It’s been a strange week in the Tuley’s Takes home office. The NBA regular season wrapped up with a lot of drama regarding the new play-in tournament, and the NHL started its playoffs even though regular-season games were still being played. Strange, indeed.
However, most of our focus was on the Preakness, the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. It was run under a cloud of controversy after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit had a positive drug test, trainer Bob Baffert blamed everyone and everything (including “cancel culture”) except himself and the colt was allowed to run in the Preakness after being subjected to more tests. I’ve never seen so many people openly cheering against a Derby winner in the Preakness — though he ended up going off as the favorite — whether it was because they felt he was a juiced-up horse or because of Baffert backlash. I have to say it was a relief that Medina Spirit didn’t win so we wouldn’t go through three more weeks of controversy if he were going for a tainted Triple Crown. That would have been ugly. You know your sport is becoming a joke when it gets lampooned on “Saturday Night Live.”
But now we can concentrate on the NBA and NHL playoffs, even though I’m still looking for live MLB underdogs on a daily basis and betting the White Sox on the run line against left-handed starters as they’re 24-2 SU in their last 26 games vs. lefties and 22-4 on the run line, many at plus prices.
The Stanley Cup playoffs started Saturday, with the first three games going to overtime and all three won by the underdogs. The NHL playoffs are off to their usual exciting start with hard-to-predict results, though favorites did bounce back to sweep Monday’s games 3-0 to take a 4-3 lead heading into Tuesday. Often, these streaks are more a result of how the games are clumped in the schedule and not indicative of any real trend, so we still need to handle each game on a case-by-case basis. It sounds old-fashioned, but a lot of hockey handicapping still comes down to finding the hot goalie, so I’m mostly just picking my spots and paying attention to Point Spread Weekly colleague Andy MacNeil and Circa/VSiN hosts Mike Palm and Pauly Howard.
We’ll spend the rest of our time together on the NBA playoffs. I also recommend following all the content from VSiN colleague Jonathan Von Tobel, but I have my own takes on the playoff series, though I’m looking to bet more on individual games.
Takes on NBA play-in tournament
This is taking place Tuesday and Wednesday while PSW is being produced, so it’s hard to break down the potential No. 1-vs.-No. 8 and No. 2-vs.-No. 7 seed matchups. I’m obviously hoping the Lakers survive after recommending an NBA championship future wager on them two weeks ago. (I saw it as high as + 810 at Circa and bought in myself at + 625.) There’s no doubt that the Lakers or Warriors will be tough outs in the Western Conference for the Suns or Jazz, and I’d be on either of them as underdogs in individual games, though many are already predicting that the Lakers will be favored in any game LeBron James and Anthony Davis are playing. In the Eastern Conference, I would be most interested in backing the Wizards if they advance, though only if Bradley Beal can play through his hamstring injury. We’ll have a better idea after seeing these play-in games.
Takes on NBA first-round series
Hawks at Knicks
Game 1 (Saturday): Knicks -2
Series: Hawks -120/Knicks + 100
The Knicks exceeded all expectations as they were 13-1 just to make the playoffs and have had a historically great season at 45-26-1 ATS (63.4%). They’re also 22-13-1 ATS (62.9%) at home, so it’s hard to fade them in the first two games at Madison Square Garden. However, I’ll be taking the Knicks as road underdogs in this series. The Knicks swept the Hawks 3-0 during the regular season. Admittedly, the Hawks are playing better now, but they’ve never had an answer for Julius Randle, who scored 28, 44 and 40 points in the three meetings for an average of 37.3. The Hawks are also tough to fade at home as they won 19 of their last 21 home games, but the fact the Hawks are favored in the series tells us that they’ll be bigger favorites in their home games and we’re hoping to get about 4 points, which gives us more wiggle room to cover in what should be close games. Besides, the Knicks were just as good on the road at 23-13 ATS (63.9%). Best Bets: Knicks plus points in Games 3 and 4.
Heat at Bucks
Game 1 (Saturday): Bucks -4.5
Series: Bucks -290/Heat + 245
This is also an intriguing series as the Bucks, with a recent history of postseason disappointments after strong regular seasons, look for revenge after the Heat upset them in five games on the way to the NBA Finals. The Bucks won the season series 2-1 by splitting games on back-to-back days last December in Miami and then routing the Heat 122-108 on Saturday in Milwaukee. Jimmy Butler sat out that game with a sore back and in fact didn’t play in any of the three games against the Bucks this season. Assuming he’s able to go, I love the Heat in this series. This is basically the same team that made its run as a No. 5 seed. Best Bets: Heat + 4.5 in Game 1 and any game as underdog.
Mavericks at Clippers
Game 1 (Sunday): Clippers -5
Series: Clippers -420/Mavericks + 340
Do you have a team you love to bet because you know it has the potential to be better, but it keeps letting you down? The Mavericks are that team for me. I love Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis and think they pose matchup problems for anyone, but they seem to always underperform — at least when I back them! They were 42-30 SU this season and only 35-37 ATS as another example. The Clippers obviously pose a challenge, but let’s give the Mavs another shot at least to start the series. If they fail to cover the first two games, I’ll probably give up on them. Best Bets: Mavericks + 5 in Game 1 and again in Game 2.
Trail Blazers at Nuggets
Game 1 (Sunday): Nuggets -1
Series: Blazers -120/Nuggets + 100
This series is similar to the Hawks-Knicks, with the higher-seeded team being favored at home in Game 1 and the lower-seeded team favored in the series. It’s harder for me to separate these teams as I see it as a pick-’em and don’t want to fall into the cliche “take either team if getting points,” though it is a way to fade the betting public. So I’ll watch the early games in the series and see if I pick up anything to give me an edge later in the series. Best Bets: Pass for now.
Enjoy the start of the playoffs. I’ll update my takes here next week after seeing a few games and throughout the playoffs.