The best bet for the opening night of the NBA’s play-in tournament, other top picks for Tuesday

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The NBA Playoffs begin today! Kind of! Yes, that’s right, the play-in games start tonight with two Eastern Conference games that don’t have nearly the same headline appeal as Wednesday’s matchup between the Lakers and Warriors, but who cares? It’s playoff-ish basketball!

It’s win-and-you-might-have-to-go-home-but-maybe-not-we’ll-see-how-the-next-game-goes!

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Seriously, I’m not what you could call a fan of the play-in games, but I’m going to watch them, so I suppose I’m part of the problem. Still, this format is pretty dumb. For those who aren’t in the know, here’s how it works. The seven and eight seeds play, and the winner is in the playoffs. The loser then has to play the winner of the game between the nine and 10 seed, and the winner of that second game gets the final playoff spot.

What doesn’t make sense to me is why the seven and eight play each other. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the seven to play the 10? Shouldn’t the seven seed have some kind of advantage for having the better regular-season record?

Whatever, I’m going to watch. But first I’m going to read these stories.

To the pseudo-playoffs!

All times Eastern, and all odds via William Hill Sportsbook

? The Hot Ticket

Hornets at Pacers, 6:30 p.m. | TV: TNT
The Pick: Hornets +3 (-110)
: As I write this, both Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon are listed as questionable for the Pacers, but I’m anticipating both will play, as does the listed spread. That being said, you might want to wait a little longer before putting this bet in. If both play as expected, there’s a good chance we could see the Hornets move to +3.5 or even +4.

There’s a part of me that thought about just taking the Hornets here because we have a possible “none of these teams deserve to be favorites” situation with these play-in games, but thankfully I have other reasons too!

Charlotte won two of the three meetings between the teams during the regular season, but what stood out the most was how well Charlotte — a slightly below-average defense — defended the Pacers. The Pacers finished the season sixth in the NBA with 115.3 points per game but scored only 106 points per game against Charlotte.

It’s also difficult to ignore just how bad the Pacers were defensively down the stretch. It makes them even more difficult to trust as a favorite.

Key Trend: The Pacers are 8-20 ATS in their last 28 games as a home favorite.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: SportsLine’s projection model generated selections for Tuesday’s play-in matchup between the Charlotte Hornets and the Indiana Pacers and it really likes one side of the total.

? The Picks
Getty Images

Wizards at Celtics, 9 p.m. | TV: TNT
The Pick: Bradley Beal Over 3.5 Assists (-135) — 
It’s hard to know exactly what this game will look like without Jaylen Brown playing for the Celtics, but if I were to bet the spread, I’d lean Washington’s direction. Still, I don’t see much value on either side where it currently sits.

Where I do see some value is in the assists prop for Beal. He’s returning from his hamstring injury tonight, and I think the absence of Jaylen Brown will benefit Beal in all facets of his game. Beal averaged 4.4 assists per game during the regular season, and the Celtics rank 17th in the league in defensive assist rate at 60.3%. The total suggests a higher-scoring game, which means more possessions, and given Beal’s high usage rate, I’m leaning over on most of his props tonight, but the assists feel like the best value.

Key Trend: Beal had a usage rate of 40.3% in three games against Boston this season, well over his 34.3% rate for the overall season.


Pirates at Cardinals, 7:45 p.m. | TV: MLB.TV
The Pick: Cardinals (-115) — 
While I am very much a J.T. Brubaker believer (#BrubakerBeliever), the line for tonight’s game seems a little too optimistic for the Pirates. Now, as you long-time readers know, we have a win total on the Pirates this season at Over 58.5, and it’s off to a great start! But tonight, we’ll be rooting for a Buccos loss.

Brubaker has been excellent, but he alone cannot cover up a terrible Pirates offense. Entering play tonight, the Pittsburgh offense ranks last in MLB in run rate and home run rate. It’s not much better when it comes to OPS, wOBA or wRC+, ranking 29th, 28th and 28th, respectively. Against righties like St. Louis starter John Gant, things are slightly worse, as Pittsburgh’s isolated power of .116 is tied with the Mets for worst in the league.

Brubaker’s the better pitcher in this matchup, but he might have to shut out the Cardinals to get this win.

Key Trend: St. Louis has won 20 of its last 26 against the Pirates.

? SportsLine Pick of the Day: Uncanny golf handicapper Rick Gehman releases his best bets for this weekend’s PGA Championship on the tough Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

? The DFS RundownTop Three Starters

  • Brandon Woodruff, Brewers
  • Blake Snell, Padres
  • Zack Wheeler, Phillies

Value StarterTop Three Hitters

  • Austin Meadows, Rays
  • Max Muncy, Dodgers
  • Mookie Betts, Dodgers

Value Hitter ? NBA Playoff Futures

The Pick: Clippers to win the West (+240) and the NBA Finals (+550) — Look around the Western Conference right now. The defending champion Lakers are in the play-in round against the Warriors, and we can’t be sure how healthy LeBron James is. The Nuggets don’t have Jamal Murray, and it’s hard to imagine that won’t impact them in the postseason. The Jazz are talented, but Rudy Gobert always seems to become a liability in the playoffs. The Suns are very fun, but do they have enough to win a seven-game series against elite talent?

Then there are the Clippers. A team with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and, while I’m always a little scared of putting faith in Playoff P, there’s too much value on the Clippers at these prices. 

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