USC in must-win finale vs. UCLA

USC must be sick and tired of hearing about UCLA’s hot basketball run. Sure, the Bruins’ turnaround is almost unprecedented. But that’s because UCLA started the season so poorly.

— USC has the superior won-lost record entering Saturday’s finale vs. UCLA (3:15 p.m., CBS). The Trojans are 21-9 compared to the Bruins at 19-11.

— USC won the first meeting 74-63 as a short underdog on the road. Doesn’t that mean anything anymore?

— USC has been seen as the bigger surprise in market terms, with a 19-11 record against the spread compared to 16-13-1 for UCLA.

— USC’s stellar recent form has been slightly more profitable for backers, and it started further back on the calendar. The Trojans are 12-3 against the spread in their last 15 games. UCLA is 9-3 ATS in its last 12 but failed to cover its previous three. 

— USC has been viewed as a Big Dance-caliber team for much longer, even if UCLA is now slightly safer in respected bracketology assessments. 

There’s a lot to love about both programs right now. What’s the difference in buzz and perception? USC lost close games to Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado, covering the spread in each rather than scoring outright upsets that would have launched the Trojans to the top of the Pac-12 standings. 

It’s obvious to sports bettors who will have the bigger chip on its shoulder Saturday. USC is nearly in a must-win situation for bubble consideration. UCLA has been accepting plaudits all week after grand marshal Bill Walton threw the Bruins a victory parade in the closing seconds of Saturday night’s rally past Arizona. 

Will the Bruins get caught flat after earning a bye in the Pac-12 tournament March 11-14 in Las Vegas? Be sure you monitor game-day pricing to get a read on how oddsmakers and sharps view these teams head to head. Don’t be shocked if professional bettors back the less-hyped host at the Galen Center.  

For those following futures prices, UCLA is down to 80/1 to win the NCAA tournament after sitting 250/1 entering last week’s home games against the Arizona schools. USC is 130/1, an improvement from last week’s 200/1.

Other Notes

— In the NBA, the Clippers and the Lakers will be featured in prominent heavyweight battles the next few days that will drive heavy betting action in legal jurisdictions. 

On Thursday, the Clips visit Houston (8 p.m., TNT), facing a small-ball unit that’s been making headlines in recent weeks. The Rockets had won 10 of 12 before getting shocked Tuesday night at New York, including conquests of the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics (twice). 

On Friday, LeBron James and the Lakers host the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Milwaukee Bucks (10:30 p.m., ESPN) in a battle of the league’s top MVP candidates. The Bucks own a comfortable lead over the Lakers in the race for the best record in the NBA — and both have performed much better than market expectations this season. 

On Sunday, the Clippers and Lakers play each other at Staples Center (3:30 p.m., ABC) in a potential preview of the Western Conference finals. 

Entering those challenges, the Clippers are 33-28 ATS thanks to a 4-1 ATS charge that includes blowout wins over Western Conference playoff entries Denver and Oklahoma City. The Lakers are 33-26-1 ATS, including 7-2 ATS in their last nine games.

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