May 1, 2023
Three suggestions for early-in-the-week action
Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics
TD Garden – Boston, MA
7:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Boston -10.0
Ten points is a lot in an NBA playoff game, especially when the winner of this series is going to be the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Both Philadelphia and Boston are loaded with talent, but the reason for such a high spread is because likely MVP Joel Embiid probably isn’t going to play for the Sixers.
Head coach Doc Rivers called him “doubtful” for at least Game 1 of this series, as Embiid recovers from a sprained LCL against the Nets in Game 3 of the first round. But Philly didn’t have Embiid in Game 4 against Brooklyn, and that didn’t seem to matter. They held the Nets to just 88 points thanks to some stellar defense and swept them in an easy opening series.
The 76ers have been off for nine days, thanks to their quick work of Brooklyn, so they should be well rested. Meanwhile, a pesky Atlanta team took the Celtics to six games and nearly forced a Game 7. Boston just played a hard-fought contest last Thursday, needing a late fourth quarter run to finally close the Hawks out.
A series win is a series win, but Philadelphia certainly did it with more style than Boston in the first round. And while the Celtics went 3-1 in this matchup in the regular season, all of the games were decided by single digits.
The task is tough for the 76ers without Embiid, no doubt. But even if they don’t win, they’ll find a way to keep it close. Take the oversized spread and watch as Philly covers with no issues.
Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Philadelphia +10.0 (-110)
Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets
Ball Arena – Denver, CO
10:00 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Denver -4.5
Denver absolutely waxed Phoenix in Game 1, using a monster second quarter in which the Nuggets outscored the Suns 37-19 to take early control of the series. The final score was 125-107, and it wasn’t even that close.
Phoenix emptied its bench with about five minutes left, as head coach Monty Williams waved the white flag well before Nuggets head coach Michael Malone took his starters out. And those starters were excellent for Denver, as Jamal Murray went for 34 points and nine assists, Nikola Jokic had 24 points and 19 rebounds and Aaron Gordon added 23 points on 9-13 shooting.
Murray simply owns the Suns. The victory improved him to 18-3 in his career against Phoenix. Everyone will remember the Suns sweeping Denver two years ago (and the infamous “Suns in four” guy brawl in the stands), but that was mere months after Murray tore his ACL. This a much different looking Nuggets team with Murray on the floor, particularly if he’s going to play his best basketball since the COVID “bubble” in Orlando.
Chris Paul fouled Murray hard late in Game 1, a sign the veteran was rattled and knows his team might be overmatched. Phoenix made just seven three-pointers in Game 1, while the Nuggets made 16. That’s a 27-point difference and an easy explanation for why Denver won by 18.
Denver is a better shooting team from deep and it will do it again in Game 2. The Nuggets protect homecourt and easily cover this small spread — look for another blowout.
Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Denver -4.5 (-110)
New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
Prudential Center – Newark, NJ
8:00 PM ET
SuperBook Line: New Jersey -120
What a first-round series it’s been between New York and New Jersey, as this one has been a roller coaster with both teams earning some impressive wins. It all leads to this, a Game 7 to secure a date with the Hurricanes in the next round.
While the Rangers were badly outplayed in Games 3-5, getting outscored 9-2, they did something very important in Game 6. New York finally solved young netminder Akita Schmid, beating him five times on just 29 shots. In fact, Schmid was even pulled in the third period for Vitek Vanecek, the goaltender who started the first two games of the series for the Devils.
Head coach Lindy Ruff has a tough decision to make before Game 7 regarding who he starts in net. And kind of like football, if you have two quarterbacks, you might actually have none. The same can be applied to goaltenders in hockey. A goalie controversy before a do-or-die game doesn’t bode well for a team’s chances.
There will be no hard choices in the Rangers locker room, as all-world goalie Igor Shesterkin will certainly be between the pipes. It may not have been as pretty or as dominant as New York fans wanted, but they’re clearly back on track after the dominant 5-2 win in Game 6.
Chris Kreider scored his sixth goal of the series, Vladimir Tarasenko added his third and all the momentum is back with the Rangers. Given the goalie uncertainty in New Jersey, it’s surprising to see New York as underdogs and getting the plus juice. Take advantage of the opportunity, as the Rangers prevail and move on.
Norm LaChatlier’s pick: New York M/L (+105)
Today’s best packaged deal
- San Diego Padres M/L (-230)
- Los Angeles Dodgers M/L (-167)
Richard DeMala’s Two-Leg Parlay = +129
After watching NBA and NHL playoff action, turn towards the West Coast for some late-night baseball. The Padres are the biggest home favorite on the board, as their bats will come alive against Cincinnati’s Luke Weaver. The Dodgers will have a similar feast when Philadelphia’s Taijuan Walker takes the mound in Los Angeles.
Three Things We Learned…
Takeaways from a weekend full of great games and performances
It’s still all about the quarterback
As always, the NFL Draft is a fascinating event to watch. For three days, teams looked to restock their roster, as the proceedings unfolded from Kansas City. While there is a lot to be learned from what went down, including the fact that the defending NFC champions wisely keep raiding the two-time national champions for defensive talent, the key takeaway is that it’s still all about the quarterback. Three of the top four picks in the draft were at that position, as Carolina, Houston and Indianapolis try to right their ships with Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson, respectively.
All bark and no bite
Trash talking can be fun. It adds a little flavor to games, bringing some extra juice to the field, court or ice. But it can also backfire. Sometimes, it serves as motivation for the opposition, awaking a sleeping giant. Such was the case for the Grizzlies, a team that liked to talk smack all season long, but ultimately proved unable to back it up. Dillon Brooks was the ringleader, saying disrespectful things about LeBron James after Game 2 of their first-round series. It blew up in his face, as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer led his team to the second round, ultimately dispatching of Memphis in a 125-85 beatdown in Game 6.
There’s still some magic remaining
When Sacramento went into Golden State and won Game 6, forcing a decisive Game 7 on their home court, it appeared as though the Kings might dethrone the defending champs. There were signs that the Warriors run of greatness might be coming to an end. But then, an all-time great does what all-time greats do with the season on the line. Steph Curry’s 50-point performance in the decisive game was one for the ages, as the veteran carried his team to a 120-100 win and a trip to the second round, where they’ll face the Lakers. Curry and the Warriors demonstrated their championship mettle with everything on the line.