recording a triple-double against Portland on Tuesday. Rajon Rondo (wrist) returned from a two-game absence to hand out eight assists and Nikola Mirotic added 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting after producing a total of seven points on 2-of-13 over his previous two games.
The pick: After losing six of eight to Oklahoma City, the Pelicans have won both matchups against the Thunder this season. New Orleans defeated OKC 114-107 at home on Nov. 20 and 114-100 on the road on Feb. 2. However, the Pelicans ranked as high as the fourth seed in the Western Conference standings just 10 days ago but are now holding on precariously to the eighth and final playoff spot entering Sunday's contest against the Thunder. Oklahoma City is in a little better shape but the Thunder badly need a victory to solidify their playoff positioning. After this game with the Pelicans, OKC hosts Golden State and then visits Houston. OKC really needs this one and the optimism of the 4-2 record New Orleans put together during a marathon eight-day stretch is starting to 'melt away.' Make OKC a 10* play.
|03-31-18||Kansas v. Villanova -5||Top||79-95||Win||100||130 h 7 m||Show|
|03-31-18||Loyola-Chicago +5 v. Michigan||Top||57-69||Loss||-102||127 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: While a pair of No. 1 seeds (Villanova and Kansas) square off in Saturday's second game, the first game of the NCAA's semifinals features the No. 11-seeded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers vs. the No. 3-seeded Michigan Wolverines. The Ramblers are just the fourth No. 11 seed to advance to a Final Four and hope to become the first one to advance to the title game. Loyola's NCAA run has been "magical," winning their first three games by a grand total of four points, before the team's resounding 78-62 win over No. 9 seed Kansas State last Saturday. The Ramblers are 32-5 on the season and enter on a 14-game winning streak (21-1 over their last 22 games), going 23-9-1 ATS on the season, including 11-3 ATS during their current winning streak. Michigan did not look good in its first two NCAA wins (needed a 'miracle three' to beat Houston) but looked great in its Sweet 16 romp over Texas A&M and controlled most of the second half against FSU, although the Wolverines won just 58-54. Michigan also owns 32 wins (seven losses) on the season and comes in 24-12-2 ATS on the year. The Wolverines come in on a 13-game winning streak, going 10-2-1 ATS, as eight of their wins have come by double digits.
Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers looked very impressive in downing Kansas State, shooting 57.4% from the floor (including 9-of-1) from beyond the arc), while holding Kansas State to just 34.8% shooting. Ben Richardson led with 23 points. He's one of four starting guards but averages a modest 7.0 & 3.9 APG. The other three, all made game-winning or game-clinching shots in Loyola's first three NCAA wins. The trio is led by MVC player-of-the-year Custer (13.2 & 4.2 APG) plus Ingram (11.3 & 6.3) and Townes (11.2 & 3.9). 6-9 freshman Krutwig starts at center, averaging 10.3 & 6.1. SF Jackson (11.0) and guard Williamson (4.9) round out the team's seven-man rotation. Loyola scores a modest 72.0 PPG (225th) but shoots an impressive 50.9% from the floor as team (3rd-best in the nation). Defensively, Loyola has allowed only 62.4 PPG on the season, ranking fifth-best in the nation.
Michigan: The Wolverines used a 9-0 run to start the 2nd half, creating some separation from the Seminoles and held off a late Florida State charge after taking a 54-44 lead with just 2:26 left in regulation. Michigan shot only 38.8% from the floor but did hold Florida State to just 31.4% shooting, including just 4-of-17) on threes beyond the arc. Charles Matthews had 17 points, to lead Michigan to the win. Matthews is one of four contributing guards and is averaging 13.0 & 5.6 on the season. Fellow starters are Abdur-Rahkman (12.8-3.9-3.3 apg) and Zavier Simpson (7.5-3.3-3.7). The 6-11 Warner leads in scoring (14.3 ) and rebounding (6.9) while 6-7 freshman Livers is only a nominal starter (he averages 3.6 & 2.3 in right around 15 MPG). Sixth-man Robinson, checks in averaging 9.5 PPG and let's not forget freshman Jordan Poole (6.2), whose 'miracle 3' beat Houston. Like Loyola, Michigan does not score all that much (74.1 PPG) but similar to the Ramblers, the Wolverines know how to play defense, allowing 63.1 PPG to rank 8th-best in the nation.
The pick: You've all been told all about Loyola's 1963 NCAA champions and how this year's team is a reminder of that over-achieving group. There are similarities but it's doubtful Porter Moser will go the entire game like the '63 team, which didn't substitute once in regulation or overtime in the title game vs. Cincinnati (can't make that up!). Both teams play excellent D and Michiagn's John Beilein is one of the nation's best. However, Porter Moser is proving he may soon belong in the discussion of top-notch coaches and his team is a worthy Final 4 participant, The Ramblers have plenty of balance with five double-digit scorers, including 6-9 freshman Krutwig in the middle to battle Warner. The team has plenty of size on the wings to shoot over the Michigan defense on the perimeter. In Clayton Custer, Donte Ingram, and Marques Townes, Moser has clutch scorers who each made key last-second baskets that allowed the Ramblers to escape the early rounds. Don't be surprised to see that happen again. Take the points and make Loyola a 10* play.
|03-28-18||Knicks +12.5 v. 76ers||Top||101-118||Loss||-105||11 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: "The Process" is working, as the 43-30 Philadelphia 76ers have won seven straight games and are now just a half-game back of the Cavs for the East's No. 3 seed. After dominating the Denver Nuggets in a 123-104 home victory on Monday, the 76ers upped their home record to 25-10 (24-11 ATS). More good news comes their way in that they will play seven of their last nine games against teams with losing records, beginning with the 27-48 Knicks. New York is 21 games under .500 but is playing well on its road trip, stunning the Washington Wizards in a 101-97 win on Sunday and then falling 137-128 in overtime at Charlotte on Monday. The Knicks are
NY Knicks: New York is spending the rest of the season giving players a chance to earn a spot on next year's team. PG Trey Burke is making the most of his opportunity, scoring a team-high 19 points in the win at Washington, then exploding on Monday for a career-high 42 points on 19-of-31 shooting, while adding 12 assists. Burke is 25-years-old and the former Wolverine was a lottery pick for the Jazz but was plucked out of the G League by the Knicks in January. He is averaging 23 points on 57.4 percent shooting over the past four games. Center Enes Kanter has recorded a double-double in each of the last five games and has had a solid season, despite New York's woes, averaging 14.0 & 10.9
Philadedlphia; The 76ers have been led all season by Joel Embiid (23.2 & 11.1) plus rookie PG Ben Simmons (15.8-8.-8.0). That duo has been joined by SG Redick (16.5), PF Saric (14.9 & 6.8) and SF Covington (12.7 & 5.4), giving Philly a quality starting-five. Also, picking up Marco Belinelli has been huge, as he is averaging 15.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting over the last four games and 11.9 PPG in his 19 games with Philly. What's more, the 76ers got another promising youngster back in the lineup on Monday, when No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz (shoulder) returned from a five-month absence. Fultz collected 10 points and eight assists in 14 minutes off the bench and is trying to get up to speed in time to be a factor off the bench in the postseason. "The way he was embraced by his teammates just reinforces what I think of our group and how close they really are," 76ers head coach Brett Brown told reporters of his team's reaction to Fultz's return. "And then he came out and he played. He showed signs of why he was the first player chosen."
The pick: Philadelphia has taken each of the first three meetings this season. At first blush, this looks like a "lay the points kind of game." However, this is a huge pointspread for the young Sixers to lay (could close as the team's largest pointspread lay of the season!) and the Knicks are 6-1 ATS their last seven. Take the big points and make the Knicks an 8* play.
|03-28-18||Cavs v. Hornets +1||Top||118-105||Loss||-105||9 h 56 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers went down to Miami last night on a five-game winning streak (4-1 ATS), having averaged 122.2 PPG. However, that streak came to a crashing halt in Miami, as the Heat held them to just 36.5 percent shooting in a 98-79 loss. It marked Cleveland's lowest-scoring effort in exactly one year. The Cavs have no time to pick up the pieces, as they visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. The 44-30 Cavs will play five of their final seven games at home after finishing up in Charlotte, and currently sit just a half-game ahead of both the Sixers and Pacers in the race for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the 34-41 Hornets are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention, although they have refused to go quietly. Charlotte has averaged 122.5 points during a four-game winning streak, just a single victory shy of matching its longest winning streak of the season.
Cleveland: Not much went right for the Cavs last night in Miami. Kevin Love managed one point in seven minutes before he was knocked from Tuesday's loss due to an elbow by Miami's Jordan Mickey. Love also exhibited some concussion-like symptoms and will be re-evaluated in the morning before it is determined whether he will continue the trip to Charlotte. LeBron James was limited to 18 points (on 7-for-18 shooting) his lowest total since Feb. 23. As a team, Cleveland finished with a season-low four makes from beyond the arc in 26 attempts.
Charlotte: Kemba Walker (23.1 & 5.7 APG) scored 11 of his 31 points in overtime, as Charlotte got past the New York Knicks 137-128 on Monday. Charlotte is 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with seven to play and the writing is on the wall, which frustrates someone like Walker, who is in his seventh season with the Hornets and has appeared in just 11 playoff games. However, the two-time All-Star is doing all he can to keep Charlotte's slim hopes alive and is averaging 31.3 points during the winning streak. I guess the same can be said about Dwight Howard, who on Mar. 21 (the first of Charlotte's four straight wins) scored 32 points while grabbing 30 rebounds. Howard was the first NBA player with a 30-point, 30-rebound game since Kevin Love did it for Minnesota on Nov. 12, 2010. He's averaging 16.7 & 12.4 on the season but once again, his addition to yet another team has not improved that team's lot in life! It's becoming a 'broken record.'
The pick: However, Charlotte has no pressure and I see them playing well here.Sure, Cleveland has won each of the last eight meetings, including three straight at Charlotte, but the Cavs could be without Love tonight plus LBJ played 38 minutes in the front end of a back-to-back last night in Miami. The Cavs are a money-burning 26-47-1 ATS on the season and that includes a horrific 16-42-1 mark when favored. Take the small home dog and make the Hornets a 10* play.
|03-28-18||Illinois-Chicago v. Liberty -6||Top||67-51||Loss||-106||11 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: The CIT Tournament flies "way under the radar" but the semifinals of this tourney will be contested tonight. The UIC Flames and Liberty Flames will square off at the Vines Center, Liberty's homecourt in Lynchburg, Va. UIC has had a nice season as the 19-15 Flames will finish this season with their first winning record since the 2012-13 season and look poised to be a contender in the Horizon League next year. Liberty made it to the Big South championship game where it was nipped by Radford at the buzzer and comes into this contest at 22-14, after two home wins.
UIC: The Flames defeated Austin Peay a week ago Wednesday, despite trailing by a 14-points early in the 2nd half. An 11-0 run was the key and after a Tai Odiase dunk gave the Flames an 80-76 lead with 1:11 left in regulation., UIC held on for an 83-81 win. Did UIC hold Austin Peay to just 2-of-16 shooing from beyond the arc, or did the Governors just shoot poorly? Leading the way for the Flames was Tarkus Ferguson ,who had 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and a steal. Ferguson (10.2-5.3-5.2) is joined by two others in double digits. The 6-7 Dixson (14.2 & 3.5) is the team's leading scorer (more on that in a bit) and guard Ottey adds 13.5 PPG. Odiase, the team's 6-9 center, adds 9.4 PPG and a team-high 5.7 RPG. UIC averages 75.6 PPG (12nd) on 45.3% shooting.
Liberty: Try to figure out the CIT bracket methodology. Liberty's first game was Mar 12 (a 65-52 home win over NC A&T) but then didn't play again until March 24, when it used a big second half to defeat the Central Michigan Chippewas 84-74, this past Saturday. Liberty closed the 1st half on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 39-all. Then pulled away from Central Michigan midway through the 2nd half after an 11-0 Flames run gave Liberty a 64-53 lead with 9:18 left in regulation. Liberty shot 56.1% from the floor and 44.0% (12-25) from beyond the arc in the victory. Leading the way for the Flames was Scottie James who had 20 points and nine rebounds. The 6-7 James (a transfer from Bradley) leads in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (8.9), while four guards follow, three in double digits. PG Cabbil (11.2-4.4-3.8) heads the team's quartet of guards, followed by Kemrite (10.3), Pacheco-Ortiz (10.1) and Homesley (8.1 & 4.6). Liberty averages a modest 71.4 PPG (243rd) but holds opponents to just 63.5 PPG (9th) on 41.5% shooting (50th).
The pick: Maybe this is "Chicago's year," considering Loyola is in the Final Four? Then again, winning on Liberty's homecourt will be a real challenge, as head coach Ritchie McKay’s team already owns a pair of 13-point home wins in this tourney. What's more, UIC's leading scorer, Dikembe Dixson, decided to go the Leonard Fournette/Christian McCaffrey route and sit out the postseason to instead prepare for the upcoming NBA draft. Does he think he's LBJ??? Make Liberty a 10* play.
|03-27-18||Bulls +15 v. Rockets||Top||86-118||Loss||-105||10 h 19 m||Show|
The set-up: With Golden State's starting-five looking like a M*A*S*H unit, the Houston Rockets are close to clinching the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, as well as the No. 1 overall seed . The 60-14 Rockets have already set a franchise record for wins but that doesn't mean they plan on taking their foot off the gas. James Harden's triple-double (18-10-15) in Sunday's 118-99 rout of the Atlanta Hawks cliched the team's first 60-win campaign, upped Houston's lead over Golden State to 5 1/2 games and was the Rockets' 26th win in their last 27 games (the lone loss in that span came by three points at East-best Toronto on March 9). The Rockets will play five of their last eight games at home and after easily taking care of the Eastern Conference-worst Hawks (19-53), the Rockets welcome the almost as bad 24-49 Chicago Bulls to the Toyota Center. The Bulls are losers of five in a row and aren't even getting a chance to look at their three best young players, as Lauri Markkanen (back), Kris Dunn (toe) and Zach LaVine (knee) all sat out in Saturday's 117-95 loss at Detroit.
Chicago: Markkanen (14.8 & 7.6) and Dunn (13.4-4.3-6.0) are both questionable for Tuesday while LaVine (16.7 PPG in just 24 games) is expected to be out until early April. Other young players are trying to step up. Small forward Denzel Valentine (10.4 & 5.3) averaged 19 points while going 14-of-27 from the floor in the last two games, including 8-of-14 from beyond the arc. Cameron Payne (9.0 & 4.1 APG) is starting at point guard in place of Dunn and scored in double figures in each of the last three games, his longest run of the season.
Houston:The Rockets have relied on the isolation brilliance of James Harden and Chris Paul, plus their volume t-point shooting, to overwhelm opposing defenses. That the Rockets continue to score with breathtaking efficiency without mashing the throttle is a testament to their talent and execution, although they can hurry when the need arises. Harden (30.7-5.4-8.7) and Paul (18.8-5.6-7.9) are the stars, although Gordon (18.1) scoring makes for a terrific guard trio, while center Clint Capela (14.1 & 11.0) has turned into a double-double 'machine.' Houston ranks second in scoring (113.5) and leads the NBA in offensive rating at 113.1 points per 100 possessions
The pick: The Rockets are riding a nine-game winning streak and have gone 16-1 since the break. Meanwhile, the Bulls are 4-12 since the break. Chicago doesn't have much incentive to win games down the stretch given its position in the Eastern Conference standings and the possibility of landing an impact prospect high in the lottery of the upcoming draft. However, the Rockets are a more modest 5-4 ATS during the nine-game streak and the closing pointspread on this contest may well be the most amount of points that Houston had given up all season. Don't ignore the fact that the Rockets are 7-14 ATS at home when laying 10 points or more. Take those points and make Chicago a 10* play.
|03-26-18||Lakers +4.5 v. Pistons||Top||106-112||Loss||-105||18 h 29 m||Show|
The set-up: The Lakers have shown signs that the team is on the rise, despite suffering a plethora of injuries. LA wraps up a four-game road trip tonight in Detroit, with a chance for a 2-2 split. The Lakers dropped the first two stops at Indiana and New Orleans before snapping a four-game slide with a 100-93 win at Memphis on Saturday. The 33-40 Detroit Pistons have played their way out of a realistic shot at an Eastern Conference playoff spot (trail the eighth seed by 5 1/2 games with nine games remaining) but are winners of three of their last four.
LA Lakers: The Lakers are trying to give their prized rookies as much playing time as possible, as the season winds down. PG Lonzo Ball (second overall pick) and forward Kyle Kuzma (27th overall pick) have played heavy minutes in March, with Kuzma continuing to make the stronger impression. During the month, Ball is averaging 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.3 steals in 37.4 minutes per game but is shooting just 31.9 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, Kuzma is averaging 17.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 37.5 minutes while shooting 46.4 percent. However, LA is expected to be without two of its top players on Monday, as Isaiah Thomas (15.6 & 5.0 APG in 17 games) has already been ruled out because of a sore right hip. Also, leading scorer, SF Brandon Ingram (16.2-5.4-3.9) has missed the last 11 games because of a groin injury and is doubtful. 6-9 PF Julius Randle, having a breakout season in averaging 16.1 & 7.8, suffered an injured ankle during his last outing, leaving his status unclear for Monday's game against the Pistons.
Detroit: The Pistons Detroit took advantage of the depleted Chicago Bulls on Saturday and set a franchise record with 13 three-pointers in the first half in a 117-95 rout. Anthony Tolliver scored a season-high 25 points and went 6-of-12 from 3-point range to lead the way, and the Pistons handed out 33 assists. It was Detroit's third win in four gam,es but after going 3-13 from Feb. 9 through Mar. 17, it's all but assuredly too little too late. Blake Griffin continues to be heralded as a "difference-maker" but the Pistons' record since he joined them paints a very different picture.Griffin is averaging 20.0-6.7-6.3 in 24 games with Detroit, with the Pistons going 10-14 SU & 9-15 ATS.
The pick: Blake Griffin is getting a lot of heat for Detroit’s shortcomings but in fairness, without PG Reggie Jackson for so long (he has returned the last three games and doesn't look 100 percent), Griffin is being asked to do WAY too much.The Lakers are fighting some key injuries but are 13-9 ATS since the start of Feb. Take the points and make LA a 10* play.
|03-25-18||Duke -3 v. Kansas||Top||81-85||Loss||-103||10 h 44 m||Show|
The set-Up: There is more than just a small dose of normalcy on deck in the NCAA's Midwest Regional Final from CenturyLink Center in Omaha, as two of college basketball's true blue bloods, top-seeded Kansas and second-seeded Duke square off for the right to advance to the Final Four. Kansas and Duke have combined to win eight NCAA titles, including three of the last 10, and are two of the top-four winningest programs in NCAA history (rank 2nd & 4th in all-time victories). After extending its record Big 12 regular-season title streak to 14, Kansas won the Big 12 tourney and has now advanced to the Elite Eight for the third straight year, jumping out to a 20-point lead early in the second half before holding off Clemson, 80-76, on Friday night. Duke, the AP's preseason No. 1, will be trying to advance to the Final Four for the 17th time (it would a record 13th Final 4 for Coach K) after grinding out a 69-65 victory over Syracuse. The Blue Devils are back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015, when they won their fifth NCAA championship.
Duke: The Blue Devils beat the Orange despite shooting only 39.3 percent (including 5-of-26 from three-point range,), while getting outrebounded, 37-33. Duke starts four freshmen but don't feel too sorry for Coach K, who picked up his 1,100th career coaching victory and 94th career tournament win against Syracuse (both NCAA record). Two of the freshmen, 6-11 forward Marvin Bagley III (21.2 & 11.1), who garnered ACC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors plus the 6-10 Wendell Carter Jr. (13.6 & 9.3) are both both projected as top-10 draft picks (most likely, HIGH top-10 picks!). Freshman guards Gary Trent Jr. (14.4 & 4.3) and Trevon Duval (10.0 & 5.6 APG) are also considered potential first rounders and senior guard Grayson Allen (15.6 & 4.7 APG) may just join his freshman teammates on draft night, as well. Bagley has been a 'rock,' scoring exactly 22 points in each of Duke's tourney wins. Allen had 15 points and a team-high eight assists in Friday night's win but was just 3-of-14 from three-point range. Duke's 84.4 PPG ranks 8th in the nation and the team's 49.4 percent shooting from the floor ranks 12th.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have made it this far despite the loss of five-star recruit Billy Preston to eligibility issues and 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike being forced to play with a left knee brace to help support a MCL injury suffered in a March 6 practice. The team's lone big man of note was forced sit out the Big 12 Tournament and then played just three minutes in a 76-60 opening-round win over Pennsylvania. However, Azubuike has averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the last two games while connecting on 11-of-14 shots despite limping noticeably at times (he's shooting 77.5 percent on the season!). Azubuike's (13.2 & 7.0) presence inside will be a key factor in trying to defend the imposing Duke front line of Bagley and Carter but Kansas will likely need to rely on its outstanding perimeter people to win The quartet of Graham (17.3 & 7.4 APG), Svi Mykhailiuk (14.8 ppg), Malik Newman (13.5 7 4.9) and Lagerald Vick (12.1 &4.9) are quite a handful and all are excellent three-point shooters, who will test Duke's 2-3 zone. Kansas averages 81.4 PPG (29th) plus ranks 11th in both FG percentage (49.5) and three-point percentage (40.5).
The pick: Here's the bottom line in a battle between Kansas (2,247 wins is second in all-time Division I victories) and Duke (fourth with 2,144 wins). This marks the sixth time Bill Self's Kansas team has been a No. 1 seed and and advanced to the Elite 8. However, Self's teams are 0-5 in their previous five tries and considering Duke is a money-making 22-12 ATS this season (including 9-3 ATS as a single-digit favorite), the Blue Devils are an 8* play.
|03-25-18||Cavs v. Nets +7.5||Top||121-114||Win||100||6 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavs have welcomed Kevin Lowe back and the team's second-best player has been missed. Love (18.0 & 9.3) has not missed a beat, averaging 20.3 & 8.3 in his three games back in the lineup and the Cvs will take a four-game winning steak into their road game at Barclays Center Sunday afternoon against the Brooklyn Nets. The 43-29 Cavs are 10 1/2 games back of the Eastern-leading Raptors plus are also six games back of the Celtics and with only 10 games left, are likely going have to settle for the East's No. 3 seed. However, the Cavaliers are starting to put the pieces together as they get set for another playoff run. Not so much for the 23-50 Nets, who sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Then again, the Nets have not 'mailed it in,' evidenced by them taking the East-leading Toronto Raptors down to the wire before falling 116-112 on Friday.
Cleveland: The Cavs open a three-game road trip on Sunday and will play five of their remaining 10 games against teams with losing records. Along with the recent return of Love, Cleveland welcomed back Rodney Hood (back), Tristan Thompson (ankle) and Larry Nance Jr. (hamstring) in Friday's win. They are now just waiting on Kyle Korver (personal) and Cedi Osman (hip) to get back. "Ten games is enough time when you have your whole team back for the first time all season, it gives you an opportunity to, No. 1, establish some type of rotation that you're going to be using," assistant coach Larry Drew, who is acting as the head coach while Tyronn Lue sits out due to illness, told reporters. Of course, a guy named James (27.4-8.6-9.1) is still "the straw that stirs the drink." LBJ raging 34 points on 59.1 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds and 10.8 assists in the last five games to carry Cleveland.
Brooklyn: "We're not into moral victories, but I did like our compete," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters after Friday loss to the Raptors. However, the Nets were up nine at the start of the fourth quarter against the Raptors,before falling off. It mirrored Wednesday's game when Brooklyn squandered a 23-point lead in a 111-105 loss to Charlotte. In the end, Friday was just another close loss for the Nets, who are 16-30 in games where there is a five-point margin with less than five minutes to play. Brooklyn was outscored 36-18 in the fourth on Wednesday, then 32-21 on Friday, dropping to 5-21 in its last 26 games.
The pick:Sure, the Cavs are starting to gear up for another playoff run but the Nets have covered five straight in the series. Cleveland hasn't played much defense at all this season, ranking 28th in defensive efficiency, while allowing 110.2 PPG (27th). The Cavs are a terrible favorite (covering right around 30% of the time this season), while the Nets are 13-4 ATS in 2018 when getting seven-plus points. Make Brooklyn an 8* play.
|03-24-18||Florida State +5 v. Michigan||Top||54-58||Win||100||33 h 53 m||Show|
The set-up: The West Regional Final will feature No. 3 Michigan against No. 9 Florida State. The Wolverines were hardly impressive in reaching the Sweet 16 (freshman Jordan Poole's long three at the buzzer beat Houston in the Round of 32) but set a new NCAA Tournament single-game record as eight players made at least one three-pointer in an impressive 99-72 win against seventh-seeded Texas A&M on Thursday, as Michigan its most points scored in an NCAA Tournament game since 1992. 31-7 Michigan has now won 12 straight games, including nine in a row away from home and can set a single-season program record with its 32nd victory at the Staples Center Saturday night against Florida State..The Seminoles had just one player finish in double figures against Gonzaga but Florida State was the more active and more aggressive team against the Bulldogs, blocking nine shots while holding Gonzaga to 33.9 percent shooting from the floor. The Seminoles' press was just too much for Gonzaga throughout the game and the 'Noles were efficient in transition. Florida State has reached the Elite 8 for the first time since 1993 and a win over Michigan would put them in the Final Four for the first time since 1972 (lost to Bill Walton's UCLA Bruins in the title game!).
Florida State:Terance Mann (12.9 & 5.5) led the way with 18 points in the win over Gonzaga, despite being hampered by a groin injury. Three more guards had solid efforts, as Braian Angola (12.7) and C.J. Walker (8.1) each added nine points, while Trent Forrest (4.9-4.9-4.1) provided a big spark off the bench with seven points, six rebounds and six assists. The 6-8 Cofer (12.7 & 4.9) has been the team's best frontcourt player this season but he had just seven points plus grabbed only one rebound. The 6-9 Kabengele (7.3 & 4.7) and the 7-4 Koumadje (6.7 & 4.3) have contributed on and off all season and against Gonzaga, Kabengele came off the bench to block four shots and add seven points. "We're a team that operates with the philosophy that we have to win games by committee," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton told reporters. "They're all able to contribute offensively and defensively because of that philosophy." This is Hamilton's best postseason run in his 16 years at Florida State.
The pick: Michigan and Florida State both know the winner will meet either Loyola-Chicago (an 11-seed) or Kansas State (a 9-seed) in the national semifinals, so a trip to the title game just could be in the cards for the winner of this contest. No way one can ignore Michigan's 12-game winning streak, which includes eight wins by double digits. However, the Wolverines' points were the second-most they've scored this season and second-most of any team in the NCAA Tournament this year. Plus, their 61.9 percent field-goal shooting is the best of any team in the tourney this year. Does anyone really expect them to come anywhere near that type of offensive efficiency against an FSU defense 61.3 allowing 61.3 PPG on 37.6% shooting in its three NCAA wins? Also, let's not forget that this may be Hamilton's best offensive team at FSU, as the Seminoles are averaging 80.9 PPG on 47.2 % shooting on the season. Make FSU a 10* play.
|03-24-18||Pelicans +8 v. Rockets||Top||91-114||Loss||-102||13 h 43 m||Show|
The set-up: The New Orleans Pelicans just survived a stretch of three games in three nights (all at home), handing the Mavs a 10-point loss but then needed to eke out a four-point win over the Pacers and a three-point win over the Lakers. The Pelicans aren't making it look easy but with a four-game winning streak, have moved to 43-30, a half-game back of the 4th-seeded Thunder and one game back of the third-seeded Blazers. However, in the tightly contested West (behind the Rockets and Warriors), the Pelicans also find themselves just three games clear of the playoff 'cut line!' Speaking of the Rockets, if the Pelicans want to extend their current winning streak to five games, they'll have to beat the Rockets in Houston. The Rockets are coming off an unimpressive 100-96 home win over the Pistons on Thursday (in OT!) but are winners of seven straight, 24 of 25 and own the best record in the NBA at 58-14. Houston will play seven of its final 10 games at home, where it owns a 28-6 record.
New Orleans: The Pelicans have been toughing it out in a stretch that had the team playing five games in six days (Mar. 17-22). However, New Orleans had enough energy left on Thursday to outscore the Lakers 31-17 in the fourth quarter. Anthony Davis continues to make his case for league MVP and comes in averaging 28.2 PPG and 11.1 RPG on the season. Combo guard Holiday (19.1-4.4-5.8) has been terrific all season and with Cousins out, E'Twaun Moore (12.4) is the only other regular averaging in double digits. However, the 6-10 Nikola Mirotic has been a 'life-saver,' averaging 12.9 & 7.8 in hsi 22 games since being acquired from the Bulls.
Houston: VP frontrunner James Harden (31.0-5.3-8.7) struggled in making only 2-of-16 from the floor in regulation on Thursday before finding his stroke in overtime, scoring 10 of his 21 points. However, Harden went 0-of-8 from three-point range in the win, marking the first time this season that he failed to make at least one 3-point attempt. Joining Harden on teh perimeter are Chris Paul (18.8-5.6-7.9) and Eric Gordon (18.1), giving Houston an outstanding trio. Center Clint Capela (14.0 & 10.9) has developed into a double-double 'machine' and Houston's reserves have contributed on a regular basis all season. Houston ranks second to only Golden State in scoring (113.5 PG) plus has grealy improved at the defensive end this season, allowing 104.7 PPG (10th-best).
The pick: The Rockets are closing in on clinching the best record in the league and they’ve been tough to beat at home going 28-6, including winning 14 straight. However, Mike D’Antoni’s team is just 13-20-1 ATS at the Toyota Center this season, including coming in on a 5-11 ATS run its last 16 as a home favorite. Meanwhile, the Pelicans have covered three straight and 11 of the last 17 in the series, plus they come in on a 7-1 SU & ATS run on the road. Take the points and make New Orleans a 10* play.
|03-24-18||Loyola-Chicago +1 v. Kansas State||Top||78-62||Win||100||30 h 13 m||Show|
The set-up: The two teams that busted up the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional bracket, the ninth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats (25-11) and the 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (31-5) will square off Saturday square off Saturday in Atlanta's Philip's Arena, with a long-awaited return to the Final Four on the line for the winner. Kansas State is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010 but the Wildcats have lost the last six times they've had a chance to advance to the Final Four. The school's last Final Four trip came back in 1964, one year after Loyola claimed the national title in its only Final Four trip. The Ramblers were a power in the 1960s but they hadn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 1985, before this year’s Cinderella run. Kansas State overcame foul trouble( three players fouled out) to edge No. 5 Kentucky 61-58, while Loyola beat No. 7 seed Nevada 69-68, giving the Ramblers three NCAA wins by a grand total of just four points!
Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers have won 13 straight, the longest streak in the nation with Gonzaga losing to Michigan, and 20 of their last 21. They closed out the win over Nevada by shooting 75 percent in the second half, as guard Marques Townes (11.2) and SF Aundre Jackson (11.2 points) made key three-pointers down the stretch. Five players are averaging in double-digits, led by Clayton Custer (13.4 & 4.2 APG), the hero of the Tennessee win, and the 6-6 Donte Ingram (11.2 & 6.3), the hero of the Mia-Fl. win. The 6-9 Krutwig (10.4 & 6.1) rounds out the double digit scorers. With Loyola clinging to a one-point lead and only 6.3 seconds remaining, Townes nailed the decisive three-pointer to help clinch a 69-68 win over Nevada. He led Loyola with 18 points, after he had scored only 15 points in Loyola's first two NCAA tournament wins. Do you get the feeling this is Loyola's year? I believe Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola's 98-year-old team chaplain who has become a celebrity during the tournament, believes just that (she may have a pipeline?).
Kansas State: The Wildcats' remarkable run through the tournament (note: It was aided by No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County knocking off overall No. 1 seed Virginia) has come despite getting very little from the team's leading scorer and rebounder, the Dean Wade (16.2 & 6.2). The 6-10 center missed the first two games with a foot injury and was limited to eight minutes against Kentucky. PG Barry Brown (16.0-3.2-3.3) and 6-5 swingman Xavier Sneed (11.0 & 5.1) have stepped up to carry the load in his absence. Despite being one of three Wildcats to foul out against Kentucky, Sneed led KSU with 22 points. Brown had 13 points vs Kentucky and seized the moment with 18 seconds remaining, banking in a left-handed shot to give KSU a 60-58 lead. Brown also had 18 points in each of KSU's first two tourney wins.
The pick: It's come down to this, 9 vs. 11 in the Elite Eight for the first time in tournament history, with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Isn't that just perfect in a regional that became the first in NCAA history to have the top four seeds knocked out the very first weekend, including No. 1-ranked and overall No. 1 seed in the 2018 tourney, Virginia. Will we know the winner by halftime? Maybe? The Ramblers are 22-0 when leading at halftime and the Wildcats are 20-2 when ahead at the half. However, I will not buck Loyola (and Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt), which is 22-9-1 ATS on the season. What's more, one could make a strong case that Loyola has faced tougher challenges already in defeating Miami-Fla, Tennessee, and Nevada. Make the Ramblers an 8* play.
|03-23-18||Texas Tech +1.5 v. Purdue||Top||78-65||Win||100||84 h 36 m||Show|
The set-up: It's the No. 3-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders taking on the No. 2-seeded Purdue Boilermakers Friday in NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 East Regional action at the TD Garden in Boston. Texas Tech was jilted by Tubby Smith when he led the Red Raiders to the tournament and then left for Memphis. However, Smith's buyout money helped lure Chris Beard away from UNLV to Lubbock, where Beard had spent a decade as an assistant at Texas Tech. Beard's national profile skyrocketed two years ago when his Arkansas-Little Rock squad upset fifth-seeded Purdue in the opening round, 85-83 in double overtime. He signed a deal with UNLV but never coached a game, instead returning to Texas Tech. It has sure worked out for Texas Tech, as Beard has the program back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and as fate would have it, the 26-9 Red Raiders will play the 30-6 Boilermakers (30-6). Purdue head coach may not admit it but I'm sure he'd love to avenge that 2016 loss to Beard's Arkansas-Little Rock team.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have had some injury problems with leading scorer Keenan Evans (17.8 PPG) having to fight his way through a painful turf toe plus injury-prone center Zach Smith (6.1 & 3.8) has had trouble staying on the court for extended minutes. However, freshman guard Culver (11.5 & 4.9) and freshman SF Zhaire Smith (11.3 & 4.8) have matured as the season has progressed. The team's mid-season form (Tech was once 22-4) seemed to resurface in Dallas, as a healthier Evans scored 45 points in the two games at Dallas, while freshman Smith came up big vs. Florida in the second round, scoring 18 points. Zach Smith also was able to average 19 minutes in Tech's two NCAA wins, totaling 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds.Tech is not an outstanding offensive team (Red Raiders are averaging 74.9 PPG) but defensively, Tech holds opponents to 64.6 PPG (15th) on 40.3% shooting (14th). The active Red Raider defense was able to deliver key stops vs. Florida in a 69-66 win.
Purdue: The Boilermakers know about key injuries, as 7-2 senior center Isaac Haas (14.7 & 5.7) fractured his right elbow in Purdue's first-round victory over Cal State Fullerton on Friday. Luckily for the Boilermakers, they're one of the few programs in the country that can sub-in one agile 7-footer for another. 7-3 backup Matt Haarms performed well in the second-round victory over Butler, scoring seven points, grabbing six rebounds and making two blocks in a four-point win over the Bulldogs. Purdue averages 80.8 PPG (38th) on 49.4% shooting (13th), including making 42.1% on threes (second-best in the nation!). Guard Carsen Edwards leads a trio of guards with a team-high 18.2 PPG, joined by PG Mathias (12.3-4.1-4.0) and Thompson (7.4). The 6-8 Vince Edwards (14.7 & 7.2) will be asked to produce even more, with Haas sidelined.
The pick: Purdue would arguably be one of the top-four teams remaining, if Haas were available. His status is up to the engineers of Purdue to manufacture a brace that is NCAA-compliant (is that likely?). The Boilermakers have survived without Haas by hitting their open shots. The Boilermakers are 22-for-25 on uncontested shots in the NCAA tournament (88 percent), best among Sweet 16 teams. Will that continue, especially against an excellent Texas Tech D? Evans is averaging 21.2 PPG on better than 54 percent shooting over Tech's last five games, so Purdue's task will not be easy. However, I like the "coaching revenge angle" and will take Painter over Beard in this one. Make Purdue an 8* play.
|03-23-18||Clemson v. Kansas -4.5||Top||76-80||Loss||-109||80 h 16 m||Show|
The setup: Kansas is the Midwest's top seed and can't be unhappy with the regional being played at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Ne. The Jayhawks own a five-game winning streak and have won 10 of their last 11 outings. to enter this game at 29-7. Kansas opened the Big Dance with a 76-60 win over Penn and then beat No. 8-seed Seton Hall 83-79. The Clemson Tigers (a No. 5 seed) have won five of their last seven games, managing a 79-68 victory over New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, then followed with a big 84-53 win over No. 4 Auburn. Clemson comes in at 25-9 on the year.
Clemson:Head coach Brad Brownell took note of the other coaches in the regional (Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Bill Self) and said, "Nobody is going to know who I am. It's like coaching the ACC. I don't look down at the other end when we're coaching. That's not good for my mental health." However, Brownell has Clemson in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997, after previously coaching Wright State and UNC-Wilmington to tournament appearances. The Tigers advanced by limiting Auburn to 25.8 percent shooting and points on just 22 of 70 possessions in an 84-53 second-round mismatch. Clemson ranks 2th in points allowe (65.5 per) and 17th in defensive FG perecentage at 40.4%, The loss of guard Deonte Grantham (14.2 & 6.9) was huge but a trio of 6-3 guards have come through in Marcquise Reed (15.9 & 4.7), Gabe DeVoe (13.7 & 4.6) and Shelton Mitchell (12.2 & APG). The 6-9 Thomas (10.9 & 8.9) is really the only key frontcourt contributor. Gabe DeVoe has stepped up with back-to-back 22-point efforts in Clemson's two wins.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have outlasted Penn and Seton Hall in the first two rounds and are glad to have 7-0 center Udoka Azubuike back. He sat out the Jayhawks' championship run in the Big 12 Tournament with an MCL strain but played 22 minutes against Seton Hall and contributed 10 points and seven rebounds. Azubuike leads the nation in field goal percentage, making 77.5 percent of his attempts, while averaging 13.2 PPG and 6.9 RPG. His presence is vital, as Self's other four starters are all guards. Devonté Graham (17.4-4.0-7.5) was the Big 12's POY and is joined by Mykhailiuk (15.0 & 3.9), Newman (13.4 & 4.8) and Vick (12.1 & 4.8). Newman led the way with 28 points against Seton Hall, upping his average to 22.0 PPG in Kansas' five tourney games (Big 12 and Big Dance).
The pick: Shorthanded Auburn was clearly not the same team without the services of its top big, 6-7 soph Anfernee McLemore and Auburn missed 18 straight shots at one point against Clemson. Really think that will happen to Kansas? Kansas averages 81.4 PPG (29th) on 49.6% shooting (12th) and is now healthy with the return of Azubuike. Also, I sure expect Graham to bounce back with a difference-making offensive showing after going just 1 of 7 from the floor vs. Seton Hall. Kansas has won and covered in this round of the tourney the last two years, with comfy ATS wins over Purdue (98-66 last year) and Maryland (79-63 in 2016). Make it three straight years, as Kansas is a 10* play.
|03-23-18||Nuggets +1.5 v. Wizards||Top||108-100||Win||100||10 h 24 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets are 1-2 on their current seven-game road trip as they get set to visit the Washington Wizards. The 39-33 Nuggets sit two games back of the final playoff spot in the West (T-wolves and Jazz are both 41-31) entering play on Thursday. Nuggets did take care of the lowly Chicago Bulls 135-102 on Wednesday but if they are going to make the postseason, they'll have to beat a winning team or two on the road down the stretch. The team's road trip gets considerably tougher from here on, with each of the next four games and six of the final 10 on the road against teams with winning records, starting with the Wizards. The 40-31 Washington Wizards fell into sixth place in the East with a loss at San Antonio on Wednesday but they are just one game behind the fourth-place Philadelphia 76ers and two back of the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers in the battle for homecourt advantage in the first round.
Denver: The Nuggets face an arduous trek that could very well determine whether they make the playoffs or not. Denver will be without leading scorer Gary Harris (17.7) on Friday night against the Washington Wizards, who will miss his fourth straight game with a right knee sprain/strain (he initially got hurt in the fourth quarter last Thursday in a win over Detroit, when he landed awkwardly as he was fouled on a dunk. Without Harris, the Nuggets are 1-2 on the trip. They dropped a seven-point decision at Memphis on Saturday followed by a 149-141 double-overtime loss at Miami on Monday, before beating the sad-sack Bulls. Jokic, a 6-10 center, is right behind Harris in averaging 17.5 PPG plus add a team-high 10.5 RPG. Five other Denver players are in double digits, including the versatile Barton (15.0-4.-4.9) and the now-healthy PF Millsap (14.2 & 6.3).
Washington: The Wizards lost 98-90 at San Antonio on Wednesday and are 4-6 since Feb. 27. Washington is a virtual lock to make the playoffs (is 8 1/2 games inside the playoff cut line) but which seed the team gets could determine how long Washington's playoff 'stay' will be. It's important to note that all six of Washington's recent setbacks (see above) have come against playoff-bound opponents. "It's frustrating because we were right there," All-Star guard Bradley Beal told reporters. "Every time we have a chance to move up (in the standings), we kind of take two steps back. All we can do is put it behind us and move on." Beal (23.2-4.4-4.6) is doing his part to move the Wizards up in the standings, averaging 24.7 points on 55.8 percent shooting over the last three games. Wizards SG Jodie Meeks (6.4) and PF Mike Scott (8.6 & 3.1) both missed Wednesday's game due to illness and are day-to-day, plus PG Wall (19.4 & 9.3) hasn't played since Jan. 25..
The pick: Both teams are fighting for playoff positioning (Denver for its playoff life!) but both are also mired mired in pointspread slumps.Washington is 2-6-1 ATS in March, while Denver is just 4-10 ATS since Feb. 23. However, I'm giving the edge to the road team here, as even without Harris, the Nuggets can score and Washington is really struggling on the defensive end of the court. The Wizards have allowed opponents to shoot 48.9 percent from the floor over their last 10 games, giving up 108.8 PPG. Make Denver a 10* play.
|03-22-18||Florida State +6 v. Gonzaga||Top||75-60||Win||100||59 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: Sweet 16 action in the West Regional features the No. 9 seed Florida State Seminoles and the No. 4 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Seminoles ended the season by losing six of their final 10 down the stretch but their 20-11 mark was good enough to earn them a second straight tournament appearance and a sixth overall under head coach Leonard Hamilton. FSU picked up its 21st victory of the season on Friday, getting past a shorthanded Missouri team and then the Seminoles shocked No. 1 Xavier on Sunday, closing the game with an 18-4 run to win 75-70 and give them 22 wins on the season. Gonzaga ended its regular season 30-4 and with the AP's No. 8 ranking but the Bulldogs drew only a No. 4 seed (more on that later). Gonzaga opened with a less than impressive four-point win over UNC-Greensboro but then made 53.4 percent of its shots in a 90-84 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Bulldogs are in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season, the longest such streak in the country. If Gonzaga reaches the Final Four, it will set a Division I record for victories in a four-year span.
Florida State: The Seminoles opened the season having lost four starters off last year's 26-win team and little was expected. However, FSU began the season 9-0 before a one-point loss to Oklahoma State. FSU features a balanced scoring attack with four guards contributing. Angola (12.8 & 3.9) and Mann (12.7 & 5.5) are the highest perimeter scorers, joined by Walker (8.1) and Forrest (7.9 & 4.9-4.1). The 6-8 Cofer (13.1 & 5.0) has had a breakout senior year and works up front with the 7-4 Koumadje (6.9 & 4.6) and 6-9 freshman Kabengele (7.3 & 4.8). Angola was the Seminoles top gun against Xavier, scoring 16 points. Forrest had 13 points, five rebounds and four steals. Mann and Cofer had 10 ten points apiece plus Kabengele added nine points. Junior guard PJ Savoy (6.6) gave Florida State 11 points! The Seminoles have solid depth and can scorewith most teams, averaging 81.1 PPG (34th).
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs average 84.2 PPG (10th), on pace to be the highest scoring average in school history. The Bulldogs are outscoring opponents by 16.7 PPG this season, the second-highest scoring differential in Division I. Gonzaga has very good balance, with the 6-9 Williams (13.6 & 8.4) leading the way. He's got plenty of help up front with the 6-10 Tillie (12.9 & 5.9) and the 6-8 Hachimura (11.4 & 4.6). Freshman guard Norvell Jr.(12.7) carried the Bulldogs with 28 points and 12 rebounds against Ohio State and is joined in the backcourt by PG Perkins (12.4 & 5.3 APG) and Melson (9.3).
The pick: The Bulldogs have captured 21 of their last 22 outings, with the only loss coming in a hard-fought 74-71 home loss vs. WCC rival Saint Mary’s back in mid January. However, WCC is not the most challenging league, hence Gonzaga's No. 4 seed. In year's past. FSU could not match Gonzaga point-for-point in years past but that's not the case here in 2018. FSU owns a tall, athletic and deep bench, which has actually outscored its starters over the last four games! Note that 11 different players saw action in the first eight minutes last Sunday in the upset over Xavier and that the Seminoles have averaged 43.5 bench PPG, 12.5 more than any other team in the field. Chalk up another upset here, as FSU is an 8* play.
|03-22-18||Lakers +3 v. Pelicans||Top||125-128||Push||0||9 h 21 m||Show|
The set-up: The Pelicans had a make-up contest last night with the Pacers, in a game postponed back on Feb 7 because of a leaky roof in the Smoothie King Center. It marked the middle contest of three games in as many nights for New Orleans, as part of a stretch during which the Pelicans will play five times in six nights. New Orleans' 96-92 victory over Indiana gives them a chance to sweep its three games in three nights ordeal and post the team's fourth consecutive overall win when the 42-30 Pelicans host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. The 31-39 Lakers come in having dropped three straight games after enjoying a stretch in which they had won eight of 10 games. They suffered a 110-100 loss to the Pacers on Monday in the opener of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Memphis and Detroit.
LA Lakers: Rookie Kyle Kuzma had 27 points and eight rebounds in the loss to the Pacers andhe is putting together a season unlike any rookie in NBA history. Kuzma needs 78 rebounds and 15 three-pointers over the final 12 games to become the first rookie in league history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 150 3-pointers. The first-round pick out of Utah (2th overall) has exceeded all expectations by averaging 15.6 & 6.2, establishing himself as a key figure in the team's rebuilding project. That can also be said about second-year swingman Brandon Ingram (16.2-5.4-3.9) but he will miss his 10th straight game Thursday with a groin injury. PF Julius Randle (15.9 & 7.9) is also having his best-ever season plus no one can forget Lonzo Ball (10.1-6.8-7.1)
New Orleans: Anthony Davis (28.2 & 11.2) isn't looking fatigued, scoring 28 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking five blocked shots against the Pacers for his sixth double-double in the last seven games. The latest victory leaves the Pelicans three games clear of the ninth-place Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference playoff competition (also just a half-game back of the 4th-seeded Thunder) with just 10 games remaining. Combo guard Jrue Holiday (19.0-4.4-5.8) was back in the lineup versus the Pacers after battling the flu caused him to miss his first game this season. He had 10 points and five assists. Guard E'Twaun Moore (12.3) scored 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and forward Nikola Mirotic, who missed his first seven 3-point attempts against the Pacers, hit from long range on back-to-back possessions in the final four minutes. Don't knock Mirotic, as he's averaging 13.3 & 7.9 in his 21 games with the Pelicans (team is 14-7).
The pick: The Pelicans have won four of the last five against the Lakers, including both games this year. However, this marks a third game in three nights for the Pelicans and the Lakers had been on a 20-8 ATS run before dropping their last three SU & ATS. Take the points and make LA an 8* play.
|03-22-18||Texas A&M v. Michigan -3||Top||72-99||Win||100||57 h 48 m||Show|
The set-up: The West Regional from Staples Center in Los Angeles also features the No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines and the No. 7 seed Texas A&M Aggies. Michigan played terrific basketball at the end of the regular season and surprisingly won a second straight Big Ten tourney title. However, while Michigan was able to handcuff Montana in a first round NCAA tourney win (held the Grizzlies to 47 points), the Wolverines needed a 'miracle' three-pointer by Jordan Poole to edge Houston 64-63 in the second round. Texas A&M bested a good Providence team in the first round and then shocked North Carolina (No. 2 seed) 86-65 in Charlotte, no less.
Texas A&M: The Aggies reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, overcoming an 0-5 start in SEC play to finish 9-9 and tied for seventh with Mississippi State. A&M then lost on a buzzer-beater to Alabama in the team's conference tournament opener but still got a 7-seed with a 20-12 record (A&M opened the 2017-18 season at 11-1). 6-10 center Tyler Davis leads in scoring (14.6) and is second in rebounding (9.0). Guard Admon Gilder (12.4 & 4.1) and the 6-9 DJ Hogg (11.2 & 5.3) were both key members of the Texas A&M team that reached the Sweet 16 two years ago. The 6-10 Williams adds 10.3 RPG and a team-high 9.3 RPG, while guards Starks (10.1) and Wilson (9.0) and no slouches. Just ask the Tar Heels about Starks, who led A&M with 21 points on 7 of 15 shooting with a team-high five assists. The Aggies overwhelmed North Carolina, connecting on 10-of-24 three-pointers as part of an impressive 31 of 60 (51.7%) showing from the floor.
Michigan: After the team's grind-it-out 61-47 win over Montana, when Michigan allowed the third-fewest points in its NCAA Tournament history, the one-point win over Houston was a 'gift.' The 6-11 Wagner leads Michigan in scoring (14.2) and rebounding (7.1) and is joined in the starting lineup up front by the 6-7 Livers, although he contributes little with 3.7 & 2.3. Beilein starts three guards in Matthews (12.8 & 5.5), Abur-Rahkman (12.6-3.9-3.3) and Simpson (7.3 & 3.6 APG). A fourth guard, Robinson (9.5), is a major contributor to the rotation. Beilein-coached teams always play great D and this one is no different, as Michigan is allowing 63.1 PPG (8th).
The pick: A Texas A&M versus Michigan matchup in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 was not a farfetched notion back in December but it's a surprise now, as A&M didn't look like much of an NCAA tourney team, until its first two games of this year's Big Dance. Now, we've got a ballgame. The Aggies are surely oozing confidence following their romp over defending champ North Carolina. However, expect the Aggies to have trouble finding their rhythm on offense against Beilein's tough D. Sure, Michigan "got lucky": vs. Houston but the team comes in having won 11 straight, while going 9-2 ATS. This pointspread is 'doable,' as 29 of Michigan's 31 victories have come by three points or more. Make Michigan an 8* play.
|03-22-18||Loyola-Chicago +1.5 v. Nevada||Top||69-68||Win||100||56 h 18 m||Show|
The set-up: The 30-5 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and the 29-7 Nevada Wolf Pack will square off at Phillips Arena (South Regional) on Thursday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers are one of two double-digit seeds to have advanced to the Sweet 16 this year, joining Syracuse (also an 11-seed). Many opined that they have never seen such craziness as this this year's tourney. However, three double-digit seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in 12 separate seasons, four double-digit seeds reached the Sweet in 2011 ans a record five double-digit seeds reached the Sweet 16 in 1999. Bottom line, the 2018 tourney is hardly unprecedented. Then again, this matchup features something special. It seems as if Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt (a 98-year-old nun) has helped deliver two buzzer-beating wins for Loyola, while Mariah Musselman, the precocious daughter of the Wolf Pack's exuberant coach Eric, has been Nevada's biggest cheerleader during its run to the Sweet 16, after two come-from-behind wins. Loyola-Chicago: 6-6 swingman Donte Ingram's11.5 & 6.4) buzzer-beat Miami-Fl. on Thursday and then Clayton Custer (13.3 & 4.2 APG), the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, hit the game-winner against third-seeded Tennessee on Saturday. Joining that duo in double digit scoring are SF Jackson (11.1), guard Townes (11.0) and the 6-9 Krutwig, the MVC Freshman of the Year, who checks in at 10.4 & 6.1. The Ramblers shot a blistering 50.6% as a team (3rd in the nation) but average a more modest 71.9 PPG (230th). Defensively, Loyola-Chicago is holding opponents to an average of 62.2 PPG (5th). Nevada: The Wolf Pack overcame a 14-point deficit last Friday to beat No. 10 Texas in overtime 87-83. Then on Sunday, Nevada climbed out of a 22-point hole with about 11 1/2 minutes left to beat No. 2-seed Cincinnati 75-73. The 6-7 Cody Martin led Nevada in the win over Cincinnati, scoring 25 points with six rebounds and seven assists Cody averages 13.9-6.3-4.7 on the season but his 6-7 twin, Caleb, leads the team with 18.8 PPG (5.4 RPG). The 6-7 Jordan Caroline (17.7 & 8.7) and Kendall Stephens, a Purdue transfer, adds 13.4 PPG. Nevada averages 83.0 PPG (16th) but allows 73.2. PPG (193rd).
The pick: It’s been awhile since either school has lasted this long in March. Gene Sullivan’s Loyola team 1985 was led by Alfredrick Hughes and in Nevada’s case it was a Sweet 16 run for Trent Johnson’s best team, featuring Kirk Snyder back in 2004. Some have said that this year's Ramblers remind them a little of past Utah and Saint Louis NCAA qualifiers. That's because there is a link to those past Rick Majerus teams in head coach Porter Moser, who worked as a Majerus aide with the Billikens and whose current team has taken on the best of those Majerus characteristics. Mainly, it’s a commitment to lockdown defense and a patient offense that has not lost its poise in late-game situations in its first two games. However, Nevada offers a unique challenge, with the 6-7 Martin twins and the 6-7 Caroline can create a hellish matchup for slower foes on the blocks. Then again, the Ramblers have won 12 straight and 19 out of their last 20, not to mention the team's money-making 21-9-1 ATS mark on the season. Make Loyola a 10* play.
|03-21-18||Northern Colorado v. San Diego -2||Top||86-75||Loss||-106||14 h 49 m||Show|
The set-up: It's CIT college hoops play from the Jenny Craig Pavilion when the 23-12 Northern Colorado Bears visit the 20-13 San Diego Toreros. The Bears come in off an 81-72 home win versus the Drake Bulldogs that advanced them to the quarterfinals of the CIT. As for the Toreros, they've needed two games to advance this far, although both have been at home.
Northern Colorado: The Bears can score, averaging 80.5 PPG (41st) and they advanced with another good offensive effort in the win over Drake. Guard Andre Spight, the team's leading scorer on the season at 21.9 PPG, led with 21 points, connecting on 6-of-11 from three-point range. The 6-9 Tanner Morgan (6.5 & 5.8), the only non-guard among the team's top-seven scorers, added 19 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Davis, second to Spight on the season at 15.7 PPG, delivered a triple-double (12-11-10). The Bears connected of 49.1% as a team but will need to replicate that effort on the road (no easy task).
San Diego: The Toreros don't score as well as the Bears, averaging a modest 70.0 PPG but they do play some of the best defense in college basketball, holding opponents to just 66,6 PPG (33rd) on 41.2% shooting (37th). San Diego needed its defense in a tight 67-64 win over Portland State to advance to this game. The Toreros rallied from a nine-point deficit at the half. The team's top playef, the 6-7 Isaiah Pineiro (15.4 & 6.1) did not a great game, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds. However, guards Carter (12.5) and Williams (9.0) each scored 16 points. The 6-7 Neubauer (6.9 & 3.5) added 13 points, including 3-of-6 from long range. PG Wright (13.1 & 5.4 APG), like Pineiro, was a modest contributor (7-6-4).
The pick: I'd agree that Northern Colorado may be the slightly better team but the Bears played their final three games of the regular season on the road, then played three tough games on a neutral site in the Big Sky tourney (lost in OT to Montana for an NCAA berth). The team then made a pit stop at home in beating Drake on Mar. 18 in the CIT but now heads back out on the road. The team has played just once at home for a month. San Diego is a strong defensive team (see above), and is also holding opponents to just 30.2% on threes (3rd-best in the nation). The Toreros advanced past Portland St. despite so-so-efforts from their top-two players (Pineiro & Wright). I'll back them here, expecting better efforts form that duo as San Diego gets a third straight home game in this tourney. By the way, San Diego stood toe-to-toe- in this venue against WCC powers Gonzaga (lost 77-72) and St Mary's (lost 65-62).. Make San Diego a 10* play.
|03-21-18||Pacers -1.5 v. Pelicans||Top||92-96||Loss||-110||11 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The 41-30 Pacers and the 41-30 Pelicans New Orleans will play tonight in New Orleans, making up a contest that was postponed back on Feb 7 because of a leaky roof in the Smoothie King Center. The make-up game interrupts what was slated to be a three-game homestand for the Pacers and leaves them with seven road contests in a 10-game span. However, don't expect the Pelicans to feel sorry for Indiana, as New Orleans has it even worse. This marks the middle contest of a string of three games in as many days and part of a stretch during which the Pelicans will play five times in six nights. Both teams find themselves in tightly contested battles for playoff positioning. The Pacers are 4th in the East, just a half-game back of the Cavs but still only 3 1/2 games ahead of the eight-seeded Bucks. Things are even tighter for the fifth-seeded Pelican in the West, as they are just one game ahead of the conference's 8th-seed.
Indiana: "We're tired, of course," Indiana PG Darren Collison told reporters. "But everybody in the NBA is tired right now. So there's really no excuse. We've got to go out there and perform." Second-year center Myles Turner (13.7 & 6.9) returned from a one-game absence due to an ankle issue to post 21 points and seven rebounds in Monday's 110-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Turner is one of six Indiana players averaging in double digits. That group is led by Oladipo (23.3-5.2-4.2) and also includes back-up center Sabonis (11.7 & 7.9), who along with Oladipo, was acquired from OKC in the George trade. However, Sabonis has been out the last few games with an ankle issue and is not expected to play in this one. Stephenson (9.5 & 5.1) and Joseph (8.10 have been valuable contributers as well, mostly coming off the bench.
New Orleans: "It's not some impossible thing," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters regarding the Pelicans' busy upcoming stretch of games. "I don't want to make a big deal out of it, and we'll be able to manage it and play and do the best we can with it." Anthony Davis (28.2 & 11.1) scored 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting in Tuesday's 115-105 win over Dallas to help the Pelicans move three games clear of ninth-place Denver in the Western Conference playoff chase. Jrue Holiday missed his first game of the season on Tuesday (illness) and the hope is that the club's second-leading scorer (19.1 points) will be able to play against Indiana. Davis has been nothing short of spectacular since the loss of Boogie Cousins (25.2 & 12.9) but he can't do it alone. Mirotic has been a huge help (acquired from the Bulls), averaging 13.2 & 6.5 in 20 games for New Orleans.
The pick: New Orleans could use a bit of a cushion as it has a tough closing slate that includes games against Houston, Portland, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and the Spurs. A date with Indiana is clearly no 'walk in the park." Yes, the Pelicans posted a 117-112 victory on Nov. 7 behind 37 points from Davis but the Pacers have won 12 of the last 15 meetings between the two clubs. Make Indiana a 10* play.
|03-21-18||Clippers v. Bucks -5||Top||127-120||Loss||-107||9 h 6 m||Show|
The set-up: Behind the Rockets and Warriors, the Western Conference No. 3 and No. 10 teams are separated by just 6 1 /2 games, as eight teams are vying for six remaining playoff spots (No. 3 through No. 8). The Los Angeles Clippers are sliding in the wrong direction, as they've lost four in a row after falling 123-109 to Minnesota on Tuesday. That contest began a stretch during which LA plays six of seven on the road. The 37-33 Clippers are now 10th in the West, 2 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The 37-33 Milwaukee Bucks play in the East and like the Clippers, as heading in the wrong direction. The Bucks have lost eight of their last 12 games, although they remain a comfortable 5 1/2 games inside the East's playoff 'cut line,' while holding down the 8th-seed. In fact, Milwaukee is closer to the third-seeded Cavs (four games back), than it is to the No. 9 team, Detroit (5 1/2 games clear).
LA Clippers: Los Angeles was on the rise with 12 victories in 16 games before suddenly losing four in a row, while allowing more than 120 points in each of its last three games. Head coach Doc Rivers was dismayed after Tuesday's loss as he didn't like the effort or desire displayed by his club, particularly factoring in the importance of the contest. DeAndre Jordan (12.1 & 15.4) produced 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 12 rebounds against the Timberwolves. He has now reached double digits in rebounds in 11 straight contests. However, Williams (22.9 & 5.3 APG) and Harris (19.6 & 6.7 in 20 games for the LAC) combined to shoot 9 of 27 (including 0 of 7 on threes), totaling just 25 points between them. Defensively, the Clippers were flat, allowing the T-wolves to make 52.3% of their shots.
Milwaukee: The Bucks suffered a 124-117 loss in Cleveland on Monday despite receiving big efforts from Giannis Antetokounmpo (37 points & 11 rebounds) and Khris Middleton (30 points). Backup point guard Brandon Jennings is being signed to a second 10-day contract after averaging six points, 5.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds in four games since joining the club. The 28-year-old played in China and for Milwaukee's G League franchise earlier this season and opened eyes with a stellar performance against Memphis on March 12, when he recorded 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. Jennings spent four seasons with the Bucks from 2009-13, a stint that included his career-best 19.1 scoring average in 2011-12, and once was the team's top player.
The pick: Both teams are struggling but Milwaukee has gone 5-1 against Pacific Division teams this season. The Bucks have yet to face the Clippers (tonight's matchup is the first of two in a seven-day span) but won both meetings against the Clippers last season, when Griffin and Paul were in LA. Make Milwaukee an 8* play.
|03-20-18||Hawks +13 v. Jazz||Top||99-94||Win||100||13 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The Utah Jazz have won nine in a row and at 40-30, are now dead-locked with the Pelicans for the 6th and 7th seed in the West. Utah is just a half-game back of the 5th-seed Spurs and two games back of the fourth-seeded Thunder. Utah closes a four-game homestand tonight against the woeful Atlanta Hawks, who at 20-50, own the East's worst record (Memphis and Phoenix both own just 19 wins in the West). Incredibly, the Jazz were once struggling at nine games below .500 but have now won 21 of their last 23 games. Meanwhile, Atlanta is experiencing a dreadful campaign and comes in on a six-game losing streak after falling 122-117 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in the opener of the team's six-game road trip.
Atlanta: The Hawks have long ago fallen out of a playoff position, a the team's 10-year postseason run will end here in 2018 (it was the second-longest streak in the NBA, behind only the Spurs). Some positive news is that second-year small forward Taurean Prince is on a roll by scoring a career-best 38 points twice in the past four games while averaging 30.8 points during the stretch. Prince (13.5 & 4.9) has topped 20 points in each of the last four games and five times overall, while averaging 21.5 points in March. Schroder has taken over the PG duties from Teague and delivered, averaging team-bests in points (19.1) and assists (6.2). 6-10 Wake Forest rookie has also been a "breath of fresh air," averaging 10.5 & 7.1 in about 23 minutes.
Utah: The team's rise began shortly after standout center Rudy Gobert returned to full health after two different leg injuries. Head coach Quin Snyder said "It's an empirical fact" that Gobert is the most dominant defensive player in the NBA." Gobert is averaging 21 points and 13.5 rebounds while posting four straight double-doubles, as well as averaging 19.3 points on 68.5 percent shooting, 13.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks during the nine-game winning streak, to raise his season averages to14.0 & 10.7. Small forward Joe Ingles leads the NBA by making 45.0 percent of his three-point shots and inherited a larger role when Gordon Hayward left as a free agent in the off-season. He is averaging 16.8 points over the past five games, although he's averaging a more modest 11.3 PPG on the season. Be sure not to overlook rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who leads all 'freshman' in averaging 19.9 PPG.
The pick: The Jazz are fighting for a playoff spot, while the Hawks are playing out the string. That said, the Jazz just got past the Kings the last time out, 103-97 in Utah. Don't forget that Atlanta laid a surprise 104-90 whipping on Utah the last time they faced each other back on Jan. 22 in Atlanta. I'm taking the YUGE points in this one and making the Hawks an 8* play.
|03-20-18||Clippers v. Wolves -3.5||Top||109-123||Win||100||12 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The battle in the Western Conference for playoff seeds 3 through 8 has been fierce and tight for quite some time now. The 37-22 LA Clippers will visit the Target Center tonight for a game with the 40-31 Minnesota Timberwolves. The Clippers are currently on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, as they are two games back of the No. 8 T-wolves. For its part, Minnesota is just a half-game behind the two teams holding down the 6th and 7th seeds (Jazz and Pelicans, respectively), plus sits just one game back of the 5th-seeded Spurs.
LA Clippers: The Clippers are in "worry mode" after dropping three in a row to teams ahead of them in the standings and falling two games behind the Timberwolves. LA played three games in four nights against Houston, Oklahoma City and Portland, dropping all three. After trading Blake Griffin, the Clippers didn't seem like a playoff team. However, Lou Williams has continued his big scoring (is averaging what would be career highs in both points and assists right now at 23.0 & 5.3) plus Tobias Harris, who came over for Griffin, has averaged 20.1 & 6.7 with the Clippers. Yes, Patrick Beverly, Avery Bradley and Danilo Gallinari are still out with injuries but guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic have gotten healthy and we can never forget center Jordan (12.0 & 15.4 on the season, while is averaging 18.8 rebounds in nine games this month!).
Minnesota: The Timberwolves didn't do themselves any favors by losing to a pair of teams in front of them over the weekend while allowing an average of 123 points in losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. The T-wolves allowed a season-high 77 points in the first half on Sunday against Houston and didn't have quite enough left to finish off a comeback in a 129-120 loss. Center Karl-Anthony Towns is doing his part to lead the team to the postseason for the first time since 2004 and delivered 20 points and 18 rebounds on Sunday, the fourth time in the last eight games that he recorded at least 20 points and 16 boards (he's at 20.7 & 12.2 on the season). Jeff Teague (13.8 & 7.0 APG had 23 points and 11 assists vs. Houston, Andrew Wiggins (18.0 & 4.1) scored 21 plus newcomer Derrick Rose supplied a spark during the rally and finished with 14 points. However, the loss was Minnesota's fifth in seven games.
The pick: The schedule isn't letting up for the Clippers, who play six of the their next seven on the road with a pair of back-to-backs, including a date at Milwaukee tomorrow night. The T-wolves have mostly struggled in Butler’s absence and just before, going 4-11 ATS over their last 15 games. However, they have won all three previous games with the Clippers this season (including a pair at Staples Center), extending their winning streak over LA to five in a row. Make that six, so lay the points and make Minnesota a 10* play.
|03-20-18||Penn State v. Marquette -2||Top||85-80||Loss||-115||10 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: Three of the NIT's four No. 1 seeds are out (only St Mary's remains), as Penn State (a No. 4 seed) will visit the Bradley Center in Milwaukee to take on Marquette (a No. 2 seed). The Nittany Lions opened this tourney with a win over Temple at home and then knocked off top-seeded Notre Dame with a 73-63 victory Saturday at South Bend. Marquette is home for a third straight NIT game, opening with a 67-60 win over Harvard and then playing a much different type of game in eliminating Oregon, 101-92! Both schools were in Madison Square Garden for their respective conference tournaments earlier this month and the winner of this game will punch a "return trip ticket," to New York for a meeting with the winner of the Louisville/Mississippi State game (also played tonight) in the NIT semifinals on March 27. The schools teams have not met since Marquette defeated Penn State 87-79 in the semifinals of the 1995 NIT at Madison Square Garden.
Penn State: Sophomore guard Tony Carr rebounded from a career low-tying two-point performance on 1-of-12 shooting against Temple to post his 15th 20-point game this season by scoring 24 points in the win at Notre Dame. Carr leads in scoring (19.5) and assists (4.7), as all five starters average in double digits. Garner (11.1) and Reaves (10.6 & 5.4) share the backcourt with Carr, while a pair of 6-9 players, Stevens (14.7 & 6.1) and Watkins (12.1 & 8.9) have been the starters up front. The problem being, that Watkins has been lost for the season with a knee injury and hasn't played since Feb. 21 (he has missed six straight games). That means more starts for 6-9 freshman John Harrar, who had six rebounds, four points and two blocked shots in 23 minutes against Notre Dame but is averaging only 1.2 & 1.2 on the season.
Marquette: After totaling a modest 67 points in a win over Harvard, the Golden Eagles scored 58 points before halftime against the Ducks en route to their best offensive showing of the season. Andrew Rowsey led the charge with 29 points and nine assists. A trio of guards lead the charge for Marquette. Howard leads in points (20.4), with Rowsey right behind him (20.2), while leading the team in assists (4.7). Hauser is a third guard (14.1 & 5.8), with that trio propelling Marquette to average 81.4 PPG (30th). SF Anim (7.7 & 3.0), the 6-7 Cain (4.5 & 3.3) and the 610 Heldt (4.1 & 4.8) patrol the frontcourt. Marquette is a highly efficient offensive team, shooting 47.6% overall (37th), including 41.7% on threes (3rd).
The pick: Penn State is off a big win in South Bend over Notre Dame and figures to be somewhat flat here, plus playing without leading rebounder Watkins has to catch up to them. Marquette has an offense to "run anybody out of the gym" (just ask Oregon) and I'll make the Golden Eagles a 10* play in this one.
|03-19-18||Pistons -2.5 v. Kings||Top||106-90||Win||100||21 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: Acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal six weeks ago was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Pistons but instead, the Pistons have played their way out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has lost 14 of 21 contests with Griffin since getting him from the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade deadline deal, despite Griffin averaging 19.9 points and grabbing 6.4 rebounds per game since the deal. Detroit comes into tonight's game having lost 13 of its last 16 games (3-13 ATS), punctuated by the team's inability to win on the road. The Pistons will try to snap a 12-game road slide (1-11 ATS) when they continue a six-game trip (0-3 so far) by visiting the Sacramento Kings on Monday. The 23-48 Kings are not in a playoff race either but they are not laying down with wins in two of their last three games and four straight solid performances against playoff-bound opponents. Sacramento knocked off Miami and Golden State, before falling at Utah 103-97 on Saturday
Detroit: The Pistons are playing so poorly that the future of their head coach is anything but rosy. Stan Van Gundy was quick to assign blame to the referees for Saturday's loss. "I've been here four years," Van Gundy told reporters. "I've been many more years before that (elsewhere). I've never come in after a game -- never. Might have talked about one call. Never come in after a game and talked like this. That was embarrassing. We got absolutely screwed tonight." That sound like a man who knows his job is in jeopardy. the 100-87 defeat at Portland on Saturday marked the team's 17th loss in its in last 18 on the road (going back to Dec. 15). The only exception in that stretch was a Jan. 10 victory at Brooklyn.
Sacramento: However, while the Kings own a similar recordto the Nets, Sacramento is currently playing hard. The Kings ran out of gas in the fourth quarter on Saturday while playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road but got another solid performance off the bench from guard Buddy Hield. The second-year Oklahoma product is averaging 23 points on 56.8 percent shooting over the last three games and totaled 16 assists in that span. Hield and swingman Garrett Temple (11 points) both scored in double figures at Utah as the reserves outscored the starters 56-41. Rookie guards De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic also continue to build, despite the inevitable inconsistency. The two were 9-for-30 and combined for 23 points in the loss to Utah but Fox is averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 assists in 28 minutes a game since the break and Bogdanovic is averaging 12.9 points and 3.8 assists in 28 minutes over the same stretch.
The pick: The Pistons are all but officially out of the playoff hunt in the East but with no pressure, I wouldn't be surprised if Detroit plays much better the rest of the way. I'm no Griffin fan but now that his team is all but 'dead, I expect this fraud of an All Star to "be the man." Throw in the fact that the Kings are 3-12 ATS as a home dog of six points or less on the season, says make Detroit an 8* play.
|03-18-18||Blazers v. Clippers -2.5||Top||122-109||Loss||-101||14 h 56 m||Show|
The set-up: The red-hot Portland Trail Blazers will take their 12-game winning streak into Staples Center on Sunday night, where they'll take on the LA Clippers. Portland's surge has helped solidify its playoff positioning amid a tight Western Conference race but has by no means allowed the Blazers to "run away from the field." The 43-26 Blazers do own the No. 3 seed but they are still just four games up on the No. 8 seed (NO Pelicans). The LA Clippers are 37-31, which currently leaves them on the outside looking in on the West's playoff field. However, LA is just 1 1/2 games back of the Pelicans, as well as being just two games back of the Jazz, T-wolves and Spurs (all at 40-30).
Portland: The Blazers'100-87 win over Detroit on Saturday left them two games ahead of Oklahoma City in the race for third place in the East and the team's 12 straight wins is tied for the third-longest in franchise history (four shy of a franchise record). Damian Lillard had 24 points against the Pistons, the 10th time in the past 11 games he has reached that mark. Lillard (26.8-4.5-6.6) and McCollum (21.7) give Portland a dynamic backcourt duo but only center Jusuf Nurkic (14.1 & 8.5) is a consistent scorer outside of those two. Note that Nurkic did have 14 points and 20 rebounds in a 104-96 victory at Los Angeles back on Jan. 30.
LA Clippers: The Clippers were thought to be "giving up" when they traded Blake Griffin to Detroit. However, while Griffin has done absolutely nothing to improve the Pistons, the Clippers have gone 12-7 without Griffin, despite coming into this came off back-to-back losses. Tobias Harris is averaging 20.6 points on 48.6 percent shooting (plus 6.9 RPG) in 18 games with the Clippers, after posting 18.1 on 45.1 percent in 48 games with the Pistons prior to being traded to Los Angeles last month. Veteran Lou Williams own personal-bests of 22.9 PPG and 5.4 APG, while center DeAndre Jordan averages 12.1 & 15.4. He grabbed 21 rebounds Friday night and has collected at least 18 in six consecutive contests.
The pick: Los Angeles begins a four-game road trip at Minnesota on Tuesday and then plays six of seven away from home overall, after it is finished with Portland. Speaking of Portland, the Blazers have done most of its recent 'damage' at home but eight of the next 12 contests will take place on the road, where the team is a more modest 18-15. The Clippers lost 104-96 in Portland on Jan. 20, in what was their first game without Griffin (after the trade). This time around, the Clippers catch the Blazers off a home game last night with the Pistons, while they will be playing at home, one of just two home contests in an 11-game stretch that began on Mar. 13th and runs through the end of the month. Make LA a 10* play.
|03-18-18||Florida State +6 v. Xavier||Top||75-70||Win||100||32 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: The Xavier Musketeers have been an NCAA-tourney regular for quite some time now but here in 2018, earned the school's first-ever No. 1 (West Regional). Xavier (29-5) looked every bit like a No. 1 seed on Friday, setting a program record for most points in a NCAA Tournament game with its 102-83 victory over Texas Southern. The Seminoles ended the season by losing six of their final 10 down the stretch, but their 20-11 mark was good enough to earn them a second straight tournament appearance and a sixth overall under head coach Leonard Hamilton. FSU picked up its 21st victory of the season on Friday, getting 42 points from its bench and holding a shorthanded Missouri team to 32.7 percent from the floor in a 67-54 win
Florida State: The Seminoles opened the season having lost four starters off last year's 26-win team and little was expected. However, FSU began the season 9-0 before a one-point loss to Oklahoma State. FSU features a balanced scoring attack with four guards contributing. Terance Mann (12.8 & 5.6) was the team's highest perimeter scorer, joined dby Angola (12.7), Walker (8.3) and Forrest (7.7 & 4.9 APG). The 6-8 Cofer (13.1 & 5.1) has had a breakout senior year and works up front with the 7-4 Koumadje (7.1 & 4.8) and 6-9 freshman Kabengele (7.3 & 4.7). Ten players scored during the Seminoles' 42-point first half, and all three of Florida State's double-digit scorers Friday came off the bench. Kabengele (team-high 14 points and career-high tying 12 rebounds), sophomore guard Trent Forrest (10 points, six rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and three steals) and junior guard PJ Savoy (12 points) led the change from Florida State's bench. Second-leading scorer Terance Mann needed to be helped back to the locker room in the second half after aggravating a first-half groin injury and is questionable for Sunday.
Xavier: The Musketeers have three double digit scores on the season but six others contribute between 4.8 and 8.7 PPG. Xavier is averaging 84.8 PPG (7th) on 49.3% shooting (15th). The 6-6 Trevor Bluiett (19.6 & 5.6) is joined by fellow seniors JP Macura (12.7 & 4.5) and the 6-10 Kanter (10.8 & 4.5) in averaging double digits. Bluiett, who ranks second in Musketeers' history with 2,253 career points and buried three 3-pointers to run his season total to a school-record tying 104, topped the 20-point mark for the 20th time with 26 versus the Tigers. Macura moved into 19th place on the program's all-time scoring list and halted a four-game stretch where he failed to top his season scoring average Friday, going 11-of-16 from the floor to finish with a career-high 29 points. Kerem Kanter (10.8) tied his career high with 24 points despite playing only 20 minutes Friday (note: over the last 22 games, he has reached double figures in every game in which he has played more than 12 minutes!).
The pick: The Musketeers can tie their school record for wins in a season with a victory on Sunday over the Seminoles.In last year's tourney, Xavier stunned third-seeded Florida State last year in the NCAA Tournament, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor in a 91-66 rout of the Seminoles behind 29 points from Trevon Bluiett. Now, a year to the day after that upset, the Seminoles get their chance at payback. This is likely Hamilton's best offensive team, as FSU is averaging 81.3 PPG (31st) on 47.3% shooting (46th). If Mann is out or less than 100 percent, FSU will miss him. However, the Seminoles have solid depth and can score with Xavier. "All season, our identity was the quality of our depth. We knew they were a little short on the bench, so we needed to attack them … we used that to our advantage," freshman forward Mfiondu Kabengele told reporters after the win over Missouri. Revenge works when the matchups are right. Take the points and make FSU a 10* play.
|03-18-18||Maryland-Baltimore County +10.5 v. Kansas State||Top||43-50||Win||100||11 h 6 m||Show|
Maryland-Baltimore County: Graduate student guard Jairus Lyles was simply unstoppable for the Retrievers, scoring 23 of his game-high 28 while playing through leg cramps in the second frame. He tops UMBC in scoring at 20.4 PPG (adds 5.5 RPG and 3,5 APG) and is joined by three other double digit scorers. Guard Maura (11.3 & 5.2 APG) is the second-leading scorer and top assist man, while two forwards, the 6-6 Sherburne (11.0 & 3.9) and the 6-5 Lamar (10.5 & 5.9) complement the team's two guards. Lyles was the unquestioned star against UVa but it was a true team effort. Sherburne had 14 points, Arkel Lamar 12 and K.J. Maura had 10. UMBC had 16 assists on 26 made field goals while outrebounding Virginia 33-22.
Kansas Sttae: The Wildcats are awaiting the Retrievers. They've been led this season led by the 6-10 Wade (16.5 & 6.3) and guard Brown (16.0-3.2-3.4). Barry Brown led the Wildcats with 18 points and played strong defense on Marcus Foster, holding the star Bluejays guard to just five points on 2-of-11 shooting. However, Kansas State had to play without All-Big 12 First Team selection Dean Wade, who suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. Without Wade's team-high 16.5 PPG, the team's defense stepped up, holding the Bluejays to a season low-tying 59 points on 33.8 percent shooting from the floor and 26.5 percent from the three-point line. Freshman guard Mike McGuirl stepped up offensively in Wade's absence, scoring a career-high 17 on 6-of-10 shooting and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
The pick: Wade hasn't been ruled out for Sunday but he will be limited if he does play. KSU can't expect McGuirl to come through with another 17-point effort, as he's played in just nine games and averaged 3.3 PPG in less than 10 minutes per. Cinderella teams typically falter off a huge upset but UMBC is livin' large! The Retrievers finished second in the America East regular season and earned their NCAA berth berth with an incredible last-second three by Lyles in the tournament championship win at Vermont. Then the team broke an 0-for-135 drought by No. 16 seeds over a No. 1 seed, so what's the big deal here? Kansas State is a solid team but surely is nothing special and what's more, its leading scorer may not play. Throw in the fact that Kansas State is also just 2-8 ATS in its last 10 non-conference games and why not take UMBC and the points" Make UMBC an 8* play.
|03-18-18||Clemson v. Auburn -1||Top||84-53||Loss||-115||11 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: A Clemson/Auburn matchup would be a really big deal in football (Tigers vs. Tigers). However, the two schools square off Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 out of the Midwest Region. Clemson hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since a First Four victory over UAB in 2011 and it hadn’t reached the second round since making a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997. However, Clemson took down New Mexico State 79-68 on Friday. Auburn is in the Big Dance for the first time since 2003, when it made a run to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 10 seed. Auburn survived a scare in a 62-58 win over College of Charleston in its opener on Friday, setting up this Tigers vs. Tigers matchup on the hardwood, with the winner becoming a Sweet 16 team.
Clemson: Guards Shelton Mitchell scored 23 points and Gabe DeVoe added 22 in the Tigers' 79-68 first-round victory over New Mexico State. However, fellow guard Redd (15.9-4.7-3.4) leads Clemson in scoring on the season. DeVoe (13.5 & 4.6) and Mitchell (12.3-2.9-3.1) are right behind him. Clemson now relies even more on its guard paly, as the 6-8 Grantham (14.2 & 6.9) was lost for the season back in late January. The 6-9 Thomas (10.6 & 8.) is now joined in the starting frontcourt by the 6-8 Skara, who adds just 3.0 & 2.6. Clemson's D is among the best, allowing 65.9 PPG (29th) on 41.0% shooting (33rd).
Auburn: These Tigers won the SEC regular-season title but stumbled a bit down the stretch, losing three of their last five going into the conference tournament, where they fell to Alabama in their first game. Their offensive struggles continued against the Cougars, as they shot below 40 percent for the fourth straight contest. Leading scorer Mustapha Heron (16.6 & 5.5) scored 16 points and SF Desean Murray (10.4, & 6.8) recorded a characteristic 11 points along with seven rebounds. However, Bryce Brown, who checks in right behind Heron at 16.0 PPG, struggled in going 3-for-10 from three-point range. Auburn shot just 35.6 percent from the floor plus was an ugly 15-of-32 on FTs, but still advanced. Helping the cause was Auburn forcing Charleston into a season-high 21 turnovers, about double its average.
The pick: Both teams are short on size after losing starting big men to injury during the season. Clemson’s Grantham tore his ACL in January while Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore (7.4 & 5,3) broke his left leg the following month. Both have persevered with strong guard play. The win over Charleston gave Auburn eight straight NCAA opening round wins. That's tied with Syracuse for the fourth-longest streak, as only North Carolina (16), Kansas (11) and Gonzaga (10) have more. Is it time to advance a step further this time around? My vote (bet) is Y-E-S, as Auburn is averaging 82.7 PPG (18th). Party like it's 2003 and make Auburn an 8* play.
|03-17-18||Pistons +8.5 v. Blazers||Top||87-100||Loss||-102||14 h 32 m||Show|
The set-up: The Portland Trail Blazers own an 11-game winning streak but the Blazers' 11-game surge leaves them only a modest 1 1/2 games up on the fourth-place Oklahoma City Thunder and still a mere 4 1/2 games in front of the Denver Nuggets, who are currently in ninth-place, on the outside looking in on the West's playoff picture. Portland will welcome the 30-38 Pistons to the Moda Center tonight. Acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal six weeks ago was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Pistons but Detroit comes into tonight's game having lost 12 of its last 15 games (3-12 ATS). The Pistons are currently six games back of the East's final playoff spot.
Detroit: So much for Griffin (20.2-6.5-5.7 in 19 games) combining with Drummond (15.0 & 15.7) to make the Pistons real contenders in the East. Detroit was embarrassed 110-79 at Utah on Thursday and fell into a 26-point hole at Denver on Friday before coming back and making it close in a 120-113 setback. The Pistons are 0-2 to open their current six-game road trip and will play a back-to-back at Sacramento and Phoenix on Monday and Tuesday, before closing the trip at NBA-best Houston on Thursday. Last night's loss was Detroit's 11th straight on the road (1-10 ATS).
Portland: "Each game is a challenge," Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters after a 113-105 home win over Cleveland on Thursday. "To string together the wins we have been, we've been doing good things at both ends of the floor. And tonight was an example of that as well." Eight of Portland's last 11 games have been played at the Moda Center Portland. "We're doing a good job protecting home court, taking advantage of a little stretch at home," guard CJ McCollum told reporters after the win over Cleveland. McCollum (21.8-3.9-3.2) joins Lillard (26.8-4.5-6.6) to form one of the NBA's best backcourt duos but only center Nurkic (14.1 & 8.6) is a game-in and game-out producer outside of that dynamic guard duo. However, here's the rub. Portland will play eight of its final 13 games on the road, with the remaining opponents at home including Houston, Boston and Utah.
The pick: No interest at all in taking the Pistons (see the team's current results above) but not so sure I want to be in a position of winning this by double digits in order to cover. Detroit is allowing 112.8 PPG during its 11-game road losing streak and Portland is averaging 112.1 PPG during its 11-game overall winning streak. Let's make the Over an 8* play.
|03-17-18||Houston v. Michigan -3||Top||63-64||Loss||-109||25 h 13 m||Show|
The set-up: Michigan came into this tourney as a No. 3 seed, after winning a second straight Big Ten tourney title in Madison Garden. The Wolverines allowed the third-fewest points in their NCAA Tournament history in a 61-47 win over No. 14 seed Montana on Thursday to move to 29-7 on the season. They will now try to reach 30 wins for the first time since 2012-13, by putting the defensive clamps on the sixth-seed Houston Cougars in a second round game of the West Regional on Saturday in Wichita, Kn. 27-7. Houston rode Rob Gray's hot hand to a thrilling 67-65 win against 11th-seeded San Diego State on Thursday, earning the school's first NCAA Tournament victory in 34 years.
Houston: Head coach Kelvin Sampson is one of just 14 coaches to take four schools (Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana, Houston) to the NCAA Tournament, as.Houston has produced one of its best seasons in decades. Gray exploded for a career-high 39 points against the Aztecs, including the go-ahead layup with 1.1 seconds remaining in the game. He hopes to lead the Cougars to their first Sweet 16 appearance since the days of Phi Slamma Jamma in 1983-84. Gray leads the Cougars with 19.2 points and 4.4 assists, while senior forward Devin Davis adds 10.7 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds. Junior Corey Davis Jr. contributes 13.4 points while shooting 43.0 percent from the three-point line and sophomore Armoni Brooks - the American Athletic Conference's Sixth Man of the Year - adds 9.5 points and shoots 42.1 percent beyond the arc.
Michigan: The Wolverines are coming off a grind-it-out 61-47 win on Thursday over Montana, a game which saw the Wolverines take control after falling behind 10-0 to start. "I love the way they stayed composed during that time," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "The first four-minute timeout, the first one, it didn't look good for Michigan at that time. I told them all we need is one basket here, and then let's win the next four minutes. And we did that. And let's win the next four minutes, and we did that. And all of a sudden we're ahead at the half." The 6-11 Wagner leads Michigan in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (7.1) and is joined in the starting lineup up front by the 6-7 Livers, although he contributes little with 3.8 & 2.3. Beilein starts three guards in Matthews (12.8 & 5.6), Abur-Rahkman (12.6-3.9-3.3) and Simpson (7.4 & 3.6 APG). A fourth guard, Robinson (9.5), is a major contributor to the rotation.
the pick: This game is a battle between not only two scorching hot teams (Michigan has won 10 straight and Houston 11 of 13), but also between two of the stiffest defensively in the country. Michigan allows 63.1 PPG (8th) and enters the game No. 3 in the country in defensive efficiency, while Houston allows 64.9 PPG (19th) and is No. 15 in defensive efficiency. Michigan's sophomore guard Zavier Simpson will be matched defensively against Houston's senior guard Rob Gray. These are two tenacious players who haven't backed down from anyone this season and the winner of this matchup could determine the game's winner. I'm pretty much sold on the Wolverines, who have gone 9-1 ATS during their 10-game winning streak and note that Beilein has led the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 in three of their previous four tournament appearances. Make that four in five. Michigan is the 8* play.
|03-17-18||Florida +2 v. Texas Tech||Top||66-69||Loss||-106||24 h 19 m||Show|
The set-up:The Florida Gators scored 25 points off 18 turnovers en route to Ta 77-62 first-round triumph over St. Bonaventure on Thursday. Florida is the East's No. 6 seed and will take its 21-12 record into Saturday's second round game against the 25-9 and third-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders. Tech was 22-4 before star guard Keenan Evans suffered a toe injury in a Feb. 17 loss to Baylor. The Red Raiders lost their final four games of February but after rallying to beat Stephen F. Austin 70-60 , Texas Tech is 25-9 (most wins since a school-record 30-2 season in 1995-96). There's not much to separate the Red Raiders and Gators, as both finished the regular season in the top-25 (Texas Tech at No. 14 and Florida at No. 23) and clawed their way near the top of their highly-rated conferences.Texas Tech tied for second in the Big 12 and Florida finished third in the SEC.
Florida: The Gators could use another strong defensive performance when they face the Red Raiders. "That's what got us going," senior guard Chris Chiozza told reporters. "We got some stops early in the second half and we got out running and got some easy baskets in transition, and we just kind of built momentum from there and was able to maintain it for most of the second half." Chiozza and junior guard KeVaughn Allen were credited for slowing the Bonnies' talented guards. A third guard, junior Jalen Hudson leads four Gators in double figures with 15.3 PPG, while graduate transfer Egor Koulechov, the fourth guard in the starting lineup, adds 13.8 PPG plus a team-high 6.5 rebounds. Chiozza (11.1 PPG and a team-high 6.2 APG) and Allen both average 11.1 PPG. The 6-9 Hayes (4.8 & 5.0) is the lone frontcourt starter, backed up by the 6-8 Stone (8.9 & 4.2).
Texas Tech: Keenan Evans led the team in scoring on the season at 17.7 PPG and has averaged 21.0 points in the Red Raiders’ four games in March. He led the team with 25 points against SF Austin and is joined by freshmen Jarrett Culver (11.5 & 4.7) and Zhaire Smith (11.1 & 4.7) in double figures on the season. Tech is an outstanding defensive team, allowing 64.6 PPG (15th) on 40.3% shooting (14th). The Red Raiders are plus-4.4 in rebound margin and have eight players averaging at least three rebounds per game. and force 15.1 turnovers.
The pick: Texas Tech is trying to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2005, while Florida has won two national championships, as well as making seven trips to the Elite Eight in that span. As Evans goes, so go the Red Raiders. Tech is 12-1 this season when Evans scores at least 20 points. However, Texas Tech had its hands full getting past the Lumberjacks, who led by as many as eight points early in the second half and stayed in front or tied until Texas Tech finished the game on a 13-2 run in the final four minutes. I don't believe Tech will be so lucky in this one. Make Florida an 8* play.
|03-17-18||Wolves +4 v. Spurs||Top||101-117||Loss||-105||12 h 2 m||Show|
The set-up:The Timberwolves and Spurs meet Saturday night in a contest between a pair teams smack in the middle of the crowed Western Conference's playoff scramble. As I've noted often, the No. 3 through No. 10 seeds are separated by just five games. The 40-29 T-wolves are currenly the No. 5 seed, while the 39-30 Spurs own the No. 8 seed. Minnesota may be holding onto the No. 5 spot entering Saturday's play (just one game behind No. 4 OKC) but the T-wolves are only just one game ahead of the No. 8 seed Spurs and two games up on the No. 9 Nuggets, who are currently outside of the playoff cut line. Minnesota is trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2004 but for San Antonio, it has not missed the playoffs since the 1996-97 campaign .
Minnesota: The T-wolves are feeling good about themselves after back-to-back wins over Golden State and Washington. Minnesota is 4-3 since losing Jimmy Butler () to knee surgery last month and has replaced him in the starting lineup with the 6-10 Nemanja Bjelica (6.8 & 3.8). "Going big" has worked well, with Bjelica averaging 13.9 & 8.3 in his seven starts. The remaining starters are familiar in Towns (20.7-12.2), Wiggins (17.9 7 4.1), Teague (13.6 & 6.9 APG) and Gibson (12.4 & 7.2).
San Antonio: The Spurs share the same record with the Jazz but would finish eighth based on the head-to-head tiebreakers with Utah. With Leonard still sidelined, only Aldridge (22.2 & 8.3) can be counted on nightly. Ten others are averaging between 4.5 and 11.1 PPG, with just two in double digits. Some good news is that the Spurs have won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 28-30, after knocking off Orlando and New Orleans on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. After holding the Magic to 34.1 percent shooting from the floor in a 108-72 win, the Spurs held on for a 98-93 win over the Pelicans. In fact, Thursday's win over New Orleans was the first for San Antonio over a West playoff contender since knocking off Denver 106-104 back on Jan. 30, and the schedule won't let up the rest of the way. San Antonio will not face a team with a current losing record until visiting the Los Angeles Lakers on April 4.
The pick: In contrast to the Spurs' tough road ahead, the Timberwolves get two more games against winning teams with encounters against Houston and the Clippers, before playing six of their final 10 games against losing teams. A Minnesota win tonight will assure them of at least a .500 season and would be its second victory in the last 26 trips to San Antonio plus would snap an eight-game road losing streak in the series. However, Minnesota snapped a 12-game losing streak in the series with a 98-86 home win on Nov. 15, so I'll argue that the T-wolves are poised to get a "W' tonight. leonard is at best questionable for tonight's game and Aldridge was iffy with a sore knee early in the week,. Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|03-17-18||Buffalo v. Kentucky -5.5||Top||75-95||Win||100||21 h 49 m||Show|
The set-up: The Kentucky Wildcats opened the season as the AP's No. 5 team but with a 10-8 SEC record, came into the conference tourney as just the fourth seed. However, the Wildcats cruised past Georgia 62-49 to notch their 11th consecutive win against the Bulldogs and then delivered an 86-63 victory over Alabama in the semifinals, their sixth victory in the last seven games (after losing four straight). Kentucky then took out Tennessee 77-72 in the championship game to win its fourth straight SEC tourney title. The Wildcats picked up their 25th win of the season (against 10 losses) in Thursday's first-round 78-73 win over a game Davidson team in 5 vs.12 matchup. Kentucky expected to meet the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats in the second round but instead will face the 13th-seeded Buffalo Bulls (out of the MAC), who shocked Arizona by winning 89-68. The Bulls have won seven in a row and come in with a record of 27-8.
Buffalo: The 13th-seeded Buffalo pulled off Thursday's biggest upset, outscoring Arizona 49-30 in the second half on its way to a 21-point win. Buffalo (27-8) shredded Arizona's defense with its quickness, getting to the lane for shots at the rim and kickouts to shooters (Buffalo connected on 54.8% of its shots). Defensively, the Bulls pressured Arizona's guards and collapsed around its big men in the lane, forcing the Wildcats to the perimeter. Arizona couldn't convert, going 2 for 18 from beyond the arc, compared to the Bulls knocking down 15 of 30. PG Clark led with 25 points and seven assists. He's one of four Buffalo players averaging 15.0-plus PPG on the season (15.0-3.6-5.4). He's joined by fellow guards Massinburg (16.9 & 7.3) and Harris (15.6 & 6.0) plus the 6-8 Perkins (16.5 & 6.1). Buffalo is averaging 84.9 PPG (6th).
Kentucky: John Calipari's team is again, packed with freshman. 6-9 freshman Kevin Knox shared the conference freshman of the year honors with Alabama's Sexton, and leads the etam at 15.9 PPG (adds 5.4 RPG). Freshman PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (14.0-4.1-5.1) is the team's second-leading scorer, followed by 6-7 freshman Washington (10.6 & 5.4) plus freshman guards Diallo (9.9) and Green (9.5). This year's team is not as high-scoring as Calipari teams of the past and beat Davidson without making a single three-point shot (can't make that up!). That snapped a streak of 1,047 games (which had been best in the nation) with a three-pointer, a mark that began way back in 1988. However, Kentucky shot 51.0% overall in the game, led by Knox's 25 points and Gilgeous-Alexander's 19. Defensively, Kentucky is allowing opponents to shoot just 30.0% on threes, 4th-best in the nation
The pick: This is a matchup of one of CBB's "blue-bloods" and a no-name MAC entry. Buffalo can play (just ask Arizona) but Calipari's team is hitting its stride, entering having won eight of its last nine. Buffalo's great win over Arizona will have to do for one of the NCAA's latest 'Cinderella' teams. Kentucky opened as the AP's No. 5 team, while Buffalo was coming off a 17-15 season. Could anyone ever had imagined back in November that these two would meet in the second round of an NCAA tourney game and that Kentucky would only be about a 'TD' favorite? Make Kentucky a 10* play.
|03-17-18||Rhode Island v. Duke -9.5||Top||62-87||Win||100||18 h 21 m||Show|
The set-up: The No. 7 Rhode Island Rams won one of the more exciting games on Thursday, edging No. 10 Oklahoma and freshman sensation Trae Young 83-78 in OT. E.C. Matthews led with 16 points and Jared Terrell, the team's leading scorer this season, added 13 points and five assists. Down the stretch, some clutch defense allowed the Rams to win an NCAA tourney game for the second straight season under head coach Dan Hurley. A win on Saturday would allow Rhode Island to advance to the school's first Sweet 16 berth in 20 years. However, for that to happen, the seventh-seeded Rams will need to get past the second-seeded Blue Devils who just took care of Iona 89-67. The Blue Devils outrebounded Iona 39-29 and outscored the Gaels in the paint 46-30.
Rhode Island: Freshman Fatts Russell, who is averaging just 7.0 PPG this season, came off the bench to shine opposite the Sooners' Trae Young. He finished with 15 points in 21 minutes. The 6-9 Cyril Langevine (6.2 & 5.9) posted his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, also coming off the bench. Dan Hurley's team is well-rounded and its starting-five delivers excellent balance. Guard Jared Terrell is the leading scorer (17.0), followed by Matthews (13.2 & 4.0). PG Dowtin adds 9.6 PPG and 5.5 APG plus a fourth guard, Stanford Robinson (9.0 & 5.7) is a defensive specialist. The 6-8 Berry (8.9 & 3.9) is the fifth starter. The Rams play outstanding defense, allowing 68.2 PPG (68th).
Duke: Not many teams have been able to slow Marvin Bagley down this season and Iona was no different, as he scored 22 points. Three others scored at least 16 points, led by PG Duval's 19 (he also had eight assists). The freshman PG averages 10.2 & 5.6 APG on the season. Senior Grayson Allen (15.7-3.5-4.6) and freshman Gary Trent Jr. (14.3 & 4.2) each had 16. The 6-9 Carter, who averages 13.6 & 9.3 was held to just 9 & 8. Duke shot 53.7 percent from the floor and will test Rhode Island's defense, as the Blue Devils are averaging 84.8 PPG (7th) on 49.5% shooting (14th).
The pick: Duke has won each of the previous four meetings between the two schools, including twice in the tournament (1978 and 1988). The team's met just last year in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament, as Duke won 75-65. The Rams are a modest 5-4 SU (3-6 ATS) since losing at St. Bonny's (loss ended a school-record 16-game winning streak) , while the Blue Devils are 8-2 SU & ATS their last 10. Is beating Oklahoma (Sooners ended the season on a 4-12 SU & 3-13 ATS run) really a big deal? I think not. Make Duke a 10* play
|03-16-18||Florida State -1 v. Missouri||Top||67-54||Win||100||79 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: Despite the loss of heralded freshman Michael Porter Jr. (Blue Ribbon's Newcomer of the Year) to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 with a 20-12 overall record. The Tigers are the eighth-seed in the Wst region and will face the No. 9 seed Florida State Seminoles on Friday night a first round game played at Nashville, Tn. The Seminoles ended the season by losing six of their final 10 down the stretch, but their 20-11 mark was good enough to earn them a second straight tournament appearance and a sixth overall under head coach Leonard Hamilton.
Florida State: The Seminoles opened the season having lost four starters off last year's 26-win team and little was expected. However, FSU began the season 9-0 before a one-point loss to Oklahoma State. FSU features a balanced scoring attack with three players averaging between 13.2 and 12.9 points, a trio led by guard Terance Mann (13.2 & 5.7). The others are teh 6-8 Cofer (13.1 & 5.1) and guard Angola (19.-3.8-3.0), Three more players contribute between 7.6 and 8.5 PPG plus big men like the 7-4 Koumadje (7. 4 & 4.7) and the 6-9 Kabengele (7.1 & 4.5) add muscle up front. This is likely Hamilton's best offensive team, as FSU is averaging 81.8 PPG (29th) on 47.4% shooting (43rd).
Missouri: The 6-10 Porter is still considered an NBA lottery pick and returned from back surgery in time to appear in the SEC Tournament in last Thursday's 62-60 loss to Georgia (he scored 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting). However, Missouri will have to play without suspended 6-7 forward Jordan Barnett, the team's second-leading scorer (13.7 points per game) who was arrested for DWI on Saturday. "He's suspended as we speak. He won't play Friday," first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters Sunday before adding that Barnett could potentially return if the Tigers advance to the second round. Senior Kassius Robertson leads the team with 16.2 PPG while freshman Jontay Porter - Michael's 6-11 brother - is the top rebounder (6.8) and averaged 21 points on 69 percent shooting over his last three contests (10.1 PPG on the season).
The pick: Cuonzo Martin has done an excellent job at Missouri in his first year at the school but the Tigers last won a game in the Round of 64 game back in 2010 (Tigers are 0-4 ATS in their last four NCAA Tournament games). Barnett (also 5.9 RPG) will be missed and Michael Porter's game is far from 100 percent. Missouri is the far better defensive team (68.1 PPG allowed ranks 67th) but despite its recent troubles, I believe FSU can (and will) outscore Missouri. Make FS a 10* play.
|03-16-18||Nets +8.5 v. 76ers||Top||116-120||Win||100||11 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers made it 12 wins in their last 17 games with Thursday's 118-110 comeback victory over the New York Knicks at MSG. The 76ers, who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 37-30, took another step toward making the postseason for the first time since 2012 when they outscored New York 35-19 in the fourth quarter. They enter Friday's home contest against the Brooklyn Nets to begin a stretch in which six of seven games are at home. The Nets limp in having lost 18 of their last 21 games after suffering a 116-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. Brooklyn's 21-47 record leaves them better than only the 21-48 Magic and 20-49 Hawks among Eastern Conference teams.
Brooklyn: "We're trying to build something here," head coach Atkinson told reporters. "Us finishing the season in an upward take, upward kind of move, it's important to us. So we're kind of playing our own playoffs. Every game for us is huge for our development." PG D'Angelo Russell has put together back-to-back stellar games by averaging 29 points and going 11-of-20 from three-point range during the stretch. He's a quality player, averaging 16.1 & 4.8 APG on the season. PG Spencer Dinwiddie is just 7-of-25 shooting over the past two games but he's shown great promise, as the injury to Lin has given him a chance to show he's an NBA player. Dinwiddie did nothing for Detroit in his first two seasons but after averaging just 7.3 PPG for the Nets last season, he's averaging 13.0 & 6.9 APG in almost 30 minutes this season. The Nets also have six other regulars who are averaging 10-plus points per game. Team D has been a big problem though, as Brooklyn allowing 110.2 PPG (28th).
Philadelphia: Center Joel Embiid (23.6 & 10.9) recorded 29 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double and 35th of the season against the Knicks. He and Ben Simmons (16.2-7.8-7.7) are prime examples that Philly's "Process" is no longer a standing joke in the NBA. Simmons had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists against the Knicks for his eighth triple-double of the season, the second-most by a rookie in NBA history behind legendary Oscar Robertson (26). Simmons also joined Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only rookies in NBA history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. Throw in SG Redick (16.6), PF Saric (15.1 & 7.0) and SF Covington (12.6 & 5.4) and the 76ers have a 'big league" starting-five.
The pick: This is a quick turnaround from last Saturday’s meeting in Brooklyn, when Philadelphia crushed the Nets 120-97. It's true that the 76ers have won 13 of 14 SU (12-2 ATS) at the Wells Fargo Center since New Year’s Day but the Sixers have covered just 3 of 10 chances when unrested this season (like here, off a Thursday game at MSG). Meanwhile, it's true the Nets are just 9-24 SU on the road but they are 21-12 ATS, getting outscored by an average of just 5.3 PPG away from home. Take the big points and make Brooklyn an 8* play.
|03-16-18||Georgia State +14 v. Cincinnati||Top||53-68||Loss||-107||71 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: The second-seeded 30-4 Cincinnati Bearcats enter the NCAA Tournament with seven straight wins, including a 56-55 triumph over Houston in Sunday’s AAC conference title game. Cincy enters the Big Dance with back-to-back 30-victory seasons, the first time in school history that has happened. Cincy opens NCAA tourney play with the 24-10 and 15th-seeded Georgia State Panthers. Georgia State captured its second Sun Belt Conference title in the past four seasons with Sunday's 74-61 victory over Texas-Arlington.
Georgia State: After losing four of five late in the season, the Panthers enter the Big Dance on a four-game winning streak. Sophomore guard D’Marcus Simonds, the Sun Belt player of the year, averages 21.1 PPG on the season. Senior guard Isaiah Williams, who scored 21 points in the semifinal victory over Georgia Southern as Simonds was saddled with foul trouble, is 9-of-18 from three-point range in his past four games. However, he is averaging only 7.3 PPG on the season. Fellow guard Mitchell checks in at 12.2 PPG plus two 6-5 forwards, Thomas (10.7 & 4,3) and Benlevi (9.6 & 6.5), join the 6-8 Sessions (7.7 & 6.1) up front.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats were known for their defense under Huggins and the same is true under Mick Cronin. Cincy ranks second in points allowed (57.1) and in defensive FG percentage (37.0) 6-8 senior forward Gary Clark averaged 16.3 points per game during the AAC Tournament, shooting 57.7 percent from the floor in three games and leads team with 13.0 PPG and 8.5 RPG on the season. The 6-9 Kyle Washington (11.3 & 5.4) has reached double figures in 10 of his past 13 games, averaging 12.2 points during that stretch while shooting 52.8 percent from the floor. The Bearcats feature a solid guard trio in Evans (12.9-4.6-3.2), Cumberland (10.9-3.4-2.9) and Broome (8.2).
The pick: The Bearcats have limited 23 of their opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor and in 23 games, have held opponents to 60 or fewer points this season. However, Georgia State is no slouch on defense, holding opponents to 67.3 PPG (51st) on 39.3% shooting (6th). It's hard not to notice that the Bearcats were back to playing games in the 50s and 60s in the AAC tourney, content to let the defense dictate tempo. Meanwhile, the team's top-score entering the tourney, Jacob Evans, was in a shooting slump in Orlando, making just 25% from the floor in three games. Georgia State has won its NCAA opener in its past two tournament appearances, beating Wisconsin in 2001 and Baylor in 2015. Another upset here? Not likely but take the big points and make the Panthers an 8* play.
|03-16-18||Marshall v. Wichita State -11||Top||81-75||Loss||-110||70 h 1 m||Show|
The set-up: 25-7 Wichita State lost to Houston 77-74 in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals Saturday but begins its journey in the NCAA Tournament as a No.4 seed and will meet No. 13 Marshall on Friday in the first round of the East Region in San Diego. The Shockers are coached by former Marshall assistant Gregg Marshall, marking the first time in NCAA Tournament history that a school's name matches the opposing coach's last name. Wichita State boasts a veteran team which reached the Sweet 16 in 2015 and 2016, before losing to Kentucky in the second round in 2017. As for teh The Thundering Herd, they upset Western Kentucky 67-66 on Saturday to win the C-USA Tournament and will ride a four-game winning streak into their first NCAA Tournament since 1987 with a record of 24-10.
Marshall: Head coach Dan D’Antoni, brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, told reporters. “It’s been a long time coming and Marshall basketball kind of fell off.'' PG Jon Elmore led C-USA in scoring (22.8 points) and assists (6.9). Fellow guard C.J. Burks averaged 20.5 PPG, helping the Thundering Herd average a conference-best 84.4 PPG (12th nationally). That said, no one should overlook 6-8 Ajdin Penava (15.5 & 8.6), who was named C-USA Tournament MVP after averaging 17 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games. However, an issue for Marshall is the fact that it allows 78.8 PPG, ranking 321st of 351 Division I teams.
Wichita State: Sophomore guard Landry Shamet averages a team-best 15,0 PPG and an AAC-best 5.1 assists. 6-8 senior forward Shaquille Morris has been a force in the middle, averaging 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds, both career highs. He comes into the Big Dance averaging 16.8 points over his last nine games. 6-9 senior forward Darral Willis Jr. (10.4 & 6.0) and senior guard Conner Frankamp (10.1 points) are also playing their final NCAA Tournaments. 6-8 junior forward Markis McDuffie is averaging 8.5 & 3.2, guard Reaves 8.3 PPG and the 6-7 Kelly, 5.7 PPG but a team-high 7.5 RPG.
The pick: Marshall can score but so can the efficient Shockers, who average 83.0 PPG (19th), on 47.8% shooting (33rd). Wichita State got shipped 1,363 miles away to San Diego but the Shockers are deep AND experienced. Marshall's first NCAA trip since 1987 ends after one game. Lay the points and make Wichita State an 8* play.
|03-16-18||Providence +3.5 v. Texas A&M||Top||69-73||Loss||-108||69 h 47 m||Show|
The set-up: The Providence Friars (No. 10 seed) are in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season and will meet No. 7 seed Texas A&M in the West Region on Friday in Charlotte, N.C. Providence finished in a three-way tie for third in the Big East (10-8), before playing in three straight overtime games in the conference tournament, including a loss to Villanova in the championship game on Saturday. The Aggies reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, overcoming an 0-5 start in SEC play to finish 9-9 and tied for seventh with Mississippi State. A&M then lost on a buzzer-beater to Alabama in the team's conference tournament opener but still got a 7-seed with a 20-12 record (A&M opened the 2017-18 season at 11-1).
Providence: The 21-13 Friars feature three double digit scorers in 6-8 senior Rodney Bullock (14.0 & 5.8), 6-7 sophomore guard Alpha Diallo (13.0 & 6.6) and senior PG Kyron Cartwright (11.8 & 5.4 APG). Diallo is coming off his sixth double-double of the season, posting 22 points and 10 rebounds in the overtime loss to Villanova. He played well while the Friars went 3-3 against Villanova and Xavier this season, a positive sign considering those conference foes earned top seeds for this tournament.Providence averages 73.7 PPG but also allows 72.7.
Texas A&M; Tyler Davis, the team's 6-10 center led in scoring () and was second in rebounding this season (8.8) but he was held to single digits in the loss to Alabama on Thursday, although for just the fifth time thi season. Guard Admon Gilder (12.2 & 4.2) and the 6-9 DJ Hogg (11.3 & 5.2) were all key members of the Texas A&M team that reached the Sweet 16 two years ago. The 6-10 Williams adds 10.3 RPG and a team-high 9.0 RPG, while guard Starks chips in 9.0 PPG.
The pick: The Aggies' good size of Davis (6-10), Hogg (6-9) and Williams (6-10) could pose problems for Providence but after that 11-1 start, A&M has gone just 9-11 SU and 8-12 ATS in its last 20 games. A&M was part of an SEC-record eight teams to make the NCAA Tournament but none were seeded higher than No. 3 Tennessee in the South Region. A&M can be had and Providence sure got battle-tested with three consecutive OT games in the Big East tourney, including overcoming a 17-point deficit in knocking off No. 1 seeded Xavier, then nearly erased an 11-point deficit in a hard-fought 76-66 OT loss to Villanova in the title game. SEC favorites are only 13-18-2 ATS in the Big Dance since 2013, while Ed Cooley’s Friars team went a money-making 9-2 ATS its last 11 as a single-digit underdog! Make Providence an 8* play.
|03-15-18||Pistons v. Nuggets -7.5||Top||113-120||Loss||-109||13 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets have hurt their cause in the Western Conference playoff race with three losses in their last five games. Denver fell 112-103 at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, falling into 10th place in the West at 37-31, although the Nuggets are just one game out of a playoff spot. The Nuggets remain a strong home team at 26-10 but they are just 11-21 on the road. So, with their longest road trip of the season on the horizon (will play) seven consecutive contests away from home, Thursday's home matchup with the reeling Detroit Pistons is practically a "must-win" scenario for the Nuggets. Acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal six weeks ago was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Pistons but after Detroit's 110-79 loss in Utah on Tuesday, the team has lost 11 of its last 14.
Detroit: The Pistons are now 30-37 and five games out of the final playoff spot in the East. Detroit's starters combined for 43 points on 16-of-43 shooting in the loss at Utah (Griifin was 5 of 16 with points) and the defeat was Detroit's 10th straight on the road. The lopsided contest allowed rookie Luke Kennard to see a personal-high 36 minutes and he responded with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting. However, the 12th pick in last year's draft is averaging only 6.7 PPG in about 18 1/2 MPG. Griffin's numbers are solid (19.8-6.5-5.6) but he's done absolutely nothing to improve this team.
Denver: "We've just got to win games," center Mason Plumlee told reporters after the second chippy contest with the Lakers in less than a week. "We've got to go home and beat Detroit. We're done with the Lakers for the season, so you've got to move on." Denver led by 13 points with just over two minutes left in the third quarter at Los Angeles, before fading down the stretch. The loss dropped Denver to just SU on the road, which hardly inspires confidence for a team looking forward to (dreading?) an upcoming seven-game road trip. Wilson Chandler was one of the bright spots against the Lakers, scoring 26 points. However, it's been Denver's guard trio of Harris (17.8), Murray (16.2) and Barton (14.9-4.1-5.0) which has given the Nuggets consistent perimeter scoring. Center Jokic (17.1 & 10.4) and now healthy PF Millsap (14.0 & 6.3) are tasked with the heavy lifting up front.
The pick: This is clearly a "must win" for Denver and as noted, Detroit limps in on a 3-11 SU run overall (3-11 ATS too), as well as on an 0-10 SU & 1-9 ATS run on the road. Make Denver an 8* play.
|03-15-18||San Diego State +4 v. Houston||Top||65-67||Win||100||70 h 6 m||Show|
|03-15-18||Stephen F Austin +11.5 v. Texas Tech||Top||60-70||Win||100||70 h 50 m||Show|
The set-up: An injury to its best player cost Texas Tech a chance to win the Big 12 regular-season and/or the conference tourney tournament title but the Red Raiders did earn a favorable NCAA Tournament draw. Texas Tech earned a No. 3 seed in the East region and will get to play in Dallas on Thursday and again on Saturday, if it advances. Texas Tech enters the tourney 24-9 on the season and ranked 14th in the final regular season poll by the AP. The Red Raiders will face 14th-seeded and in-state foe Stephen F. Austin on Thursday. The Lumberjacks enter the NCAA Tournament, the school's fourth appearance in the last five years, with 10 wins in the their last 11 games, including a 59-55 upset win over top-seeded Southeast Louisiana in the Southland championship game, as the league's third-seed.
SF Austin: Forward T.J. Holyfield closed the Southland Tournament with consecutive double-doubles and has averaged 13.0 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. Guards Shannon Bogues (15.4 points) and Kevon Harris (14.6 & 5.4) also average double figures with the Harris shooting a team-best 43.2 percent from three-point range, which ranked second in the Southland. This is a good offensive team, averaging 81.1 PPG (3th) on 48.8% shooting (20th). The Lumberjacks also can play a little D, allowing 68.1 PPG (69th).
Texas Tech: Chris Beard’s Red Raiders finished second in the Big 12 behind perennial champion Kansas and beat Texas 73-69 in their Big 12 Tournament opener before falling to third-seeded West Virginia 66-63 in the semifinals. It's the school's first 20-win season in 11 years and its most wins since a school-record 30-2 season in 1995-96. It also will be the second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last decade for the Red Raiders. The Red Raiders started 14-1 and were 22-4 a little more than a month later when they climbed to No. 6 in the national polls – the high-water mark in program history. However, Keenan Evans suffered a toe injury in a Feb. 17 loss to Baylor and totaled only 12 points in the school’s final four games in February, including a Feb. 26 contest at West Virginia where he sat out entirely, contributing heavily to Texas Tech’s four-game tailspin entering March. Evans led the team in scoring on the season at 17.5 PPG and has averaged 20.3 points in the Red Raiders’ three games since. He is joined by freshmen Jarrett Culver (11.7 & 4.8) and Zhaire Smith (11.2 & 4.7) in double figures on the season. Tech is an outstanding defensive team, allowing 64.3 PPG (18th) on 40.3% shooting (15th).
The pick: I noted at the top that Tech is happy to be playing in Dallas but I must add that Stephen F Austin is actually about 200 miles closer to the Metroplex from its Nacodoches base. Texas Tech has won eight of the nine meetings over the last 21 years but the two schools haven’t met since 2011. SF Austin more than held its own in three close games at SEC venues (close losses at Miss. State & Mizzou plus a win at LSU). Throw in the fact that in two of their last three NCAA tourney appearances, the Lumberjacks have notched first-round upsets as a 13th and 12th seed, respectively, beating West Virginia (70-56 in 2016) and VCU (77-75 in 2014). SF Austin is the very definition of a 'live dog!' Take the points and make them a 10* play.
|03-15-18||Raptors v. Pacers +3.5||Top||106-99||Loss||-103||11 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Raptors have won nine straight games (two shy of matching the franchise mark), as well as 16 of their last 17 and 18 of their last 20. Tuesday's 116-102 triumph in Brooklyn gave Toronto 50 victories for the third straight season and the Raptors' 50-17 mark has them 4 1/2 games up on Boston in the race for the East's No. 1 seed. The Raptors seek their 10th consecutive victory with a visit to the hard-charging Indiana Pacers, who earned a big 101-98 win Tuesday in Philadelphia to maintain their grip on third place in the East, a half-game ahead of Cleveland. Indiana's win was the team's 10th time in its last 13 contests, giving them a 40-28 record (who needs Paul George?).
Toronto: The All Star backcourt of DeRozan (23.6-4.0-5.1) and Lowry (16.4-5.6-6.7) were limited to a total of 26 points at Brooklyn but center Jonas Valanciunas shouldered the load with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Along with PF Ibaka (12.7 & 6.1), Valanciunas (12.3 & 8.5) has been a steady presence in Toronto's frontcourt. The Raptors tied a franchise record for consecutive 100-point games with 20 in a row in the win over the Nets (Raptors are the East's highest scoring team at 112.3 PPG) and now have set their sights on 60 wins. They would need to win 10 if their last 15 games. "It's never been done (in Toronto)," Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan told the Toronto Star. "Not many people get the opportunity to win 60-plus games. We came close a couple of years ago. That's big."
Indiana: Center Myles Turner (13.8 & 7.0) scored 25 points in the 101-98 triumph at Philly and has averaged 21.3 in his last four games. Thaddeus Young (11.6 & 6.1) added 19 points and 10 rebounds as Indiana showed its resiliency and depth in a tough road game that saw guards Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic combine to make only 5-of-32 shots. However, Oladipo (23.6-5.3-4.3) and Sabonis (11.7 & 7.9), the two players acquired for Paul George, have been everything and more, for the Pacers. Indiana has won 21 of its last 30 games but in the tightly bunched East, the team is well aware that while it may be the No. 3 seed at the moment, the Pacers are closer to the No. 8 seed (4 1/2-game lead) than they are to the No. 2 seed (5 1/2-game deficit).
The pick: The two teams split their first two meetings this season, with the home team winning each one. Hard to buck the Raptors and it's not good news for Indian fans (bettors) that Domantas Sabonis suffered a left ankle sprain at Philadelphia and will miss Thursday's game. However, just like 'it felt" like a good spot to take the Raptors at home over tehg red-hot Rockets on , "it feels" like the right time to take the Pacers over the Raptors, here. Make Indiana a 10* play.
|03-15-18||NC State +2.5 v. Seton Hall||Top||83-94||Loss||-107||67 h 56 m||Show|
The set-up: It's an 8-9 matchup in the first-round of the Midwest Region from Wichita, Kn. on Thursday, as eighth-seeded Seton Hall (21-11) takes on ninth-seeded North Carolina State (21-11). The Wolfpack and Pirates each had successful regular seasons but both are coming off early losses in their conference tournaments, with N.C. State losing to Boston College 91-87 in its first ACC tournament game and Seton Hall being upset by Butler 75-74 in its opening game at the Big East Conference tournament. Seton Hall has lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons and hasn't won a tournament game since 2004. N.C. State is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
NC State: the Wolpack were coming off back-to-back 16 and 15-win seasons and were picked 12th in an ACC preseason poll. However, the team figured things out in its first season under coach Kevin Keatts. Guard Allerik Freeman was a graduate transfer and was the team's leading scorer at 15.4 PPG. 7-0 center Omer Yurtseven (13.8 & 6.8) and guatrd Tori Dorin (13.8 & 6.1) check in as double digit scorers as well, while five others averaged between 5.4 and 8.8 PPG (that group includes PG Johnson, who is averaging 7.4). NC State pushes the pace, averaging 81.2 PPG (32nd) on 47.0% shooting (59th).
Seton Hall: The Pirates are a veteran team that features four senior starters, including Khadeen Carrington (14.9 & 4.5 APG) and leading scorer Desi Rodriguez who averages 17.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. And then there's senior center Angel Delgado (13.3 & 11.6), the Big East's all-time leader in rebounds and just the second player in history to lead the Big East in rebounding in three different seasons. But don't forget sophomore guard Myles Powell who was named the Big East Most Improved Player after averaging 15.4 points per game, second-most on the team.Seton Hall is a solid offensive team, as well (79.0 PPG ranks 57th).
The pick: Seton Hall's loss in the Big East quarterfinal was a heartbreaker, as Carrington converted a three-point play with 11 seconds to play, giving the Pirates a one-point lead, However, Butler's Tyler Wideman scored on a putback with four seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs the win. One wonders just how the Pirates will play here. Uptempo NC State wants an open court game and I think the Wolfpack will win a contest like that. Keatts was a high school coach just a few years ago but has led his team to the NCAA tourney, something Mark Gottfried couldn’t do with Dallas Mavericks star Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster last year. Also, the Wolfpack have notched noteworthy wins over Arizona, Duke, Clemson & North Carolina,. Make NC State an 8* play.
|03-15-18||South Dakota State +8 v. Ohio State||Top||73-81||Push||0||66 h 26 m||Show|
The set-up: It's Ohio State (No. 5 seed) against South Dakota State (No. 12 seed) meet in a first-round West Regional matchup Thursday in Boise, Idaho. Yes, Ohio State owns the higher seed and the more recognizable name but South Dakota State has more recent NCAA Tournament experience on its ledger entering this contest. The Buckeyes earned an at-large bid out of the Big Ten with their 24-8 record and will be making their 28th Big Dance appearance overall but their first since 2015 under former coach Thad Matta. Meanwhile, the 28-6 Jackrabbits captured an automatic NCAA bid by winning the Summit League tourney, afterfinishing first in the conference with a 13-1 league record during the regular season. It will be the third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Jackrabbits and fifth in the last seven seasons for the program which moved up to the Division I level in just 2005.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits are guided by second-year coach T.J. Otzelberger, won their 11th straight game with a 97-87 victory over South Dakota in the Summit League championship game. 6-9 junior forward Mike Daum is the team's best player, leading in scoring (23.8) and rebounding (10.4). Freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. (16.1) and 6-7 Reed Tellinghuisen (12.0 & 4.7) also average in double figures for South Dakota State, while a third guard King, averaged 9.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG. South Dakota State ranks sixth nationally in averaging 84.9 PPG and and shoots 40.3 percent as a team from three-point range (12th nationally).
Ohio State: The Buckeyes have had a stronger-than-expected season under new coach Chris Holtmann (via Butler), finishing in a tie for second in the Big Ten at 15-3 before getting upended by Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. That 69-68 loss March 2 in New York was the third defeat in five games for Ohio State, which boasts four double-digit scorers, led by 6-7 junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, the Big Ten’s Player of the Year, who averages 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. SF Jae’Sean Tate (12.5 & 6.2) points), point guard C.J. Jackson (12.2-3.8-3.9) and freshman forward Kaleb Wesson (10.8 & 5.2) also average double digits.
The pick: The Ohio State roster only features seven combined games of NCAA Tournament experience and two combined starts, both by Tate. However, Holtmann guided Butler to the Big Dance in each of his three seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. Meanwhile, the Jackrabbits are in the NCAA field for the third consecutive year and fifth time in the past seven seasons. They've won 19 of their last 20 games but are looking for their first NCAA Tournament win (South Dakota State is 0-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament play). We all know that a No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 seed in nine of the last 10 NCAA Tournaments and 12s have won 11 of the last 24 such first-round matchups overall. The Jackrabbits have covered as an underdog in pre-conference games away from home vs. Iowa, Buffalo, Ole Miss & Wichita State, while narrowly failing to cover as a 4 1/2-point underdog in 112-103 double OT loss at Colorado. The Jackrabbits have covered three consecutive as an underdog in the Round of 64. After suffering first-round losses to Gonzaga and Maryland as a 16th and 12th seeds, respectively, the last two seasons, "the third time may just be the charm." Take the points and make South Dakota State an 8* play.
|03-15-18||Oklahoma +2 v. Rhode Island||Top||78-83||Loss||-104||63 h 42 m||Show|
The set-up: Oklahoma was a highly-controversial selection by the NCAA Tournament, as after a great 2017 part to the current season (Sooners were 12-1 as of Jan. 3, including three wins over ranked teams), Oklahoma went 6-12 (4-11 last 15 after getting bounced from the Big 12 Tournament in the first round) the rest of the way. However, the 18-13 Sooners not only made the field but garnered a No. 10 seed. Oklahoma will meet No. 7 Rhode Island on Thursday in the Midwest Region in Pittsburgh. The 25-7 Rams were the Atlantic 10 regular-season champions (15-3) but were unable to capture a second straight Atlantic 10 Tournament title, losing 58-57 last Sunday to Davidson.
Oklahoma: Freshman Trae Young led the nation in scoring (27.4) and assists (8.8) for this Lon Kruger-coached team that averaged 85.2 PPG (4th). However, while everyone knows what Young can do, it's the rest of the team that will decide if the Sooners can advance out of the first round. Junior guard Christian James (12.1 & 4.3) had been solid with seven straight games in double figures before going scoreless in the Sooner's 71-60 loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament. 6-9 freshman Brady Manek (10.4 & 5.1) is the only other player averaging in double figures for Kruger but he has only scored more than nine points once in the past seven games.
Rhode Island: Redshirt senior E.C. Matthews recorded 20 points and eight rebounds but the Rams lost their second low-scoring game to Davidson in the last two weeks in the Atlantic 10 final. Dan Hurley's team is well-rounded and its starting-five delivers excellent balance. Guard Jared Terrell is the leading scorer (17.2), followed by Matthews (13.1). PG Dowtin adds 9.7 PPG and 5.5 APG plus a fourth guard, Stanford Robinson (9.1 & 5.7) is a defensive specialist. The 6-8 Berry (9.0 & 3.9) is the fifth starter and the 6-9 Langevine (5.9 & 5.7) makes solid contributions off the bench. Rhode Island averages almost 10 points less than Oklahoma at 76.2 PPG. However, the Rams play outstanding defense, allowing 67.9 PPG (61st).
The pick: Young certainly helped the Sooners get this berth, as they are the only team in the field, excluding First Four teams, to make it with fewer than 19 victories. Sure, Oklahoma is a controversial pick and not only did the Sooners go 4-11 SU down the stretch, they were also a money-burning 3-12 ATS in that stretch. However, let's not ignore the Ram's real struggles after the team's school-record 16-game win streak was snapped by St. Bonny on Feb. 16. Rhode Island was just 4-4 SU including that loss to the Bonnies, going 2-6 ATS. Rhode Island faltered in the final three minutes of a pair of losses to Davidson in March (by two points and one point) and that hardly bodes well here vs. an Oklahoma team which will be playing with a YUGE chip on its shoulders. Make Oklahoma an 8* play.
|03-14-18||Wizards v. Celtics -1||Top||125-124||Loss||-105||12 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Raptors easily handled the Nets 116-102 last night (the team's ninth straight win) and moved four full games ahead of the 46-21 Boston Celtics for the East's No. 1 seed. The Celtics will welcome the 38-30 Washington Wizards to the TD Garden tonight but they will be severely shorthanded. PG Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) is among the four players who will miss the contest while power forward Al Horford is questionable due to illness. Marcus Smart (thumb), Jaylen Brown (concussion) and forward Daniel Theis (knee) will also be in street clothes for a team that has dealt with injuries since losing small forward Gordon Hayward to a broken ankle in the season opener. As for the Wizards, Washington is struggling with five losses in its past seven games after losing 116-111 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday. The Wizards currently own the East's No. 5 seed, two games back of the No. 3 seed but also just two games ahead of the No. 8 seed.
Washington: Markieff Morris (11.4 & 5.8) stood out with a season-high 27 points in the loss to Minnesota, with leading scorer Beal (23.2-4.5-4.6) adding a modest 19. However, Tomas Satoransky continues to play well in place of injured All-Star John Wall (knee) and recorded 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals against the T-wolves. Wall has been out for the last six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. He is working out but there's still no target date for a return.
Boston: Theis was ruled out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. He has been a key member of the rotation lately, with averages of 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while recording 48 blocked shots and 30 steals. The Celtics have struggled offensively most of the season (104.4 PPG ranks 20th) and know with mounting injuries, will need to rely on its excellent defense even more. Boston enters the game allowing 100.2 PPG (2nd) on 43.6% shooting (1st).
The pick: These teams engaged in a vicious seven-game playoff series last spring and have split the first two contests of their four-game season series this season, each winning on the other's court. I expect that to change here and look for Boston to win and cover in this one. The Celtics allow just 99.7 PPG at home and that's the key. Make Boston a 10* play.
|03-13-18||Nuggets v. Lakers +2||Top||103-112||Win||100||25 h 4 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets finished off a 2-1 homestand with a 130-104 rout of Sacramento on Sunday and at 37-30, remain tied with the Jazz and Spurs for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Denver is 26-10 at home but the Nuggets will play 10 of their final 15 contests on the road, where they are just 11-20. The first of those 10 road games comes tonight at Staples Center against the LA Lakers. The Lakers may be just 30-36 but after they fell 125-116 at Denver on Friday, they bounced back to roll over the Cavs 127-113 on Sunday at home, improving to 15-7 in their last 22 games.
Denver: If the Nuggets are going to make the playoffs, they will have to perform better on the road. Nikola Jokic notched his seventh triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the win over the Kings, as Denver led by as many as 36 points. Long overdue for a blowout like that," forward Paul Millsap told reporters after the Nuggets' most lopsided victory since Nov. 17. PF Millsap (14.4 & 6.3) just returned from a wrist injury on Feb 27 and has averaged 12.3 & 6.6 in his seven games back (Nuggets are 4-3). Jokic (17.2 & 10.4) really stepped up in his absence, as he was the only frontcourt player of note when Millsap was sidelined. However, Denver features a strong trio of guards in Harris (17.8), Murray (16.2) and Barton (15.0-5.0-4.2).
LA Lakers: Los Angeles will be beginning a back-to-back tonight, which also involves a visit to Golden State on Wednesday. Head coach Luke Walton is electing to give standout forward Brandon Ingram (16.2-5.4-3.9), who has missed five straight games with a strained groin, both games off before he is re-evaluated. Julius Randle is averaging 22.4 points with Ingram out and Brook Lopez has posted 21.2 PPG in the same stretch. Randle is now up to 15.5 & 7.7 on the season, while Thomas checks in a 15.9 PPG in his 12 games with LA and the "steal of the 2017 NBA Draft (27th pick)," Kyle Kuzma, averages 15.3 & 6.0.
The pick: The Nuggets are not only just 11-20 SU on the road this year (where they are allowing 110.2 PPG) but they are just 5-16 on the road vs. Western Conference opponents. The Lakers are 6 1/2 games behind the Nuggets, Jazz and Clippers with 16 games left, so it's highly unlikely LA will be playoff-bound this April. However, the Lakers have won seven of their last nine and since losing 106-81 to OKC back on Feb. 8, have topped 100 points in each of their last 12 games, averaging 117.7 PPG! Make LA a 10* play.
|03-13-18||Pistons +8.5 v. Jazz||Top||79-110||Loss||-110||24 h 35 m||Show|
The set-up: The Utah Jazz have won six straight and 18 of their last 20 games but can't seem to put any distance between themselves and the crowded Western Conference field, behind Houston and Golden State. The 37-30 Jazz are currently tied with the Nuggets and Spurs and sit just a half-game back of the No. 7 LA Clippers (37-29). The Jazz will try to win their seventh straight when they host the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. The Pistons have been off since snapping a four-game slide with a 99-83 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday and are sitting in the No. 9 spot in the East at 30-36. However, Detroit enters play on Tuesday five games behind the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks, with the Pistons having just 16 games left to make up the difference.
Detroit: There was plenty of talk that Blake Griffin would "put Detroit over the top," but that surely hasn't been the case. Griffin is averaging 20.2-6.8-5.8 in his 17 games with Detroit but the Pistons enter this contest having lost 10 of their last 13. Center Drummond (14.9 & 15.8) is a double-double 'machine' but the fact that PG Jackson (14.6 & 5.5 APG) hasn't played since Dec. 26, remains a huge negative. Detroit has fallen off the pace in the postseason race and begins a six-game trip here in Utah, having gone just 9-22 SU away from home this season.
Utah: The Jazz know that they need to avoid the temptation of dwelling on what the other teams around them in the standings are doing. The key is to just concentrate on winning. "Winning feels good: You don't need another reward," Ricky Rubio told reporters. "It's a win, you go home and you feel good about yourself and feel you did a good job. That's why we're doing what we're doing." Rubio collected 30 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on Sunday, his second consecutive points-rebounds double-double. Rubio's had a solid season (12.5-4.5-5.3) but the team's fortunes will rest on the shoulders of rookie guard Mitchell (team-best 19.8 PPG) and center Gobert (13.5 & 10.6). The Jazz are 19-4 since Gobert returned to the court back on Jan. 19 .
The pick: The Pistons are not only just 3-10 their last 13 but they are also just 3-10 ATS in that span. They need this game badly. Take the points and make the Pistons an 8* play.
|03-13-18||Long Island +4.5 v. Radford||Top||61-71||Loss||-100||21 h 9 m||Show|
The set-up: The first game of the 2018 NCAA Tourney tips off Tuesday at 6:40 ET from Dayton Ohio, when 18-16 LIU-Brooklyn (NEC) squares off against 22-12 Radford, champs of the Big South. It is a meeting of programs searching for their first NCAA Tournament victory, with the winner moving on to face the East's top seed, Viillanova, Thursday at Pittsburgh.The LIU Blackbirds are on a five-game win streak that includes a 71-61 Northeast Conference championship game upset over Wagner (regular season champ) on its homecourt as a 9 1/2-point underdog. The co-16th seeded Radford Highlanders come in having won their last seven contests, including the Big South title game which they won 55-52 on a three-pointer at the buzzer .
LIU-Brooklyn:The Blackbirds are in the field for the seventh time but for the first time since making it three straight years (2011-13). The team is coached by Derek Kellogg, who is in his first season after spending nine years at UMass, where he took the Minutemen to the Big Dance once. LIU uses a four-guard lineup and all average in double digits, led by the NEC’s second-leading scorer, Joel Hernandez (20.9). He has been the team's go-to player all season and scored 32 points explosion in the championship game victory over Wagner. Senior guard Hernandez also contributes 5.9 RPG and is joined in double digits by fellow guards Clark (17.4), Agosto (11.7-4.1-4.1) and Batts (10.0 & 4.3). Junior guard Raiquan Clark also leads the team in rebounding at 7.1 per game. The 6-8 Van Sauers has been the fifth starter but he contributes only 2.0 & 2.3. However, the 6-7 Coleman adds 6.5 & 6.5 off the bench.
Radford: Freshman PG Carlik Jones drained a long three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Liberty 55-52, giving Radford its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009. Clark (11.8 & 3.0 APG) is joined by just one other double digit scorer, the Highlanders' 6-5 small forward Ed Polite Jr, who leads the team in scoring (13.5) and rebounding (7.1). However, Polite has made just 5-for-20 from the floor over the last two games. Jones averaged 14.5 PPG in the Big South Tournament (13-5-6 in the title game), while sophomore forward Devonnte Holland contributed 11 points and seven rebounds in the championship game and sophomore guard Travis Fields Jr. averaged 11.5 PPG in the team's last two contests..
The pick: It's an interesting matchup of head coaches, Derek Kellogg of LIU (see above) and Mike Jones, in his seventh season with the Highlanders. He spent time as an assistant under Shaka Smart at VCU and was the architect of the vaunted VCU "Havoc defense" (he was on the bench when VCU made its Final Four run in 2011). Radford's defense is one of the nation's best, allowing 64.4 PPG (14th). However, LIU is embracing its long-shot Cinderella story, with Blackbirds entering the tournament with the second-most losses of any team (Texas Southern is 15-19). No doubt LIU faces a tough Radford defense but the Blackbirds have excellent scorers in Hernandez and Clark, plus those two get some pretty solid support (LIU averages 77.5 PPG). Meanwhile, the Highlanders are a workman-like team that is hardly very efficient on the offensive end, averaging only 67.4 PPG (314th) on 42.6% shooting (279th). We could have another buzzer-beater, as this matchup has all the makings for a close game. Take the points and make LIU a 10* play.
|03-12-18||Heat v. Blazers -7.5||Top||99-115||Win||100||13 h 51 m||Show|
The set-up: The Western Conference race behind Houston and Golden State features eight teams vying for six playoff berths. There are just 3 1/2 games separating the No. 3 through No. 10 seeds. However, Portland has used a nine-game winning streak to put a little separation between themselves and the rest of the pack. The 40-26 Trail,Blazers currently hold down the No. 3 seed, two games clear of a trio of teams vying for the No. 4 spot and 3 1/2 ahead of three teams tied for eighth. The Blazers welcome the 36-31 Miami Heat to the Moda Center on Monday. The Heat are in a similar battle for position in the East (No. 3 thru No. 8 seeds are separated by 4 1/2 games) and are currently holding down the No. 7 spot, with the third-seeded Indiana Pacers only 3 1/2 games in front of them entering Monday. Miami comes in with two straight wins over teams above it in the standings, most recently crushing the Washington Wizards 129-102 on Saturday.
Miami: The Heat will begin a three-game road trip with this contest, one that continues Wednesday at Sacramento and Friday in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The Heat's win over the Wizards was somewhat tempered by the fact that Dwyane Wade went down with a strained hamstring and does not expect to play on Monday. Wade is averaging 15.7 points in six games this month and the team is 7-5 in 12 games since he was acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The fact that center Hassan Whiteside (14.3 & 11.8) sat out Saturday with a hip issue and is questionable for Monday, makes for more bad news for the Heat. Both players made the trip to Portland but Wade has all but declared himself out of commission for tonight's game.
Portland: The Blazers aren't taking their position as the No. 3 seed for granted, as the squad continues to stay up to date on the teams chasing them in the standings. "I think we're all very much aware of what the standings are and there's not a team in that group 3-10 that has the luxury to get too excited about anything one way or the other," Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts told reporters. Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 58 points on Friday as Portland knocked off the defending champion Golden State Warriors 125-108. Lillard is averaging 26.8-4.5-6.5 and McCollum 21.8-4.0-3.2, making for one of the league's best backcourt duos. However, center Nurkic is the only other Portland player in double digits (14.0 & 8.4).
The pick: Portland has been fortunate to face opponents with key players missing this month, including Minnesota (Jimmy Butler), Oklahoma City (Carmelo Anthony) and Golden State (Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala). The Blazers good fortune may continue tonight, as Wade is almost assuredly out and Whiteside may miss as well. That said, don't think the Blazers are no more than lucky. "They're a dangerous team out west," Miamia head coach Spoelstra said. "They have some continuity from the last couple of years. They seem to be gaining confidence. They know who they are. They have a couple of guys (McCollum and Damian Lillard) who can take over in close games. And, they're very well-coached. Terry (Stotts) has done a really nice job with that team. He has developed a program that absolutely fits the strength of that team." In particular, Lillard is averaging 34.7 points and playing some of the best ball of his six-year career over the last 11 games. Portland has taken the last four in the series, including a 102-95 victory at Miami back on Dec. 13. Make the Blazers a 10* play.
|03-11-18||Jazz v. Pelicans +2.5||Top||116-99||Loss||-102||5 h 39 m||Show|
The set-up: The 36-30 Utah Jazz are in New Orleans to take on the 38-27 Pelicans. Both teams are right in the middle of a Western Conference playoff race that features eight teams battling for the final six playoff berths. The No. 3 thru No. 10 seeds are separated by just four games, with just six of the eight being able to earn berths behind Houston and Golden State. The Pelicans are currently the No. 4 seed, while the Jazz are currently on the outside looking in on the playoff picture but sitting just a half-game back of the Clippers. who occupy the the and final Western Conference playoff berth.
Utah: The Jazz enter play on Sunday tied with Denver but just a half-game back of the 8th-seeded Clippers and for that matter, just 2 1/2 games back of the fourth-seeded Pelicans. Utah has taken the first two of its three-game trip by a total of 37 points and has won five straight and 17 of its last 19 contests. Utah picked up its 10th consecutive road win with a 95-78 triumph at Memphis on Friday in which it held the Grizzlies to 37.3 percent shooting. Utah managed to find enough offense against Memphis despite star rookie Donovan Mitchell slumping to 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, just the third time in the last 12 games that he failed to reach 20 points. Mitchell has been a huge factor for Utah this season, averaging a team-high 19.7 PPG. The return of center Rudy Gobert (13.4 & 10.5 RPG) has also been big, as the Jazz are 18-4 since he returned to the court back Jan. 19 on .SF Jae Crowder looks like he's found a home in Salt Lake City, averaging 13.5 PPG in his 11 games with the Jazz.
New Orleans. The Pelicans' 10-game winning streak didn't provide much separation from the rest of the pack in the Western Conference and they badly missed star forward Anthony Davis while watching their winning streak come to an end on Friday. Davis suffered a sprained ankle in a 114-101 win at Sacramento on Wednesday but sat out Friday as New Orleans returned home and watched their winning streak disappear in a 116-97 loss to the Washington Wizards. Guard Jrue Holiday, who had emerged as a second scoring option behind Davis during the winning streak, was held to four points on 2-of-8 shooting without Davis around to draw the defense on Friday. Holiday (19.2-4.3-5.7 on the season), averaged 24.9 points on 52.1 percent shooting and 8.5 assists during the winning streak. The Pelicans hope to have Davis back in the lineup when they host the hard-charging Utah Jazz on Sunday.
The pick: Without Davis (28.1 & 11.2), the Pelicans will have to rely on Nikola Mirotic to fill in the gaps on the frontline against Utah. Mirotic was brought in to replace the previously injured Boogie Cousins (25.2 & 12.9) and in his 14 games with New Orleans, has averaged 15.1 & 8.2, Obviously, having Davis means a lot but I like New Orleans either way and we'll get a much better line (and a margin of error), without him. Make New Orleans a 10* play.
|03-11-18||Houston v. Cincinnati -4.5||Top||55-56||Loss||-105||7 h 15 m||Show|
The set-up: It's the top-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats (29-4) facing the third-seeded Houston Cougars (26-6) in the American Athletic Conference Tournament final in Orlando. The Bearcats are currently ranked No. 8 in the AP poll and the Cougars are ranked 21st. The Bearcats have defeated SMU (61-51) and Memphis (70-60) in their first two games of this event, while the Cougars knocked off UCF 84-56, before riding Rob Gray's 33 points to a 77-74 win over Wichita State (league's No. 2 seed and the AP's 11th-ranked team) on Saturday. This marks Houston's first trip to the AAC title game but the Cougars know they can beat the Bearcats, as they did it as recently as Feb. 15, when Houston Cincinnati's snapped national-best snapped winning streak at 16 games in a 67-62 home victory.
Houston: The Cougars only had seven turnovers in Saturday's win and that proved to be the difference, along with 7-of-15 combined three-point shooting by Gray and Corey Davis Jr. The other three starters for Houston combined for only 13 points, although the 6-6 Nura Zanna (just 2.8 & 3.9 on the season) did register a team-high nine rebounds off the bench. Gray has reached the 30-point plateau in two of his last three games and is averaging 24.7 points over his last six outings. He leads four double digits scorers (18.6-3.3-4.6), joined by guards Corey Davis (13.5) and Brooks (10.1) plus 6-6 forward Devin Davis (10.7 & 6.2). Houston's starting 6-8 forward Breaon Brady (4.5 & 4.4) has gone 10 straight games without attempting more than three shots.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats committed only three turnovers against Memphis, which was critical because the team shot barely above 40 percent from the floor for the second straight game. The 6-8 Gary Clark has averaged 14.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the tourney and averages 12.8 PPG and a team-high 8.4 RPG on the season. Guard Jarron Cumberland added 18 points versus Memphis after going scoreless against SMU but is one of four Bearcats averaging double digits at 11.0. The other two are guard Evans (12.9-4.5-3.2) and the 6-9 Washington (11.3 & 5.4). Cincy's offense has been off so far in this tourney but Mick Cronin's team always brings its defense. The Bearcats are allowing 57.2 PPG (2nd to UVa) on the season, after allowing an average of 55.5 PPG in wins over SMU and Memphis.
The pick: Both Cincy and Houston are comfortably in the field of 68 (announced later today) but the Bearcats have a chance to make a final statement toward earning a No. 1 seed. Cincinnati has won six in a row since that loss at Houston (that's 22 wins in its last 24 games!) and with only four losses all season, is certainly in the mix to be on the top line when the field is announced. Cincinnati is looking not only to avenge its loss at Houston on Feb. 15 but also the one in last year's tourney final (against SMU), as the Bearcats hope to secure their first league postseason crown since winning the C-USA tournament back in 2004. Wichita State led Houston by three points with 1:45 left on Saturday, before the Cougars scored the game's final five points for the win. No such luck here for Houston. Make Cincy an 8* play.
|03-11-18||Kentucky +1 v. Tennessee||Top||77-72||Win||100||5 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: The 23-10 Kentucky Wildcats opened the season as the AP's No. 5 team but with a 10-8 SEC record, came into the conference tourney as just the fourth seed. However, the Wildcats cruised past Georgia 62-49 on Friday to notch their 11th consecutive win against the Bulldogs and then on Saturday, delivered an 86-63 victory over Alabama in the semifinals, their sixth victory in the last seven games (after losing four straight). Kentucky is playing some of its best basketball of the season at the right time and looks to record a fourth consecutive SEC Tournament Championship when it takes on second-seeded 25-9 Tennessee on Sunday in St. Louis. The shots just kept falling for No. 13 Tennessee in the first half of its 84-66 semifinal rout of Arkansas on Saturday. Tennessee hit 11 of its first 12 shots and shot 76 percent overall, in racing out to a commanding 48-29 halftime lead over Arkansas, as the Volunteers won their sixth straight game. Tennessee swept two regular-season meetings with Kentucky, most recently pulling out a 61-59 victory at Rupp Arena on Feb. 6
Kentucky: John Calipari's team is again, packed with freshman. However, it was sophomore Wenyen Gabriel who drained all seven attempts from three-point range on Saturday en route to scoring a career high-matching 23 points in leading the way after the 6-9 forward arrived Saturday averaging just 6.1 PPG. Freshman PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (13.4 & 5.1 APG) is averaging 17 points and 8.5 assists in the SEC Tournament, while 6-7 freshman P.J. Washington (10.8 & 5.5) has contributed 16 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in this event. 6-9 freshman Kevin Knox, who shared the conference freshman of the year honors with Alabama's Sexton, is Kentucky's leading scorer at 15.5 PPG (adds 5.3 RPG). Diallo (10.3) and Green (9.6) are two more freshman contributors but the 6-9 Jarred Vanderbilt, yet another freshman who leads the team with 7.9 rebounds per game, has been sidelined with an ankle injury and has missed both SEC tourney games.
Tennessee: The Vols just edged Mississippi State in the quarterfinals before rolling past Arkansas, reaching their first SEC final since 2009. Tennessee features three double digit scorers on teh season, in teh 6-7 Williams (15.4 & 6.0), 6-5 SF Schofield (13.5 & 6.2) and guard Turner (10.7). The Vols have been a balanced group offensively and received big games from a pair of players outside their top four scorers in the semifinals. Sophomore guard Jordan Bone (7.1) scored 19 on 8-of-11 shooting after 10 straight games in single digits and 6-11 forward Kyle Alexander (5.6 & 5.7) scored 12 against Arkansas after totaling 13 in his previous five contests. Schofield is averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the tournament while SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams is contributing 11 and eight, respectively, but is just 5-of-17 from the floor.
The pick: This isn't one of Calipari's higher scoring teams (Wildcats average 76.7 PPG to rank 91st) but it is holding opponents to just 40.7% on FGs (24th), including only 29.7% on threes (3rd in the nation!). Kentucky has now won 11 straight games in the SEC Tournament, with the Wildcats' last lost in the tournament coming against Florida back in 2014. "They're growing up," head coach John Calipari said. "The best thing that happened to my team, not me personally, was the four losses in a row. Me, I was ready to jump off a bridge." Meanwhile, Tennessee was picked to finish 13th in the 14-team SEC by the media in the preseason but instead, the Volunteers shared the regular-season SEC title with Auburn and are now headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. Double revenge works here (note: the 59 points Kentucky scored against Tennessee in that Feb. 6 home loss were a season-low for the Wildcats), so make Kentucky a 10* play.
|03-10-18||Magic +11.5 v. Clippers||Top||105-113||Win||100||15 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: Behind the rockets and Warriors, the Western Conference playoff race is a log-jam. Only 4 1/2 games separate The No.3 and No. 10 seeds. The 35-29 Los Angeles Clippers, who have won 12 of their past 17 games, are currently the No. 8 seed (final playoff spot) but are also just 2 1/2 games back of the No. 4 seed, which would earn them a home series. LA is looking to avoid a letdown after recording an impressive 116-102 home victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, with the 20-46 Orlando Magic coming into Staples Center tonight. The Magic have lost 10 of their last 12 games after Friday's 94-88 loss to the Sacramento Kings, dropping them to 0-3 on their current five-game road swing.
Orlando. To add is insult to injury, Orlando is without its top two scorers, power forward Aaron Gordon (18.3 & 8.4) who is out with a concussion and swingman Evan Fournier (17.8), out with a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Magic used their 20th different lineup combination Friday and it didn't go well, as they scored fewer than 90 points for the second time in three games in the six-point loss. Swingman Jonathon Simmons (13.5) played the go-to scoring role and delivered 25 points and six assists to break out of a funk in which he averaged seven points over the previous four games. First-round draft pick, the 6-10 Jonathan Isaac (4.5 & 3.5), made his third start of the season and had only six points on 2-of-8 shooting but he will likely remain in a starting role until Gordon is cleared. Center Vucevic (17.3 & 9.1) is Orlando's best healthy player.
LA Clippers: Many though the Clippers were "throwing in the towel" by trading Blake Griffin to Detroit but the 'joke' looks to be on the Pistons, who have flopped. Center DeAndre Jordan (11.9 & 15.2) dominated the interior with 20 points and 23 rebounds against the Cavaliers and he has three 20-rebound efforts this month while averaging 16.5 points and 19.5 rebounds in four games. Veteran Lou Williams continues to produce career-best averages in points (23.0) and assists (5.5) plus Tobias Harris has averaged 19 & 7.1 in the 14 games since coming from Detroit in the Griffin deal (Blake, we hardly miss ya!).
The pick: The Clippers have won eight consecutive meetings with the Magic by an average margin of 14.1 PPG. However. off beating LBJ and the Cavs, I can see a less than focused LA team struggling to cover this big number. Sure, the Magic are short-handed but they have covered four straight in the 2nd of back-to-back games. Make the Magic a 10* play.
|03-10-18||Marshall v. Western Kentucky -6||Top||67-66||Loss||-110||13 h 40 m||Show|
The set-up: The C-USA Tourney was left wide-open after regular season champ MTSU was upset on Thursday. The 24-9 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (at 14-2 are the 3rd seed) take the floor tonight in Frisco, Texas to take on the 23-10 Marshall Thundering Herd (at 12-6 are the 4th seed) in the C-USA championship game. Western Ky. advanced with a 57-49 win versus Old Dominion on Friday and Marshall advanced to the title game by upending a stubborn Southern Miss team, 85-75 (Southern Miss had upset MTSU 71-68 in OT on Thursday).
Marshall: The Thundering Herd took a 20 point lead into the break vs. Southern Miss and won by 10. PG Jon Elmore (22.6-6.1-7.0) led Marshall with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against Southern Miss. 6-9 freshman Jannson Williams (5.3 & 3.1) followed with 17 points and five rebounds, while Marshall's two other double digit scorers on the season, guard CJ Burks (21.0-4.2-3.1) and the 6-9 Penava (15.5 & 8.5), added 13 and 12 points, respectively. Led by the high-scoring trio of Elmore, Burks and Penava (see above), Marshall averages 84.8 PPG (8th) but the Thundering Herd allow 79.2 PPG, which ranks 325th of 351 Division I teams.
Western Kentucky: The 6-7 Justin Johnson carried the Hilltoppers with 19 points and 13 rebounds on 7-12 shooting in the win over Old Dominion, the league's No. 2 seed. Western Ky. owns great balance, as all five starters average in double digits. Johnson leads in scoring (15.2) and rebounding (9.5), followed by guards Thompson (14.1-4.4-4.8), Hollingsworth(13.5) and Bearden (11.6 & 3.5 APG) plus the 6-9 Coleby (11.2 & 7.8). Marshall shoots very well as a team, connecting on 49.8% from the floor (9th in the nation)..
The pick: Western Kentucky routed UAB by scoring 98 points, then beat C-USA's second seed (ODU) by holding the Monarchs to 49 points on 36.5 percent shooting. During the regular sesson. Western Ky's balanced attack handled Marshall's "three-man gang," with a 112-87 win on the road and an 85-74 win at home. The neutral-site location will not change the result, here. Make Western Kentucky a 10* play.
|03-10-18||Yale v. Pennsylvania -5.5||Top||57-80||Win||100||7 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: The Ivy League finally "joined the party" with its first-ever conference tourney last year. "The Ancient 8" are back for round two in 2018, as the Ivy League Tournament tips off Saturday at the Palestra, in Philadelphia. 22-8 Penn tied Harvard atop the Ivy League at 12-2 during the regular season but Harvard claimed the No. 1 seed. That means the second-seeded Quakers draw the third-seeded Yale Bulldogs, who may be just 16-14 overall (9-5 in Ivy play) but they also come in having won seven of their last eight games, including an 80-79 home win over Penn on March 2.
Yale: The Bulldogs have five players (four starters and one reserve) contributing between 9.2 and 15.,5 PPG. The 6-7 Oni (15.5-6.1-3.7) is the best of the bunch, followed by fellow starters Copeland (11.4) and Phills (9.8 & 4.3) in the backcourt, plus the 6-7 Reynolds (10.7 & 5.5) up front. 6-10 freshman Atkinson comes off the bench to add 9.2 & 4.6.
Pennsylvania: The Quakers feature four double digit scorers in guards Betley (14.7 & 5.0), Foreman (10.4-4.3-3.6) and Wood (10.1) plus the 6-8 Brodeur (12.6 & 6.9). The Quakers' lone loss in their last six outings was that one point loss at Yale. Penn capped its season with a win over Brown last Saturday, as Betley scored 30 points. Penn is a solid offensive team (76.6 PPG) and a solid defensive one (allows 69.2 PPG).
The pick: Yale was the preseason favorite in the Ivy League and comes in hot. The Bulldogs have averaged 75.2 PPG on the season but have topped 80 points in each of their last four contests (all wins), averaging 84.8 PPG. However, I believe Penn has proven to be the better team this season and in this quick turnaround from a one-point loss at Yale, will use the advantage of playing on its homecourt (11-3 SU on the season, including a 59-50 win over Yale) to win, cover and advance to the championship game on Sunday. Make Penn an 8* play.
|03-10-18||Alabama v. Kentucky -3.5||Top||63-86||Win||100||5 h 11 m||Show|
The set-up: The 22-10 Kentucky Wildcats opened the season as the AP's No. 5 team but with a 10-8 SEC record, came into the conference tourney as just the fourth seed. However, the Wildcats cruised past Georgia 62-49 on Friday to notch their 11th consecutive win against the Bulldogs and stay on track for the school's fourth consecutive SEC Tournament title. Up next will be the 19-14 Alabama Crimson Tide, who erased a 10-point halftime deficit to shock top-seeded Auburn 81-63 on Friday (the Tide were a modest 8-10 in SEC play, entering the tourney as the 9th seed).
Alabama: Collin Sexton, who was named the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year earlier in the week, continued where he left off after hitting the game-winning floater to beat eighth-seeded Texas A&M on Thursday, by pouring in 31 points in the win over Auburn. Sexton (19.0-3.7-3.6) connected on six 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds against Auburn to become the first Crimson Tide player to score over 30 points in an SEC Tournament game since Rod Grizzard in 2002. Dazon Ingram (10.1 & 5.7) added 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Alabama exploded for 50 points in the second half to advance to its second conference semifinal in as many years. Donta Hall contributed 11 points and six rebounds but left with 6:41 left in the second half with a head injury. The junior forward is questionable for Saturday's clash, which is not good news for Alabama fans, as he's the team's second-leading scorer (10.9) and leading rebounder (6.8)..
Kentucky: Calipari's team is again, packed with freshman.The 6-7 P.J. Washington (10.7 & 5.4) led the way against Georgia with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor to go along with seven rebounds. PG Gilgeous-Alexander (13.2 & 5.0 APG) scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half and dished out nine assists while the 6-9 Kevin Knox, who shared the conference freshman of the year honors with Sexton and is Kentucky's leading scorer at 15.7 PPG, also added 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The 6-9 Jarred Vanderbilt, yet another freshman who leads the team with 7.9 rebounds per game, was sidelined with an ankle injury and is listed as day-to-day going forward.
The pick: This isn't one of Calipari's higher scoring teams (Wildcats average 76.4 PPG to rank 93rd) but it is holding opponents to just 40.8% on FGs (28th), including only 29.6% on threes (3rd in the nation!). Alabama's shocker bver the top-seeded Auburn Tigers likely cemented the Crimson Tide's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011-12. Kentucky has beaten Alabama 16 of the last 18 times (including NINE straight time) and ousted them in semifinals of this tourney last year, 79-74. With Alabama off that YUGE upset over hated Auburn plus playing its third game in three days, Kentucky's 10th straight win over Alabama and its 13th win in its last 14 SEC Tournament games, won't be as close as last year's semifinal win over the Tide. Make Kentucky an 8* play.
|03-09-18||Rockets v. Raptors +2.5||Top||105-108||Win||100||13 h 49 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets' current play has left no doubt that this team is a legitimate threat to end Golden State's three-year reign atop the Western Conference. Houston pushed its winning streak to 17 in a row with a 110-99 win at the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday but t he team's MVP says the Rockets are not focused on the streak. "We're just out there hoopin'," James Harden told reporters. "We're not worried about wins and losses right now. We're worried about playing the right way on both ends of the floor and that's going to carry over into the postseason." No team is hotter than 51-13 Houston but the Rockets will get a real test tonight at the Air Canada Centre when they visit the 41-17 Toronto Raptors. Toronto became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and brought its own winning streak to six in a row with a 121-119 overtime triumph over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
Houston: Obviously, Harden (30.9-5.2-8.9) and Paul (18.8-5.6-8.1) are paramount to Houston's success but Gordon (18.6) completes the league's highest scoring guard trio plus when center Capela (14.3 & 11.0) is in the lineup with both Harden and Paul, Houston has has lost just once all season. Both Harden and Paul have been singing the praises of the team's supporting players. The Rockets won on Wednesday despite missing power forward Ryan Anderson (hip) and shooting guard Joe Johnson (illness).
Toronto: DeMar DeRozan scored 42 points on Wednesday but passed up the opportunity for the last shot while well defended, instead finding guard Fred VanVleet for the game-winning basket. VanVleet was 1 of 9 before hitting the game-winner! Derozan (24.0-3.9-5.2) and Lowry (16.6-5.7-6.6) are an All Star backcourt duo plus PF Ibaka (12.8 & 6.1) and center Valanciunas (12.0 & 8.3) form a strong inside tandem, as well. Toronto scores like Houston (112.0 PPG ranks 4th) and defends better, allowing 103.3 PPG (6th-best!).
The pick: The Rockets have to lose sometime, right? Many thought Milwaukee might have been the spot but it wasn't. How about right here in Toronto? Yes, Houston has won 17 straight but Toronto is 15-2 in its last 17 and comes in 27-5 SU at home. Make Toronto a 10* play.
|03-09-18||Texas State +11.5 v. UL-Lafayette||Top||54-80||Loss||-100||6 h 43 m||Show|
The set-up: It's early afternoon college basketball action Friday from Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, when the 9th-seeded Texas State Bobcats and the top-seeded Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns square off in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference Men’s Championship. The Bobcats improved to 15-17 (7-11 Sun Belt) on the season after defeating the 8th-seed Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 73-66, this past Wednesday in the 1st round of the tourney. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished their regular season with an overall record of 26-5 and earned the top-seed in the Sun Belt Tourney with a conference record of 16-2.
Texas State: The held a 32-28 lead at halftime against the Chanticleers and the, after opening a 52-36 lead, eased to a seven-point win. Texas State shot just 38.6% from the floor (including 25.9% on threes) but the Bobcats were outstanding at the charity stripe, making 22 of 26 of their free-throws. 6-5 guard Pearson led the way for the Bobcats with 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and a steal. He's the team's leading scorer on the season (15.2-6.0-2.4) for a team which averages only 66.8 PPG (318th). Five others chip in between 5.8 and 9.0 PPG, including the team's best inside player, the 6-8 King (9.0 & 6.0) and PG Nottingham (7.8 & 2.6 APG). Defensively, Texas State is holding opponents to an average of just 65.4 PPG, which ranks 25th in the nation.
UL-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns were outstanding throughout the year and picked up a nice win against Iowa at the beginning of the season. Unlike Texas State, ULL averages 84.0 PPG (14th). Guard Bartley (17.4) and the 6-8 Gant (14.7 & 6.2) lead the way for four double digit scorers, with the offense being run by PG Stroman (6.5 & 6.3 APG).
The pick: ULL won at Texas State 80-55, during a streak of 10 consecutive wins SU & ATS. However, after losing to Georgia State on Feb. 18, the Rajin' Cajuns ripped off six straight wins before falling in the team's regular season finale (at home, no less!), 72-61 in OT vs. Littlle Rock, the Sun Belt's worst team (4-14 in SBC play). Meanwhile, Texas State's win over Coastal Carolina snapped a nine-game losing streak but while the Bobcats don't score much, the team's style of play helps keep most games low scoring (remember, Texas St. allows just 65.4 PPG). I guess a bounce-back should be expected by ULL but this is a lot of points and ULL knows it must win this tourney or head off to the NIT (no at-large bids come out of the Sun Belt). ULL has bigger fish to fry and will advance but not cover vs. Texas State. Make Texas State a 10* play.
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