Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Why the under is the best play for Bucks vs. Celtics, plus other top picks for the weekend

Here’s the deal. As I told you yesterday, I’m on vacation after today. The bags are already packed and ready to be loaded into the car. However, since I’m leaving you all for a week, I’m filled with guilt about it. So I wanted to make sure that I left you with a Friday edition of the newsletter packed with picks to get you through the entire weekend.

And I’ve done that. I’ve got two NBA picks for you tonight and a baseball play. I’ve also got a bunch of soccer to get you through Saturday and Sunday.

I also told you yesterday that I’m desperate to start my vacation, and that’s true as well. So I don’t have much more to add to this lede! I just want to get to the picks and get the hell out of town as quickly as possible. So I’m going to do that, and in the meantime, you read these stories.

Alright, the car is loaded and I’m ready to roll. You kids be good while I’m gone. Be respectful to the babysitters, and please don’t burn the place down. I’ll be back before you know it.

All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook


The Hot Ticket

Celtics at Bucks, 7:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN

Latest Odds: Under 212.5

Powered by Caesars Sportsbook

  • Key Trend: The under is 6-1 in Milwaukee’s last seven games as a favorite.
  • The Pick: Under 212 (-110)

Do you think Marcus Smart has slept since Wednesday night? While you can’t pin the blame for Boston’s collapse down the stretch of Game 5 solely at his feet, he played a huge role in the closing minutes. The Celtics now face a must-win on the road against the defending champions, who happen to have the single-most unstoppable force in the sport in Giannis Antetokounmpo. I wish Boston luck for two reasons.

One is that you might remember before the NBA season began, this newsletter told you to take out a future on the Celtics to win the NBA title at 50-to-1. We don’t want to see that die, but I also told you to take the Bucks at 8-to-1 in the same newsletter, so one of them will die in this series. The other is that I’d enjoy a Game 7 between these two. I don’t know that we’ll get it, and I suspect the Bucks will finish the series tonight, but I’m not confident to bet it. The under strikes me as the better play.

Unders are typically smart bets when you get late in an NBA playoff series. Teams turn the intensity up a notch. Sometimes that results in transcendent offensive performances we remember for a lifetime. Most of the time, it leads to some ugly basketball (from an entertainment value, Game 5 is almost always more enjoyable than Game 7 because of this). While the last two games of this series have pushed over the total, it’s the first two times any Milwaukee game has gone over in the playoffs. Considering Milwaukee’s defensive rating has been nearly five points better at home (102.2 to 107.0) during the playoffs, that mini-run of overs should end tonight regardless of whether the series does too.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model and I are at war tonight. It has a strong lean on the Over.


The Picks

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USATSI

NBA

Grizzlies at Warriors, 10 p.m. | TV: ESPN

Latest Odds: Memphis Grizzlies +8

Powered by Caesars Sportsbook

The Pick: Grizzlies +8 (-110) — This has been a wild and unpredictable series. It’s more likely that the Warriors will move on, but I don’t care how things go — it’s been an impressive performance by the Grizzlies. It would have been easy to lay down and accept their fate after losing Ja Morant, but that’s not what they did. They chose to lay a whooping on the Warriors instead, beating them by 39 points Wednesday night. That’s probably the high-water mark for Memphis, but I’m not jumping off the Grizz yet.

While Golden State leads the series 3-2 and could finish it off at home tonight, Memphis has covered four of the five games. The only time it failed to cover was in Game 3, when Golden State won by 30. Aside from the two blowouts, the average margin of victory for either team in the other three games has been three points. I’m expecting something similar tonight. While it’ll be hard for Memphis to match the offensive efficiency it had the other night without Morant, the defense should continue making life difficult for the Warriors, allowing Memphis to stay within range.

Key Trend: Memphis has covered in four of the five games in this series.

MLB

Blue Jays at Rays, 7:10 p.m. | TV: MLB.TV

Latest Odds: Tampa Bay Rays +110

Powered by Caesars Sportsbook

The Pick: Rays (+110) — Here’s a fun stat I’ve shared here before, but we haven’t had a chance to use it this season until tonight. Since the 2017 season, Tampa Bay has been a home dog against a divisional opponent 60 times. It has gone 35-25 in those games. If you’d have bet $100 on the Rays each time, you’d have won roughly $1,700. Good luck finding an NFT, cryptocurrency or 401K with that return on investment.

Tonight we’re presented with another great chance to be a wise investor. While expectations for Toronto were high coming into the season, the Blue Jays are currently 17-15 and in third place in the AL East. The Rays are in second, two games ahead of them, yet they’re underdogs tonight based largely on the pitching matchup and general perception. While Jays’ starter Kevin Gausman has been as good as advertised, he’s backed by a Toronto bullpen that’s been bad and allowed more hard contact than any other pen in baseball outside Cincinnati. Also, while Toronto has shown more home run power than the Rays, Tampa still ranks ahead of the Jays’ offense in key stats like wRC+ and run rate. The Rays are very capable of winning this game. So capable that they should be favored.

Key Trend: Tampa is 35-25 as a home underdog to AL East opponents since 2017.

Soccer

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Getty Images

Chelsea vs. Liverpool, Saturday, 11:45 a.m. | TV: ESPN+

The Pick: Liverpool (+105) — 
It’s not easy trying to figure out Chelsea these days. It’s a team that’s expressed a level of indifference at times so intense that even a moody teenager might try and cheer them up. It’s all understandable, too, as Chelsea had been dealing with so much off the field and many questions about their future as a club and individuals. Now, even with a new owner in place, there are still plenty of questions left to be answered, but can this team rally around winning an FA Cup, or do too many people already have an eye toward the summer?

I don’t have the same questions with Liverpool. Its mission is clear. It wants to win the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup, and I don’t think Jurgen Klopp is willing to sacrifice any for the other at this point, but if he were, the Premier League is the goal likely on the chopping block. An FA Cup is right within its grasp, and while I worry about tired legs, Klopp has done an excellent job rotating players in recent weeks to keep them fresh. With Chelsea’s problems on the back end, the Reds get this one done in regulation more often than not.

Key Trend: Liverpool hasn’t lost any of its last 15 matches.

Leeds United vs. Brighton, Sunday, 9 a.m. | TV: Peacock

The Pick: Brighton (+160) — 
One of the more entertaining aspects of following a relegation battle — when a team you support isn’t involved, anyway — is that it’s no different from a title race in a lot of ways. There are always teams with the mental strength to compete, and there’s usually one that cracks under the pressure. While they haven’t been perfect, Everton and Burnley fall more in the former category. Leeds United, however, is very much in the latter. This is a club falling apart at the seams. According to 538’s projections, Leeds had an 18% chance of being relegated at the end of April and were a few points away from safety.

Leeds has lost three straight since then. It’s been outscored 9-1 in the process, and now 538 says there’s a 64% chance Leeds is going down. Considering that it will be without Luke Ayling and Daniel James against Brighton Sunday (both are suspended for dumb red cards, part of that whole “cracking under pressure” thing), the odds will likely increase this weekend. While Brighton can’t reach a European spot, finishing in eighth place would be a major achievement for the club. They enter the weekend off two wins over Wolverhampton and Manchester United, outscoring them 7-0. In other words, this is a team on fire against a team that can’t put out any fires.

Key Trend: Leeds has lost three straight and been outscored 9-1 in the process.

AC Milan vs. Atalanta, Sunday, 12 p.m. | TV: CBS Sports Network

The Pick: AC Milan (-126) — 
While the obvious storyline around this match is AC Milan trying to hold on to first place in Serie A, Atalanta has plenty to play for itself. Entering the season’s penultimate weekend, Atalanta is outside the European spots in Italy. Like Roma and Fiorentina, it has 59 points, but it’s 0-2 against both of them in league play, which is the tie-breaker in Italy (if the league used goal differential like other leagues, Atalanta would be ahead of both). So it needs a win here just as badly as Milan does.

But it’s not likely to get it. Atalanta finds itself in this position because it has been a mess defensively for the last month. It has allowed 17 goals in its last nine matches across all competitions and hasn’t kept a clean sheet. It’s a run you could see coming based on expected goals (xG) because even in three successive clean sheets before the run, Atalanta had allowed an average of 1.3 xG per match. That makes this an awful time for Atalanta to run into a Milan team firing on all cylinders. This weekend, the Rossoneri move one step closer to their first scudetto since 2011 this weekend.

Key Trend: Atalanta has allowed 17 goals in its last nine matches.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: Feeling a little frisky? SportsLine has a four-leg parlay for tonight’s NBA action that will pay over 12-to-1.


Weekend Soccer Parlay

We’ve got plenty of action for Friday night, so let’s go with a parlay to take us through the entire weekend. It pays +119.

  • RB Leipzig (-400)
  • Roma (-450)
  • Wolverhampton (-230)

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