The Daily Sweat: With Lakers on the brink, LeBron James could lose first-round series for first time

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Over the course of his legendary career — from Cleveland to Miami, back to Cleveland and now in Los Angeles — LeBron James has never lost a first-round playoff series.

That could change on Thursday night.

James and the Lakers are on the brink of elimination as they trail the Phoenix Suns 3-2 with the series back in Los Angeles for Game 6. Game 5 was an embarrassing effort from the Lakers. Playing without Anthony Davis, the Lakers were jumped from the start and never put up much of a fight, eventually losing 115-85.

How will the Lakers respond in Game 6? Davis’ status is still up in the air, and the Lakers are currently small favorites at BetMGM. The point spread is Lakers -2.5 and the total is just 207.5.

It’s a game you can look at in a few ways. If you believe Davis is going to give his balky groin a try and return to the lineup, you’re getting the Lakers at pretty good value. Davis went for 34 in both Game 2 and Game 3. Both were wins for the Lakers. When Davis is playing like an All-Star, the Lakers are hard to beat.

There’s also the fact that the Lakers put up such a lackluster effort in Game 5. If that was a game that came down to the wire, it can really deflate a team. Instead, it should give the Lakers even more motivation to stop their season from ending far short of lofty preseason expectations. These are the defending NBA champions, after all.

At the same time, the Suns are on the heels of a dominant effort. Chris Paul seems to be getting healthier after hurting his shoulder in Game 1, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are playing at a high level and you’re getting points from the oddsmakers.

If we learn Thursday afternoon that Davis isn’t playing, the spread could move in Phoenix’s favor. If you’re confident in the Suns, you may want to jump on that side as soon as you can.

Lillard, Blazers try to keep season alive

Damian Lillard put forth an unbelievable performance in Game 5, but it wasn’t enough for the Portland Trail Blazers to take a series lead over the Denver Nuggets. Had the Blazers pulled that one out, they would have had the chance to clinch the series back home in Portland. Instead, they are fighting off elimination in Game 6.

Will this series go to a pivotal Game 7? The Blazers are five-point favorites in Game 6 with the total set at 227.5. While four of the five games in the series have gone over the total, the point spread outcomes have been a bit more sporadic. Portland covered on the road in Game 1 and at home in Game 4. Denver covered at home in Games 2 and 5 and on the road in Game 3.

If you like the Blazers to push the series to a seventh game, your money may be best served looking at the series odds. The Nuggets are the favorites at -250, but you can grab Portland at +200. That’s some good value.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo (7) in the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo (7) in the second half of Game 1 of their first-round series in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Who cashed tickets on Wednesday?

The second Eastern Conference semifinal series is set, thanks to convincing victories from the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

The Sixers were six-point favorites over the Washington Wizards. It was close for a while, but Philly pulled away in the second half and won 129-112, even with Joel Embiid sidelined.

Over in New York, the Knicks saw their season come to an end, courtesy of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Playing at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks were 1.5-point favorites. As I pointed out in Wednesday’s Dog of the Day, that point spread did not make much sense. The Hawks controlled play in the second half and pulled out a 103-89 win, covering the spread.

In the West, the Jazz moved on to the second round by beating the Grizzlies 126-110, covering the spread for the fourth straight game. In the other Western Conference game, the Mavericks were seven-point underdogs on the road against the Clippers. With Luka Doncic leading the way, the Mavs pulled the upset and won outright to take a 3-2 series lead. 

In the second round of the NHL Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens went on the road and took Game 1 from the Winnipeg Jets, 5-3. Montreal had +125 odds at BetMGM. The Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead over the Golden Knights via a 3-2 overtime victory. Colorado was -200 on the ML at BetMGM.

Looking ahead to Round 2 of the NBA playoffs

While there are still things to sort out in the West, BetMGM has already posted odds for the two Eastern Conference semifinal series: Bucks vs. Nets and 76ers vs. Hawks.

The Nets are the favorites at -200 while the Bucks are listed at +160. I offered some initial thoughts on that series on Wednesday. You can read that here.

Elsewhere, the Sixers opened up as -200 favorites over Trae Young and the Hawks, who are the underdogs at +170. I expected Philadelphia to be a bigger favorite, even with Joel Embiid nursing a knee injury. The Sixers showed Wednesday night how well they can play even without Embiid. The Hawks, though, beat the Knicks in five games in a series many expected to go New York’s way.

Embiid went through a workout before Game 5 on Wednesday night but did not play. It hasn’t been determined when the series will begin yet, so Embiid has at least a few more days to rest. Embiid is nursing a small meniscus tear, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he missed a few games of the Atlanta series.

If you’re confident in Philly, this may be the best price you get.

Bets for Thursday

I think most people are going to be on Damian Lillard and the Blazers against the Nuggets in Game 6. But the way they lost Game 5, in double OT despite a 55-point outburst from Lillard, is tough to come back from. Lillard may will the Blazers to a win, but I'm leaning toward taking Denver here at +5. 

In baseball, the Rangers have lost eight consecutive games, yet are the favorites on the run line on Thursday afternoon against the Rockies. The Rockies have won three straight and are 18-12 at home vs. a terrible 4-22 record on the road. I'll take the Rockies straight-up at -120. 

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