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LeBron, Vegas back in action

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

LeBron at the buzzer! Cleveland survives another war with Indiana to take a 3-2 series lead. Key stats from all the NBA and NHL drama…plus Thursday previews including the second-round debut of the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas is ready…and so is VSiN City!

NBA Playoffs: LeBron James blocks a shot with three seconds left, hits trey at buzzer to lead Cleveland past Indiana
This series has been throwback basketball, to a time when players glared at each other while walking the ball up. Also in the sense that the best player on the floor says “give me the damn ball” when it’s time to win the game. LeBron James’ trey at the buzzer erased what had been a dismal fourth quarter. Cleveland trailed in the final stanza 22-14…at home…until the dagger. 

Cleveland (-6.5) 98, Indiana 95
2-point Pct: Indiana 55%, Cleveland 49%
3-pointers: Indiana 6/20, Cleveland 10/32
Free Throws: Indiana 21/27, Cleveland 26/27
Rebounds: Indiana 34, Cleveland 37
Turnovers: Indiana 14, Cleveland 14
Pace: 88.9 (for the series, 92.3, 91.8, 91.1, 91.5, 88.9)

First, the market story. The market is being VERY stubborn about accepting this as a super-slow low scoring series where Indiana can be compete. You see the slow pace counts. This was the fifth straight Under, with margins staying below expectations by 34, 16, 26, 2, and 13 points. Regarding team sides…Cleveland has been very overrated all season, while Indiana has been an ATM machine in recent weeks. Indiana is now 4-1 against the spread even with the series deficit. Indiana still leads scoreboard by 10 points too thanks to an 18-point win in the opener. 

Why is Cleveland up 3-2 in the series? Cleveland is “probably” going to win three-pointers, and “probably” going to win made free throws every time it faces Indiana.

Game 2: Cleveland won treys 11-6 and free throws 15-9
Game 3: Cleveland won treys 10-8 but lost free throws (and the game)
Game 4: Cleveland tied treys 12-12, and won free throws 22-8
Game 5: Cleveland won treys 10-6 and won free throws 26-21

LeBron attacks the basket…either scoring, getting fouled, or kicking the ball out to a shooter. Pesky Indiana can at least hang tough with that because LeBron doesn’t have a lot of consistently reliable help. The Pacers haven’t figured out how to trump LeBron’s ability to be a late-game tie breaker.  

Game Six will be Friday at Indiana. 

NBA Wednesday: Toronto, Houston, and Oklahoma City make it a 4-0 sweep for hosts (if you went to bed too early, you read that RIGHT!)
The rest of Wednesday’s quartet…

Toronto (-7) 108, Washington 99
2-point Pct: Washington 50%, Toronto 57%
3-pointers: Washington 5/26, Toronto 11/25
Free Throws: Washington 19/22, Toronto 21/28
Rebounds: Washington 50, Toronto 35
Turnovers: Washington 15, Toronto 10
Pace: 97.4 (for the series, 98.1, 102.8, 98.2, 98.9, 97.4)

Toronto continued to torment its fans most of the evening. The game was tied entering the fourth quarter. Toronto closed strong with a 29-20 salvo that determined the final victory margin. It would have been more rousing if it wasn’t keyed by poor shot selection and lousy shooting from the panicking visitor! 

You can see that Toronto won made three-pointers 11-5. That’s plus 18 points in a game the Raptors only won by nine. So, they were outplayed in the other areas. That rebounding loss is particularly ugly. As you map out the rest of the Eastern brackets, its still hard to see “playoff” Toronto having many meaningful advantages over its likely opponents. 

Through five games…
Toronto has committed a lot more turnovers than Washington
Toronto has been out-rebounded by Washington
Toronto is only averaging one more made FT per game than Washington
Toronto has allowed Washington to shoot 50% or better on two’s in four of five games

The Raptors were -700 to win this series when it began. Not playing at that level beyond the 59-40 edge in made treys even with 60% of the action on their home court. They aren’t projected to have much of an edge in treys vs. either Cleveland or Philadelphia. 

Game Six will be Friday in Washington.

Houston (-12) 122, Minnesota 104
2-point Pct: Minnesota 52%, Houston 61%
3-pointers: Minnesota 9/19, Houston 18/44
Free Throws: Minnesota 15/20, Houston 14/19
Rebounds: Minnesota 38, Houston 40
Turnovers: Minnesota 8, Houston 4
Pace: 91 (for the series, 93.3, 97.2, 94.5, 98.8, 91)

Once again, Houston goofed around for a half then turned on the igniters. Truly amazing to score 122 points on only 91 possessions in a playoff game (while turning the ball over just 4 times!). This offense really sings when things are clicking, particularly against defenses who have given up hope of guarding them.

Houston will face the winner of Utah/OKC…a series that looked like it was over…but then wasn’t… 

Oklahoma City (-2.5) 107, Utah 99
2-point Pct: Utah 47%, Oklahoma City 44%
3-pointers: Utah 13/38, Oklahoma City 9/21
Free Throws: Utah 20/26, Oklahoma City 20/24
Rebounds: Utah 46, Oklahoma City 44
Turnovers: Utah 16, Oklahoma City 8
Pace: 98.2 (for the series, 100.2, 98.3, 96.4, 101.6, 98.2)

Oklahoma City appeared so far in the tank…down 71-46 with 8:34 to go in the third quarter…that Shaq and Charles had already “bon voyaged” them, and much of American turned off the game. It was tied at the end of the third quarter after a 32-7 Thunderstorm (that included a 22-3 gust). OKC would go right on raining on Utah’s parade to get the win and cover.

The game ended too late for us to do a deep dive. Suffice to say, Russell Westbrook by himself is a force of nature that can never be counted out. And, that Carmelo Anthony is most dangerous to Utah sitting on the bench…not getting in the way of OKC players fighting to win. 

NBA Thursday Preview: Only game in town is in Milwaukee, as Bucks must win at home to avoid elimination
After a grand slam of action Wednesday, only one game on the Thursday ticket. The other series slated for that night have already ended. Home teams have swept straight up so far in Boston/Milwaukee. Only one cover so far this series from the Bucks, who dominated a Game Three home blowout to get the money by 19.5 points. 

Boston at Milwaukee (8:05 p.m. ET. on TNT, Boston leads series 3-2)
Game 1: Boston (-3.5/199) 113, Milwaukee 107 (in OT)
Game 2: Boston (plus 1/199) 120, Milwaukee 106
Game 3: Milwaukee (-4.5/205.5) 116, Boston 92
Game 4: Milwaukee (-6/203) 104, Boston 102
Game 5: Boston (-2.5/204) 92, Milwaukee 87
Game 6: Milwaukee -4.5, total of 199.5

As we mentioned in the Game Five recap the other day, Milwaukee just played its worst offensive game of the series, so is in extreme bounce-back mode. This unit loves to attack the basket, nailing 63% and 56% on two-pointers in its prior two home games. That means a jump back to norms from 43% is likely. Important because the Bucks haven’t won rebounding a single time. Many missed shots are virtual turnovers against Boston. 

Can Boston wrap it up? Right now, Boston isn’t playing like a team that can do things on command. The Celtics can exploit another team’s errors. They’ll rebound a miss…but the other team has to miss first. In terms of the eye test and in-game execution, this often feels like two #8 seeds playing each other rather than a #2 vs. #7 matchup. Fade the team you think will play worse. 

The Over/Under has “corrected” down to 199.5 after that 179 in Game Four. Remember, that wasn’t a slow-down game, registering higher in pace factor than the prior three outings. This might create a “team total” option on Milwaukee. Can the Bucks score 102? In regulation, it’s been 99, 106, 116, 104, 87. If you’re confident Milwaukee is going to return to having success inside on its home floor against a team that might pack it in for Game Seven if things go south early…something to think about anyway. 

NHL Playoffs: Boston Bruins win Game Seven versus Toronto Maple Leafs with third period barrage
Toronto led 4-3 entering the third period of the first Game Seven of the 2018 playoff season. Boston scored FOUR goals in the final 20 minutes to advance to a second-round showdown against Eastern favorite Tampa Bay. 

Boston (-165) 7, Toronto 4 
Shots: Toronto 24, Boston 36
Power Plays: Toronto 1/2, Boston 1/3

Surprisingly high scoring affair considering the history of seventh games. Boston led 3-2 after the first period. Toronto moved it to 4-3 by making two of its only six shots in the second stanza. Boston scored at 1:10, 5:25, 11:39, and 19:09 of the third period in a way that captures its dominance when it was time to win. Three goals well-spaced then an empty-netter to ice it. 

Tough to say the right team didn’t advance. Both entered the playoffs as serious threats. Boston would win shot count 245-197, keyed by a dominant final period in the series grand finale. Boston/Tampa Bay begins Saturday. A pair of series begin TONIGHT…

NHL Series Previews: Penguins/Caps, Sharks/Golden Knights are back on the ice Thursday
The second round is finally here! It took forever for the schedules to come out. But, Washington and Vegas will have no trouble packing their houses on short notice with rabid fans Thursday night. 

Let’s review key regular season stats for all four teams on the Thursday slate. The lack of upsets in the first round has created one of the most electric second rounds in recent history. 

Pittsburgh at Washington (7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports)
Goal Differential: Pittsburgh plus 22, Washington plus 20
5x5 Goal Differential: Pittsburgh minus 13, Washington plus 16
Goal-per-Game Ranking: Pittsburgh #3, Washington #9
Goals-Allowed-per-Game: Pittsburgh #20, Washington #16
Series Price: Pittsburgh -115, Washington -105
Game 1 Price: Washington -125, total of 6 (Under -115)

Washington has home ice thanks to a 105-100 edge in points during the regular season. The market sees Pittsburgh as the superior team, though you can’t really make that case based on the category data. Pittsburgh’s offense is obviously terrific. But, defense is going to be a concern, particularly in 5x5 scenarios. You can compete with (and beat) Pittsburgh if you can keep the Penguins out of the power play. 

Some of you may be wondering how Washington could be -125 at home in Game 1…in a series that would give them four home games if it went the distance…yet be the series underdog in a best-of-seven. How could a team that’s “supposed” to win four home games and lose three road games be the series dog?

It’s actually in line with the math. Seriously! Too many bettors use “supposed” to win on games that are very close to being coin flips. As we discussed last season, you can’t just assume a short home favorite is going to win ALL of its games. Washington at -125 means -115 with no vigorish. The equivalent win percentage for that is only 53%. Pittsburgh will probably be more like -140 at home (-130 no vig) given the market’s proven respect in the futures prices. That’s 57%.

Here’s an easy way to show what’s happening…

Game 1: Pittsburgh 47%, Washington 53%
Game 2: Pittsburgh 47%, Washington 53%
Game 3: Pittsburgh 57%, Washington 43%
Game 4: Pittsburgh 57%, Washington 43%
Game 5: Pittsburgh 47%, Washington 53%
Game 6: Pittsburgh 57%, Washington 43%
Game 7: Pittsburgh 47%, Washington 53%

Now let’s use a decimal so you can see how those represent partial victories…

Game 1: Pittsburgh .47 wins, Washington .53 wins
Game 2: Pittsburgh .47 wins, Washington .53 wins
Game 3: Pittsburgh .57 wins, Washington .43 wins
Game 4: Pittsburgh .57 wins, Washington .43 wins
Game 5: Pittsburgh .47 wins, Washington .53 wins
Game 6: Pittsburgh .57 wins, Washington .43 wins
Game 7: Pittsburgh .47 wins, Washington .53 wins

Sum Total: Pittsburgh 3.59 wins, Washington 3.41 wins

Washington does have the slight edge in four separate games. But, over seven battles, Pittsburgh should win about 3.6 games, Washington 3.4 games. That’s why Pittsburgh’s a slight series favorite. Maybe Pittsburgh will be even higher once we get there, and .58, .59, or .60 is the better estimate on home ice.

San Jose at Vegas Golden Knights (10:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports)
Goal Differential: San Jose plus 23, VKG plus 44
5x5 Goal Differential: San Jose minus 8, VKG plus 18
Goal-per-Game Ranking: San Jose #13, VKG #5
Goals-Allowed-per-Game: San Jose #9, VKG #8
Series Price: Vegas -135, San Jose plus 115
Game 1 Price: Vegas -140, total of 5 (Under -125)

Vegas sweeps the indicator categories, but not by so much that players or fans should feel comfortable. VGK won regular season point totals 109-100. Both teams were very impressive in first round sweeps. San Jose pulling that off as a pre-series underdog was a surprise. 

Let’s do that decimal dance with this series. As we prepare this report, VKG is -140 in Game 1, which means -130 on a no-vig line…same as where Pittsburgh will likely be at home. Let’s assume San Jose will be around -125 at home, which is -115 on a no-vig line. 

Game 1: San Jose .43 wins, Vegas .57 wins
Game 2: San Jose .43 wins, Vegas .57 wins
Game 3: San Jose .55 wins, Vegas .45 wins
Game 4: San Jose .55 wins, Vegas .45 wins
Game 5: San Jose .43 wins, Vegas .57 wins
Game 6: San Jose .55 wins, Vegas .45 wins
Game 7: San Jose .43 wins, Vegas .57 wins

Sum Total: Vegas Golden Knights 3.63 wins, San Jose 3.37 wins

Some very competitive hockey is likely awaiting fans and bettors.

MLB Wednesday: A quick recap of the five head-to-head matchups featuring winning teams 
Last night we went deeper into the game stats. Tonight, only room for the scores in those five series matching winning teams playing each other. Results in Nevada Rotation order…

Wednesday Winners (new records in parenthesis)
Philadelphia (pick-em) beat Arizona 5-3 (Philadelphia 15-8, Arizona 16-7)
St. Louis (-140) beat the NY Mets 9-1 (St. Louis 14-9, NY Mets 15-7)
Houston (-205) beat the LA Angels 5-2 (Houston 17-9, LAA 16-9)
Boston (-150) won at Toronto 4-3 (Boston 18-5, Toronto 14-9)
Cleveland (-140) beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 (Cleveland 13-9, Chicago 11-10) 

Nice bounce back in a home tester for the Phils. Same for the Cards. Houston retakes first place in the AL West. Boston back on track with the best record in the big leagues. The Cubs first visit at two games over .500 is only temporary.

Oh, the LA Dodgers (-380) with Clayton Kershaw lost Wednesday night 8-6 to Miami. Did you catch this clip from “A Numbers Game” earlier in the day with Gill Alexander and Josh Towers? 

Back tomorrow to finish out the week. Thanks for visiting VSiN City!

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