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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 12:00 AM



Let's first dial things back to June of 2018: The Golden State Warriors were coming off a second straight NBA championship (three in the past four years) and the oddsmakers had 'em priced at Even Money (some folks had 'em at 4-to-5) for the 2018-19 campaign; the early price tag on the Toronto Raptors was 40-to-1.

In case you were wondering, the likes of Philadelphia (7-2), Boston (8-1), Miami (20-1) and Cleveland (30-1) all were shorter-priced "win it all" favorites among Eastern Conference clubs, so you could say these Raptors were truly an afterthought-type team on the big board.

Obviously, not the case with the Dubs: Golden State's in its fifth consecutive NBA Finals but landing the first blow - see a Game 1 win - in this best-of-seven set is crucial to both squads and we'll set up our series-opening game preview in a moment but first this key reminder:

Jim Hurley's Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Playoff Conference Finals winners beginning with this Thursday Game 1 clash between the Golden State Warriors at the Toronto Raptors. Get the Sides & Totals in all the showdowns in this best-of-seven series plus get all the Major-League Baseball winners too at 1-800-323-4453.

GOLDEN STATE at TORONTO - 9 p.m. ET, ABC / Game 1

Wait a second ... Has that much really changed here as the G-State Warriors shoot for a third consecutive NBA crown?

Instead of dealing with a fella named LeBron James for the past four years during this title round, now it's a dude named Kawhi Leonard who makes Steve Kerr's club a bit queasy. Leonard - who is averaging a team-high 31.2 points per game in this year's playoffs - has been every bit the blood-and-guts player that Golden State's Stephen Curry / Klay Thompson / Draymond Green have been for the past several seasons but can/will Leonard take over Game 1 here especially with no Kevin Durant (calf strain) on the other end of the floor and can the Raptors rely on the likes of G Kyle Lowry (14.7 ppg / 6.7 assists per game) and reserve Norman Powell (three games of 14-or-more points against Milwaukee in that six-game Eastern Conference Finals series win) to supplement the points put up by Pascal Siakam (18.7 ppg)?

If we're to assume that the Warriors will be slightly rusty here - remember they haven't played a game since May 20 - then the aforementioned coach Kerr will need his unit to play defense and play smart too. Hey, Golden State was very cerebral in that four-game sweep against Portland in the Western Conference Finals - and that oft-overlooked Warriors bench was superb too.

Now, Toronto's priced as the 1-point home betting favorite here and, in reality, it's a "must-win" game right out of the chute for the Raptors who did sweep the two-game season's series against Golden State this year (see chart below) - so, if Leonard has to take 30 shots to get his 30+ points and if Toronto can win on the glass and keep either/both Curry or Thompson from monster games from beyond the three-point stripe then Drake's favorite team should win.

But don't necessarily think "rust" if gonna win out over "rest" here. After all, the Warriors are in a been-there, done-that mode even before we get to the tip. The Curry / Thompson /Green triumvirate comes in averaging an even 60 points a game among 'em and getting those numbers (or better) is as sure as the sun setting in the West.

Pointspread Note -- NBA Playoff Betting Favorites enter this championship round with a 39-35-2 ATS (against the spread) mark that's good for a .527 winning percentage this post-season.

Here's the regular-season game-by-game results between the Warriors and the Raptors. Note home teams are in CAPS below:

11-29TORONTO- 9.5Golden St131-128 (ot)
12-12Toronto+ 8GOLDEN ST113-93



Okay, so this hardly comes as any sort of "news flash": Major-League Baseball bullpens are utilized more than ever before and it's not uncommon for seven or eight relievers to get into normal nine-inning games these days ... go ahead and just check out some of this week's box scores and you'll see for yourself!

Well, when once-upon-a-time handicappers - first and foremost - checked out the "probable pitchers", a/k/a, the starting pitchers, nowadays 'cappers have to strongly consider a team's bullpen strengths / weaknesses before pulling the trigger.

Go ahead and take a look at some of the bullpen ERA's in the sport this 2019 season: The Washington Nationals - with a horrid 7.14 bullpen team ERA - entered Wednesday's game in Atlanta with the far-and-away worst bullpen ERA in the bigs with the Baltimore Orioles (5.94 ERA), Detroit Tigers (5.37 ERA), Seattle Mariners (5.28 ERA) and Miami Marlins (5.24 ERA) following close behind. So, should we really be at all shocked that these five teams entered yesterday's action a collective 67 games BELOW the .500 level!

On the flip side, go ahead and check out the top five bullpen ERAs in baseball this year and here's the lowdown: Houston leads the way with a tidy 2.91 team ERA from its bullpen followed by Cleveland (3.09 ERA), Tampa Bay (3.52), New York Yankees (3.72 ERA) and Cincinnati (3.73 ERA). Tally up the wins / losses for these teams sporting the best bullpen ERAs and you get a composite record of 158-113 ... a rock-solid .583 winning rate.

Plus, when you consider some teams that either got off to a slow start (see Chicago Cubs) or others that may have dipped in the past couple of weeks (see Arizona) you'll note that bullpens were a major problem spot.

Jim Hurley's staff of handicappers are always keeping close tabs of how bullpens are faring - what closers are out, what 8th-inning or "bridge" guys are slumping - and that all goes into the mix when playing either Sides or Totals this '19 season.

NOTE: Catch our NBA Finals coverage all this week right here in these Jim Sez columns.

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