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In Round 1, the Clippers dropped their first two games to the Dallas Mavericks before rallying to win the series in seven games. In the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers fell behind the top-seeded Utah Jazz, only to rally with four consecutive victories to win the series in six games.
In Game 4 of that series, however, Leonard went down with a knee injury that will sideline him indefinitely. Leonard was averaging 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and four assists per game in the postseason, but the Clippers managed to close out their series against the Jazz without him.
Repeating that task in the Western Conference finals against the scorching-hot Phoenix Suns looks to be a much tougher endeavor.
The Clippers dropped Game 1 to the Suns, 120-114, on Sunday before losing Game 2 on Tuesday night in heartbreaking fashion. Paul George scored 26 points for the Clippers, but missed two crucial free throws in the final seconds. Those misses opened the door for the dramatic, last-second Jae Crowder-to-Deandre Ayton alley-oop off an inbounds pass to give the Suns a 104-103 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
Now the series has shifted back to Los Angeles. Being down 2-0 in a series is a familiar position for the Clippers. But what is unfamiliar about Thursday night’s game is this: the Clippers are home underdogs. They are 1.5-point underdogs at BetMGM to be exact.
The Clippers have been home underdogs just five times all season: four times in the regular season and once in the postseason. They are 4-1 against the spread and 4-1 straight-up in those spots. That includes the team’s Game 6 win over the Jazz. In that game, Utah was favored by 2.5 and the Clippers rallied from a huge halftime deficit to win 131-119.
The Suns, meanwhile, enter Thursday night’s game with a 14-13-2 ATS record as a road favorite. In the playoffs, the Suns have been the road favorite just once — in Game 4 of their series against the Denver Nuggets. The Suns were favored by three in that game and won, 125-118.
Phoenix has built this 2-0 advantage without its floor general, veteran point guard Chris Paul. Paul has been sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, but is slated to return for Game 3.
That makes this challenge even more significant for the Clippers. They’ve bounced back from adverse situations throughout the postseason. Can they do it again and make this a series? The first two games in the series have come down to the wire. The Clippers even covered the spread in a loss in Game 2.
What will Game 3 have in store?
Can the Golden Knights force a Game 7?
The Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season as an NHL franchise. With a win on Thursday night, they can take the next step toward reaching hockey’s biggest stage once again in their fourth season.
The Knights are in the semifinals, but trail the Montreal Canadiens in the series 3-2. Vegas has their backs against the wall after losing Game 5 at home 4-1. The series is back in Montreal for Game 6, and the Golden Knights are -145 favorites to win at BetMGM. Montreal is a +120 underdog.
If the Knights pull out the win, there will be two Game 7s on tap in the NHL this weekend. How much fun would that be?
3 MLB teams on fire
Other than the NBA and NHL playoffs, the main sport on the betting card on Thursday is baseball. There are 10 games on the slate, including the Royals vs. Yankees and Athletics vs. Rangers in the afternoon.
Three MLB teams in particular have been scalding hot as of late: the Houston Astros, the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants. If you're looking for a team to tail, two of them are in action on Thursday.
The Astros have won 10 straight and are headed to Detroit for a three-game series against the lowly Tigers. The Nationals are 9-1 in their last 10 games and are -115 on the road against the Marlins on Thursday night.
The Giants, meanwhile, have baseball’s best record at 48-26, including an 8-2 mark over their last 10. The Giants are off Thursday before beginning a home series against Oakland on Friday. The Giants are 24-10 at home with an incredible 21-5 mark as a home favorite.
Who cashed tickets on Wednesday?
The New York Islanders were embarrassed, 8-0, in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup semifinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In Game 6 back on Long Island, the Islanders fell behind once again. This time it was a 2-0 Lightning lead midway through the second period. From there, however, the Islanders fought back and forced overtime.
Once the game reached OT, it took a little more than a minute for Anthony Beauvillier to send the series to Game 7. The Islanders were +125 underdogs at BetMGM, and cashed for those who were counting on the Islanders to bounce back. Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab was in that camp, and went with the Islanders as his Dog of the Day on Wednesday.
Meanwhile in the NBA, the Atlanta Hawks' remarkable run through the Eastern Conference continued on Wednesday night. Behind 48 points from Trae Young, the Hawks won Game 1 of the East Finals on the road over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Hawks were 8-point underdogs, but pulled out a dramatic 116-113 victory.
The Hawks are now 7-4 straight-up as an underdog during the playoffs. And the BetMGM customer who wagered $10,000 on the Hawks to win the East at +15000 is three wins away from collecting a whopping $1.5 million.
Best bets for Thursday
I'm having a hard time getting a read on the Suns-Clippers game, so I'm rolling with two MLB picks.
As previously noted, the Nationals have been playing great lately and are road favorites against the Marlins. The Nationals have won nine of their last 10 games, including a wild 13-12 victory over the Phillies 13-12 on Wednesday afternoon. The Nats are -115 at BetMGM, and I like those odds — especially in a favorable pitching matchup of Jon Lester vs. Cody Poteet.
My other pick is another road team: the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are down in Tampa with a chance to win their series against the Rays. I like Boston as the slight underdog at +110. The Red Sox are 15-6 this year as a road underdog while the Rays snapped a seven-game losing streak with a win over the Sox on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, the Rays are sending out Michael Wacha as their starting pitcher. Wacha hasn't thrown more than four innings in a game since late April. He hurt his hamstring and was being used in both relief and opener roles. His return to a traditional starting role last Friday did not go well. He lasted just 3.2 innings, allowing 11 hits and five earned runs in a loss to the Mariners. This is a good matchup for the Red Sox.
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