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At long last, Trae Young will return to the arena where he famously took a bow last postseason after knocking the New York Knicks out of the playoffs.

That was back when we learned that Young is not only one of the NBA’s best showmen, but also a terrific villain. TNT knows this, which is why tonight’s game between the Eastern Conference’s two biggest underachievers is on national television, to be followed by the Los Angeles Clippers playing the Denver Nuggets as Nikola Jokic gets a chance to boost his MVP case a night after Joel Embiid sat out for rest.

Whether Sixers coach Doc Rivers realizes it or not, he could be hurting Embiid’s chances. Of course, Jokic will need to do something more special tonight than he did Sunday against Boston when he scored just 23 points.

What we are seeing in the NBA as the season winds down is competitiveness from some unlikely teams and load management from some of the better squads. Playoff positioning is not what it once was, with the most important races being between the No. 6 and No. 7 teams because the difference in those two spots means the chance to stay out of the play-in tournament.

As we near the end of March, Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto and Brooklyn are vying for spots five through eight. And in the West, Dallas, Denver and Minnesota are all trying to stay at No. 5 or No. 6 to stay out of the No. 7 spot, which could conceivably lead to a one-and done game against the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James, who dropped a triple-double on the Cavs last night to inject a little fear into the rest of the West.

Also, as we hit the home stretch of the regular season, it is worth a look at the NBA Finals and conference winners futures markets and how some surging teams may have advantageous odds. So let’s begin there.


Boston Celtics: No team has been playing better over the course of the last two months, with the Celtics winning 22 of their past 26 as folks are coming to appreciate Jayson Tatum as perhaps the biggest star of the next generation, no matter what folks think about the respective talents of Luka Doncic. Last summer, Kevin Durant said he expects Tatum to break all of his U.S. Olympic team records.

Tatum dropped 36 on Oklahoma City last night as Boston completed a 4-0 Western road trip. Despite the winning streak, the Celtics (+600) are still the fifth choice in the East behind the Nets, Heat, Bucks and Sixers. Let’s see what they do in their next two games against strong competitors Utah and Minnesota before touting them even harder. They are +1300 to win the title.


Minnesota Timberwolves: Winners of 10 of 12, they remain as off-the-radar nationally as they have been since Jimmy Butler was on the team and Tom Thibodeau was coaching. For a franchise that has won a grand total of one playoff series since 2003-04, this is a fairly momentous occurrence. Their run has included wins over the Cavs, Warriors, Heat, Lakers and Bucks, and things will get tough in their next five as they play the Suns, Mavs, Celtics, Raptors and Nuggets.

They are only a half-game behind sixth-place Denver and have a 2-1 lead in the season series, and avoiding the play-in would be huge for them. At +5500 to win the West, they are an enticing flyer wager, and that line should remain relatively static for at least a couple of days. But if Minny wins at home tomorrow night against Phoenix, it is worth jumping on overnight before Vegas adjusts the line the following morning. As of now, Betway is offering odds that are twice as long as those at some competitors, so do with that info what you wish.

On to tonight’s games, the idea here being to put together a parlay card that hits so nicely that you will have a myriad number of options on Wednesday night when the schedule is packed with 11 games.

Golden State (-7.5) at Orlando: Your faithful correspondent had Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson both making five 3-pointers two nights ago, and Thompson missed a buzzer-beater in the fourth that would have made that one hit. And so it goes in the gambling world. Tonight, the Dubs travel to central Florida to take on a Magic team that has won six of 12 to tie Detroit for the second-worst record in the league.

Golden State will be without Steph Curry for the remainder of the regular season, and what they want to do now is re-integrate Draymond Green without him getting ejected as he did two nights ago. Wendell Carter is coming off a 30-point, 16-rebound game against Oklahoma City in which none of his teammates did all that much. He is averaging nearly 20 points and 12 rebounds this month, so let’s ride that. The pick is Carter over 16.5 points (-110) and over 9.5 rebounds (-125).

Atlanta (-3) at New York: A point and a half? That’s all? That was what we wrote early this morning before the line moved 2 points to 3.5, so we were not alone in that line of thinking. The last time Young was at Madison Square Garden he ended the Knicks’ season last June with a 36-point, 9-assist performance that ended with him bowing to the crowd and explaining that is what great performers do in New York…even if they are two blocks off Broadway.

Yes, both teams are severe underachievers, and just about anything can happen when a pair of those types of teams meet. But given the Knicks’ point guard problems and their propensity to play horribly in fourth quarters, we like giving the points (-115) and going with Young over 27.5 points (-120).

Chicago (+7) at Milwaukee: The Bulls are coming off a solid bounce-back win over a strong Toronto Raptors team, but they have failed repeatedly against the best teams in both conferences, and Milwaukee is one of those. The big question is whether Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee soreness) will play. He is listed as probable, while Khris Middleton is out with a sore left wrist. That is enough for us to counsel taking the generous amount of points, and the player props that should work are Alex Caruso (now starting) over 3.5 assists (-145) and Nikola Vucevic over 2.5 assists (+100).

L.A. Clippers (+6.5) at Denver: The Nuggets are 2-1 against the Clippers, and the point totals in their three games have been 203, 172 and 258. So, no, we are not predicting anything regarding the over/under of 223. What is notable is that the last time they played, Nikola Jokic had a 49-point triple-double and Ivica Zubac went off for a career-high 32 points.

That game, like this one, was in Denver, which is close to Reggie Jackson’s hometown of Colorado Springs. Jokic has gone seven games without a triple-double and is overdue, but at +245 it is too risky. Instead, go with Robert Covington over 1.5 3-pointers made (+165), over 7.5 points (+100) and Zubac over 7.5 rebounds (-115). Jackson’s playing time has not been steady, so stay away.