NBA Finals: It isn't over until it is over

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

June 5, 2018 11:20 PM

There’s been more talk the past few days about where LeBron James will be playing NEXT season than what he’ll be doing Wednesday night! The NBA Finals resume in Cleveland. Basketball banter, hockey chatter, and an early look at soccer’s World Cup right now in VSiN City. 

NBA Finals: Will Golden State stay focused as prohibitive championship favorites? 

There’s so little expectation for the Cleveland Cavaliers making the league championships a competitive series that the mainstream media is already talking about where LeBron James will be playing next season. Philadelphia is a frontrunner. The bright lights of Los Angeles might provide a lure (and allure). Would LeBron hook up with Coach Popovich and Kawhi Leonard down in Texas? 

Hey…there’s still some basketball to be played THIS week…

Golden State at Cleveland (9:05 p.m. ET on ABC, Golden State leads 2-0)

Game 1: Golden State (-13) 124, Cleveland 114 (in overtime)

Game 2: Golden State (-11.5) 122, Cleveland 103

Game 3: Golden State -4.5, total of 217

Still feels like the key will be Golden State’s mindset. The Warriors have blown off at least one game in every playoff series thus far. And you wouldn’t expect Cleveland to no-show its home opener, particularly after winning every home game in the Boston and Toronto rounds. 

That may be why early betting has been on Cleveland. Sharps have taken plus 5 or better, but aren’t loading up at plus 4.5. Locals in Nevada are more likely to back the Warriors as we get closer to tip. The Over/Under has come down a point from the first number up of 218. 

A simple, but reasonable way to envision Wednesday night…

*Motivated Cleveland could win outright against overconfident, sloppy Golden State

*Disheartened Cleveland might get steamrollered by business-like Golden State

*Motivated Cleveland vs. focused Golden State would be a great game!

The skill sets are so locked in place with these rosters, the point spread cover will likely come down to intangibles. How do YOU read the intangibles? 

NHL Stanley Cup Final: Early betting mixed for Thursday’s fifth game 

Available betting lines are centered around -140 right now, with the Vegas Golden Knights a home favorite with their backs to the wall against the Washington Capitals. Some locales are below that. Some above. And this far in advance, prices are often influenced by what sports books “expect” to see soon rather than what they’ve been seeing already.

On the ice, what we’ve been seeing lately is a slanted rink favoring the Eastern Conference champs. 

Washington at Vegas (8:05 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC, Caps leads 3-1)

Game 1: Vegas (-155) 6, Tampa Bay 4 (Shots: Vegas 34-28)

Game 2: Washington (plus 130) 3, Vegas 2 (Shots: Vegas 39-26)

Game 3: Washington (-130) 3, Vegas 1 (Shots Washington 26-22)

Game 4: Washington (-125) 6, Vegas 2 (Shots Vegas 30-23)

Game 5: Vegas -140, total of 5.5 (Over -115)

Based on the eye test, Washington is too big an underdog Thursday. The Caps have clearly expressed superiority in the flow of play, particularly in the areas of creating chances and finishing them. The Vegas defense (meaning everyone trying to defend when Washington has the puck, not just “defensemen,”) hasn’t yet solved the riddle of how to disrupt the Caps’ most dangerous scoring threats. Washington leads scoreboard 12-4 since falling behind 1-0 early in Game 2.  

Maybe the Caps lose a step from overconfidence, or Vegas picks up two steps from the energy of a loud home crowd realizing the Golden Knights need an extra push. For the series, Washington is deservedly a prohibitive -700 favorite (plus 500 is the return on the Knights to win three straight). 

We’ll check in again on the market in tomorrow’s game-day preview. 

Tuesday MLB: Phils, Mariners score big road wins; Kluber dominates again for Cleveland

Three games on the Tuesday card matching teams with winning records entering the day. One in the National League, one in the American League, and one Interleague game. Let’s take them in the order they appear in the Nevada Rotation.

Philadelphia (plus 190) 6, Chicago Cubs 1 

Total Bases Plus Walks: Philadelphia 19, Chicago 12

Starting Pitchers: Eflin 7.2 IP, 1 ER, Hendricks 5 IP, 5 ER

Bullpen: Philadelphia 1.1 IP, 0 ER, Chicago 4 IP, 1 ER

Jake Arrieta in a Phillies uniform brings an added dimension to this series even if he’s not scheduled to pitch. Philadelphia channeled that into a one-sided victory behind Zach Eflin (not the guy who was in Baywatch with the Rock). Nice payoff for dog lovers. Philadelphia moves to 32-26, on the heels of Atlanta and Washington. The Cubs fall to 33-24, failing to take advantage of a Milwaukee loss. 

Seattle (plus 110) 7, Houston 1

Total Bases Plus Walks: Seattle 19, Houston 13

Starting Pitchers: Paxton 7.2 IP, 1 ER, Keuchel 6.2 IP, 7 ER

Bullpen: Seattle 1.1 IP, 0 ER, Houston 2.1 IP, 0 ER

Mariners put the game away early with a 3-run homer, a 2-run homer, and a solo shot. That’s passing a test when stepping up in class! “Big Maple” James Paxton lowered his ERA to 2.95, with a strong WHIP of 1.03. Over his last seven starts, Paxton’s ERA is 1.60…which includes a no-hitter at Toronto. Seattle is 8-3 in his last 11 outings…a big reason the team is very much in the playoff hunt. 

Dallas Keuchel continues to struggle. He’s 3-8 this season. His ERA of his last four starts is an ugly 6.75.

Seattle takes a two-game lead over defending World Champion Houston in the AL West. Stunning! Seattle is 38-22, Houston 37-25. 

Cleveland (-210) 3, Milwaukee 2

Total Bases Plus Walks: Milwaukee 12, Cleveland 15

Starting Pitchers: Guerra 6 IP, 3 ER, Kluber 7 IP, 1 ER

Bullpen: Milwaukee 2 IP, 0 ER, Cleveland 2 IP, 1 ER

Very fast game. Corey Kluber’s ERA is down to 1.96 this season, with a microscopic WHIP of 0.85. Cleveland is 9-2 in his last 11 starts. Another pitcher that gets market respect not only because he gets outs, but because he goes deep for an offense that should get him run support. Cleveland moves to 31-28, good enough to lead a bad division. Milwaukee falls to 37-24…no harm no foul in the NL Central race because the Cubs also lost. 

Wednesday Tutorial: A reminder on “roll over” betting strategies in advance of soccer’s World Cup

We’re just over a week away from first kick in the 2018 World Cup. That makes this a great time to set the tone with a look at futures prices, and a review of the sharp betting strategy that typically returns even better prices if you’re able to spot the team most likely to win one of the most storied events in global sport.

We start with a look at current futures prices at the South Point. 

Odds to Win World Cup (percentage win equivalent in parenthesis)

Germany 5/2 (29%)

Brazil 3/1 (25%)

France 5/1 (17%)

Argentina 7/1 (13%)

Spain 7/1 (13%)

Belgium 10/1 (9%)

Portugal 12/1 (8%)

England 15/1 (6%)

Let’s stop there for the moment. The winner is extremely likely to come from that group of eight. The win percentage equivalents already add up to 120%. Sports books create a universe larger than 100% to represent a house edge. We’re well clear of that already with 24 teams yet to go. 

All 24 remaining countries are pretty extreme long shots, this next hunk could play a spoiler role along the way. 

Uruguay 25/1 (4%)

Colombia, Mexico 30/1 (each 3%)

Russia, Poland 35/1 (3% each rounded up)

Croatia 40/1 (2%)

That’s six spoilers who add 18% to the sum…bringing us to 138%. Note that the USA is usually fairly comparable to Mexico in global Power Ratings, so it would have been in this hunk had the stars and stripes qualified. Russia is getting consideration for home field advantage (and a friendly draw). It would rank lower with other European entries at a different site. 

All the rest are within arm’s reach of 1%. No need to specify fractions because none look capable of running the table if they even make the knockout round. 

Denmark 70/1

Switzerland, Peru 80/1

Sweden, Iceland 100/1

Costa Rica, Senegal 125/1

Serbia, Egypt, Nigeria 150/1

Japan, Australia 200/1

Morocco, Iran, Saudi Arabia 300/1

Tunisia, South Korea 400/1

Panama 500/1

That note about running the table in the knockout round is a reminder that focusing your “futures” approach on those stages is a way to make more money. If 16 teams make the knockout, that means the eventual winner must win FOUR games in the brackets to lift the World Cup (Sweet 16, quarterfinal, semifinal, final). That allows you to create the equivalent of a four-team parlay by backing your chosen team to advance in each round…then re-investing your capital each time in the next game. 

We discussed this some during March Madness, and then at the beginning of the NHL and NBA playoffs. (Got to talk to Gill Alexander in person on “A Numbers Game” about this very topic). 

Let’s say you think Brazil bounces back from a disastrous 2014 and wins it all in Russia this summer. You can wait until the knockout round and do the following.

*Bet them to advance through the round of 16. 

*If they win…collect your initial stake and your profit…then re-invest ALL of it on the Brazilians to advance through the quarterfinal.

*If they win THAT…take all the money returned to you at the window (stake and profit)…then re-invest it in the Brazilians to advance through the semifinal.

*You surely understand it now…if they make it to the finals, put everything coming back to you on Brazil to win the championship game. 

Using the parlay calculator at VegasInsider, an estimate of four game money lines as high as -300, -200, -200, and pick-em (assume Brazil faces Germany in the final) would yield 3.73 to 1 (remember to subtract your initial stake from the calculated return when using a parlay calculator…and note that it makes the comparison to futures easy to just put in a $1 bet). That’s better than taking Brazil NOW at 3-1. 

Either way, Brazil HAS to win it all for you to cash. A “futures” bet is all or nothing. This approach creates the potential for more profit (sometimes A LOT more). And, it also allows you to change course if needed (say Neymar gets knocked out of the tournament with an injury in a Round of 16 victory…you can stop there and pocket your win, while a 3-1 futures bet would be in real trouble). There’s no reason to bet a futures price now on one of the favorites when waiting to use the rollover approach will give you a better return and more flexibility.

Let’s move down the ledger, and say you’re considering taking a flyer on England at 15-1. Wait to see if they make the knockout round. Then, use this approach. Throwing down some general numbers…we’ll make them a slight favorite in the round of 16, then dogs the rest of the way. Throwing -140, plus 130, plus 160, and plus 160 in the parlay calculator returns 24.65 to 1. Heck, you could get better odds than that on a game-by-game basis. Why settle for 15-1 now?

Sports books want your action, whether it’s on futures prices or round-by-round game bets. This approach is usually the best of your options if you’re trying to pick the winner of a championship in advance. 

The World Cup begins June 14 with Russia hosting Saudi Arabia. Group play isn’t exactly flush with marquee matchups this time around. Among the highlights featuring teams in the top 14 on the futures board going head-to-head:

Portugal (12-1) vs. Spain (7-1) on June 15

Germany (5-2) vs. Mexico (30-1) on June 17

Argentina (7-1) vs. Croatia (40-1) on June 21

Poland (35-1) vs. Colombia (30-1) on June 24

Belgium (10-1) vs. England (15-1) on June 28

More on the World Cup coming next week, including “estimated” market Power Ratings using a goal supremacy scale. That will help you visualize likely betting odds for possible knockout round matchups well in advance. 

Belmont Week: Favored Justify draws the rail prior to attempting Triple Crown sweep

A small 10-horse field limits the impact of a good or bad draw for post position. Though, few owners or trainers are pleased when they draw the rail. Justify must come from an inside berth when it tries to win the 2018 Triple Crown this Sunday in the Belmont Stakes. 

Here are the starting positions along with Tuesday’s odds at the Wynn (including a win percentage equivalent in parenthesis). 

1…Justify 11/10 (48%)

2…Free Drop Billy 35/1 (3%)

3…Bravazo 7/1 (13%)

4…Hofburg 6/1 (14%)

5…Restoring Hope 30/1 (3%)

6…Gronkowski 30/1 (3%)

7…Tenfold 12/1 (8%)

8…Vino Rosso 6/1 (14%)

9…Noble Indy 25/1 (4%)

10…Blended Citizen 15/1 (6%)

That adds up to 116%, with the ticks over 100 representing the house edge. Ron Flatter posted a much more thorough breakdown today on the VSiN website. Please click here to read that article

Don’t forget to purchase our digital Belmont preview publication for just $19.99. Subscribers to Point Spread Weekly will receive it for no charge. If you’re not yet a subscriber, take care of that now for a calendar year at $149.99…and the Belmont preview will automatically be included in your purchase. 

Back with you Thursday to recap Game Three of the NBA Finals, and to preview Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals with the Vegas Golden Knights facing their first elimination game of the postseason. 

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