Tuesday Teaser

March 5, 2024

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This playoff rematch from a season ago is big for both teams, as each is in a different battle in the standings. The Nuggets are right there with the Thunder and Timberwolves for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Suns are in a crowded bunch of teams at seeds 5-10 trying to avoid the play-in tournament for a true seat at the postseason table.

With the All-Star break firmly in the rearview mirror, every game is precious, and both teams want this one. Speaking of the break, Denver is on fire coming out of it. The Nuggets are 6-0 and Nikola Jokic is playing like a man possessed.

“The Joker” is the favorite for NBA MVP after putting up four straight triple-doubles, then beating the Heat in an NBA Finals rematch before hanging 35-10-7 on the Lakers on Saturday night. Denver has now beaten Los Angeles a stunning eight times in a row. 

For the Suns, things haven’t been quite so rosy. They’re just 2-4 to start the second half and that includes two losses to the Houston Rockets. They also fell to the Mavs and Thunder, with their two wins coming at home against the Lakers and Rockets, somehow playing Houston three times in four games.

Phoenix lost to Denver in the playoffs four games to two last year, and you can feel the tension creeping in on this season already. Kevin Durant is getting another year older, the Bradley Beal trade hasn’t quite lived up to expectations and Devin Booker is still chasing that elusive first ring. They have household names, but it remains to be seen if it can come together for a deep playoff run.

 For this matchup against the Nuggets, Phoenix is just 15-13 on the road this season, while Denver is 24-5 at home. The Nuggets won all three playoff games at Ball Arena a season ago. 

And in their first and only matchup of the season back on Dec. 1 in the desert, Denver prevailed by a score of 119-111. Jokic had 21 points and 16 assists and much like last year’s postseason, the two-time MVP couldn’t be stopped. But it’s not all just Jokic in Denver, as Jamal Murray is having another excellent season, Michael Porter Jr. can shoot the lights out on any given night, Aaron Gordon is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a lockdown defender.

Denver’s starting five has dynastic potential, provided they can stay healthy. The Nuggets also really should want that No. 1 seed, considering they went up 2-0 in every Western Conference playoff series last season and only lost one game at home the entire postseason. Beating Phoenix on Tuesday night would go a long way toward helping secure that slot. 

Jason Schlefsky’s Pick: Denver -9.5 (-110)

There’s no other way to slice it, as the Nuggets appear to be on a mission to go back-to-back. In their 6-0 burst since the All-Star Break, they’ve won five of those games by double-digits. They beat the Wizards by 20, Blazers by 15, Warriors by 16 and Kings by 21. They’re not just squeaking out close victories; they’re winning comfortably and covering spreads. The Suns have no such momentum to speak of and look like they’re playing tight due to the pressure to avoid the play-in tournament. That will continue on Tuesday night, with Denver going on a big second-half run to pull away from Phoenix 126-112.


NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Los Angeles Kings

© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This is a potential playoff preview, as Vancouver looks to hold on to the top seed in the Western Conference and the Kings battle not only for a wild card spot, but to get back into the top-three in the Pacific Division after a midseason slump. Luckily, that slump appears to be a thing of the past in Los Angeles.

The Kings are 9-4-0 over their 13 games and have earned some significant victories during that stretch. The team has won games by scores of 4-0, 5-1, 5-1 and 5-1. One of those 5-1 wins came over these Canucks just last Thursday in Vancouver. L.A.’s 72 points has them tied with Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but comfortably ahead of teams like Calgary and St. Louis. They’re also on the heels of Vegas and Edmonton in the Pacific Division. 

Meanwhile, the Canucks aren’t in a free fall, but they’re not playing their best hockey, either. Still hanging on to the top spot in the West with 85 points, but Winnipeg (83 points) and Dallas (83 points) aren’t far behind. Over their last eight games, the Canucks are just 2-5-1 and that includes a four-game losing streak at one point.

They lost perhaps the most bizarre game of the season, a 10-7 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, and also fell by at least two goals in all five regulation losses. They’re 2-4-1 over their last seven road games and are playing the middle contest of a three-game road swing in Los Angeles. They need to get things turned around, and hopefully fast. 

The Kings are 4-1-0 over their last five home games and have outscored opponents 17-4 in the four victories. Goalie Cam Talbot has won four of his last five outings and has given up exactly one goal in all four victories. If he’s in the net on Tuesday night for Los Angeles, it’s a major advantage riding one of the hottest goalies in hockey.

On offense, the Kings have three players with at least 50 points in Kevin Fiala, Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. Depth is the strength of this team, as eight guys have 13-plus goals and they can consistently roll out three lines that can beat you on any given night. Firing former head coach Todd McLellan in early February couldn’t have been fun for GM Rob Blake, but it seems to have worked. The Kings have their juice back. 

Norm LaChatlier’s Pick: Los Angeles ML (-103)

As mentioned, in the first meeting of the season last week, Los Angeles got the best of Vancouver by a score of 5-1. These two teams will play three times down the stretch, including on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. And right now, these are two teams going in different directions. It’s a long, long season, and the Kings are trending up while the Canucks are trending down. Quite simply, that will continue in this one, as Los Angeles keeps climbing and Vancouver keeps slipping. Look for the Kings to skate off winners by a score of 4-2.

And Keep an Eye On…

NCAAMB: (2) UConn at (8) Marquette (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

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Some conference tournaments start this week, as the Power 5 round out the regular season. There are a few ranked matchups that sports bettors will want to monitor as the week progresses, including No. 4 Tennessee taking on fellow SEC rival and No. 17 ranked South Carolina. Another prime-ranked matchup is No. 20 BYU squaring off against No. 6 Iowa State. Both games are scheduled for Wednesday, but the juiciest matchup of the week is No. 2 UConn taking on No. 8 Marquette. UConn, the defending national champion, is 16-2 in conference play, while Marquette is 13-5. This will be a good test for the Huskies on the road as they enter this matchup riding back-to-back wins following a loss to No. 15 Creighton on Feb. 20. This is a bounce-back spot for Marquette, which is fresh off a loss, and ironically, also to Creighton. Marquette bookended a three-game winning streak with the latest loss to Creighton and an earlier loss to UConn on Feb. 17. The rematch should be good and show how each team has adjusted since they last played under a month ago.


NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets (Thursday, 10:00 p.m. ET)

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

By far, the best game of the NBA slate this week is a battle between arguably the two best teams in the NBA as the Boston Celtics travel to Denver to take on the defending champion Nuggets. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA this season at 48-12 and are far and away the premier team in the Eastern Conference. On the flip side, the Denver Nuggets are rounding into championship form once again, having won six straight games out of the All-Star Break. The Nuggets are an impressive 24-5 at Ball Arena this season, and for as good as the Celtics have been, they are 19-9 away from TD Garden this season. Nikola Jokic and Jayson Tatum both have MVP aspirations, and the outcome of this game could strengthen the case for either player. The Celtics and Nuggets are the favorites to win the NBA Finals, so this game could be a preview of what’s to come this summer.


NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET)

Two top teams in the NHL will face each other this week as the Toronto Maple Leafs (35-17-8) travel to Boston to take on the Bruins (35-13-4). Both Boston and Toronto sit just behind the Florida Panthers in total points in the Atlantic, with 84 and 78, respectively. The two actually played each other on Monday night in Boston, with the Bruins taking down the Leafs by a score of 4-1. It will be interesting to see how these two fare against each other with just one day between their previous matchup. The NHL trade deadline is also set for Friday, Mar. 8, so this will be the final opportunities for each team to gauge the standing of their current rosters heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.