The Daily Sweat: Steph Curry, Warriors look to return to NBA playoffs, but Ja Morant stands in the way

·7 min read

A second straight NBA playoffs without the Golden State Warriors?

Steph Curry and the Warriors had a big halftime lead over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night but could not hold on. With the win, the Lakers locked up the No. 7 seed while the Warriors now must face the Memphis Grizzlies in what amounts to an elimination game.

The winner moves on to the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. The loser goes home.

The Warriors have the benefit of returning home for Friday night’s game. They are 5-point favorites over the Grizzlies, who held on to beat the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

It’s a matchup of two of the game’s most exciting players in Curry, the NBA scoring champion, and second-year Grizzlies guard Ja Morant. You know all about Curry. He has had to carry a massive load without Klay Thompson and ended up leading the league in scoring at 32 points per game, a career high at age 33.

The 21-year-old Morant is one of the most explosive athletes in the league and his game keeps improving. Morant had 20 points, six assists and six rebounds against the Spurs and got a ton of help from Jonas Valanciunas (23 points, 23 rebounds) and Dillon Brooks (24 points, seven rebounds).

It’s going to be hard not to put your money on the Warriors. The playoffs are just better with Curry on the court, but the Grizzlies have been one of the best teams against the spread in the NBA this season — especially on the road.

The Grizzlies are 42-31 overall ATS this season with an impressive 22-14 ATS record on the road. As a road underdog, Memphis is a very strong 13-8 ATS.

At the same time, though, the Warriors have done really well as home favorites, going 13-6 ATS in those situations. Golden State will almost certainly be the public side, so I won’t blame you if you want to be a contrarian and go with the underdog.

I also won’t blame you if you put your money behind Curry. He’s come through so many times in his career. You just have to wonder if he has enough of a supporting cast to do it this time around.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry during an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco on May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Looking ahead to the NBA playoffs

While we’ve yet to find out if it will be the Warriors or Grizzlies facing the No. 1 seed Utah Jazz on Sunday, the rest of the first-round NBA playoffs series are set. And based on series odds at BetMGM, there is the legitimate chance for an upset in the majority of these series.

There are a few underdogs in particular I’ve got my eye on. The first is the East’s No. 6 seed Miami Heat against the No. 3 seed Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat were inconsistent over the course of the season but have a roster built to play close games in the playoffs. Just look at last year’s run to the NBA Finals. If Jimmy Butler gets on another roll like that, the Heat can beat anybody. And at +225 for the series, the oddsmakers certainly aren’t discounting the Heat either. That series kicks off the playoffs on Saturday afternoon. The Bucks are 5-point favorites in Game 1.

In the Western Conference you’ve got two higher seeds listed as underdogs in their respective series. The first is the No. 3 seed Denver Nuggets, who are +100 at BetMGM against the No. 6 seed Portland Trail Blazers, who are slight favorites at -120. Sure, the Nuggets won’t have Jamal Murray, but there hasn’t been much of a drop-off since his injury. Murray hurt his knee on April 12. Denver is 13-5 since then, thanks to the stellar play of MVP favorite Nikola Jokic. You can get the MVP favorite in a first-round matchup at even money. That’s a worthwhile investment to me.

Elsewhere, the West’s No. 2 seed, the Phoenix Suns, are +125 to beat the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are the big-name team with the big-name stars. But the Suns have one too in Chris Paul. Oh, and the Suns have a far better roster from top to bottom. The pieces just fit, and coach Monty Williams has done a tremendous job making it work. You don’t just win 51 games by accident. I’m willing to take the bait and take the Suns at plus money, even with LeBron and AD on the other bench.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) brings the ball up court in the second half during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Friday, May 7, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets are underdogs in their series against the Portland Trail Blazers. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Who cashed tickets last night?

The Washington Wizards wrapped up the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by blowing out the Indiana Pacers, 142-115. After struggling against the Boston Celtics earlier in the week, the Wizards’ offense rebounded in a big way and easily covered the 3.5-point spread. The over also cashed comfortably.

It was a good night for road teams in the NHL playoffs. The Panthers outlasted the Lightning in overtime to cut their series deficit to 2-1, while the Penguins knocked off the Islanders 5-4 and the Golden Knights beat the Wild 5-2. Both the Penguins and Golden Knights took 2-1 leads in their respective series. Elsewhere, the Canadiens took a 1-0 lead over the Maple Leafs with a 2-1 victory.

The San Francisco Giants trounced the Cincinnati Reds 19-4 to complete a four-game sweep. With the win, the Giants improved to an MLB-best 29-15 against the run line this year, covering at a 66% clip. In the month of May alone, the Giants are 13-5 against the run line. On top of that, the Giants have covered in 17 of their 20 games as an underdog this season, including a 14-2 mark as a road dog.

The Boston Red Sox pulled out a come-from-behind win, thanks to a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning homer from J.D. Martinez. With the win, the Red Sox improved to 13-2 against the run line as an underdog. Boston is also 11-4 straight up this season as an underdog with a 7-2 record as a road underdog.

After the first round of the PGA Championship, Corey Conners of Canada held a two-shot lead thanks to a 5-under 67. Six others, including Brooks Koepka, were two shots back of Conners at 69 while eight others shot 70. That group included 50-year-old Phil Mickelson.

What are we betting on today?

It honestly feels like a square pick, but sometimes the square pick is the right pick. I'm going with the Warriors and the points. Though I preferred this play when the Warriors were favored by 3.5 on Thursday night, I'll still ride with Steph Curry and the boys at -5. The Warriors are 13-6 against the spread as a home favorite this season and I just have a hard time envisioning Curry letting a chance to get back to the postseason slip away. 

In baseball I'm going to keep tailing the Red Sox as an underdog until they let me down. Boston is +135 on the road against the Phillies, who have ace Aaron Nola on the mound. Nola hasn't been very sharp in his recent starts and the Phillies have been a very inconsistent team this season. I like Boston to ride the momentum of a comeback win over the Blue Jays into Game 1 of this series in Philly. 

I've been tailing the Giants for a while, too. They are a home dog against the Dodgers, who have Trevor Bauer on the mound. The Giants are 17-3 vs. the run line as an underdog this season, but this might end up being a stay away for me. There's still a bit of skepticism from me that they can keep this hot streak going. 

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MAY 20: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run off of Rafael Dolis #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning at TD Ballpark on May 20, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox hit a go-ahead two-run home run with two outs in the top of the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

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