We have something of a rarity on our hands tonight, or at least I thought we did, but further research showed me it was something that happens more often than I remembered.
Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals will tip-off in Los Angeles, and as I write this, the Los Angeles Clippers are underdogs to the Phoenix Suns. Now, this makes sense. The Suns have won the first two games of the series and could be getting Chris Paul back.
Meanwhile, the Clippers will still be missing Kawhi Leonard, and even though he's expected to play, Marcus Morris is dealing with a knee injury. Still, the sight of a home team in a conference final being an underdog stood out to me, so I did some research to see how often it happens.
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As I said, it happens more often than I initially realized. This will be the first time it happened since 2019 (there were no home teams in the playoffs last year) when the Raptors were three-point underdogs to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of their series. The Raptors would win the game and go on to win the NBA Finals. It also happened in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in 2019, when the Blazers were two-point dogs at home to Golden State in Game 4. The Warriors won 119-117.
Still, if there's one thing about tonight's game that stands out, it's this: tonight will only be the second time since the 2011 season that a home team was the underdog in a conference finals game, and the opponent wasn't the Golden State Warriors, or it didn't have LeBron James on the team. The other game was the aforementioned Raptors-Bucks game in 2019, which had Kawhi Leonard. And once again, it's Kawhi's team playing the underdog role, so maybe it's him?
Will any of this play a part in my pick for tonight's game? You'll find out soon enough, but first, you should catch up on today's news.
- The Indiana Pacers have a new coach ... and it's their old coach.
- Roger Goodell says the Chicago Bears are looking for an "alternative" to Soldier Field.
- The most overlooked Super Bowl champions.
- MLB released this year's All-Star uniforms, and you'll be shocked to learn Twitter didn't like them. Which is incredible cuz Twitter usually likes everything!
Now let's go get this money.
All times Eastern, and all odds via William Hill Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Suns at Clippers, 9 p.m. | TV: ESPN
The Pick: Paul George Over 2.5 3pt FG (-170): All of that information in the lede, and I'm not using a bit of it for tonight's pick. It just goes to show what kind of procrastination the human mind is capable of. I mean, I spent a good 45 minutes going back through old conference finals to see if any trend would pop up. None did, or I'd be using it here.
Instead, I will capitalize on a different trend with Paul George and maybe work in a bit of redemption narrative after he missed those two free throws late in Game 2.
I feel bad for George. He's been mocked in previous seasons for his Playoff P nickname, considering how he's performed in the postseason, but he had been terrific for the Clippers this year, especially after losing Kawhi in the last round. Now the odds are that if the Clippers lose this series, the thing most people will remember about George's performance is those two free throws.
Anyway, as for this pick, George leads the Clippers with an average of 3.2 threes made per game this season, and while he takes a larger number of threes per game on the road than at home (8.4 attempts on the road, 7.0 at home), he shoots better at home. George is a 44.2% three-point shooter at the Staples Center compared to 38.7% outside of it. If the Clippers are going to get back in this series, they'll need a big night from George, and that will include from beyond the arc. On the flip side, if the Clippers are chasing points, George might take a higher volume of three than he typically does.
Key Trend: George shot 44.2% from three at home this season.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: SportsLine's Matt Severance is up 11.27 units over his last 185 NBA plays, and has gone 5-1 in his last six ATS picks involving the Clippers. He just so happens to have a spread pick available for tonight's game.
💰 The Picks
Pirates at Cardinals, 8:10 p.m. | TV: MLB.TV
The Pick: Pirates (+143) -- The fade is strong in this play. Sure, you know all about #OperationFadeGrom, and also about how we fade Matt Harvey in this newsletter, but St. Louis' Carlos Martinez is another pitcher who provides substantial fade opportunities. I particularly look to take advantage when the Cardinals are favored behind him because Martinez just hasn't been very good!
He has an ERA of 6.62 on the season, a low strikeout rate, and a high walk rate. Also, advanced numbers suggest he might be getting a bit lucky! Opposing hitters have a wOBA of .325 this season, but their expected wOBA (which is based on the exit velocity and launch angle of balls put in play) against Martinez is much higher at .373, putting him in the 6th percentile of MLB pitchers, according to Statcast.
Sure, the Pirates stink, and I'm not exactly excited about relying on Chad Kuhl, but the gap between these two teams tonight isn't as sizable as the price on Pittsburgh suggests.
Key Trend: The Cardinals are only 3-12 in their last 15 games against right-handed starters.
Cubs at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. | TV: MLB.TV
The Pick: Dodgers -1.5 (-125) -- As somebody with a lot of friends and family who happen to be Cubs fans, let me tell you that I've heard an awful lot about tonight's starting pitcher Zach Davies this season, and none of it's been good. It's been so bad that I felt compelled to dig deeper on my own just because I was sure my friends were overreacting. It turns out they're not!
Davies enters tonight's game with a 4.66 ERA, but his xFIP sits at 5.30. Also, he has a strikeout rate of only 13.9%, which ranks in the 2nd percentile of big-league pitchers. Making matters worse, his walk rate is 11.1%. So he doesn't strike anybody out, and he walks almost everybody else. It's not a great combination, and tonight he'll be facing a Dodgers offense with the highest walk rate in the league. And ace Walker Buehler will back it up on the mound.
Key Trend: The Dodgers 44 wins this season have come by an average of 3.9 runs per game.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The SportsLine Projection Model is off to a sizzling start in 2021, going 100-74 on top-rated MLB money-line picks. On Thursday, it has identified a four-leg parlay that would pay 10-1.
💸 The DFS Rundown
Top Three Starters
- Walker Buehler, Dodgers
- Luis Garcia, Astros
- Jose Berrios, Twins
- Nick Pivetta, Red Sox
Today's Top Stack
- Marcus Semien, Blue Jays
- Bo Bichette, Blue Jays
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Blue Jays
- Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays
- Danny Santana, Red Sox
🏒 Stanley Cup Parlayoffs
Tonight's the night it'll hit. I can feel it. It pays +305.
- Canadiens (+125)
- Over 5 (-125)