The San Antonio Spurs easily won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, but a strong Game 3 showing from the Oklahoma City Thunder put them right back into the series. That strong showing was helped by the return of their defensive superstar. Power forward and rim protector, Serge Ibaka, returned for Game 3 after missing the first two games. Ibaka contributed 15 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks en-route to season saving, 106-97 victory on Sunday night. Ibaka, who injured his calf in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, was believed to miss the rest of the playoffs. However, Ibaka gutted through 30 minutes and slowed the Spurs from driving into the lane at will. Ibaka’s presence slowed down San Antonio’s dynastic point guard, Tony Parker. Parker only managed to score nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. He committed four turnovers.

While Ibaka’s presence alone gave the Thunder life, OKC made several adjustments that helped erase bad memories from Games 1 and 2. OKC’s coach, Scott Brooks, opted to start back-up point guard, Reggie Jackson, alongside Russell Westbrook and relegate Thabo Sefelosha, who did not score in Games 1 or 2, to the bench. Jackson chipped in with 15 points and took some of the scoring onus off Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Unlike Games 1 and 2, Durant and Westbrook were aggressive and got to the basketball at will. Both players made all eight of their free throw attempts. Rookie center, Steven Adams was injected into the starting lineup and helped OKC out-rebound the Spurs, 52-36. 

After running like a well-oiled machine in Games 1 and 2, San Antonio’s offense sputtered in Game 3. After making over 50 percent of their shots in the first two games, the Spurs made just 40 percent of their shots in Game 3. Manu Ginobili, who left with a foot injury and Tim Duncan were the only two Spurs in double figures.

OKC, according to NBA odds, is pegged as a 2.5 point home favorite in Game 4. I have a hard time believing the Spurs will drop two straight games, but I think OKC is hitting its stride at the right time. Ibaka’s mere presence is critical and I fully expected another emotional effort. Lay the points with the home team and get ready for a must-watch Game 5 Thursday night in San Antonio. 

Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder -2.5

New York Mets’ catcher Travis d’Arnaud has missed nearly two weeks of action after taking the worst of Alfonso Soriano’s back swing. Luckily for the Mets, d’Arnaud will return within the next week. For the first time since his injury, d’Arnaud was cleared for baseball activities on Thursday afternoon. Prior to Thursday, the young catcher was suffering from many headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, and had a lot of trouble sleeping. Wednesday marked his first ‘symptom-free’ day and his conditions stabilized into Thursday. Pagan celebrates his game-tying double in the sixth inning. This isn’t the first time d’Arnaud has dealt with concussions and head injuries. This is d’Arnaud’s first concussion as a member of the Mets, but the talented catcher suffered two prior concussions as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies’ Single A affiliate and Toronto Blue Jays’ Double A affiliate. d’Arnaud’s first concussion occurred during 2008 when he took a foot to the face on a play at the plate after he threw away his mask. Early in 2011, d’Arnaud was struck with consecutive foul tipped balls and had to leave the game. Without d’Arnaud in the lineup, the Mets have lacked offensive punch and the odds makers have reflected that in their spreads. In recent MLB betting, the Mets have been sizable home underdogs to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mets clearly misses d’Arnaud’s presence behind the plate and in the lineup.

The Mets expect to have d’Arnaud back in the lineup following a brief rehab stint in the minor leagues. The Mets need to ensure their young catcher is in prime shape before injecting him back into the fold. d’Arnaud is one of the Mets’ best young players and was the centerpiece in the team’s trade that sent RA Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays. d’Arnaud has three home runs so far in 31 games. Expect a power surge and a renewed sense of leadership once he returns to the lineup. Go Mets!

The New York Rangers are only two wins away from reaching their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1994. Luckily for the Rangers, the next two games are at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers have won five straight games, including four road wins. The Rangers rallied to overcome a 3-1 deficit to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the last round. As we’ve seen throughout the playoffs, nothing is guaranteed and no series lead is safe. However, when the goalie advantage is as lopsided as it is, the Rangers can’t help, but feel good about their chances. The Canadians lost their top goalie, Carey Price, to injury in Game 1. They will attempt to rally around third-stringer, Dustin Tokarski. Tokarski has only played in 11 career NHL games and suffered his first post-season loss in Game 2.

Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been outstanding, allowing only three road goals in the first two games. Lundqvist made 40 saves in Game 2, including 19 important saves in the third period to preserve the 3-1 victory. 

Current NHL betting odds list the Rangers as huge (-172 home favorites) for the Game 3 tilt. Hockey is all about momentum and the Rangers have that heading into Game 3. Expect a hostile home crowd and look for the Rangers to put the pressure on with an early goal against an inexperienced goalie.

The Pick: New York Rangers -172

The Miami Heat are on the verge of their fourth straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance. The Heat put a strangle hold on this series with a 102-96 win in Game 4. LeBron James tied a career high by notching 49 points. James made 16 of his 24 shots and once again made Paul Pierce look foolish defensively. James is averaging 30.3 points per game during this series.

Still, the Nets are a proud, veteran bunch that will not give up their season without a fight. Brooklyn must defeat Miami three times in five days in order to advance. Talk about a difficult journey. To make matters worse for Brooklyn, the LeBron-led Heat are 8-0 at home in potential close-out games. Two of these eight victories came against Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett when they were members of the Boston Celtics. Pierce and team mate Joe Johnson have stepped up offensive. The two wing players are averaging 30 points per game, which matches James. 

A win on Wednesday would slot Miami back into the NBA’s version of the Final 4. James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh know what’s at stake and how they cannot give the Nets an inch of breathing room. Expect a spirited, high pace effort from Miami.

The books are backing the Heat as Miami is slotted as a seven-point home favorite. That number may seem steep given the closely fought Game 4, but I’m expect James and Co. to come out with a huge effort. Expect a Miami win in excess of ten points.

The Pick: Heat -7

While there were a number of names banded about before the first round of the draft, the New York Giants appear to have been fairly certain about opting for Louisiana State wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as their opening pick. Head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese were clearly keen on adding some pace to their offence and bolstering Eli Manning’s options after a tough year for the quarterback.

With Hakeem Nicks spending much of the past two seasons sidelined with injury and Reuben Randle still struggling to find any real consistency, the Giants made it a priority to find a wide receiver to help take some of the pressure off Victor Cruz. After missing out on the playoffs for the past two seasons, the Giants have made no secret they are looking to give Manning everything he needs to start getting the best out of this offensive unit and give bet365 fans something to think about ahead of the new season.

At just 5 feet 11 inches and 198 pounds, Beckham isn’t the biggest wide receiver the Giants could have gone for in this draft, but the 21-year’s raw speed and ability to return kicks and punts made him an obvious choice for the Giants management.

“We tried to get the quarterback some weapons. The quarterback needs some help. This guy is a weapon. It was an easy pick for us,” said GM Reece.

Head coach Coughlin added, “We can count on him to help us score some points. We did some work on the offensive line in the free-agency period,” he said, referring to the four veteran offensive-line free agents the franchise have signed during this offseason.

Beckham’s caught the eye after making the first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection after breaking L.S.U.’s single-season all-purpose yardage record with 2,315 yards in 2013. While not the biggest wide receiver, Beckham’s talent as a crafty and shifty runner of pass routes made him highly sought-after in the draft.

While the Giants were also looking at strengthening a number of other areas in their roster, it appears the New York management were in agreement to use their first round pick on acquiring the services of a player who will have an immediate impact on the Giants team.

It’s not a surprise to see Beckham succeeding as an athlete. His father, Odell Sr., was a running back at L.S.U. from 1989 to 1992 and his mother, Heather Van Norman, was an all-American runner for the L.S.U. track team during her time at the university. Beckham also attended Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, following in the footsteps of Eli and Peyton Manning of graduating from that school.

And it will be Eli Manning who Beckham will now be hoping provides plenty of chances for him to show just why the Giants used their first pick to bring the wide-receiver to New York. The two-time Super Bowl champion may not have been at his best over the past two years but he hasn’t exactly had the strongest offensive unit to work with. A busy offseason for the Giants may now have given the quarterback what he needs to end New York’s absence from the playoffs. 

After narrowly winning Game 7 against the Toronto Raptors, the Brooklyn Nets came out flat in Game 1 against the Miami Heat. LeBron James’ 22 points paced the two-time championships as they flew by the Nets, 107-86. The Miami Heat had seven days to rest while the Nets only had one day to recover. Miami used their fresh legs to their advantage as they routine won loose balls and had no trouble getting to the basket. Despite the lop sided score, the Nets are very experienced and are coached by one of the better basketball minds of this generation. The Heat shot a staggering 57 percent from the field in Game 1 and erased any doubts about their match-ups against the Nets. During the regular season, the Nets won all four games against the Heat. 

The Nets have shown a propensity to bounce back, so expect a spirited effort in Game 2. The Nets boasted an embarrassing 10-21 record on New Year’s Day before ripping off 34 of their next 51 games to secure the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, the Nets are 12-4 when coming off losses of 15+ points. 

The Nets allowed five Heat players to score double digit points in Game 1, so they must do a better job at limiting opportunities. The Nets held LeBron and D-Wade to just three free throws. Expect the Nets to continue playing solid defense. 

The Nets have been led by Joe Johnson and Deron Williams who made 14 of their 21 shots in Game 1. The rest of the team shot just 19 of 49 from the field. 

The oddsmakers are expecting another Heat win in Game 2 as NBA odds opened with the Heat listed as eight-point favorites. Even though I think the Heat will win Game 2, I expect the Nets to cover. Recent history has shown us that the Nets are a resilient bunch. Expect them to keep it close in Game 2.

Official Pick: Nets +8

The Brooklyn Nets (2-3) will look to defend its home court and starve off a first round elimination to the upstart Toronto Raptors (3-2). The Raptors dominated the first three quarters and built up a huge 26-point lead. Brooklyn’s offense scored a whopping 44 points in the fourth quarter, but Toronto did enough to hold on for a 115-113 victory. Toronto’s two best players, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, combined for 59 points. The Nets must do a better job at limiting them on the offensive end.

The Nets season ended last season on the home floor in Game 7 to the Chicago Bulls. The 2013 Nets lacked toughness and to make up for that deficiency, the Nets acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce and Garnett have added an edge, but did not play many minutes in their Game 5 loss. Pierce scored just ten points in 24 minutes while Garnett only played 12 minutes. Reserve forward Mason Plumlee is averaging more minutes than Garnett. 

The Nets will rely on their veteran experience in this pivotal Game 6. Expect Pierce and Garnett to play limited, but effective minutes. Look for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to carry the offensive burden. 

Current NBA odds have the Nets listed as a five-point home favorite. I’m taking the home team in this one. I’m expecting a very emotional effort from the Nets. I expect the Nets to carry over their big fourth quarter into Game 6. Lay the points and take the home team.

NBA Pick: Nets -5

Jacoby Ellsbury received many ‘boos’ during his Boston homecoming as a member of the New York Yankees. The speedy lefty went for 2-for-5 with a double, triple, and two RBIs during a 9-3 Yankee romp over the Sox. Ellsbury’s triple in the Top of the 1st set the tone for the rest of the game. The 12-8 Yankees will look to pick up their second victory over their rival Wednesday night at Fenway Park. RHP Michael Pineda will take the ball and look to build upon his impressive performances thus far. Pineda (2-1, 1.00 ERA) threw six scoreless innings in his last start, a win against the lowly Chicago Cubs. Pineda has already faced the Red Sox and won. Pineda struck out seven en route to a 4-1 victory over the Champs at Yankee Stadium. Pitching in Fenway Park figures to be a big challenge for the burly righty. Pineda made his only start in Fenway as a member of the Seattle Mariners. The Red Sox tagged him for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Pineda is hoping for a better outing this time. During his last start, Pineda appeared to have some sort of substance on his hand. We’ll see if it happens again tonight and if the Red Sox do indeed to say something to the umpires.

Pineda will face off against RHP John Lackey (2-2, 5.25 ERA). Lacky has given up twelve runs over his last two starts including a 7-4 shellacking at the hands of the Yankees. Lackey carries an unsightly 6.26 ERA in nine starts against the Bombers since 2010. 

The Red Sox are supposed to get lead off man, Shane Victorino back soon. The speedy switch hitter has not played due to injuries. 

Current MLB odds have the Red Sox installed as slight money line favorites (-123). However, I love to ride hot streaks in baseball and the Yankee bats have been on fire lately. They hit Lackey very well and I expect that to continue. This is one of the rare occurence when we can get the Yankees as a road dog. Take them tonight in Fenway.

Pick: NY Yankees +117


The San Antonio Spurs utilized a late 10-0 run to squeak by the Dallas Mavericks, 90-85. Tim Duncan led the way with 27 points and seven rebounds while Tony Parker chipped in with 21 points and six assists. Manu Ginobili, the third member of San Antonio’s ‘Big 3′, went for 17 points off the bench. While each of the Spurs top players got their points, Dallas’ top player, Dirk Nowitzki, struggled. Nowitzki only registered 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Monta Ellis and Devin Harris combined for 30 points in the loss, but Dallas will need a lot more from Dirk if they want to keep pace with the Spurs. 

The most impressive stat from Game 1 was Dallas’ 3-point defense. Dallas held San Antonio to just 3-of-17 shooting from 3-point range. Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Marco Bellinelli went o-for-7 from deep. The Spurs will need their sharp shooters to knock down shots in Game 2. 

The Spurs were able to get to the charity stripe 22 times compared to just 13 times from Dallas. Dallas won the turnover battle 10-8. They’ll need to keep limiting turnovers and transition points in Game 2. 

Some of the best sportsbooks have the Spurs installed as 8.5 point favorites. The Spurs failed to cover the eight point spread in Game 1, so I fully expect them to bounce back with a huge effort in Game 2. The Spurs shot over 35% from three during the regular season, so I’m expecting a huge bounce back performance. Lay the points and roll with the Spurs in Game 2

Pick: Spurs -8.5

The Brooklyn Nets finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and will face the upstart three seed Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The Raptors haven’t made the playoffs in years and the Nets will look to rebound after last year’s first round exit against the Bulls. The match-ups alone are interesting. The Nets boast one of the NBA’s oldest rosters, but that old roster, which is led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson, has logged over 17,000 playoff minutes. The Raptors have one of the NBA’s most explosive back courts in point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Can the Nets slow down this dynamic duo?

Both teams have gone on impressive runs which makes this a very captivating playoff series. Since trading small forward Rudy Gay in December, the Raptors have gone 41-22, which is the best record in the Eastern Conference during that span. During this stretch, the Raptors rank 10th in turnover percentage, demonstrating a very diplomatic approach to offense. Center Jonas Valanciunas, who emerged late in the season by averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds, will be a critical player. The Nets have the second worst rebound percentage in the NBA, so Valancuinas will have opportunities around the rim. This Toronto team has a lot of talent, but lacks playoff experience. Can they come together?

On the flip side, the Brooklyn has the second best record in the East since January 1st (34-17). A season ending injury to center Brook Lopez forced Brooklyn into more a ‘small ball approach’ with Pierce playing the power forward position. Brooklyn boasts may grizzled veterans that have championship experience, but backup point guard Shaun Livingston may be their most important player. The 6’7″ Livingston perfectly fits Brooklyn’s small ball approach and his size will be critical to slowing down DeRozan. The Nets average three fewer points with Livingston on the court.

Current NBA odds have Toronto slotted as a 2-point favorite. Toronto opened as a 2.5 point favorite, but were quickly bet down to 2 points. I’m expecting an emotional, spirited opening game from the Raptors. I think Brooklyn will win this series, but Toronto will take Game 1. Lay the points and take the Raptors.

Pick: Toronto -2