Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers is exactly what the NBA needed for the play-in tournament.
It's still a new format, one that still needs to be explained until we all get it (more on that in a moment). Most years it'll be for the mediocre bubble playoff teams, not a showcase for the two teams that have combined for six straight Western Conference titles with a trio of MVPs playing to get into the bracket.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors against the recovering Lakers, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, is a dream. It can be the type of marquee game to put the play-in tournament on the map. If the Lakers win out, and either Portland or Dallas loses out, the Lakers will be the No. 6 seed and avoid the play-in tournament. A controversial loss for the Blazers on Thursday night to the Suns helped Los Angeles. The Lakers could rise as high as No. 5. As we delve into Friday's betting card at BetMGM, there are still things to be sorted out.
Sunday's game between the Warriors and Grizzlies likely determines who will be the No. 8 seed. Because the winner of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 spot gets a spot in the 16-team bracket, nobody is trying to tank to avoid the Lakers. Both teams want the extra shot to get in the field. The No. 9 vs. 10 seeds will also play, and the winner of that game plays the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game to determine the final spot in the postseason field.
That makes Friday's headliner NBA game a weird one for bettors. The Warriors' play-in determination is likely going to come Sunday. The New Orleans Pelicans played without four starters — including Zion Williamson — on Wednesday, lost to Dallas and were eliminated. It's not like they'll be rushing to get anyone back to play out the string. The Warriors are a modest 2-point favorite, which tells you all you need to know about BetMGM not knowing how hard they'll be playing.
We're in the dog days of the NBA regular season. The play-in tournament is a fun wrinkle but it doesn't make all the games worthwhile. Even with the questions about motivation, the Warriors are the best play for Friday. And then we hope for Lakers-Warriors next week.
Who cashed tickets last night?
The worst beat of the night was probably for Bucks bettors, who had a 12-point lead as a 9.5-point favorite when Pacers guard Justin Holiday hit a 3 with 15 seconds left and then Indiana didn't foul. There were some bad games in the NBA and fading teams that have an eye on next week's playoffs like Philadelphia, Memphis and even the normally reliable Knicks was profitable as they all failed to cover Thursday night. Then again, the Clippers and Nuggets played well and got easy road covers. Bet the NBA if you must the rest of this week, but it's going to be a rough ride.
In baseball, the San Francisco Giants continued to be a great play. They're 23-14 after winning as a -145 favorite at the Pirates. The Colorado Rockies' total went over at Coors Field in a 13-8 win, as Reds pitcher Luis Castillo continues to be an easy fade this season. His struggles are hard to explain.
In hockey, the Colorado Avalanche beat the kings easily to take the Presidents' Trophy for best record in the NHL. The Avs are BetMGM's Stanley Cup favorites at +450.
What are we betting this afternoon?
There's one MLB matinee, and that'll happen in Chicago. The White Sox, who won five in a row before Thursday, host the Kansas City Royals at 3:10 p.m. ET. The Royals started well and lost 10 in a row before Thursday. It's hard to swallow the White Sox as such a big favorite, but do you really want the Royals right now? With Lucas Giolito on the mound, the White Sox are -200 favorites and probably the right side.
There's an English Premier League match between Newcastle and newly crowned champ Manchester City, and that's about it for your betting menu if you're trying to pass the time on a Friday afternoon. Newcastle has won a couple in a row, but they're huge underdogs as expected at BetMGM. They're +950 to win, and a draw is a hefty +475.
PGA moves on
The AT&T Byron Nelson Classic moves to Day 2, in a warmup for next week's PGA Championship.
Jordan Spieth is the big favorite to win at +300. He is tied for the lead at 9-under par. A name that could be worth a shot is Scottie Scheffler, who is +1800 as the second round starts.
There's football to bet on
The spring FCS football season ends on Sunday as Sam Houston State plays South Dakota State for the title. SDSU (8-1) is favored by five over 9-0 Sam Houston State. Both teams beat three-time defending FCS champs North Dakota State this season and have potent offenses. With an over/under at 47 and both teams combining to score 71 points in their semifinal games, the over may not be a bad play on Sunday. Do you really want to bet the under in the last meaningful football game until late August?
Other chances to bet
There aren't many marquee MLB series starting this weekend, but the St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres has some appeal. The Padres are shorthanded due to COVID-19 issues and injuries, so it might not be the worst spot to take the Cardinals a couple times this weekend at Petco Park. The Cardinals are +150 in Friday's opener.
In the NBA, good luck figuring out who still cares. The Memphis Grizzlies, still eyeing the No. 8 seed, might be one team that will be playing hard (though their Sunday game against the Warriors is the big one). The Grizzlies could be a decent play against a Sacramento Kings team playing out the string.
Spot to watch: Suns vs. Spurs
San Antonio hosts Phoenix for back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday. The Suns could very well have some motivation because they are one game behind Utah for the No. 1 spot in the West.
The Jazz have Oklahoma City on Friday as 14.5-point favorites and Sacramento on Sunday, so they should be safe to clinch. But if they stumble against the Thunder — weirder things have happened and the Jazz are still without their starting backcourt — the Suns will have a shot at the top spot.
The Spurs, locked into the 10th spot and the play-in in the West, are 1-2 this week with the two Suns games remaining. If you’re counting at home, that’s five games in seven nights, including a pair of back-to-backs. Which team will have any sense of motivation remaining?
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