Articles

NHL West Division Preview for 2021

by Scott Rickenbach

Monday, Jan 11, 2021

NHL West Division Preview for 2021Finally hockey is back as we are heading into the New Year and we will have the NHL season underway by mid-January in this unusually scheduled 2021 hockey season that has been impacted by the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has also resulted in some divisional shuffling for this season. Below I give a quick hitter report on each of the eight teams in the West Division:West:Anaheim – The Ducks have continued to trend downward the past two seasons and they now enter the 3rd season of a rebuild. Unfortunately for Anaheim fans, the 3rd year is unlikely to be the charm. This team struggles to score goals, allows too many goals, is weak on the power play, and nearly just as bad on the penalty kill. I know they got Shattenkirk to try and shore up the power plays and Grant to try and stabilize the penalty kill but the Ducks just have too many holes and didn’t do enough in the off-season.Arizona – This team has been better the past two seasons then they had been in recent years. However, the Coyotes lost quite a few pieces from last season’s team. Players like Hall, Soderberg, Hinostroza, Grabner, and Richardson are now gone but also a key change at the top could make this season a little shaky for Arizona. The Coyotes have a new GM as Armstrong replaces Chayka. The Coyotes are still solid in goal with Keumper and Raanta but will they score enough to be successful? I look for a drop-off for Arizona this season. Colorado – Had they not suffered a number of key injuries this team likely would have won the Stanley Cup last season. Now, bolstered by even more additions to an already stacked roster, this club has to be the odds on favorite to win it all this season. The Avalanche added Brandon Saad and Devon Toews and this was after adding Kadri and Burakovsky the prior off-season. In other words, Colorado just keeps getting stronger and stronger and this is particularly true in 5 of 5 hockey. With some tweaks to special teams and with healthy netminders, the sky is the limit for the Avs. Los Angeles – The Kings have really dropped off the past two seasons and I expect them to remain near the bottom of the league this season as well. Los Angeles is in rebuild mode and the good news is that the future looks bright with a lot of prospects plus draft picks piled up. However, after unloading aging vets this is a team that clearly is looking at next season and beyond and this will be another year for LA as a result. Los Angeles did have a winning record at home last season but was awful on the road. Keep that in mind as you cap their games this season. Will that trend continue in a covid-impacted season?Minnesota – After taking a dip two seasons ago the Wild were on their way back up last season but now appear ready to drop off again. In the long run it will be better for Minnesota but in the short-term they have lost too much. Gone are guys like Mikko Koivu, goalie Devan Dubnyk, Eric Staal, and Ryan Danato among others. It is a long list of departures for this team. Maybe Cam Talbot will be the answer for this team in goal but will they score enough after losing some key contributors that is the question? Defensively the Wild are considered solid but the key will be how Talbot does in a new uniform. St Louis – The Blues will again be one of the best teams in the league. But will the departure of Alex Pietrangelo hurt the leadership of the team. Who will step up? Will Kyle Clifford help insure the Blues don’t see a drop off in toughness and physicality. Of course the signing of Torey Krug, formerly with the Bruins, is huge for St Louis and this team does indeed look like they just shuffled the deck a bit but should be just as strong. Annually one of the top teams in the NHL this season looks like more of the same but, keep in mind, Jordan Binnington no longer has Jake Allen behind him in goal. Of course that could go one of two ways so keep an eye on how things go on defense and in goal for the Blues early this season. Odds are this team will be firing on all cylinders come playoff time as long as Binnington keeps up his end of the deal! He is dealing with some contract pressure too since his bridge contract expires after this season. San Jose – This team fell off drastically last season and another tough campaign is likely on the way this season. They have a fractured dressing room per se as the culture of this team is simply off. Maybe too many big personalities in the locker room and now veteran Joe Thornton is gone and with the Maple Leafs. This club was great on the penalty kill last season but everything else was, and still is, a concern. Now will Martin Jones step up his game in goal with Devan Dubnyk now arriving from Minnesota. Good goaltending can help a club get hot but I feel there are still too many holes with the Sharks. Vegas – This is going to be an interesting season for the Golden Knights. Certainly they are still a high quality team and should be one of the best in the NHL again. But enter Alex Pietrangelo and exit guys like Stastny, Schmidt, Engelland, Cousins and the list goes on. There was just a certain chemistry among these guys that it will be interesting to see how quickly the new club acclimates. Keep in mind there was a lot of drama too about goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after Robin Lehner came on board. But all in all this is a well-coached team under Peter DeBoer and the kind of team that, if it grows more cohesive as a unit as the season goes on, will be the kind of team no one wants to face in the post-season. 

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Ness Notes: Monday, Jan 11

by Larry Ness

Monday, Jan 11, 2021

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."CBB Update (Fri-Sun). There were just TWO games between ranked opponents the last three days, as No. 4 Texas won 72-70 at No. 14 West Va on Saturday and No. 5 Iowa won 86-71 at home over No. 16 Minnesota on Sunday. The Longhorns trailed for most of the game and didn't retake the lead until the final seconds. Texas would score the final SEVEN points of the game, avenging last year's 38-point loss at West Virginia. Luka Garza, the nation's leading scorer at 27.6 PPG, scored 33 points in helping Iowa beat Minnesota, avenging a 102-95 overtime loss to the Gophers on Christmas Day. Higher ranked team are now 24-10 (.706) SU but just 19-15 (55.9%) ATS in meetings between ranked opponents Y-T-D. There were 14 games featuring ranked teams and unranked opponents and the ranked teams went 11-3 (.786) SU but a more modest 8-6 (57.1%) ATS. No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor won handily but despite scoring 116 points, Gonzaga failed to covered as a 32 1/2-point favorite. Gonzaga is 12-0 but just 6-5-1 ATS, while 11-0 Baylor is a money-making 9-2 (81.8%) ATS. There are no ranked teams in action on Monday and later this afternoon the AP will release its latest poll. Recap in Tuesday's Notes. Also on Tuesday, I'll check in on the NBA, three weeks into its 2020-21 season.It's 7-0 Ohio State vs 12-0 Alabama in the CFP Championship Game Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens (8:00 ET on ESPN). The Buckeyes advanced with a DOMINATING 49-28 win over Clemson on Jan 1 in the semifinals. Ohio St QB Justin Fields threw for 385 yards and six TDs, while RB Trey Sermon ran 31 times for 193 yards, as the Buckeyes avenged last season's 29-23 semi final loss to the Tigers. The Clemson defense had NO answer for Fields and the Ohio St offense, as the Buckeyes reeled off 28 unanswered points to take a 35-14 halftime lead. Mac Jones threw four TD passes, three to WR DeVonta Smith, plus RB Harris 'hurdled' his way to 125 rushing yards, as top-ranked Alabama rolled to a 31-14 victory over fourth-ranked Notre Dame to reach the CFP title game for the FIFTH time in the system's seven seasons (won in 2015 and 2017). Alabama scored on its first THREE possessions and seemed to get 'bored' after taking a 28-7 lead in the third quarter (won 31-14).Justin Fields has some VERY sore ribs (broken?) but there's VERY little doubt he will be under center for this game. He's completed 73.4% for 1,906 yards (remember, just seven games) with 21 TDs and six INTs. WRs Wilson (40 catches / 16.8 YPC/ 5 TDs) and Olave (42 catches / 15.7 YPC / 7 TDs) are terrific, while TE Ruckert has just 12 catches but FIVE have resulted in TDs. RB Sermon enters off running for 331 yards in the Big Ten championship game vs Northwestern and following with 193 yards against Clemson.Mac Jones completes 77.0% of his passes for 4,036 yards with 36 TDs and just four INTs, giving him a nation's best QB rating of 203.0. DeVonta Smith (105 catches / 15.6 YPC / 20 TDs) is considered the best WR in the nation and Nick Saban announced that WR Jaylen Waddle (25 catches / 22.3 YPC / 4 TDs in four games) has been cleared to return to practice and could play in this game. RB Harris can't match Sermon's heroics of the last two games but ran for 1,387 yards on 6.1 YPC with 24 TDs on the season.Both offenses seem 'unstoppable,' as Ohio St averages 42.5 PPG (8th), while Alabama averages 49.7 PPG (2nd). Both defenses are strong with Ohio State allowing 21.0 PPG and Alabama 19.5 PPG. However, the Alabama defense has really 'found itself,' after a poor start. The Crimson Tide allowed 28.8 PPG through their first four games but just 14.1 PPG over their last eight. Note, that includes them giving up 46 points to Florida in the SEC title game. Eliminating that game and the Tide allowed just 9.6 PPG over SEVEN of their last eight! Alabama is favored by 8 1/2-points and the over/under is 75.It was called the NFL's Super Wild Card weekend, as there were SIX games as opposed to the usual four. Home teams went 2-4 SU and 2-4 ATS and until Sunday night's 'explosion' in which the Browns beat the Steelers 47-38, the first five wild card games averaged a very modest 43.6 PPG. Three of the first five went over (counting Ind/Buf as an over, with that total closing 50 1/2 and ending 51). Obviously, Cle/Pit went over, making four overs and two unders for the weekend, as games averaged 50.5 points.The No. 1 seeds were the only teams to get a bye in this season's expanded format and both No.2 seeds (Buffalo and New Orleans) advanced. Buffalo were AFC East champions for the first time since 1995 and hosted their first playoff game since 1996 on Saturday. The Bills' 27-24 win over the Colts snapped an 0-6 postseason skid, winning their first playoff game since a 37-22 win over Miami on Dec 30, 1995. The Saints beat the Bears 21-9, holding Chicago to 11 FDs and 239 yards, 99 of which came on the game's final drive. It ended with a 19-yard TD pass on the game's final play with no extra-point try (mattered to some).However, both No. 3 seeds and No. 4 seeds lost at home. In the NFC, No. 3 Seattle never played with the lead against the Rams and was 2 of 14 on third downs. It was Seattle's first home playoff game in four years was a 'disaster, as the Seahawks saw their 10-game home playoff win streak snapped. The Rams allowed just 278 total yards and 11 FDs. LA had QB issues (Wolford was KO'd and Goff was far from healthy) but after a a terrific season, Seattle's Russell Wilson completed 11 of 27 for 174 yards, while throwing a "pick-6" and getting sacked FIVE times!Over in the AFC, let me start with this. Pittsburgh's "Big Ben" threw for 501 yards and four TDs, leading the Steelers to 38 points. However, the Steelers were NEVER in the game. The Browns scored 14 seconds into the game and led 28-0 at the end of the second quarter! Cleveland was without head coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for COVID-19, and assorted other coaches and players because of protocol related to the pandemic. The Browns had limited practice time NONE of that mattered. The Browns were playing their first playoff game since 2002 and walked away with the team's first playoff victory since beating the Pats on New Year's Day 1995 (1994 season). Think that's a big deal? Try this. It was the team's first playoff win on the road since Dec 28, 1969! The Steelers opened the 2020 season 11-0 but then lost FOUR of five, before Sunday' 48-37 loss to the Browns. Both No. 4 seeds also lost but neither result was a surprise. The No. 5 Bucs closed as a 10-point favorite at No. 4 Washington (7-9 record) and won 31-23, as Tom Brady threw for 381 yards and two TDs. It was 'old hat' for TB 12, who made his 42nd postseason start (31st win). However, it was his first not in a New England Patriots uniform and he led the Bucs to their first playoff victory since the 2002 season! However, Brady's counterpart made quite an impression. Taylor Heinicke made just his second pro start and first in the playoffs in place of injured starter Alex Smith. He was signed in early December to the practice squad and threw for 306 yards (one TD) and ran for 46 yards (one TD).Baltimore was as hot as any NFL team down the stretch, closing 5-0 SU & ATS while outscoring opponents on average, 37.2-to-17.8 PPG. The Ravens had lost in the 2019 playoffs at home to Tennessee 28-12 and also 30-24 (OT) at home in Week 11, but were 3 or 3 1/2-point favorites at No. 4 Tennessee. The Ravens fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter but dominated the rest of the way in winning 20-13. Lamar Jackson finally got his first postseason victory (0-2), running for 136 yards and a 48-yard TD while throwing for 179 yards. The Baltimore D held Tennessee to its fewest points all season and smothered 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry. Henry had run all over the Ravens with 328 yards rushing combined in the last two meetings but had his worst performance of the season, gaining only 40 yards on 18 carries. The Ravens snapped a string of 21 straight games lost by the franchise in either the regular season or playoffs when trailing by 10 or more. Can we rename them the "Comeback Kids?"My first look at the Division Round games will come in Wednesday's Notes and a final preview in Friday's Notes.Good luck...Larry

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2021 NCAA Football Championship: Ohio State/Alabama Preview

by Big Al Staff

Monday, Jan 11, 2021

Ohio State and Alabama will play for the 2020-21 College Football National Championship at 8 PM ET on ESPN. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, is the site for the game.The Buckeyes reached this pinnacle game by upsetting Clemson in the national semifinals on January 1st, 49-28, as a 7-point underdog. Ohio State generated 639 yards against the Tigers’ defense while outgaining them by 195 yards. Their 8.9 yards-per-play average was their highest output in a game since 2017 when they averaged 9.2 yards-per-play against Rutgers. Justin Fields completed 22 of 28 passes in the victory. The junior quarterback passed for 385 yards with six touchdown passes, which were both career highs. Fields has completed 73.4% of his passes this season for 1906 yards with 21 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He also rushed for 316 yards with five scores. Running back Trey Sermon has stepped to rush for 524 yards in the Buckeyes’ last two games after rushing for 192 yards against Clemson. The former Oklahoma transfer broke Ohio State’s school two-game rushing record set by Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 476 yards over two games in 2015. After not rushing for more than 215 yards in their first three games, the Buckeyes have gained at least 254 yards on the ground in their last four games.Ohio State enters this game with a 7-0 mark in a COVID-shortened season. The Buckeyes defeated Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and Penn State in the regular season. Alabama has won five more games with victories against Georgia and Texas A&M before defeating Florida in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide then beat Notre Dame in the national semifinals, 31-14, as an 18.5-point favorite on January 1st. Mac Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards with four touchdowns and without an interception in the victory. The junior completed 77% of his passes for 4036 yards with 36 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Jones’ top target was DeVonta Smith. The Heisman Trophy winner caught 105 passes for 1640 yards with 20 touchdowns. Alabama won 11 of their 12 games by at least 15 points. They were riding an NCAA record 24-game streak where they scored at least 35 points before the Fighting Irish held them to 31 points. Crimson Tide center Landon Dickerson is out the season with the knee injury he suffered in the SEC Championship Game. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle will be a game-time decision with the ankle injury that has kept him out the last seven games. Fields is probable for Ohio State despite the mid-body injury he incurred mid-game against Clemson. The Buckeyes are still dealing with the COVID outbreak that has limited their roster since the Big Ten Championship Game. Running back Myian Williams revealed on Twitter that he did not make the trip to Miami. Ohio State will also rely on freshman kicker Jake Siebert with their two other kickers, Blake Haubeil and Dominic Dimaccio, out with COVID. Defensive linemen Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith have also tested positive, with their status in doubt. There is speculation that Togiai had a false positive test and that the team may bypass Big Ten protocols for CDC protocols in allowing Togiai to play. There is speculation that the remaining players impacted by COVID are backups, but the Buckeyes may be down to just four defensive ends for this game. Ohio State makes their first appearance in the National Championship Game since 2014 when they won the title. The Buckeyes defeated the Crimson Tide in the semifinals by a 42-35 score, which was the last time these two teams played on the gridiron. Alabama will be playing in their eighth championship game since 2009. The Tide's last appearance in this game was on January 8th, 2018, when Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench to lead their second-half rally to defeat Georgia in overtime by a 26-23 score. The Crimson Tide has won five national championships under head coach Nick Saban.BetAnySports lists Alabama as an 8.5-point favorite with the total set at 75.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NBA, NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football Preview

by Big Al Staff

Monday, Jan 11, 2021

The Monday sports card features action in the NBA and college basketball, with the main attraction being the College Football National Championship Game.Eight games are on the NBA docket. Four games tip-off the card at 7 PM ET. Two contests conclude the schedule at 10 PM ET. None of the games are on national television.The college basketball schedule tips off at 3 PM ET with SMU hosting Temple in an American Athletic Conference showdown. The Mustangs are an 11.5-point favorite with the total set at 142 (all odds from BetOnline).UConn travels to DePaul at 6 PM ET on FS1. The Huskies raised their record to 6-1 after their 72-60 win at Butler as a 1.5-point favorite on Saturday. The Blue Demons have lost three in a row to fall to 1-3 season after losing to Seton Hall on Saturday by a 76-68 score. UConn is a 5-point road favorite with an over/under of 140. Boise State plays at Wyoming at 9 PM ET on the CBS Sports Network. The Broncos lost their opening game of the season at Houston by a 68-58 score but have since rattled off nine straight victories. They last played on Friday when they defeated Air Force by an 80-69 score as an 18.5-point favorite with a total of 132. Wyoming is now 7-2 on the season after their six-game winning streak ended last Monday in an 81-61 loss at Fresno State as a 3.5-point underdog. Boise State is an 8.5-point road favorite with the total at 147.5.Ohio State and Alabama will play for the 2020-21 College Football National Championship at 8 PM ET on ESPN. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, is the site for the game.The Buckeyes reached this pinnacle game by upsetting Clemson in the national semifinals on January 1st, 49-28, as a 7-point underdog. Ohio State generated 639 yards against the Tigers’ defense while outgaining them by 195 yards. Their 8.9 yards-per-play average was their highest output in a game since 2017 when they averaged 9.2 yards-per-play against Rutgers. Alabama beat Notre Dame in the national semifinals, 31-14, as an 18.5-point favorite on January 1st. Mac Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards with four touchdowns and without an interception in the victory. The junior completed 77% of his passes for 4036 yards with 36 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Jones’ top target was DeVonta Smith. The Heisman Trophy winner caught 105 passes for 1640 yards with 20 touchdowns. Alabama won 11 of their 12 games by at least 15 points. They were riding an NCAA record 24-game streak where they scored at least 35 points before the Fighting Irish held them to 31 points. Ohio State makes their first appearance in the National Championship Game since 2014 when they won the title. The Buckeyes defeated the Crimson Tide in the semifinals by a 42-35 score, which was the last time these two teams played on the gridiron. Alabama will be playing in their eighth championship game since 2009. The Tide's last appearance in this game was on January 8th, 2018, when Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench to lead their second-half rally to defeat Georgia in overtime by a 26-23 score. The Crimson Tide has won five national championships under head coach Nick Saban.Alabama is an 8.5-point favorite, with the total set at 75.

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NFL Sunday Night Football: Steelers/Browns Preview

by Big Al Staff

Sunday, Jan 10, 2021

The conclusion to the Super Wild Card Playoff Weekend triple-header on Sunday has Cleveland visiting Pittsburgh for the third installment this season of their AFC North rivalry.The Browns ended their 17-year playoff drought last weekend with their 24-22 victory over the Steelers. Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 27 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions. Nick Chubb added 108 yards on the ground from 14 carries. Mayfield has completed 62.8% of his passes in his third season in the league for 3563 yards with 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. The former Heisman Trophy winner has struggled in his three career starts in Pittsburgh. Mayfield has lost all three games while averaging only 165 passing yards-per-game with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He got sacked 11 times while posting a low 70.6 passer rating in those games. Not only did the Browns lose all three games, they only averaged 16.5 points-per-game. The more pressing concern for the Cleveland organization has been managing the COVID outbreak in their organization. Quarantine guidelines will prevent first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski from being on the sidelines and communicating with his team and coaching staff during the game. Special teams coach Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays. The Browns were able to get back to the practice field on Friday after quarantining for most of the week. Injuries and COVID keep Cleveland far from at full strength for their return to the postseason. Pro-Bowl guard Joel Bitonio, cornerback Denzel Ward, and safety Ronnie Harrison, Jr. is the most significant losses for them to COVID. The Browns will also be without tight end Harrison Bryant, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, cornerback Kevin Johnson, safety Jovante Moffat, and linebacker Malcolm Smith. The Browns also have been hit by injuries with the loss to defensive end Olivier Vernon to his Achilles’ injury. Vernon is second on the team with nine sacks. Cleveland also has the following seven players listed as questionable: wide receiver Donovan People-Jones; tackle Jack Conklin; defensive end Myles Garrett; cornerback Terrance Mitchell; defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson; cornerback M.J. Stewart guard Wyatt Teller. People-Jones did pass the concussion protocol at the end of the week and practiced on Friday. Stefanski is optimistic that at least Garrett and Richardson will be able to play.Pittsburgh has no players on their final injury report this week. Cornerback Joe Haden is the only player on their COVID list. The Steelers have sustained injuries this season with seven players either out the year or on their Injured Reserve, with starting linebackers Devin Bush and Marcus Dupree being the most notable. The Steelers were able to rest some starters last week in the loss to the Browns after being locked into the third seed. Ben Roethlisberger was able to get the game off with backup Mason Rudolph completing 22 of 39 passes for 315 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. Roethlisberger is completing 65.6% of his passes this season for 3803 yards with 33 touchdown passes and ten interceptions. He has owned Cleveland in his career when playing at home in Heinz Field, where he sports a 13-0 record with the average scoring being 28-13. The Steelers won the first meeting between these two teams by a 38-7 score at home on October 18th.BookMaker lists the Steelers as a 6-point favorite with the total set at 46.5. Kickoff on NBC is at 8:15 PM ET.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NBA, NFL and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Sunday, Jan 10, 2021

The Sunday sports card features the second-leg of the NFL Super Wild Card Weekend triple-header in addition to action in the NBA and college basketball.The NFL card kicks off at 1:05 PM ET Baltimore visiting Tennessee on ABC and the ESPN networks. The Ravens have won five games in a row after defeating Cincinnati on the road by a 38-3 score last Sunday as a 13.5-point favorite. The Titans won their third game in four contests with their 41-38 victory at Houston as a 7-point favorite last week. Baltimore is a 3-point road favorite with the total set at 54.5 (all odds from BetOnline).New Orleans hosts Chicago at 4:40 PM ET on CBS. The Saints won their final two games of the regular season after beating Carolina on the road last week by a 33-7 score as a 6-point favorite. The Bears backed into the playoffs despite losing last week at Green Bay, 35-16, as a 4.5-point underdog, which snapped their three-game winning streak. New Orleans is a 10.5-point favorite with an over/under of 48. Cleveland plays at Pittsburgh in the nightcap at 8:15 PM ET on NBC. The Browns ended their 17-year playoff drought last weekend with their 24-22 victory over the Steelers as a 10.5-point favorite. Pittsburgh had the luxury of resting some starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, after being locked into the third seed in the AFC playoffs. A pressing concern for the Cleveland organization this week has been managing the COVID outbreak in their organization. Quarantine guidelines will prevent first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski from being on the sidelines and communicating with his team and coaching staff during the game. Special teams coach Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays. The Browns were able to get back to the practice field on Friday after quarantining for most of the week. The Browns will be without eight players on their COVID list, including Pro-Bowl guard Joel Bitonio, cornerback Denzel Ward, and safety Ronnie Harrison, Jr. The Steelers are a 6-point favorite with a total of 47.The college basketball card tips off at 11 AM ET with Xavier hosting Providence on Fox. The Musketeers ended a two-game losing streak on Wednesday with their 69-61 win against St. John’s as a 6.5-point favorite to raise their record to a 9-2 mark. The Friars felt 7-4 last Saturday with their narrow 67-65 loss at home to Creighton as a 4-point underdog. Xavier is a 3.5-point favorite with an over/under of 140.5.Cincinnati travels to Wichita State on ESPN2 at 4:30 PM ET. The Bearcats ended a five-game slide on Thursday with a 76-69 upset victory at SMU. The Shockers' five-game winning streak ended on Wednesday in a 70-63 loss at Houston as an 11-point underdog. Wichita State is a 2.5-point favorite with the total at 140.5.Colgate defeated Boston University yesterday by an 86-79 score as a 3.5-point road favorite. The CBS Sports Network has the rematch at 6 PM ET.Loyola-Illinois plays at Indiana State at 6:30 PM ET on ESPN2. The Sycamores lost their fourth game in a row last Sunday in a 76-66 loss at Missouri State as a 3.5-point underdog. The Ramblers won their fourth straight game last Saturday with their 57-49 win against North Texas as a 7-point favorite. The NBA has eight games on the docket starting at 3:05 PM ET, with Utah visiting Detroit as a 7.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 216. The card concludes with Golden State hosting Toronto at 8:35 PM ET.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NBA, NFL and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Saturday, Jan 09, 2021

The Saturday sports card features a loaded slate in college basketball along with action in the NBA and a Super Wild Card Weekend tripleheader in the NFL playoffs.The NFL card kicks off at 1:05 PM ET with Buffalo hosting Indianapolis. The Bills claimed the second seed in the AFC playoffs last week by winning their sixth game in a row by beating Miami, 56-26. The Colts have won four of their last five by defeating Jacksonville, 28-14, last Sunday. Buffalo is a 6-point favorite with the total set at 51 (all odds from BetOnline). CBS has the broadcast.Fox has the NFC West showdown between the Los Angeles Rams at Seattle that kicks off at 4:40 PM ET. The Seahawks have won four games in a row after defeating San Francisco on the road last week by a 26-23 score. The Rams snapped their two-game losing streak last Sunday in an 18-7 win against Arizona. Seattle is a 3-point favorite with an over/under of 42.The nightcap has Washington hosting Tampa Bay on ABC and the ESPN networks. The Football Team won the NFC East and the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs last Sunday night in their 20-14 win at Philadelphia. The Buccaneers have won four games in a row to claim the top wildcard spot in the NFC with a 44-27 victory against Atlanta last week. Tampa Bay is an 8-point road favorite with a total of 44.5. Kickoff is at 8:15 PM ET.The nationally-televised college basketball schedule tips off at noon PM ET. Creighton hosts St. John’s on FS1. The Bluejays are ranked seventh in the AP poll laying 13.5-points with the over/under at 159. Richmond is a 6-point road favorite at George Mason, with the total at 143.5 on the CBS Sports Network. On ESPN2, Alabama is a 5-point road favorite at Auburn with an over/under of 150. West Virginia hosts Texas in a battle of ranked Big 12 teams on ESPN at 1 PM ET. The Mountaineers are 14th in the AP poll, with the Longhorns ranking 4th. West Virginia is a 1.5-point favorite with the total at 140.At 2 PM ET, Tennessee visits Texas A&M on ESPN2. The ninth-ranked Volunteers are 10.5-point road favorites with an over/under of 129. On FS1, Seton Hall is laying 4 points on the road at DePaul, with the total set at 147.5. VCU plays at home against Rhode Island as a 6-point favorite with an over/under of 139 on the CBS Sports Network. Duquesne hosts Fordham on the NBC Sports Network as a 13.5-point favorite with the total at 127.5.Baylor travels to TCU at 3 PM ET on ESPN. The second-ranked Bears are 12.5-point road favorites with an over/under of 143.5.At 4 PM ET, 11th ranked Houston is laying 18.5 points against Tulane on ESPNU with the total set at 129. 18th ranked Texas Tech is a 7.5-point road favorite at Iowa State on ESPN2 with the total at 133.5. Butler is a 3-point favorite at home against UConn on the CBS Sports Network with an over/under of 128. Colorado State hosts UNLV as a 7-point favorite on FS1, with the total at 145. UMass is at home laying 5 points against LaSalle on the NBC Sports Network with an over/under of 146. UTSA hosts North Texas in the second game of their back-to-back on ESPNU.CBS has sixth-ranked Kansas hosting Oklahoma at 4:30 PM ET. The Jayhawks are 6.5-point favorites, with the total set at 144.5. At 5 PM ET, Florida plays at home against Kentucky on ESPN as a 4.5-point favorite with the over/under at 141. Oklahoma State travels to Manhattan to play Kansas State as a 7.5-point favorite on ESPN2 with the total at 139.5 at 6 PM ET.At 7 PM ET, Syracuse hosts Georgetown on ESPN as a 10-point favorite with an over/under of 146.5. The CBS Sports Network has Saint Mary’s hosting Santa Clara as a 9-point favorite with the total at 127. UCLA travels to Arizona at 9 PM ET on ESPN. The Wildcats are 3-point favorites with an over/under of 138.5. The CBS Sports Network has San Diego State playing at home at 9 PM ET laying 11 points against Nevada with the total set at 135.The NBA card has eight games on the docket. Denver plays at Philadelphia to tip things off at 3:05 PM ET. The schedule concludes at 10:05 PM ET with Portland playing at Sacramento. None of the games are on national television.

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NFL Saturday Night Football: Buccaneers/Football Team Preview

by Big Al Staff

Saturday, Jan 09, 2021

The Saturday night conclusion to the Super Wild Card Playoff Weekend tripleheader has Tampa Bay visiting Washington in a showdown on ABC and the ESPN networks at 8:15 PM ET.The Buccaneers claimed the top wild card slot by winning their last four games to end the regular season with an 11-5 record. They defeated Atlanta last Sunday by a 44-27 score as a 7.5-point favorite. Tom Brady has found his rhythm with his new team. Over his last three games, the 43-year old completed 70% of his passes for 1137 passing yards with ten touchdown passes and only one interception. For the season, Brady completed 66% of his passes for 4633 yards with 40 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. He leads an offense that is third in the league by scoring 30.8 points-per-game. The Tampa Bay defense ranks sixth in the NFL by holding their opponents to 327.6 yards-per-game. The Bucs had the stingiest run defense during the regular season by allowing only 80.6 rushing yards-per-game. Yet this unit was susceptible to the pass as they ranked 21st by giving up 247 passing yards-per-game. Washington rallied from a 2-7 start to win the NFC East by winning five of their last seven games. The Football Team has not allowed more than 20 points during that span. Washington ranked second in the league by only giving up 304.6 yards-per-game. The strength of their defense is their pass rush that registered 47 sacks, the sixth most in the NFL. The Football Team was also second by allowing only 191.8 passing yards-per-game, and they led the league by giving up the fewest pass plays of more than 20 yards. Their 16 interceptions tie for the second-most in the NFL.The Football Team clinched their playoff spot last Sunday night in their 20-14 win at Philadelphia. Alex Smith completed 22 of 32 passes for 162 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions to lead Washington to the victory. The Football Team has won five of their six games, with Smith starting under center. He completed 66.7% of his passes in his eight games with 1582 yards, but he threw eight interceptions with only six touchdown passes. His passer rating during the regular season was only 78.5.Smith is questionable for this game with a calf injury. Head coach Ron Rivera suggested earlier in the week that he may have to split time between Smith and backup Taylor Heinecke under center. Washington also listed running back Antonio Gibson, wider receiver Terry McLaurin, and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis as questionable, but all four players participated in limited practice at the end of the week. Linebacker Thomas Davis is out with a knee injury joining 13 other players on the roster who are either out the season or on Injured Reserve. Tampa Bay will be without Devin White, who is on their COVID list. The linebacker leads the team in tackles, and his nine sacks are second-most. Defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter is out with a calf injury. Cornerback Carlton Davis is questionable but was a full participant in practice by the end of the week. Wide receiver Mike Evans is also questionable after taking part in limited practice. Running back LeSean McCoy did not practice this week but remained listed as questionable. The Bucs have six other players either out the season or on their Injured Reserve. BetAnySports lists Tampa Bay as a 7.5-point favorite with the total set at 44.5.

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Ness Notes: Friday, Jan 8

by Larry Ness

Friday, Jan 08, 2021

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."CBB: There are no matchups between ranked opponents on Thursday but FIVE games between ranked and unranked ones. No. 1 Gonzaga (10-0) hosted 9-2 BYU, No. 5 Iowa (9-2) was at Maryland, No. 8 Wisconsin (9-2) was home to Indiana, No. 12 Illinois (8-3) was at Northwestern and No. 17 Oregon (8-1) was at Colorado. Oregon was the lone ranked team to lose, as the Ducks lost at Colorado, ending their eight-game winning streak. BYU had not played since Dec. 23 and it showed. No. 1 Gonzaga promptly opened a 23-2 lead and led by as much as 32 points in a 17-point victory (closing line was 17 points!). No. 5 Iowa rolled at Maryland but No. 8 Wisconsin needed two OTs to win 80-73 at home vs Indiana (non-cover). No. 12 Illinois was down 43-28 at the half at Northwestern but made 16 of 31 shots in the second half in a dominating 53-13 performance. Northwestern did not make a single field goal in the final seven-and-a-half minutes!Ranked teams went 4-1 SU but 2-2-1 ATS. No top-25 matchups on Friday (higher ranked team are 22-10, .686 SU but just 17-15, 53.1% ATS in meetings between ranked opponents Y-T-D) while ranked teams are now 142-28 (.844) SU but only 92-85-3 (52.0%) ATS when taking on an unranked foe. No. 3 Villanova was scheduled to play at Marquette but the Wildcats have postponed all games until a Jan 15 date at UConn. No. 23 Michigan St has won back-to-back Big Ten games after opening 0-3 in league play for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Spartans welcome the 7-5 Purdue Boilermakers to Breslin Center on Thursday, where they are favored by 4 1/2-pointsNBA: In the first game of Thursday's TNT doubleheader, the Nets were without Kevin Durant due to COVID-19 safety protocols and also played without Kyrie Irving, who sat out due to unspecified personal reasons. No problem. Brooklyn beat Philadelphia, which entered with an NBA-best 6-1 record, 122-109. However, the bigger story may be that Seth Curry returned a positive test for the coronavirus, which the team learned of near the start of  the game. The Sixers are staying overnight in New York and will commence contact tracing Friday morning, sources said. The team will do a new round of testing Friday in accordance with the NBA's health and safety protocols. "Fingers crossed." In the nightcap, the Mavs went toe-to-toe in Denver against the Nuggets, prevailing 124-117 in OT. Doncic had 38-13-9 for Dallas and Jokic 38 & 11 for Denver. No national TV cameras were around to see the Spurs win 118-109 at the Lakers, snapping LA's four-game winning streak. How about those Spurs? They won Tuesday night at Staples Center as well, 116-113 over the Clippers. ESPN features a doubleheader on Friday, as the Hornets are in New Orleans to take on the Pelicans at 7:35 ET (Pelicans are favored by 6 1/2-points). Then at 10:05 ET from San Francisco, it's the Clippers at the Warriors with LA favored by  six points. The defending champion Lakers look to bounce back from last night's home loss to the Spurs when they host the 4-5 Chicago Bulls. LA is favored by 10 points and I'm using the Lakers as "free play" in the game. In researching the game I noticed this. SIX Chicago Bulls are averaging double digits in points and ALL six are 1st round picks (quite remarkable). View my free pick for all the details. Sunday's NFL Wild Card games: ABC/ESPN will televise the first of three NFL wild card games at 1:05 ET, as the 11-5 Ravens (No. 5 seed) are in Nashville to take on the 11-5 Titans (No. 4 seed). The then 14-2 Ravens were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs last season, losing 28-12 at home to the Titans as 10-point favorites, as Derrick Henry ran for yards. These teams met in Week 11 of the 2020 season (again in Baltimore) and even with that playoff revenge, the Ravens blew a 21-10 third-quarter lead in a 30-24 OT loss. The Ravens were just 6-5 after their Week 12 loss to Pittsburgh but would go on a 5-0 SU & ATS run to finish 11-5 and earn the AFC's No. 5 seed. The Titans battled the Indy Colts all season long for the AFC South title but clinched the division (via a tiebreaker) with a 41-38 win at Houston in Week 17. Derrick Henry rushed for a career-high 250 yards and became the eighth player in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a season, in Tennessee's Week 17 win. Baltimore's Lamar Jackson became the first QB in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in multiple seasons in Baltimore's 38-3 win at Cincinnati in Week 17. Jackson rushed for 97 yards on 11 carries to give him 1,005 yards for the season. The Ravens finished with 404 rushing yards, which was the fourth most by a team since 1950. Is the THIRD time going to be the charm for Baltimore vs Tennessee? Baltimore is favored by three points and the over/under is 54 1/2.CBS will carry the 8-8 Chicago Bears (No. 7 seed) visiting New Orleans to face the 12-4 Saints (No. 2 seed). The Saints beat the Bears 26-23 in overtime at Chicago back on Nov 1, Alvin Kamara had 163 yards from scrimmage, including a 20-yard run to set up Wil Lutz's winning FG. The NFL schedule makers gave the New Orleans Saints a break by scheduling this game on Sunday, not Saturday. Had the Saints been scheduled to play on Saturday, Kamara would not have been eligible to return after testing positive for COVID-19. As ALL will remember, Kamara tied an NFL record with six TDs in a victory over Minnesota on Christmas Day. Mitchell Trubisky will NEVER be mistaken for Drew Brees but since he regained his starting position, he has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,495 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Chicago has averaged 30.2 PPG in that stretch, even after the 35-15 loss to Green Bay last Sunday ended a four-game streak of scoring at least 30 points. Trubisky's return has also seemed to rejuvenate Chicago's running game. The Bears were averaging 78.2 rushing yards before Trubisky returned to the lineup but they are averaging 144.2 rushing yards since. New Orleans is favored by 10 points and the over/under is 47.The Browns clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2002 with a 24-22 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, snapping the NFL's longest current playoff drought. Pittsburgh had clinched the AFC North and a playoff spot in Week 16, so they rested Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph got the start and completed 22 of 39 passes for 315 yards with two TDs and one INT. Now, one week later, the third-seeded Steelers (12-4) and sixth-seeded Browns (11-5) will "do it all over again" Sunday night in Pittsburgh (NBC at 8:15 ET). Mayfield  (26 TDs and 8 INTs for a 95.9 QB rating) and "Big Ben (65.6% for 3,803 yards with 33 TDs and only 10 INTs in 15 games) each had excellent seasons but while Cleveland running game comes in averaging 148.3 YPG on the ground (3rd-best), Pittsburgh's running game ranks last in the NFL (84.4 YPG). The defensive edge clearly goes to Pittsburgh, which allows 19.5 PPG (3rd) on 305.8 YPG (3rd), while the Browns are allowing 26.2 PPG. The Steelers have dominated this series dating back to 2004 (Big Ben's rookie year) with a 28-5-1 SU record! However, this is NOT your father's Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh is a six-point favorite (over/under is 47 1/2).Good luck...Larry

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NFL Wild Card Saturday Player Props

by Sean Murphy

Friday, Jan 08, 2021

Betting opportunities abound with an unprecedented six NFL Wild Card showdowns on tap this weekend. Here's a look at one player prop to consider from each of Saturday's three playoff contests (lines taken from BetOnline but widely available, with numbers varying, at most sportsbooks).Colts vs. BillsColts RB Jonathan Taylor over 77.5 rushing yardsWhile game script could certainly work against super rookie Taylor in this game (the Bills are favored by nearly a touchdown), I don't expect the Colts to stray away from him even if they do fall behind. Outside of Derrick Henry, few running backs were more dominant than Taylor down the stretch as he ripped off north of 130 rush yards per game over his last six contests. The strength of the Bills defense is in their secondary - they're relatively soft against the run, ranking 26th in yards per rush allowed (4.6). Also note that the Bills rank an identical 26th in opponent's rushing first down percentage. Expect Taylor to rip off enough big gains to get up and over this relatively low rushing yardage total. Rams vs. SeahawksSeahawks WR D.K. Metcalf under 62.5 receiving yardsSeattle QB Russell Wilson is likely going to have to look away from big play machine Metcalf in this one as D.K. will likely draw shadow coverage from Rams elite CB Jalen Ramsey. Note that Metcalf has surpassed 59 receiving yards just once in four career meetings with the Rams. We saw the Seahawks offense settle down as the season progressed, with far less being asked of Wilson compared to earlier in the campaign when the 'Let Russ Cook' talk reached a fever pitch. Metcalf topped out at six catches and went over 61 receiving yards just once over the regular season's final five games. Should the Seahawks build a lead as expected in a favored role at home, his likelihood of seeing a sudden increase in targets is diminished.Buccaneers vs. Washington Football TeamWashington RB J.D. McKissic over 32.5 receiving yardsIf there's one area in the Bucs defense that Washington's offense can exploit it's in the short passing game where RB McKissic was a force all season long. With Washington's two legitimate game-breakers in RB Antonio Gibson and WR Terry McLaurin both dealing with late season injuries, McKissic needs to be a part of the gameplan on Saturday night. Should WFT be playing much of this game from behind (as is expected as an eight-point underdog) it will be yielded the middle of the field by a Bucs defense that will be focused on taking away big splash plays through the air. With QB Alex Smith nursing a calf strain, he'll be looking to get the ball out quickly and McKissic should be a benefactor. 

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NCAA Friday Night Basketball: Michigan State/Purdue Preview

by Big Al Staff

Friday, Jan 08, 2021

A college basketball doubleheader on FS1 tips off at 7 PM ET in a battle between perennial Big Ten powers.Michigan State has underachieved this season, but head coach Tom Izzo may have pushed the right button to get his team going again. The Spartans had lost three straight games to begin their conference campaign for the first time since 2001-02 with losses to Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But Michigan State rebounded to defeat Nebraska on the road on Saturday by an 84-77 score. The Spartans then crushed Rutgers at home on Tuesday, 68-45, as a 3-point favorite. Izzo got his best defensive effort from his team all season in limiting the Scarlet Knights to just 45 points on 30.5% shooting from the field. Michigan State had allowed their previous five opponents to make at least 47.6% of their shots, which resulted in at least 77 points in all five of those games. The Spartans rank an uncharacteristic 54th in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom for an Izzo-coached team.Izzo’s more impactful move might have been shifting Rocket Watts back to his more comfortable shooting guard role two games ago against Nebraska. Watts began the year by filling the big shoes of the graduated Cassius Winston at point guard. Foster Loyer started the game against the Cornhuskers with freshman A.J. Hoggard playing 23 minutes off the bench at the point, which was the longest he had played all season. Hoggard’s solid effort with five assists persuaded Izzo to start him against Rutgers, where he played 25 minutes and posted six assists in the victory. Hoggard’s ability to operate as a pass-first facilitator has helped Aaron Henry score 27 and 20 points in his last two games. Henry’s 27 points against Nebraska were a career-high for the junior. Michigan State is 27th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. They are scoring 78.0 points-per-game with five players averaging at least 8.2 points-per-game. The Spartans’ best two victories this season were against Duke and that win against Rutgers in their last time on the court that improved their record to 8-3.Purdue has lost two straight games, along with three of their last four after losing at Illinois by a 66-58 score on Saturday as a 5.5-point underdog. The Boilermakers are 7-5, with all five of those losses being on the road away from Mackey Arena in games against Clemson, Miami, Iowa, Rutgers, and the Fighting Illini, in their last game. Their highest-profile victories are against Ohio State and Maryland.Head coach Matt Painter returned the top-three scorers from his team last year that finished 16-15. But this team had holes to fill from last season. Painter has gone young with five freshmen averaging double-digit minutes per game in his ten-man rotation. Once again this year, Painter has two big men who are in timeshare playing in the post. 6’10 junior Trevion Williams is scoring 14.1 points-per-game and adding 9.6 rebounds-per-game. 7’4 freshman Zach Edey adds 9.1 points-per-game along with 4.1 rebounds-per-game in his 14.3 minutes per game. Guards Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter are both scoring over ten points-per-game. The Boilermakers make 40th in the nation by converting 37.9% of their 3-pointers. They are 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom while ranking 47th in defensive efficiency.BookMaker lists Michigan State as a 4-point favorite with the total set at 143.5.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NBA and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Friday, Jan 08, 2021

The Friday sports card features action in college basketball and the NBA.The college basketball card begins at noon PM ET with Milwaukee hosting IUPUI as a 5.5-point favorite with the total set at 143 (all odds from BetOnline).The nationally-televised college basketball card starts at 6:30 PM ET with Toledo playing at home against Ohio on the CBS Sports Network. The Rockets improved their record to 9-3 on Tuesday with their 84-82 upset win at Kent State as a 3-point underdog. The Bobcats are 6-4 this season after they upset Northern Illinois as a 4.5-point underdog. Toledo is a 3.5-point favorite with an over/under of 148.The only ranked team playing on Friday goes at 7 PM ET, with Michigan State playing at home against Purdue on FS1. The Spartans are 23rd in the Associated Press poll. They have won their last two games to raise their record to an 8-3 mark after their 68-45 victory at home against Rutgers as a 3-point favorite on Tuesday. The Boilermakers have dropped three of their four to fall to 7-5 after their 66-58 loss at Illinois as a 5.5-point underdog. Michigan State is a 4.5-point favorite with a total at 143.Youngstown State travels to Wright State on FS1. The Raiders had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Saturday with their 81-71 upset loss at home to Oakland as an 11-point favorite. The Penguins are 6-4 after defeating Carlow University, 109-56, on Monday. Wright State is laying 13 points as the favorite with the over/under at 144.North Texas visits UTSA on ESPNU. The Mean Green fell to 4-4 on Saturday with their 57-49 loss at Loyola-Illinois as a 7-point underdog. The Roadrunners are now 4-5 with two straight losses after losing at Rice by an 84-69 score as a 2-point underdog on Saturday. North Texas is a 6.5-point favorite with the total set at 144.At 9 PM ET, Davidson plays at home against Dayton on ESPN2. The Wildcats have won three of their last four games to reach their current 6-4 record. They come off a 61-48 win at Duquesne as a 2-point favorite on Tuesday. The Flyers are now 5-3 after losing two of their last three games with their 55-54 upset loss at Fordham as a 12-point favorite on Tuesday. Davidson is a 6-point favorite with an over/under of 129.The college basketball card concludes at 10 PM ET with Utah State playing at New Mexico on FS1. These two teams played on Wednesday, with the Aggies winning as a 12.5-point favorite, 77-45. The win raised their record to an 8-3 mark while the Lobos fell to 3-5. Utah State is a 15.5-point favorite with the total at 138.Ten games are on the NBA featuring a doubleheader on ESPN. New Orleans hosts Charlotte with a 7:35 PM ET start in the opening game on ESPN. The Pelicans have lost two games in a row to fall to 4-4 on the season after getting upset on Wednesday at home to Oklahoma City as an 8-point favorite. Charlotte snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 102-94 upset victory at Atlanta as a 5.5-point underdog. New Orleans is a 6-point favorite with an over/under of 216.5.The nightcap on ESPN has the Los Angeles Clippers playing at Golden State for the second time in three days. The Clippers defeated the Warriors on Wednesday by a 108-101 score as a 5-point favorite to improve their record to 6-3. Golden State’s setback left them 4-4 on the new season. The Clippers are 4-point favorites in the rematch with a total of 231.5.

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