Friday Fever

March 15, 2024

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans

The Los Angeles Clippers have a team of stars. But when the average age of all three marquee names is 33 years old, injuries are bound to happen.

Kawhi Leonard exited Tuesday’s game early after injuring his back. It was a scary sight for fans, but it was short lived, as he played 33 minutes in Thursday’s win over the Bulls. Leonard scored 27 points in the game.

The Clippers will now travel to New Orleans for the second game of a back-to-back. Leonard seems as if he will be ready to play despite the back issue, but they could be without James Harden for the second game in a row.

Harden did not play in Thursday’s game due to a shoulder injury. He is listed as a game-time decision for Friday. The Clippers will also be without Russell Westbrook who broke his hand on March 1.

The Clippers are in a familiar spot this season. They are right on the cusp of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are currently the No. 4 seed in the Western conference, 3.5 games back of the first place Denver Nuggets, but 3.0 games up on the fifth-place New Orleans Pelicans.

That being the case, this game is an important one for both teams, as it could heavily swing the race for the fourth seed. If the Clippers win, they would increase their margin over the Pelicans for the spot. If New Orleans wins, the gap would become much smaller between the teams, making home-court advantage possible for the Pels, something they have not had since the 2007-08 season.

The Pelicans have an excellent balance of young core pieces along with veterans that has helped them maintain a top record all year. Zion Williamson, still just 23 years old, leads all New Orleans players in scoring with 22.3 points per game, while 26-year-old Brandon Ingram isn’t too far behind with 21.3 PPG. Veteran point guard C.J. McCollum adds another 18.3 PPG.

When they are all having a good night, they can be a forceful “big three” for opponents to face. They will have to perform well on Friday in order to beat the Clippers.

Jason Schlefsky’s Pick: New Orleans moneyline (-300)

The Pelicans are currently favored by 6.0 points. An important home game against a team coming off a back-to-back? That does sound like an excellent recipe for success. But don’t expect the Clippers to lay down easily. They still have their sights set on the No. 1 seed and can’t afford to lose winnable games. But the Pelicans have just as much if not more to play for. They are playing great basketball, having won four out of their last five, and they beat the Clippers by 11 the last time they played them. Expect the Pelicans to come out on top and inch closer in the standings.


© Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks

The Los Angeles Kings are currently in the playoff picture if it were to start today. With 77 points, they are tied with the Las Vegas Golden Knights for the seventh-best record in the West. With 17 games left to play, every single one matters, including ones against the 15-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks, despite having one of the worst records in the league and having no shot at the playoffs, are on a surprising hot streak. They have won their last two games and have scored seven goals in each. They are looking to extend on that streak after a two-day break. The Kings have had just a one-day break and are on the road for the second-straight game.

The Blackhawks landed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft and selected Connor Bedard. He has been an absolute superstar right out of the gate, and he will be an excellent piece to build around for the future. Bedard has 20 goals and 31 assists on the season and leads the Blackhawks in both of those categories.

The Kings have an extremely talented and balanced team consisting of three players with 20-plus goals and three players with 30-plus assists on the year. They have scored 196 goals on the year, which is 52 more than the Blackhawks 144. The Blackhawks have given up 234 goals on the year, which is 65 more than the Kings. That is the difference between a team in near last place and a team in good position for the playoffs.

Cam Talbots will be in goal for the Kings. Talbot is 19-16-6 with a 2.49 goals allowed average (GAA). Talbot’s GAA ranks 10th in the league. On the other side, Arvid Soderblom will be in net for Chicago. Soderblom has a 4-18-1 record with a 3.88 GAA.

Norm LaChatlier’s Pick: Chicago moneyline (+220)

It’s clear who the better team all season has been. The Kings are fighting for a playoff spot for a reason, but the Blackhawks recent success can’t be overlooked. They are currently playing better hockey than the Kings and are at home after a longer break. Despite being a heavy underdog, it may be worth the bet. Take the Chicago Blackhawks in a not so surprising upset.

And Keep an Eye On…


Making a Case at the Garden

According to Joe Lunardi, Providence is in the dreaded group of “First Four Out.” In other words, they’re on the cusp of making the NCAA Tournament, but they’re just going to barely miss out. A nice run in their respective conference tourneys could change things, however. Providence is making their way through the Big East. On Wednesday, they knocked off Georgetown. The Friars followed that up with an upset of No. 8 Creighton. Now, they face No. 10 Marquette in the semifinals. Another win could get them in, as it would likely set up a showdown with second-ranked UConn at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.


What Happens in Vegas…

Speaking of trying to play their way into the big dance, New Mexico needs a strong showing in the Mountain West Tournament to get an invite. So far, so good, as the Lobos are 2-0 in Las Vegas this week. First, they blew out Air Force, winning by 26 points on Wednesday. Then, they knocked off Boise State by 10. Now, things get tougher, however. New Mexico faces Colorado State, a likely tournament team in the semifinals. Both teams are 24-9, so the outcome could go a long way in determining the fate of both programs. If the Lobos win, they’ll face either Utah State or San Diego State in the conference title game; they probably need to win out to secure a bid.


Beware of Upsets

Teams on the bubble need to be watching the scoreboard. Games in other conferences could impact their invite to the dance. Upsets can radically alter the bracket, as teams not projected to make the tournament end up taking one of the coveted 68 spots. In the Conference USA tourney, UTEP (17-15) and Middle Tennessee State (15-18) are making runs. In the AAC, East Carolina (15-17) and Wichita State (15-18) are in the quarterfinals.  And in the MAC, Kent State (16-16) is into the semifinals. Bubble teams need to root for all of these Cinderellas to lose.