Brent's parlay: Justify and James

By Brent Musburger  (VSiN managing editor) 

© USA Today Sports Images

A horse named Justify and a basketball player nicknamed King James headline a terrific betting Saturday.

At the Preakness – the second jewel of the Triple Crown – Justify seems a worthy favorite coming off his impressive win in the Kentucky Derby. Another sloppy track looms large, but Justify already conquered that obstacle at Churchill Downs.

Hall of Fame connections don’t hurt either. Trainer Bob Baffert is 4-for-4 with his Derby winners coming back in the Preakness, including American Pharoah three years ago, also in the slop. Jockey Mike Smith won the Preakness 25 years ago on Prairie Bayou, and he has hit the board six other times. Let’s not overlook the fact that Smith did a terrific job keeping Justify clear of the 20-horse cavalry charge at the Derby.

Using history as our guide, $100 across the board on American Pharoah returned $500 in 2015. But that was also when 28-1 long shot Tale Of Verve finished second, returning $19 to place and making a winning $2 exacta bet worth $124.40.

While an across-the-board bet doesn’t seem worth the risk, a $5 exacta bet with Justify over “all” costs you $35, and “all” over Justify costs another $35. Forget show bets on the Preakness; this is not like the Kentucky Derby. As long as a short-priced Good Magic doesn’t slip in, there is value to be had including Justify on an exacta ticket.

Now look to the NBA, to James and to a must-win Game 3 in Cleveland with Boston leading the NBA Eastern Finals 2-0. Yes, I know you’re not out of an NBA series until they count to four, but considering no team in conference-finals history has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, this is a game that the Cavaliers must win.

I bet the Celtics to win this series at 245 before it began. But I’m backing the Cavaliers –6½ in this game for two reasons.

One, the Celtics have not played nearly as well on the road as they have at home. Away from Boston they are only 1-4 straight up and 2-3 ATS in the playoffs. Remember that Boston lost all three road games at Milwaukee in the first round, and they scored less than 92 points in two of those games. Their lone victory away from home came at Philadelphia in Game 3 of the conference semifinals, and they had to go to overtime to accomplish that. Don’t forget that they scored only 89 points in regulation in that game.

Two, LeBron Desperation = Victory Lane. His string of seven consecutive NBA Finals may be coming to an end, but I don’t see the Cavs being swept away. His teammates have to step up, but role players usually shoot better at home than on the road.

So Justify on top of an exacta in the slop, and LeBron at home look like a winning formula Saturday. Now if only I can find a way to parlay them.

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