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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 20, 2018 at 10:53 AM






Step aside, NBA Western Conference:

Tonight’s all about the folks in the East as there are three NBA playoff series on this Friday night and the games are being played in Indiana, Washington and Milwaukee.

Obviously, the most intriguing game of the night is that Cleveland Cavaliers versus Indiana Pacers Game 3 showdown with that series even at a game apiece and you see that the gritty Pacers are the 1-point betting favorites at last check … hmm.

Consider that Cleveland – fresh off Wednesday night’s 100-97 non-cover win as 8-point favs in Game 2 – is now a rotten-to-the-core 32-51-1 ATS (against the spread) this season including the two playoff games: That’s a crummy .385 winning rate vig-wise for LeBron James and Company and it just goes to show that the Cavs have been overrated items all year long, both before those multiple Trade Deadline swaps and then after ‘em.

On the flip side, the Pacers are a collective 49-35 versus the vig this year – a solid .583 winning percentage – and Coach of the Year candidate Nate McMillan deserves major kudos for getting his club pumped for each/every game. Heck, if star G Victor Oladipo could have canned that wide-open triple with 27 seconds left in Game 2 the other night (would have tied the game at that point) then this would really have a different feel tonight.

Okay, so James’ spectacular 46-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist game stole all the headlines in Game 2 but can “The King” count on some help here? Note that late-year acquires Rodney Hood, Larry Nance, Jr. and Jordan Clarkson combined for – get this – 9 points in a collective 53 minutes off the Cleveland bench in Game 2. Ugh!

One footnote apiece now on Toronto at Washington and Boston at Milwaukee …

The Raptors – up two games to none while heading into D.C. this evening – are counting on another major effort from C.J. Miles (18 points in 22 minutes in that 130-119 win/cover against the Wizards) while a potential X-factor in Boston at Milwaukee’s Game 3 is Celtics’ reserve Marcus Morris (18 points in that 120-106 runaway win in Game 2). Note Morris has drilled 5-of-10 trifectas in the first two games of this set.

In Thursday night action in the East. Philadelphia had a big finish in its 128-108 win at 2.5-point pup Miami as Joel Embiid returned to the lineup and scored seven straight points late to ice matters while Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons once again filled up the stat sheet with 19 points / 12 rebounds /7 assists. Game 4 of that series is Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET.


 Just note …

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It’s our annual position-by-position look at the top players as we close in on the NFL Draft set for April 26-28. We continue our coverage with the top Linebackers:


ROQUAN SMITH, ILB, Georgia – The 2017 Butkus Award winner really cemented his status as the best LB in the land with three terrific games in a row to end last year as Smith collected 13 tackles (including 10 solo) in the SEC Championship Game win against Auburn and then racked up 24 total stops in the post-season games against Oklahoma/Alabama. Great sideline-to-sideline speed and a real hitter – could go in the draft’s top six picks.


OGBONNIA OKORONKWO, OLB, Oklahoma – Some folks list ‘em as a defensive end but this 6-foot-1, 242-pounder should be lined up outside where he’ll also provide a solid run-stopper. Okoronkwo registered eight sacks last year and was a major menace while getting into enemy backfields plenty. Likely a mid-first round draftee.


TREMAINE EDWARDS, ILB, Virginia Tech – Monstrous size at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and he sports great speed but scouts say he needs to polish up his play when trying to shed blockers. Still, a Butkus Award finalist who could be a missing puzzle piece for some NFL team drafting in the mid 20’s.


LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH, OLB, Boise State – No doubt his 12-tackle/one-sack showing in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl upset win against Oregon really convinced this junior that he was ready for the leap to the NFL. Vander Esch is a real physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and he sports great speed but is still learning the position.


DORIAN O’DANIEL, OLB, Clemson – Not one of the really big names on last year’s Tigers’ team but this former high school running back is fast, recognizes plays instantly and he proved to be an iron-man for the ’17 Clemson club while on the field for 727 snaps on “D”.


RASHAAN EVANS, ILB, Alabama – What would our draft board be without a Crimson Tide ‘backer, right? The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Evans reads plays quickly and attacks but he’s a borderline Round One pick at best.



Told y’all at the start of this 2018 Major-League Baseball season that there were lots of “Haves” and “Have Nots” and anyone who’s been wagering on the likes of Baltimore, Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City, Miami and Cincinnati all entered Thursday’s games playing sub-.300 ball and it just cost Reds’ manager Bryan Price his job – finally – and could take its toll on some of these other skippers sooner rather than later.

The fact of the matter is all six of these above-mentioned teams are minus 31 runs or worst in the all-important runs differential category (the Reds fired Price while being a MLB-worst -46 runs) and even though most of these teams are heavy-duty dogs against top-flight pitchers and/or when playing on the road, none of ‘em are giving their backers a bang for their buck. Save for an occasional play (make that a once-in-a-blue-moon play) on this awful group of “Have-Nots” we’ll stay away from this six-pack.



NOTE: More NBA Playoff analysis in the next Jim Sez.


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