As I sit here on July 28 in the Tuley’s Takes home office, I’m thinking of an old handicapper’s adage: “I can only handicap the games (or races) that are in front of me.”
Being an old handicapper, I usually invoke this saying when I hear people complaining on Selection Sunday about teams that are snubbed for the March Madness field or when a star player is out with an injury or when a horse scratches from a big race. You can complain all you want about how things would be different if those teams, players or horses were participating, but you have to set aside all those thoughts and handicap the matchups that are actually taking place.
While writing this column Tuesday morning, news came out that MLB’s Marlins had four more positive COVID-19 tests, so the team’s season had been paused until at least Monday. In addition, the NFL announced that 21 players had tested positive in pre-camp screenings, and the Patriots said six of their players were opting out of the season.
The good news is that it appears so far that the NBA and NHL have done the right thing with their “bubble” strategy. Both have had some positive tests and some players opt out, but nothing compared with the open-door policies of the NFL and MLB.
Tuley’s Take on the NBA
Confidence remains high that the NBA can conduct the end of its regular season in Orlando, Fla., so we move into Thursday night’s opener on the assumption that we’ll be handicapping these games as normal. However, as we all know, nothing is normal these days. We still need to be ready to adapt to changes that are sure to pop up.
I start with the same premise that no one knows for sure how the layoff has affected these teams, such as which players have stayed in shape and which teams will have the best chemistry.
I’m sticking with my dog-or-pass philosophy in the NBA. In addition to the uncertainty angle, we don’t know which teams will be going through the motions waiting for the playoffs to start. Take the Lakers. We’ve seen them drop a few exhibition games. Is that just because those games don’t count — which is how we usually view preseason results — or is it a sign that we should feel free to fade them in these other games that are also relatively meaningless to them? I side with the latter.
I believe my stance is supported by what we’ve seen from the restarts of other sports. I don’t normally follow the WNBA, but dogs went 4-2 ATS with three outright upsets last weekend in their “wubble” in Brandenton, Fla. Again, I’m hoping we see parallels when the men hit the court. In MLB, favorites went 14-2 SU Thursday and Friday when the aces were hurling, but then dogs actually won more than 50% at 9-6 Saturday and 8-6 Sunday with one game, Brewers at Cubs, closing at pick-’em.
I’m not saying to bet every dog, as I still think we need to look at each game on a case-by-case basis, but I plan to bet both dogs in Thursday night’s openers. As of this writing, the Jazz are + 2.5 vs. the Pelicans in the first game on TNT (6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT), but I’m waiting to see if Zion Williamson gets cleared to play. In that case, I’m sure we’ll get several more points. In the nightcap, the Clippers are + 4.5 vs. the Lakers.
Possible plays on Friday: Grizzlies + 2 vs. the Blazers and Celtics + 5 vs. the Bucks — for the same reason as fading the Lakers.
Possible plays on Saturday: Pacers + 6 vs. 76ers and Raptors + 4 vs. Lakers.
It should come as no surprise that I plan to bet on some upsets when we get to the playoffs. The NBA is usually the most formful in the postseason, with the best teams prevailing in seven-game series. But we’re going to have some shorter series to start, and that could make the top teams more vulnerable. We’ll discuss those when the matchups are finalized.
As for futures, I haven’t made any wagers to win the NBA Finals but am tempted by some of the odds out there, such as the Raptors, the defending champions and still dangerous even without Kawhi Raptors, at 20-1 and the healthy 76ers at 25-1. However, I’m leaning more to betting those two to win the Eastern Conference, so I don’t have to sweat or worry about hedging if they run into the Lakers or Clippers in the Finals. The Raptors and 76ers are both about 8-1 to win the East. As much as I’m looking to fade the Lakers in the restart games, I don’t see a dark horse to win the West.
Another popular bet is picking who ends up as the No. 8 seed in each conference. I’m passing on those as the odds are pretty solid. Besides, I’ll wait to see if we get a play-in tourney for the No. 8 seeds, as that’s when I’m sure I’ll jump in.
Tuley’s Take on the NHL
The NHL eschewed a resumption of its regular season and is going straight to a revised playoff format starting Saturday in Toronto and Edmonton. Amazingly, it has been 27 years — that’s right, more than a quarter-century — since a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup. It will be interesting to see if home-country advantage helps those teams work through the playoffs.
It’s old-fashioned, but the best way to handicap hockey is to find a hot goalie. It worked for those who jumped on Jordan Binnington and the St. Louis Blues last year.
Call me a homer, but I’m looking for the best Stanley Cup price on the Golden Knights, who are generally shaded lower here in Las Vegas as they’re the favorite or second choice at most books between 6-1 and 7-1. Coach Peter DeBoer now has the luxury of two goalies after Vegas added Robin Lehner from the Blackhawks to go with aging Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s still capable of a clutch game. That certainly makes the Golden Knights dangerous.
In the best-of-five qualifying series, a lot of people seem to be jumping on the Oilers with home-ice advantage in Edmonton, but put me down for the Blackhawks + 150 in the series and + 135 or better in Saturday’s Game 1. In the other series, I’m waiting to see how the teams are playing when the games mean something.