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Damian Lillard — not LeBron James — is going to come up big in a Game 6, other best bets for Thursday

Congratulations, dearest reader, you’ve done it. You’ve brought back another spring football league. All that work you put in not asking for one has finally paid off, as the USFL announced Thursday that it has managed to pull itself out of a grave it’s been decaying in for 35 years and declare itself back.

Seriously, how many times do we have to go through this with people trying to bring football to the spring?

It’s happened throughout the last 40 years, and there have been several attempts in recent seasons — the XFL and AAF — and none of them have worked. This country loves football, but it’s proven time and time again that it does not love football year-round, and the football it loves is the football it’s familiar with.

We love the NFL and college football. However, we have no allegiance to these new leagues or teams, and it’s nearly impossible to come over the perception that it’s a lesser league considering the rosters are made up of players who weren’t good enough to make NFL rosters. Also, think about how important the QB position is in the sport, and then think about how the 32 NFL teams have trouble finding QBs good enough to start.

Now dive into a league forced to used fourth-tier QBs.

It’s not going to work. Instead of bringing the USFL back, just read Jeff Pearlman’s “Football for a Buck” about the original USFL. I guarantee you’ll find it more entertaining than the football.

And now that we’re all smart and stuff, it’s time to gamble.

All times Eastern, and all odds via William Hill Sportsbook


🔥 The Hot Ticket

Suns at Lakers, 10:30 p.m. | TV: TNT
The Pick: LeBron James Under 47.5 Points, Assists & Rebounds (-110)
: Yes, I am betting against LeBron James tonight. I don’t care what Botkin wrote! LeBron is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but he’s not right now. In Game Five on Tuesday night, without Anthony Davis, we were all anticipating LeBron to have one of those classic performances and remind the world who he is. Instead, he had a good game for a mere mortal, finishing with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds while the Lakers lost by 30 — and he didn’t even stick around on the bench to watch the entire game.

I don’t expect tonight will be the night he’s magically back to being 100%. James wasn’t lying when he said he wasn’t sure he’d ever be 100% again after his latest injury, though I do suspect an actual summer off — unlike last offseason — will go a long way in helping him find himself. Still, that’s not now, and the total set here for LeBron seems too high.

Through the first five games of this series, he’s averaging 22.2 points, 8.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. I’ll save you from doing the math and tell you that’s a total of 37.2 PAR per game. That’s well below 47.5! LeBron’s best game was in Game Four when he put up 25 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists, which adds up to only 43 PAR, again under this total.

He might have it in him, but he hasn’t shown it yet, so I’m not going to bet on it happening.

Key Trend: LeBron is averaging 37.2 PAR per game in this series.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: SportsLine’s NBA specialist Mike Barner is 26-16-2 in his last 44 ATS picks involving the Lakers, and he has a pick on tonight’s spread available.


💰 The Picks


USATSI

🏀 NBA

Nuggets at Blazers, 8 p.m. | TV: TNT
The Pick: Damian Lillard Over 47.5 Points, Assists & Rebounds (-120) — 
As we fade LeBron, we continue to follow Damian Lillard. Dame is coming off one of the most amazing playoff performances I’ve ever seen, as he scored 55 points and went 12-for-17 from three in Game Five, hitting huge shot after huge shot. Of course, the Blazers lost because, like LeBron James, Lillard has been forced to carry his team in this series.

Unlike LeBron, Lillard is physically capable of doing so at the moment, and I’m expecting another big night tonight. Not a 55-point kind of night, but one like his previous performances in the series. Lillard is averaging 49.6 PAR per game through five games, and that includes a Game Four performance when he finished with only 10 points on 1-of-10 shooting. Remove that clunker from the equation, and we’re talking about a guy averaging 55.0 PAR per game.

Key Trend: Lillard has finished with more than 47.5 PAR in three of the first five games. 

🏒 NHL

Bruins at Islanders, 7:30 p.m. | TV: NBCSN
The Pick: Bruins (-140) — 
It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the NHL pool, which makes sense seeing as how they play the sport on ice. Anyway, I think there’s value to be had on the Bruins tonight as this series heads to New York for Game 3. These teams split the first two games, but the Islanders benefitted from the power play in Game 2.

They converted on two of their three opportunities and are now 3-for-6 on the power play in the series. That’s great! But that’s way above the 18.8% rate the Islanders were at during the season, which ranked 20th in the NHL.

If the Islanders’ power play returns to form, I’m not sure what they’ll be able to do against Boston, considering only half their goals have come during 5-on-5 play in this series, and the Bruins have allowed only 10 5-on-5 goals in the playoffs.

Key Trend: The favorite has won four of the last five between these teams.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: Looking for a little late-night, West Coast action? The Advanced Computer Model has two A-graded plays in tonight’s MLB game between the Angels and Mariners.


💸 The DFS Rundown

Top Three Starters

  • Gerrit Cole, Yankees
  • Yu Darvish, Padres
  • Lance Lynn, White Sox

Value Starter

  • Jon Duplantier, Diamondbacks

Top Hitter Stack

  • Carson Kelly, Diamondbacks
  • Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks
  • Eduardo Escobar, Diamondbacks

Value Hitter


 ⚾ Underdog Parlay


USATSI

I do have some baseball action for you tonight. Let’s see if we can hit two of these in a row. Tonight’s pays at a robust (+453).

  • Cubs (+115)
  • Diamondbacks (+157)




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