NBA point spreads
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MILWAUKEE BUCKS (36-37) at ATLANTA HAWKS (55-18)
The Bucks continue to fight for playoff positioning when they head to Atlanta Monday and face a Hawks team that has already clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks hosted the Warriors on Saturday and lost 108-95 as 5-point home underdogs. Milwaukee had won two straight games coming into that one and will now look to turn things around quickly against Atlanta. The team is allowing 107.5 PPG over the past two contests and must find a way to play better defense moving forward. The Hawks, meanwhile, lost their most recent game 115-110 as 6.5-point underdogs in Charlotte. They had won-and-covered in two straight games before that loss and the difference was that they held their opponents to just 84.5 PPG in the victories. The Hawks will need to be better defensively against Milwaukee and theyll also need to get back to playing their efficient brand of offense. These teams have met three times this season and Atlanta is 2-1 SU and 1-1-1 ATS in those games. The home team has not won a single game SU in this series. Over the past three seasons, however, the Hawks are 9-1 SU and 6-3 ATS against the Bucks. They are 3-1 SU but just 1-3 ATS when playing as the host in that time. Milwaukee is 15-6 ATS in road games after one or more consecutive Unders this season and 19-10 ATS as a road underdog as well. Atlanta, however, is 24-11 ATS after two straight games with 10 or less offensive rebounds this season. SF Jared Dudley (Back) is doubtful for the Bucks, who are already without SF Jabari Parker (Knee) and SF Damien Inglis (Foot) for the season. PG Jeff Teague (Ankle) is doubtful for the Hawks, who are without PF Mike Scott (Toe) indefinitely.
The Bucks are still playing to determine where theyll be seeded in the Eastern Conference playoffs and they need PG Michael Carter-Williams (14.5 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG) to play much better. He had just eight points and three assists in 22 minutes against Golden State last game, picking up three personal fouls and also turning the ball over three times in the process. He has not been able to avoid foul trouble recently and his lack of ball security is alarming. Carter-Williams needs to slow down and start playing much more efficiently moving forward. PF Ersan Ilyasova (11.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG) had a bad game against the Warriors, scoring just eight points (1-for-10 FG, 0-for-5 3PT) in 23 minutes of action. He had been on a tear for the team, scoring 15+ points in five of the six games before losing to Golden State. He should be able to play a little better in this one, as its unlikely that a good outside shooter (37percent 3PT) will be that inaccurate two games in a row. SG Khris Middleton (13.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG) is averaging 14.0 PPG in three games against the Hawks this season. Middleton will really need to step it up in this one if Ilyasova were to somehow not find his touch. With Dudley out, Middleton is one of the only reliable shooters on the team (42percent 3PT). SF Giannis Antetokounmpo (12.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 BPG. 1.0 SPG) has really struggled against the Hawks this season, averaging just 10.3 PPG on 36.7percent shooting from the field in three meetings. Hell need to find a way to be more effective in this one. C Zaza Pachulia (8.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG) comes into this meeting with his former team on a tear. Hes now scored in double figures in 10 straight games and will need to do the same against Al Horford Monday.
The Hawks have been one of the best teams in basketball all season long, but they have not looked that way in recent weeks. The team needs to get back on track heading into the playoffs or it will be very prone to an early round upset. PG Dennis Schroder (9.9 PPG, 4.2 APG) has been playing outstanding over the past five games for the Hawks. Hes averaging 15.8 PPG, 6.8 APG and 3.2 RPG in 26.8 MPG in those contests. Schroders play is crucial for this Hawks team because PG Jeff Teague (16.3 PPG, 7.0 APG) is out with an injured ankle. C Al Horford (15.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG) was given the game off against the Hornets on Saturday and will now be fresh for this meeting with his old teammate, Zaza Pachulia. Horford is averaging 16.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 2.0 BPG against the Bucks this season and will need to play the same brand of two-way basketball on Monday. PF Paul Millsap (17.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG) is coming off of a day off as well and had been scorching hot before resting. He was averaging 21.8 PPG in the four games before not playing against the Hornets. The Bucks dont defend power forwards that well and Millsap should be able to take advantage of that. SG Kyle Korver (12.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.5 APG) also got the game off against Charlotte Saturday. Korver has struggled against Milwaukee this season, averaging just 7.0 PPG on 25percent shooting in three meetings with the team. Hell need to knock down his outside shots in this one or the Hawks might not have the spacing they need to win.
Examining NBA's fast -- and slow -- starts
As we inch closer to another Power Rankings Monday, your faithful committee (of one) is already starting its computing.
And it sure helps when your Sunday brunch includes a surprise heads-up from a research-minded pal like ESPN.com's Adam Reisinger, who has helpfully passed along a handy list that puts some of the good (and bad) starts we've seen into some historical perspective.
Entering Sunday's play:
Golden State Warriors: 5-0 start is the Warriors' best since they went 5-0 in 1994-95. They finished 26-56 that season.
Memphis Grizzlies: 6-1 start is the Grizzlies' best in team history.
Houston Rockets: 6-1 is the Rockets' best start since a 6-1 launch in 2007-08, when they went 55-27 and reeled off an unforgettable 22 straight wins in one stretch.
Toronto Raptors: 5-1 start is the best in franchise history.
Sacramento Kings: 5-1 start is the Kings' best since they opened up at 9-1 in 1999-2000, when they ultimately faded to 44-38.
Washington Wizards: 5-2 start is the Wizards' best since they went 5-1 in 2005-06, when they finished 42-40.
Chicago Bulls: 5-2 start is the Bulls' best since a 7-1 start in 2011-12. They finished 50-16 in that lockout-shortened season.
Denver Nuggets: It's actually the Nuggets' second straight 1-4 start.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 1-5 is the Thunder's worst start since they went 1-14 in 2008-09 in the club's first season in OKC.
New York Knicks: 2-5 is the Knicks' worst start since a 1-9 start in 2009-10 that set the tone for a 29-53 season.
Indiana Pacers: 1-6 is the Pacers' worst start since they went 1-6 in 1993-94, when they rallied to post a 47-35 mark.
Los Angeles Lakers: 0-5 is the Lakers' worst start in Los Angeles and their worst since they went 0-7 in 1957-58 in Minneapolis.
Philadelphia 76ers: 0-6 is the Sixers' worst start since a 0-15 start in 1972-73 ... which, of course, was Philly's 9-73 season.
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NBA: NBA Finals Game 7…Enough Said
With an emphatic, historic blowout win in Game 6 Tuesday night, Los Angeles earned the right to host the grand finale to the NBA season. The winner-take-all Game 7 between the Lakers and Celtics is set for Thursday night, with the tip-off at 9:05 PM ET. Despite the 67-points scored by the Celtics and the 22-point winning margin, oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com have adjusted the opening line only slightly, making the Lakers 7-point favorites after showing them at minus-6.5 points on Tuesday.
This being the biggest game of the season, expect betting action to be brisk. On Tuesday, a greater percentage of bettors (53%) actually favored the Celtics against the number at Sportsbook.com. It will be interesting to see how they react to the price for Game 7.
In the game Tuesday night, Kobe Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol added 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Lakers held Boston to the second lowest-scoring performance in NBA finals history in an 89-67 victory.
Faced with elimination for the first time in this postseason, the defending champion Lakers didn’t flinch.
“We’re used to being in must-win situations,” Bryant said. “The way we look at it, (Game 7) is just a game we’ve got to win. … I don’t mean to be a buzzkill. I know what’s at stake, but I’m not tripping.”
He left that to the Celtics, who fell all over themselves after falling behind by 22 points in the first half. Boston memorably eliminated the Lakers in the sixth game of the 2008 finals with a 39-point blowout—but this time around, the Celtics lost their series lead and their starting center in one disastrous Game 6, as Kendrick Perkins will have to miss the all-important game with a knee injury.
These rivals have played a Game 7 four times in their 11 previous finals meetings, with Boston winning all four. But it hasn’t happened since 1984—and it hasn’t happened to Bryant or head coach Phil Jackson.
Overall, this will be just the third NBA Finals Game 7 in the last 23 years. There hasn’t been a winner-take-all finals game since San Antonio finished off Detroit five years ago, and Thursday’s Game 7 will be the 17th in NBA history. The Spurs’ victory over the Pistons was the first Game 7 since 1994, when the Houston Rockets capped a comeback with two home victories over the New York Knicks and their point guard—now Celtics’ head coach Doc Rivers.
In the ugly loss, Paul Pierce scored 13 points and Kevin Garnett added 12, but the Celtics’ offense was a jumbled, stand-around mess. Rajon Rondo(notes), the late-game hero in Boston’s last appearance in Los Angeles, got off to a 1-for-8 shooting start before finishing with 10 points and six assists.
“I thought we’d play better, obviously,” Rivers said. “I thought we were ready. … We played an individual game tonight on both ends. We never gave ourselves an opportunity offensively, because we never trusted each other. Everybody was out to make their own place.”
The Lakers improved to 10-1 in the postseason at Staples Center, while the Celtics dropped to 3-4 in closeout playoff games this season—including 0-3 on the road. Boston had nine chances to finish a playoff series away from home in the past three postseasons, but has been successful only once.
Here are some of the key StatFox betting angles that figure to affect this contest:
Favoring LA Lakers:
• BOSTON is 9-21 ATS (-14.1 Units) versus up-tempo teams averaging 83 or more shots/game this season. The average score was BOSTON 96.4, OPPONENT 96.4 - (Rating = 2*)
• BOSTON is 8-0 ATS (+8.0 Units) in road games revenging a road loss vs opponent over the last 2 seasons. The average score was BOSTON 104.9, OPPONENT 92.6 - (Rating = 1*)
Favoring OVER the total:
• LA LAKERS are 18-5 OVER (+12.5 Units) after a combined score of 160 points or less since 1996. The average score was LA LAKERS 101.5, OPPONENT 97.1 - (Rating = 1*)
Favoring UNDER the total:
• LA LAKERS are 10-1 UNDER (+8.9 Units) after allowing 80 points or less over the last 2 seasons. The average score was LA LAKERS 100.9, OPPONENT 97.1 - (Rating = 1*)
There figures to be a lot to consider when analyzing Thursday’s game. Don’t miss out on a single potential golden nugget.