Today's Top Picks: My best bet for Raptors-Bucks plus two MLB plays I love on Friday
Also, watch SportsLine on CBS Sports HQ live at 6 p.m. ET for all today's best bets
The Warriors haven't lost a game in the playoffs since Kevin Durant went down with a calf strain. They held on to win Game 5 against the Rockets when Durant suffered his injury in the first half, and then went to Houston and won Game 6 without him. On Thursday against the Blazers in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors trailed 65-50 at halftime, completely erased that deficit during the third quarter, and went on to win 114-111 to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
So they're 4-0 without him (or 3.5-0), and as you'd expect, this has led to some dumb opinions. Some have now dared to open their mouths and say that the Warriors are a better team without Durant. It brings to mind the quote that it's "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt." That's a quote that's been attributed to both Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, and probably 10 or more other people over the years, but no matter who said it (or wrote it!) first, the point remains the same.
There's no way you can remove one of the two best players in the NBA from a team and then say that the team is better. It's an illogical statement that a performance artist like Stephen A. Smith might say -- but not think! -- to fill a bloc of television or radio segment, but not one based in rationality.
Now, if you want to argue that the Warriors are more entertaining to watch without Durant, that's a viewpoint I can get behind. As great as Durant is, the Warriors' tendency to clear out and let Durant do Durant things when he's on the court is undoubtedly useful for winning games, but aesthetically it's not as pleasing as watching the team run the offense without him.
There was a play in Thursday night's game that was gorgeous and just wouldn't have happened with Durant on the floor. Quinn Cook brought the ball up and tried to get the ball to Klay Thompson, but Thompson was being well defended and couldn't come out to the ball. Instead, Thompson went the other way, toward the baseline, forcing his defender to chase him. Cook moved the ball along to Jonas Jerebko, who dribbled around the three-point line to the other side of the court and found Thompson suddenly in the corner. Thompson, after receiving the ball, pump-faked and drove the baseline before dishing to Draymond Green for what could have been a layup. Instead, with defense crashing on him, Green eschewed the layup when he saw Jordan Bell crashing to the rim from the weak side with nobody around him. Green laid the ball off to Bell for an easy dunk.
It was just beautiful basketball, and a joy to watch, but it wouldn't have happened with Durant. Durant would have gotten the ball by the midcourt logo and gone into an isolation play on his defender. He may have settled for a three, or he may have gotten into the lane where he either attempted a shot or found an open Klay Thompson in the corner for a three. It would have been a good basketball play. One that resulted in either a foul or an open shot for somebody. But it wouldn't have been that play that saw everybody on the floor touch the ball before resulting in an easy dunk.
So no, the Warriors aren't a better basketball team without Durant, but they might play better basketball without him.
As for my picks, I'm making them without KD's input as well. I did get the odds from Westgate, though.
The first game of this series looked a lot like most of Milwaukee's series against Boston. The Bucks got off to a slow start, fell behind early, and then had to battle their way back before pulling off the win. Granted, it seemed a lot more challenging to do it against the Raptors than against the Celtics, but the Bucks not only came back to win, they covered the spread. Shout out to Brook Lopez for all his help.
As for Friday night's rematch, I think they'll cover again. I don't anticipate Brook Lopez having the same kind of night, but I don't expect Nikola Mirotic, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe to go a combined 10 for 33 (2 for 18 from three), either. Nor do I think Kyle Lowry, who has struggled most of the postseason, will drill 78 percent of the threes he takes. I still believe this is a series that goes six games at a minimum, but Milwaukee will start it with a 2-0 advantage, both straight up and ATS.
The SportsLine Projection Model has simulated this matchup 10,000 times, and the computer has a lean on both the spread and total that you'll want to see before locking in your picks. Check out those plays only at SportsLine.
While hitters won't want to hear it, Max Scherzer has been the victim of some terrible luck this season. He currently has an ERA of 3.64, which would be the highest ERA he's had in any season since posting an ERA of 3.74 with Detroit back in 2012. His highest ERA since then has been 3.15 in 2014. So, going off that, you might think the soon-to-be-35-year old is finally fading. He isn't. He's pitching as well as ever, as he has a FIP of 2.25, an xFIP of 2.76 and a SIERA of 2.83. He also has a BABIP of .361 while not giving up a lot of hard contact. Add all of that together, and it leads to catch the damned baseball, Nats defense.
It also leads to a price like this that you don't typically get on the Nats in a Scherzer start. So even against an offense like the Cubs, I'll take my chances on Scherzer at this price. Especially with the way the Cubs bullpen has performed as of late.
SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh is on a 55-33 heater with his MLB picks, and he's locked in three more best bets for Friday, including taking the A's on the road. See the rest of his best bets over at SportsLine.
To drive the point home a bit further, the Padres are roughly the same price at home with Joey Lucchesi on the mound that the Nats are with Scherzer. Of course, they're each facing very different opponents. While Scherzer gets the Cubs, Lucchesi gets a Pirates team that has been better offensively with the return of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but is still horrible against lefties. On the season the Pirates have a wOBA of .268 against southpaws, which is better than only the Giants and Marlins, two pathetic offenses.
The Pirates will also be sending Jordan Lyles to the mound, and while he has an ERA of 2.09, his flyball tendencies and walk rate, and BABIP of .245 all suggest he's had a lot better luck than Max Scherzer in 2019. The fact the Pirates bullpen has an ERA of 5.98 the last two weeks doesn't do much to dissuade my preference here, either.
Horse racing insider Jody Demling has called nine of the last 14 Preakness Stakes winners, and he has a strong pick for the Triple Crown race on Saturday. See which horse Demling is backing over at SportsLine.
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