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Shaq and Charles and Kenny and Ernie are going to be arguing tonight. The MVP debate has never been so lively, and tonight Chris Paul is on TNT in a Brooklyn-Phoenix game that is going to put the Suns back in the national spotlight for the first time in a long time.

Go figure why people do not take the Suns all that seriously. They made it to the NBA Finals a year ago, they have been sitting on nine losses for three-and-a-half weeks after putting together a 13-1 month of January, and they are now beginning a stretch of seven straight games against East teams, yet you have to scroll pretty far down the page to find Paul and Devin Booker in the MVP futures market.

Which is probably worth pondering as everyone out there is telling anyone who will listen that the MVP race is a four-man shootout that only includes Joel Embiid (+200), Nikola Jokic (+300), Steph Curry (+400) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+400).

Of course, those same people were more than willing to tell you that Embiid at +5000 was throwing your money away. And that was just over two weeks ago.

We have said it before and we will say it again: the futures market offers more value than anything in the legalized U.S. sports gambling market if you are willing to utilize your crystal ball and you are able to think like a voter.

And the most important thing to remember when thinking like a voter is this: you do not have to make a decision until the 11th day of April, because that is when ballots are due back at the league office. Another thing to remember about the 11th of April: almost everything that happened in January and February is long forgotten by then.

So yeah, it was cool to see Curry go off against Kevin Porter Jr. of the Rockets last night after the kid made the mistake of yapping at his elder. And yeah, it has been beyond cool to watch Embiid come back from his elbow injury with a vengeance and reach the 25-point mark in 17 consecutive games while averaging 34.2 points on 55.2 per cent shooting to go with 10.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 blocks during that span. Embiid is a worthy MVP frontrunner, but he has a lengthy injury history that must be considered when assessing this race.

Curry is maybe just now shaking off a prolonged slump, Giannis is sitting in fifth place just 10 games over .500 (shouldn’t a defending champion win more?) and Jokic is also sitting in fifth, just seven games over .500 but with a stronger caser than Giannis for MVP because of the absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

So while all of the pacesetters are worthy, the same can be said of Paul, although there are those who would argue, accurately, that he and Booker are equally valuable to the Suns.

And so while that argument holds water, remember the part about thinking like a voter? Well, voters like making history, and if Paul is selected MVP he will become, at 36, the oldest player ever to win the award. No thirty-something has captured MVP since Steve Nash did it in consecutive seasons at age 30 and 31 in 2004-05 and 2005-06, although in the 1990s it was fairly commonplace as Karl Malone won it when he was 33 and 35, Michael Jordan won it at ages 27, 28, 32 and 34 and Hakeem Olajuwon won it at age 31. Paul is in his 17th season and is poised to lead the league in assists for the fifth time. But is that enough?

It depends.

The stretch of high-assist games that Paul put together in January was something else: double figures in 10 of 14 games, including a season-high 19 dimes last time out against San Antonio along with a pair of 16-assist efforts. Paul also had his 17th and 18th career triple-doubles and improved the best start in franchise history to 39-9. Oh, and the Suns’ next blown fourth-quarter lead will be their first. They are 30-0 when entering the fourth quarter ahead.

All of those accomplishments are laudable, but are they MVP-worthy? That is where you will need to make a leap of faith if you want to wager this bad boy at today’s odds of +3000 – shorter than Booker’s +2000. That leap has you believing that voters are going to grab onto a narrative, and that narrative would be “CP3 deserves this as a sort of lifetime achievement award, especially given that record.” A record that would qualify for that record status would be something in the area of 68-14 or better. Dismiss this line of thinking at your own peril, and remember this: When Malone won the award in the 1996-97 season, many voters acknowledged that they were simply tired of voting for Jordan year after year.

If something similar happens, the players who would get leapfrogged by Paul would be Curry, Antetokounmpo and Jokic. Embiid is a different case because he has never won the award. Yes, it is a long shot. But given Embiid’s injury history and Paul’s inability to age gracelessly, it is not the craziest idea in the history of ideas. And remember, Embiid was such an afterthought three weeks ago that he was +5000.

Now, let’s have a look at tonight’s games and make a few picks. The TNT doubleheader begins at 7:30pm EST, a half-hour after the Detroit Pistons take the court as home favorites for only the third time all season. If the TNT crew gets stuck talking Pistons, we will have our dud of the night: the opener of the doubleheader between the Wizards and the Bucks.

New Orleans (+1.5) at Detroit: The Pels are coming off a three-point loss to a Cleveland team that played without a point guard on Monday night, and the play here appears to be under 214.5 because New Orleans is only 6-16-0 on over/unders as a road ‘dog.

BEST BET: Under 214.5 points (-105)

Washington (+11.5) at Milwaukee: The Wizards are going into this one without Bradley Beal, their best player, who is out with a sprained left wrist. Kyle Kuzma, coming off a 30-point game, should go over 20.5 points.

BEST BET: Kyle Kuzma over 20.5 points (-110)

Miami (+2) at Toronto: Isiah Thomas was on NBA-TV last night saying the Raptors are the quintessential “one player away” team, but that one player is not walking through the door tonight. The Heat are due for a bounce-back performance after their 30-point loss at Boston. They are an NBA-best 9-4-0 against the spread as a road ‘dog, so take the points.

BEST BET: Miami (+2) (-110)

Orlando (+9) at Chicago: The Bulls have been exceptionally pedestrian over the past three weeks but are in first place in the East despite losses in 13 of their last 18 games. They are tough to get a handle on with Lonzo Ball sidelined because of knee surgery, but rookie Ayo Dosumnu has been a steady fill-in. 

BEST BET: Nikola Vucevic over 19.5 points (+100)

Denver (+4.5) at Minnesota: This is stop No. 5 on a six-game road trip for the Nuggets, who are 4-0 on the trip thus far and have no business being underdogs. Take the points.

BEST BET: Denver (+4.5) (-105)

Golden State (-2.5) at San Antonio: This is the second half of a road back-to-back for the Dubs, who have a six-game winning streak and should win this one with relative ease, especially if Dejounte Murray (knee contusion) remains out. Give the points.

BEST BET: Golden State (-2.5) (-110)

Brooklyn (+7) at Phoenix: James Harden is questionable due to a hand injury, which means the guy with the second-most assists per game may not get to go against Paul, the NBA’s assists leader. The uncertainty surrounding Harden allows this game to qualify for “stay away” status. If Harden is good to go, the line will not stay at 7. You get to watch, and you get to listen to determine whether Shaq, Charles, Kenny and Ernie start going down the CP3 for MVP road. If they do, he will not remain +3000 much longer.