No stopping James, Cavs

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

LeBron James and Cleveland SHOCK Toronto as seven-point underdogs in their second-round opener. Plus, goals galore in the NHL, NFL win totals are up at the South Point, and we have updated odds after the post position draw for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.  This huge sports week is already at full gallop in VSiN City.

NBA Tuesday: LeBron James with 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds leads Cavs past gagging Raptors 

For the second straight night, the “tired” underdog shocked the expensive favorite with an outright upset in a series opener. Monday, Boston blew out Philadelphia as a dog of plus 4.5 points. Tuesday, Cleveland owned the fourth quarter and overtime to take down Eastern Conference favorite Toronto. The Raptors missed their last 11 shots in regulation and first four of overtime to virtually hand away what seemed like a sure win. 

Cleveland (plus 7) 113, Toronto 112 in overtime

Regulation Score: Cleveland 105, Toronto 105

2-point Pct: Cleveland 42%, Toronto 48%

3-pointers: Cleveland 14/35, Toronto 9/28

Free Throws: Cleveland 15/21, Toronto 25/31

Rebounds: Cleveland 45, Toronto 50

Turnovers: Cleveland 5, Toronto 13

Pace: 90 (pro-rated to include overtime) 

The last 17 minutes of game action was very much in line with the narratives of Toronto having no idea how to win important games…and LeBron James driving his teams to victory in playoff crunch time. Toronto technically never trailed in regulation. But the Raptors sure played the fourth quarter like deer in the headlights. Possession after possession. Timid attack. Poor decision-making. Dumb timeouts. Either forcing up tough guarded shots or passing to the guy Cleveland wanted to shoot. While facing a mediocre (at best) defense. 

Toronto led 102-99 with 4:19 to go in the fourth quarter. The only points the Raptors would score in the rest of regulation were three free throws from Serge Ibaka after he landed on James’s foot attempting a desperation three. 

That stat that jumps most emphatically out of the box score is the impossibly low total of FIVE turnovers from Cleveland. This was an overtime game! Only five miscues in 53 minutes. That tells you Toronto was focused on building a wall in the paint to discourage LeBron from owning the rim. LeBron was happy to pass the ball to teammates who shot 13 of 27 on treys (James was just 1 of 8). 

While it’s unlikely the Cavs will win the turnover and trey categories by that much on a regular basis…they only have to approximate those levels three more times to advance. That’s with the added confidence that comes from watching Toronto fear its own shadow when it’s time to win. 

Also of note:

*Toronto is supposed to have the much more dynamic and impactful bench. That slow pace of 90 possessions per 48 minutes helped nullify that. Cleveland’s subs helped nullify that too!

Toronto bench: 10 of 27 shooting, 15 rebounds, in 91 minutes

Cleveland bench: 12 of 24 shooting, 17 rebounds, in 82 minutes

To control this series, Toronto needs to pull away in the middle of the game when those bench minutes are most prominent…and do so at a pace that rewards playing a 10-man rotation over an 9-man rotation. Toronto will have trouble winning four of the next six playing at Cleveland’s preferred pace. 

*Toronto did win scoring on 1’s and 2’s by a count of 85-71, and rebounding 50-45. Those are good signs moving forward because Cleveland probably won’t be plus 15 points on treys every time out. The Raptors have to find a way to make “defense and rebounding” include forcing turnovers and denying open looks. A strategy of protecting the rim at all costs was giving too many clean looks off crisp passes to Cleveland’s long range sharp shooters. 

In both of the early Eastern Conference upsets, the sturdy pre-series favorite won the inside game handily, but was outscored in the most fickle of stats. So, don’t assume the underdogs will advance just yet! Game 2 of Cleveland/Toronto will be Thursday, at the quirky starting time of 6 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. Las Vegas time. It will be an “all East” doubleheader that night with Cavs/Raptors at 6 p.m. ET followed by Sixers/Celtics at 8:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. in Las Vegas). 

NBA Tuesday: Golden State wins again as Steph Curry returns

This one ended too late to do a deep dig into the data. Here’s a quick look at the key box score stats. 

 

Golden State (-11) 121, New Orleans 116

2-point Pct: New Orleans 52%, Golden State 59%

3-pointers: New Orleans 13/37, Golden State 13/40

Free Throws: New Orleans 7/9, Golden State 22/27

Rebounds: New Orleans 46, Golden State 48

Turnovers: New Orleans 13, Golden State 17

Pace: 110.5 (for the series 104.3, 110.5)

If you heard Marv Albert raving about the breakneck pace through the evening, he wasn’t kidding! The teams played at roughly a 111 pace factor all night. That’s about 111 possessions per team in just 48 minutes. Usain Bolt might as well have been running the floor. Steph Curry returned to action for the first time in weeks. He came in off the bench rather than starting, but still managed a plus/minus of 26 in 27 minutes. It peaked at plus 34 in 25 minutes before the Warriors gave away a possible cover with some late shenanigans. 

Golden State takes a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 will be Friday in New Orleans. 

NBA Wednesday Preview: Houston must avoid complacency vs. Utah

The Houston Rockets have been inconsistent through six playoff games. At their best, truly elite. Unstoppable even. But those flashes of brilliance are often surrounded by lackadaisical play at three-quarter speed as the roster seems to be biding its time until the Western finals against Golden State. Game 1 of the second round series with Utah was the latest example. 

*Houston build at 27-point lead at 64-37 late in the first half

*Utah would go on a 38-22 run to get within 11 early in the fourth quarter 

Houston would ultimately cover the spread for bettors. No room for walkabouts like that in the next round.  

Utah at Houston (8 p.m. ET. on TNT, Houston leads series 1-0)

Game 1: Houston (-11.5/207.5) 110, Utah 96

Game 2: Houston -11.5, total of 205.5

The market hasn’t budged on the team side. The total has dropped two points after Game 1 stayed Under despite 57% shooting on two-pointers from Utah and a sizzling 17 of 32 on treys for Houston. 

We haven’t had a chance to run our series preview numbers for this matchup yet because it started over the weekend. Let’s rectify that. 

Utah vs. Houston 

Defensive Efficiency: Utah #2, Houston #6

Rebound Rate: Utah #5, Houston #10

Made Treys/Game: Utah 10.8, Houston 15.3

Utah gets the best of the “defense and rebounding” numbers. But not in a way that’s going to trump that huge projected deficit in made treys. The numbers were actually 17-7 in the series opener. Houston’s going to make a run at 15 per game and dare anyone to catch them. Utah, without Ricky Rubio, needs to do a better job of creating and making open looks. 

You may hear casual fans still suggesting that Houston plays crappy defense in a run-and-gun style that forces the Rockets to outscore their opponents. Outdated. Houston had a TOP SIX defense this past regular season when you evaluate on points-per-possession. The Rockets also played slow basketball down the stretch, enabling them to maximize the per-possession impact of James Harden the same way Cleveland does with LeBron James. 

Just because Mike D’Antoni is the head coach doesn’t mean this is a new version of the old Phoenix Suns. This is a potent D’Antoni offense that also plays defense and rebounds at a level that can go the distance. Handicap in that light.  

NHL Tuesday Summaries: Goals galore as pre-series underdogs Washington, Winnipeg take 2-1 leads

Where did all this scoring come from?! And, how did it come at the expense of the two teams who played for the Stanley Cup trophy a year ago? Both Pittsburgh and Nashville are now in serious danger of not making it out of the second round. 

Washington (plus 150) 4, Pittsburgh 3 (Washington leads series 2-1)

Shots: Washington 22, Pittsburgh 22

Power Plays: Washington 1/4, Pittsburgh 1/4

Very tightly played, which makes that high final score even more odd. A total of 44 shots is the lowest sum from any game this postseason. In the nightcap, Winnipeg would take more shots by itself then these two teams did combined. Pittsburgh would only launch THREE shots in the third period despite being a pricey home favorite that needed to score in a tie game. 

Washington broke that 3-all tie with just over a minute to go in regulation, and is now the series favorite with a 2-1 lead AND home ice advantage moving forward (Games 5 and 7 if necessary will be at Washington). Game 4 is set for Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Winnipeg (-155) 7, Nashville 4 (Winnipeg leads series 2-1)

Shots: Nashville 30, Winnipeg 45

Power Plays: Nashville 2 of 4, Winnipeg 1 of 5

The market has been showing signs of falling in love with Winnipeg in recent action. This high home ice price for a pre-series underdog cinches it. Winnipeg has won two games, and lost the third in overtime on the road in what should have been the easy bounce back spot for the defending West champs. 

Nashville has been outshot 95-71 the last two games, and generally taken the worst of flow of play. Yes, there were two empty-netters to pad the score. It was still a 7-1 Winnipeg blitz after Nashville raced to an early 3-0 lead. And, you can see that Winnipeg won “even strength” scoring by a 6-2 count. Game 4 will be Thursday in Winnipeg. 

Back to the other two series Wednesday…

Tampa Bay at Boston (7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports, series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Boston (plus 150/6) 6, Tampa Bay 2 (Shots: TB 36-24)

Game 2: Tampa Bay (-175/5.5) 4, Boston 2 (Shots: TB 31-20)

Game 3: Boston -140, total of 6

Tampa Bay had been the pre-series favorite. The split in Florida has put both teams at 11/5 to win the East at the Westgate, 5/1 to win the Stanley Cup according to a tweet Tuesday from Jeff Sherman. We should expect high quality hockey the rest of the way from these two league powers. Boston needs to work on evening up shot counts. 

Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose (10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports, VKG 2-1)

Game 1: Vegas (-145/5.5) 7, San Jose 0 (Shots: Vegas 34-33)

Game 2: San Jose (plus 160/5.5) 4, Vegas 3 in OT (Shots: SJ 47-29)

Game 3: Vegas (plus 110/5.5) 4, San Jose 3 in OT (Shots: SJ 42-33)

Game 4: San Jose -130, total of 5.5

Off back-to-back overtime thrillers, will Vegas relax after the service break, knowing that two more home games await if needed? San Jose has won shot counts handily. Vegas has done the better job of creating more dangerous opportunities outside of a few stretches in the home loss. 

VGK is now 3/2 to win the West, 7/2 to win the Stanley Cup. There’s a chance those odds will improve fractionally Wednesday with Nashville’s Tuesday night loss. Before the postseason began, it was assumed Vegas would be a series underdog vs. Nashville if the two teams met, as well as a series underdog vs. the East champ in the Finals. With such a high level of performance thus far, those assumptions are no longer in play to the same degree given current futures prices in a deep field. 

NFL: South Point posts Regular Season Win Totals

We’ll have more time down the road to provide additional context. Wanted to make sure to get these in on a busy sports night. You may have seen NFL Regular Season Win totals posted elsewhere in the standard “alphabetical” format used by Nevada Gaming. We’ve arranged them by divisions so you can more easily visualize the playoff picture. These are the numbers that went up at the South Point Tuesday. 

AFC East

New England 11.5 (Under -130)

Buffalo 7.5 (Over -120)

Miami 6

NY Jets 6 (Under -130)

Not the worst division because New England is so strong. Buffalo is the worst “second-place” team in what grades out as the second worst division in the NFL. 

AFC North

Pittsburgh 10.5

Baltimore 8 (Under -120)

Cincinnati 7

Cleveland 5

This grades out as the worst division because Cleveland is still lousy and the Baltimore/Cincinnati combo is fading. 

AFC South

Jacksonville 9 (Over -130)

Houston 9 (Under -125)

Tennessee 8

Indianapolis 6.5 (Under -120)

Remember a year ago at this time, when everyone was marveling at how the sharps were supporting a lousy team like Jacksonville? Could be quite a race this season if Houston can stay healthy. Even better if Andrew Luck can return to the field for Indy. 

AFC West

LA Chargers 9.5 (Under -120)

Kansas City 8

Oakland 8 (Over -120)

Denver 7.5 (Under -120)

This rates as the best division in the AFC, as 7.5 is a high number for a “last place” team. No weaklings here according to summer expectations. 

NFC East

Philadelphia 10 (Over -120)

Dallas 8.5

Washington 7 (Under -130)

NY Giants 6.5 (Over -130)

Skepticism across the board there…with the defending Super Bowl champs expected to take a step backward, while Washington and NYG continue to flounder vs. franchise expectations. Not much optimism for Dallas either, just two seasons removed from that surprise campaign. 

NFC North

Green Bay 10 (Under -130)

Minnesota 9.5

Detroit 7.5

Chicago 6.5 (Over -125)

Are the Bears ready to matter? They can improve and still finish last. 

NFC South

Atlanta 9.5 (Over -115)

New Orleans 9.5

Carolina 9 (Under -120)

Tampa Bay 6.5

This is seen as the best division in the NFL, thanks to those three teams clocking in at nine or more projected victories. The NFC South and North are seen as the two best divisions. 

NFC West

LA Rams 10 (Over -115)

San Francisco 8.5

Seattle 7.5 (Over -130)

Arizona 6.5 (Under -120)

Will be fun to monitor the San Francisco 49ers this season. The market is expecting a rags to readiness story, if not rags to riches. Niners sure closed last season well. 

Note that the sum of projected wins is 259.5, in a regular season that will only have 256 victories. So, some hidden vigorish in the mix. Though, 11 of the win counts are shaded to the Under, compared to just nine Overs. Slight value for those of you who prefer betting Unders to Overs. 

On twitter, Jimmy Vaccaro reported the following early bets at the South Point:

Arizona Under to win 10K

Baltimore Over to win 10K

Cincinnati Under to win 10K

Buffalo Under to win 5K

Chicago Over to win 5K

Cleveland Over to win 5K

NY Jets Under to win 5K

Kentucky Derby: Contenders dodge bad luck in draw for position, though Magnum Moon will start in auxiliary gate

If you missed Ron Flatter’s reaction to Tuesday’s draw for post position, you can read it by clicking here. We’ve put together a listing of composite offshore adds from oddschecker as of very late Tuesday evening. Here’s a positional listing with those odds. 

1…Firenze Fire (66/1)

2…Free Drop Billy (40/1)

3…Promises Fulfilled (50/1)

4…Flameaway (33/1)

5…Audible (6/1 as third favorite)

6…Good Magic (10/1)

7…Justify (7/2 or 4/1 current favorite)

8…Lone Sailor (50/1)

9…Hofburg (16/1)

10…My Boy Jack (25/1)

11…Bolt D’Oro (9/1)

12…Enticed (33/1)

13…Bravado (50/1)

14…Mendelssohn (4/1 or 9/2 as second favorite)

15…Instilled Regard (50/1)

16…Magnum Moon (8/1)

17…Solomini (25/1)

18…Vino Rosso (14/1)

19…Noble Indy (25/1)

20…Combatant (66/1)

21…Blended Citizen (only in the field with a scratch above) (50/1)

Vinny Magliulo also posted an article Tuesday, talking about the Las Vegas market angle of the big race. You can read that by clicking here

Don’t forget that our jam-packed “Inside the Derby” guide to the Run for the Roses will be sent out Wednesday. This must-have electronic publication can be purchased for just $19.99 by clicking here. (Or, pay $39.99 for the full Triple Crown series, a 33% savings). More details on this joint project between VSiN and TVG in tomorrow’s report.  

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