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NBA • Saturday Service Plays • 2/13/16

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    New-look Skills Challenge takes place Saturday
    By Zach Cohen

    ‘Skills Challenge’
    Saturday, Feb. 13 at 8:30 pm ET – Air Canada Centre

    For the first time ever, there will be guards, forwards and big men competing in the Skills Challenge on Saturday. This event used to feature only guards, but there will now be a tournament and one side of the bracket will feature big men and the other will have only guards. The 2015 champion was Patrick Beverley, but he is injured and will not be featured in this year’s installment. The field will, however, include Isaiah Thomas (2-to-1), C.J. McCollum (3-to-1), Draymond Green (4-to-1), Jordan Clarkson (5-to-1), DeMarcus Cousins (10-to-1), Emmanuel Mudiay (10-to-1), Anthony Davis (12-to-1) and Karl-Anthony Towns (12-to-1). With such an interesting mix of players, here is a list of the guys to really keep an eye on Saturday:

    C.J. McCollum(3-to-1) – McCollum is an excellent pick to win the skills competition. The Blazers guard is enjoying a breakout season, averaging 20.7 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.6 RPG and 1.2 SPG. The reason he is such a threat to win this event is because he has a very balanced game. He can do pretty much anything on the basketball court and does not have the athleticism of his competitors. He is a finesse player and that bodes well for this competition. He is worth putting a few units on at 3-to-1 on Saturday.

    Jordan Clarkson (5-to-1) – Like McCollum, Clarkson is another guy that can do a lot of things on the basketball court. Clarkson alternates between playing the point and playing shooting guard for the Lakers and he has really improved over the past few seasons. Clarkson is very fast and can shoot the ball, as he is now hitting 42.9% of his threes over the past five games. He’s somebody to really keep an eye on coming into this even, as he could blaze through the speed portions of the course and is now capable of drilling the top of they key jumper. At 5-to-1, his odds are very favorable as well.

    DeMarcus Cousins (10-to-1) – If there’s a big guy in this event that is going to come away with the victory then it’s Cousins. The Kings’ All-Star center is one of the most skilled big men the league has ever seen. He is a very good ball handler for somebody at his size and has expanded his range this season. Cousins is shooting 34.9% from the outside this season and that will come in handy with the top of the key shot. He is also a gifted passer, as evidenced by his 3.2 APG this season. At 10-to-1, Cousins really is the only guy from the big man side that is worth putting a unit or two on.


    NBA All-Star Saturday Night betting: Slam Dunk, 3-Point, and Skills Contests
    By Jason Logan

    All-Star games have gotten a bad rap in recent years, leading many professional sports leagues to drastically alter their standard showcase format, be it a “fantasy draft” like the NFL’s Pro Bowl or whatever the NHL All-Star Game mutated into this year.

    The NBA, however, pretty much has it right. The All-Star Game itself can be a bit sloppy at times but for the past few seasons, the East and West have gotten serious come the fourth quarter – and you just know Kobe’s trying to make this year’s game all his. Then there’s All-Star Saturday Night.

    The night before the All-Star Game, the NBA holds its annual competitions: the Skills Challenge, 3-point Shootout, and of course, the Slam Dunk Contest. Outside of some rules and format tweaking over the years, this fun evening has remained a rock-solid appetizer to Sunday’s ASG finale.

    NBA All-Star Weekend is also the most betting-friendly event during the pro basketball schedule. Online sportsbooks offer odds on just about every All-Star Saturday Night event, as well as props for the All-Star Game, and even offer wagering on the NBA Celebrity Game, which takes place on the Friday.

    Here’s a quick breakdown of the exciting wagering options for the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto:

    ‘All-Star’ Celebrity Game

    Comedian Kevin Hart is now a staple of NBA All-Star festivities, kind of like how “The Fresh Prince” was in the early 90’s. The diminutive funny man – retired from Celebrity Game action – is now the coach of an All-Star Celebrity team, facing off against Canadian hip-hop star Drake, who has close ties with the host Toronto Raptors – when he’s not busy cheering for the Golden State Warriors.

    Oddsmakers have Drake’s Team Canada squad set as 2.5-point underdogs, but I don’t know how. Drake actually has some real athletes on his roster, including Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic (8/1 to win MVP), along with former NBA players Tracy McGrady (7/4) and Rick Fox (6/1), and former WNBA standout Tammy Sutton-Brown (15/1).

    Toss in TV and film personalities Stephan James (25/1) (plays Jesse Owens in an upcoming movie), “Property Bros” Drew (20/1) and Jonathan Scott (20/1) (one of which renovates houses, so he’s man strong), and actor/singer Kris Wu (15/1) (seems fit enough), and Team Canada could control the boards and get up and down the floor pretty quick against a slightly doughier Team Hart.

    Hart’s roster – dubbed Team USA – does have some talent, like former NBA players in Chauncey Billups (6/1) and Muggsy Bogues (3/1), as well as current WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (2/1). But even those two former NBA pros are on the shorter side. And that’s being nice. Behind the actual basketball players are ex “Mr. Mariah Carey” Nick Cannon (8/1), Joel David Moore (25/1) (the tall, geeky guy from Dodgeball), former SNL crack-up Jason Sudeikis (20/1), and actor Anthony Anderson (25/1), who is playing in his third NBA Celebrity Game.

    The total for Friday’s All-Star Celebrity Game is set at 109.5 points.

    ‘Taco Bell’ Skills Challenge

    The Skills Challenge has undergone some facelifts in recent years. Last February, they went to a bracket format, which had players going head-to-head to advance rather then moving on based on their overall times. While this doesn’t seem fair, the NBA couldn’t care less about fairness and they’re sticking to the tourney style.

    You know what would really make things interesting? Make every contestant eat Taco Bell 45 minutes before the Skills Challenge. You wouldn’t see anyone “lollygagging” from station to station then. Those guys would be a big hurry to finish. That’ll mix it up.

    Instead, this time around, the Association has opened the field to non-guards – more specifically big men DeMarcus Cousins (17/2 to win), Anthony Davis (8/1), Draymond Green (5/1), and rookie standout Karl-Anthony Towns (10/1). Things like the bounce pass and 3-point shot could be troublesome for the bigs, but we’re in a new age of hoops now, where even a 7-footer is a threat from downtown.

    As for the guards, defending champ Patrick Beverly (9/2) is back, joined by Isaiah Thomas (33/10), Jordan Clarkson (5/1), and C.J. McCollum (5/1). Seeing as no player taller than 6-foot-4 has ever won the Skills Challenge, it’s a safe bet to stick with the guards when handicapping the field.

    But if you have to go big (both figuratively and literally), Cousins could be the play at +850. Boogie isn’t afraid to pull up from deep and is shooting better than 35 percent from beyond the arc on the season, including going 7 for 11 in his last three games heading into Wednesday. Thank goodness there’s no “biting your tongue” aspect to the competition, because Cousins would be a bust for sure.

    ‘Foot Locker’ 3-Point Contest

    The 3-point shootout is the wild card of the All-Star Weekend. It has produced the most long-shot winners of any of the three major events on All-Star Saturday Night, and while Stephen Curry did win as a +300 favorite last year, it’s about as predictable as a Donald Trump debate response.

    Before Curry broke Craig Hodges’ single-round record last year, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli won the 2014 event as a +800 underdog. The year before that, Kyrie Irving hit at +550. In 2012, Kevin Love won at +500. James Jones was +450 when he won in 2011, following Paul Pierce (+400) in 2010 and Daequan Cook (+750) in 2009.

    In fact, before Chef Curry cooked up a winner at 3/1, the slimmest odds to come in over the past seven seasons was Jason Kapono at +350 in 2008 – and he was the fourth overall favorite on the board in New Orleans that year.

    For the 2015 3-point contest, Curry is an overwhelming +225 chalk heading toward the weekend. And that will likely change, with the public jumping all over the NBA MVP at plus money. Behind him on the board are teammate Klay Thompson (7/2), J.J. Redick (5/1), Devin Booker (11/2), Kyle Lowry (11/2), James Harden (8/1), Khris Middleton (8/1), and Chris Bosh (12/1).

    As mentioned above, if you like someone other than Curry, it’s best to sit on this until Saturday night and watch the plus-money tick up. It’ll be like dropping a tri-color money ball if that long shot happens to come through. SPLASH!

    ‘Verizon’ Slam Dunk Contest

    Zach LaVine is trying to do something only three other leapers have done in the history of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and that’s win back-to-back titles. Michael Jordan did it in ’87 and ’88, Jason Richardson did it in ’02 and ’03, and Nate Robinson did it in ’09 and ’10.

    Oddsmakers have pegged the T-Wolves high-riser as a runaway favorite to win the dunk off Saturday, posting him at -250. That leaves pretty big payouts on the other three contestants, with Will Barton at +360, Aaron Gordon at +485, and Andre Drummond going off as a 9/1 long shot.

    The dunk contest has been dominated by the betting favorites in recent years, with seven of the last nine winners coming into the event among the top two favorites and at +350 odds or lower. The only two dunkers to pull off an upset were John Wall in 2014 (+450) and Robinson in 2009 (+450) with the Kryptonite.

    LaVine won in 2015 at -110 and his current price tag of 2/5 puts him on the same level as past champs like Blake Griffin (-250 in 2011) and Dwight Howard (-180 in 2009). And so he should be. The second-year pro out of UCLA is the perfect combination of explosive hops, size (big enough to get tough dunks down but small enough to look cool), and power.

    Not sure how large a bet you can get down on these All-Star props at your online book, but something tells me it might not be worth the hefty cost on the fave (a $100 wager will get you $40). You might be better off throwing flyers on Barton and Gordon and hoping LaVine misses some tough dunks early on.

    As for Drummond, well… the dunk contest has never been kind to bigs (outside of freaks like Howard). Watching a near 7-footer dunk is like watching a Liam Neeson from Taken play Hide and Go Seek with a bunch of toddlers (I will look for you, and I will find you…). Maybe if Drummond brings out ex-girlfriend and Disney star-gone-bad Jennette McCurdy and jumps over her or something, he’d have a chance. Even then…


    Shooters battle in Three Point Contest Saturday
    By Zach Cohen

    ‘Three Point Contest’
    Saturday, Feb. 12 at 8:30 pm ET – Air Canada Centre

    Saturday’s Three Point Contest will feature some of the best shooters in the league and Stephen Curry is back to defend his 2015 crown. The format this year will be the same as it was in 2015. There will be five racks and the shooter will get to pick one rack that contains only the money-ball. Those shots are all worth two points and there is also one money ball at each of the other four spots. Under this new format, Stephen Curry set the record for the highest score ever in a single round in 2015. He will, however, have some tough competition in this one. The field includes Curry (1-to-1), J.J. Redick (7-to-2), Klay Thompson (9-to-2), Devin Booker (8-to-1), Kyle Lowry (10-to-1), James Harden (15-to-1), Khris Middleton (18-to-1) and Chris Bosh (40-to-1). Let’s now take a look at some of the guys that are worth picking to win this thing:

    Stephen Curry (1-to-1) – Taking a favorite to win in anything usually doesn’t get you 1-to-1 odds and Curry is certainly the favorite to win this by a mile. The 2015 winner is shooting 45.4% from the outside this season and he is doing it on an absurd 10.8 attempts per game. Nobody in the league shoots from the outside as often as he does and the frequency with which he hits is phenomenal. Curry is quite possibly the greatest shooter ever to play the game and when he is hot there is nobody on the planet that can keep up with him. He’s worth putting a few units on for Saturday.

    Kyle Lowry (10-to-1) – Lowry isn’t on the same level as Curry in terms of shooting, but he is capable of getting extremely hot and there are some factors that will greatly benefit him in this game. Lowry plays for the Raptors, so he is going to be more than comfortable shooting at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. He’ll also have the fans in Toronto behind him in this one. Lowry is as good a pick as any outside of Curry and at 10-to-1 he is worth putting a unit or two on.

    Khris Middleton (18-to-1) – Middleton is a serious sleeper heading into the Three Point Contest on Saturday. The Bucks’ forward is shooting 40.5% from the outside on the season and is the type of guy that should be very good in a setting like this. Middleton is a spot up shooter that is used to taking stand still shots. He has a smooth release and is capable of getting very hot at times. At 18-to-1, Middleton is definitely worth putting a unit on.


    Highest leapers clash in Dunk Contest Saturday
    By Zach Cohen

    ‘Slam Dunk Contest’
    Saturday, Feb. 12 at 8:30 pm ET – Air Canada Centre

    Some of the NBA’s best leapers will compete in the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday. This event has received some harsh criticism over the years, but it was an exciting one in 2015. That was mostly because of Zach LaVine, who put on a show on his way to being crowned the champion. LaVine (1-to-3) is back this year and he’s a very heavy favorite coming into the event. LaVine will be going up against some talented guys though, as Aaron Gordon (9-to-2), Will Barton (11-to-2) and Andre Drummond (10-to-1) are all very good dunkers. With that said, here are the two guys that are maybe worth putting a play on this weekend:

    Zach LaVine (1-to-3) – LaVine is getting some very unfavorable odds, but that is for good reason. LaVine put on an electrifying display in the 2015 Dunk Contest and he said afterwards that he did not even bring out some of his better dunks. It’s easy to believe him, as he gets up higher than almost every player in the NBA. LaVine’s vertical leap was 46 inches coming out of college and he’s an easy guy to put a lot of units on with that type of athleticism.

    Aaron Gordon (9-to-2) – Gordon is the next best leaper after LaVine in this year’s contest. Coming out of college, Gordon boasted a 39-inch vertical leap and he is also 6’9’’. His blend of size and athleticism makes him a very interesting choice coming into this event and he should be able to put on a show on Saturday. It’s tough to say that LaVine is going to lose, but if anybody is going to beat him then it’s likely going to be Gordon. He’s worth putting a unit or two on at 9-to-2 in this event.

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