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Match Play: Preakness set, NBA Finals look that way, too

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

exercise rider Nick Bush
Always Dreaming, with exercise rider Nick Bush up, is the favorite for the Preakness but a challenger looms.
© Jon Kral / Maryland Jockey Club

Today's newsletter focuses on the exciting match race potential in Saturday’s Preakness and another one brewing between the powerful Cavaliers and Warriors in the NBA Championship Chase.

Preakness: Draw accentuates potential for “match race” between Always Dreaming and Classic Empire
If you were trying to create additional drama for a big race, whether it’s between horses vying for glory in a Triple Crown event, or humans in a 100-yard or 200-yard dash, you’d stick the top two threats right smack dab in middle “lanes” side-by-side. The luck of the draw Wednesday for this Saturday’s Preakness has created that scenario for the two big favorites Always Dreaming and Classic Empire.

Preakness Positions (Westgate odds in parenthesis)

  • #1 Multiplier (20 to 1)
  • #2 Closed Computing (20 to 1)
  • #3 Hence (15 to 1)
  • #4 ALWAYS DREAMING (4 to 5)
  • #5 CLASSIC EMPIRE (3 to 1)
  • #6 Gunnevera (8 to 1)
  • #7 Term of Art (40 to 1)
  • #8 Lookin at Lee (10 to 1)
  • #9 Conquest Mo Money (15 to 1)

Could it have lined up any better for race fans? Three longshots close to the rail…then the three most favored betting choices getting middle assignments…with three more longshots outside to round out the symmetry. 

It’s not quite fair to call this a two-horse race given the fickleness of track luck. But the stage is as set as it could be to create that scenario for Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and the dangerous Classic Empire. Track conditions and weather should be ideal. The field is small and manageable. The cream seems destined to rise, because there’s nothing to get in the way. 

Plenty of great Preakness coverage here at VSiN on Wednesday… 

Go here to watch Gill Alexander’s lengthy in-depth race discussion before and after the live draw with multiple special guests on “A Numbers Game.” 

Go here to watch Ron Flatter’s insightful interview with Maggie Wolfendale of NYRA from “My Guys in the Desert.”

Go here to read Ron’s detailed article on the draw and its ramifications for Saturday’s second jewel.

Additional Reading for horse racing handicappers and fans:
The New York Times provides an informative breakdown of the race
Forbes takes you horse-by-horse through the field
ESPN continues to update its Preakness notebook all week

Andy Serling of NYRA returns to “My Guys in the Desert” Thursday to talk to Brent Musburger and Ron Flatter.

NBA: Cavaliers coast after jumping to 61-39 halftime lead
The final score doesn’t really tell the story of how Game 1 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals. It looked like “men vs. boys” until the Cleveland Cavaliers turned their “defensive intensity” switch back off by giving a lot of minutes to their bench. We’ll tweak how we usually present key stats as a result. 

Cleveland (-4) 117, Boston 104

  • Halftime: Cleveland 61, Boston 39
  • Halftime Rebounding: Cleveland 28, Boston 14
  • Second Half Score: Cleveland 56, Boston 65
  • Second Half Rebounding: Cleveland 16, Boston 26
  • Cleveland’s starters: 28 of 41 on two-point shots for 68%
  • Cleveland’s bench: 4 of 21 shooting
  • Free Throws by Starting Unit: Cleveland 26 of 33, Boston 7 of 11
  • Turnovers: Cleveland 8, Boston 14

Cleveland’s offense scored 117 points in a game with a pace of only 92, continuing its fantastic postseason efficiency, even though the bench shot just 4 of 21! (For more reading on the Cavs’ elite offense, check out this article posted Wednesday at the 538 website). Cleveland owned the boards when it mattered, and played virtually mistake-free ball on the road after a long layoff. They marched to the free throw line while rarely sending Boston there. 

It was a slaughter when the slaughterers were charging the basket and playing intense defense. Boston has until Friday night to find some slingshots. Very hard to imagine the Celtics finding four games worth of slingshots.

NHL: Otta-what-the-heck?!
The tea kettle was due to boil over with goals in what had been a surprisingly low scoring Eastern Conference finals. But that was supposed to be for Pittsburgh, not big series underdog Ottawa!

Ottawa ( 120) 5, Pittsburgh 1

  • Shots: Pittsburgh 26, Ottawa 29

The Senators scored FOUR goals in the first period! The two teams had combined for four goals in the first 120 minutes of the series in Pittsburgh. This is now the third straight one-spot for the Penguins after they had scored two goals or more in all of their preceding playoff games against Columbus and Washington.

Pittsburgh fans have to be particularly disturbed by that shot count. Granting that the Penguins are less prone to show off their quality in that stat than other teams, we’re talking about a squad that trailed 4-0 early and still got outshot 17-16 over the last two periods. This flat performance was reminiscent of the 4-2 and 5-2 losses to Washington last round in terms of energy and drive.

The Penguins are still just a service break away from scooting off thin ice. Dropping four of their last six outings has made their early postseason excellence seem like a distant memory. 

Thursday’s moneyline (Nashville leads series 2-1)

  • Anaheim at Nashville (-160, total of 5--Over -130); 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

We can now update that chart showing why the Predators were favored to win this series even though Anaheim would have four home games if it went the distance. Note that Nashville’s moneyline (and market-projected win expectation) rose for Game 4 because of their flow-of-play dominance. Smart money liked Nashville at the opener even though Anaheim is in a clear bounce-back spot. 

Win Expectations by Game

  • Nashville 0.49 wins, Anaheim 0.51 wins
  • Nashville 0.45 wins, Anaheim 0.55 wins
  • Nashville 0.57 wins, Anaheim 0.43 wins
  • Nashville 0.60 wins, Anaheim 0.40 wins 
  • Nashville 0.48 wins, Anaheim 0.52 wins (projected line)
  • Nashville 0.60 wins, Anaheim 0.40 wins (projected line)
  • Nashville 0.48 wins, Anaheim 0.52 wins (projected line)

Total: Nashville 3.67 wins, Anaheim 3.33 wins

Like Pittsburgh, Anaheim is still just one service break away from having more control over its destiny. 

MLB: AL squeezes out more Interleague profit
We had a washout in Minnesota where severe storms caused the postponement of Rockies/Twins (they’ll make it up as a split doubleheader Thursday). The American League went 3-1 in the other four IL games on the Wednesday card.

AL Wednesday Winners

  • Houston (-170) beat Miami 3-0 (sweeping the series by a 22-4 count)
  • Texas (-130) beat Philadelphia 9-3 (up 14-4 so far)
  • Boston (pick-em) beat St. Louis 5-4 in 13 innings (2-game road sweep)

NL Wednesday Winner

  • Atlanta (pick-em) beat Toronto 8-4 (third straight in this home-and-home set)

Interleague records (through Wednesday) 

  • American League 41, National League 25
  • Adjusted for money lines: American League plus 13.6 units
  • American League at home: 21-10 (plus 9.1 units)
  • American League on the road: 20-15 (plus 4.5 units)

More MLB Notes:

  • Matt Harvey continues to struggle for the New York Mets. He allowed three runs in the first three innings Wednesday, including his eleventh gopher ball in just eight starts. New York has lost his last six outings. Harvey has an ERA of 5.56, a WHIP of 1.48, and an abysmal strikeout/walk ratio of 31/22. He’s missing the strike zone, then not missing bats when he’s in the strike zone. Horrible combination.
  • Last year’s World Series teams Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs are both 20-19 through 39 games. They got there with a Cubs win and a Cleveland loss Wednesday. Kyle Schwarber of Chicago “lifted” his batting average to .188 with a 1-for-5 performance. Though the wind was blowing out again for the second straight Wrigley Over, only one home run was hit in their 7-5 win vs. the Reds. Cleveland pitcher Josh Tomlin allowed six earned runs in just 2.1 innings for his third disastrous start of the season in a loss to Tampa Bay. He’s had four quality starts including two gems…but Tomlin’s ERA stands at 6.86 through this inconsistent campaign.
  • The New York Yankees have scored 11, 7, 7, and 11 runs in their last four games after beating Kansas City Wednesday night. Wear a Yankees cap the next time you’re at the dice table! New York is averaging close to six runs per game on offense this season, which has them up almost 10 betting units for investors. 
  • Houston remains the best money team in MLB thus far in 2017, up a bit more than 13 betting units. Colorado trails by about half a unit, and will have a chance to catch the idle Astros Thursday in that doubleheader at Minnesota. 

VSiN: Programming Alerts
Be there, or be square!

  • Daniel Negreanu returns to “Follow the Money” with Mitch and Pauly Thursday. Plenty to talk about with the Hall of Famer as the World Series of Poker opens its doors at the Rio Tuesday May 30. You can bet they’ll talk about the big change for this year’s Main Event. The “November Nine” is now “November, Nein!” (as in NO!), as the final table will be held just three days after its set rather than almost four months
  • Linda Cohn of ESPN will also join Mitch and Pauly Thurday, as will Boston Celtics’ radio voice Sean Grande. 
  • Matt Youmans fills in for Gill Alexander on “A Numbers Game” Thursday. Those of you who love baseball handicapping will enjoy watching Matt and Michael Lambourne break down the card from their different perspectives. 
  • Then don’t forget to close out the day with Brent Musburger, Ron Flatter, and special guest Andy Serling from NYRA.

Thanks for visiting VSiN City Thursday. If you have any comments or suggestions for future content, please drop us a note. Subscribe for morning email delivery by clicking here. And, you should already be following us on twitter to catch programming and news bulletins.

See you Friday to close out Preakness Week!

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