For the second straight series, the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers dropped the first two games to put themselves in an 0-2 hole. And for the second straight series, they battled all the way back to win the series, this time needing just six games as they defeated the top-seeded Utah Jazz in four straight to send them packing. Not to mention that they did it without a certain Klaw.
Free Picks: Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 2021 Western Conference Playoffs Round 2
Series Results: Clippers 4-2
The Utah Jazz won twice without point guard and pick-and-roll maestro Mike Conley, but once they left the comfy confines of Salt Lake City, his absence was felt all too clearly. Donovan Mitchell did what he could as he tried to carry his team to the promised land, but there just wasn’t enough support, and the lack of an elite playmaker like Conley stunted the production of the rest of the Jazz players.
Conley did return for Game 6, but he was clearly very rusty and not quite at 100 percent. Essentially, it was too late. The Jazz did hold a huge 25-point lead just after halftime, but they suffered a collapse of epic proportions during the second half, quite akin to the one suffered by the 76ers a few days before. But alas, the 76ers were not on the brink of elimination when their calamity occurred, and the same can’t be said for Quin Snyder’s team.
The most impressive part of this win for the Los Angeles Clippers has to be the fact that they won Games 5 and 6 without their best player, Kawhi Leonard, who left Game 4 early with right knee soreness that the team now believes could be an ACL injury of unknown magnitude. Well, they probably know, but of course they’re being coy about it.
Paul George certainly answered the bell in Leonard’s absence, but he didn’t do it alone, as point guard Reggie Jackson continued to be a revelation for the Clippers in these playoffs. Not to mention the 39 points dropped on Utah’s head from youngster Terrence Mann to close out the top seed in the West. However, with Leonard expected to be out indefinitely, our NBA pick for the Western Conference Finals was not a very tough one.
Playing in their first Conference Finals in franchise history, the Clippers will take on the Phoenix Suns for the honor of representing the West in this year’s NBA Finals. The Suns have home court advantage, and while veteran Chris Paul is in danger of missing the first game or two while he goes through the COVID protocols, we like Phoenix in the Finals as one of our top picks.
June 8, 10:00 p.m., Vivint Arena
(Playoff Betting Record: 26-19, +5.92)
Thanks to those valiant and successful comebacks, both the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers emerged out of the first round to find themselves matched up in one of the two Western Conference semifinals. And what an interesting matchup this is looking like. It will be the final of the four conference semifinal series to get underway, and it could very well be the last one decided as well.
What we have here are two teams who rely on something that has become almost too prevalent in today’s NBA: the three-ball. Nobody shot the triple better than the Clippers during the regular season, putting up a very impressive 41.1 percentage from long range; the Jazz were fourth in that department, shooting it at a 38.9 percent clip.
L.A. was the king of three-point efficiency, but when it came to taking and making triples, no one was more prolific than the Jazz, who led the league by a mile in both threes made per game (16.7) and threes attempted per game (43.0). The Clippers were no slouches in that department either, putting in 14.3 treys a night, good for sixth in the association.
The big difference comes in the postseason numbers through one round. The Jazz have been as good—if not better—at executing their three-point heavy offensive system in the playoffs, especially since Donovan Mitchell rejoined the team after Game 1: they lead the playoffs with 16.8 triples a game and sit tied for fourth in terms of efficiency, shooting it at a 40.6 clip from downtown.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are just recently rediscovering their deep stroke after six pretty rough games from beyond the arc to start their first round series against the Dallas Mavericks. They shot it at a 47 percent mark in Game 7, but overall, the Clippers are shooting the three-ball at a 35.4 percent clip during this postseason, the second worst among teams still remaining in the tournament.
The Jazz have also been hustling and getting out on shooters in these playoffs, contesting 53.8 shots per game so far, good for sixth in the playoff pool. The Clippers haven’t been quite as good, but they certainly have the personnel and defensive pedigree to cause some problems on the perimeter for the Jazz—not enough to steal Game 1 in Salt Lake City, however, as we like the Jazz to start this series off with a win as one of our top picks.
The one thing that really sets the Jazz a step above the Clippers right now, is the sheer number of scorers they have who can not only drain open jumpers, but create shots for themselves and for others as well. Mitchell, point guard MIke Conley, sixth man Jordan Clarkson, and wing scorer Bojan Bogdanovic can all do both, while for the Clippers the only ones who can really do that are their dynamic duo of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
Conley was dealing with a hamstring strain after his squad’s last game, but that was nearly a week ago now, so he should be ready to roll on Tuesday night with his team. If he’s in, the pick and roll with Rudy Gobert becomes that much more lethal. It will also be interesting to see who on the Clippers takes the challenge of defending Spida Mitchell as well, a decision that could factor heavily into the result of this series.
While we’re not sure we’d wager on them to win the series just yet, we do like the Jazz to take Game 1 from the comfort of their home arena on Tuesday night. Not to mention that they’ve had several days to rest and heal while the Clippers are coming in with one day off following what was surely an exhausting seven-game comeback series win. We like the Jazz to cover a -4.5 NBA point spread at beautiful +103 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 2 (Jazz leads series 1-0)
June 10, 10:00 p.m., Vivint Arena
(Playoff Betting Record: 29-20, +7.92)
From this viewer’s perspective, the top-seeded Jazz escaped with a game that they really shouldn’t have won considering the fact that they were without crucial point guard Mike Conley and shot the ball relatively poorly. So you can imagine my surprise when I log back on in the morning to see dozens of takes talking about how the Jazz are in trouble because they just played their best game and the Clippers only lost by three.
I truly couldn’t believe my eyes so I instantly checked out the sportsbooks to see if they were smoking the same thing that all of those others must have been puffing but unfortunately the Jazz are still listed as favorites—though that won’t stop us from taking them with our NBA pick for the sixth straight game.
The Jazz, apart from Donovan Mitchell, actually had one of their worst games of this postseason so far, and I will remind everyone of Conley’s absence from the floor. Apart from Spida, the rest of the team’s scorers usually rely more heavily on Conley to use the pick and roll to create mismatches and get them quality looks.
Not to mention that he was averaging nearly 18 points himself in the first round. However, his status for Game 2 is very much up in the air as he deals with that hamstring strain that has been bothering him the last few months.
Whether Conley plays or not, we still like the Jazz to take a 2-0 lead as one of our top picks on Thursday night. Another caveat I loved during Game 1 was Jazz part-owner, three-time NBA champ, and future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade sitting courtside and giving pointers to Mitchell in the midst of the game.
Spida went beastmode in the second half, putting up 32 of his 45 points after the halftime break. It was clear that he had no intention of allowing his team to lose on Monday night, and even when Kawhi Leonard started taking up the challenge of defending him down the stretch, Spida had no trouble switching out of that matchup to attack subpar defenders like Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard, the former of which he got to foul out.
Another reason I love Utah on Thursday night is how poorly they shot on Monday while still getting the win. Even including Mitchell, the team shot 40.7 from the field (L.A. shot 42.4), 34 from deep (L.A. shot 38.1), and 80.8 from the charity stripe (L.A. shot 87.5). Without Mitchell, those numbers drop to 34.4 from the field and 31 from beyond the arc.
I mean, they missed 21 gosh darn shots in a row in the first half, and they never even went down more than 13 points. Other than Spida, no player that took more than one shot was shooting above the 43 percent threshold. Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson combined to go just 34 percent from the field, and all three of those guys are usually pretty efficient scorers.
The cherry on top was the lack of Rudy Gobert on offense, as the Frenchman finished 2-for-6 from the field for just 10 points. Without Conley in there, Utah head coach Quin Snyder will still want to get that high pick and roll going with Gobert and Spida. It’s no secret that when Gobert can dominate on the offensive end, the Jazz are a very tough team to beat.
I would expect the Jazz to shoot the ball better in Game 2 after working through the rust that is created when a team doesn’t play for five straight days on Monday. They’re back in a rhythm now, and we don’t see how they can play much worse than they did in Game 1, especially in the first half.
Spida won’t go for 40 again, but you can expect more efficient nights for Clarkson and Bogdanovic as well as more of a dedication to getting Gobert involved on the pick and roll on the offensive end as well. Paul George probably won’t play quite as bad as he did in Game 1, but he’s been known to fall into a rut during the playoffs, and this could certainly be one of those.
The pesky Australian Ingles has had history with George as well, and it could be that the veteran is getting into George’s head early doors in this series. If that is the case, it is a very bad thing for the Clippers. Leonard carried them through the first round, but his body is not what it used to be, and that Mavericks series was surely very draining both physically and mentally.
We expect the Jazz to keep their foot on the gas and ensure that they maintain their home court advantage as the series moves to the City of Angels after Thursday. Thankfully, we’re still getting a reasonable NBA point spread, so we’re going to go with Utah as a -3.5-point favorite at beautiful +100 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 3 (Jazz leads series 2-0)
June 12, 08:30 p.m., Staples Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 30-22, +6.92)
As most of you know, they were down 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of these playoffs, only to win four of the next five games to emerge victorious from that gruelling contest. These are world-class athletes, but you still have to think that the seven-game trek has surely taken a toll on the team mentally and physically. Meanwhile, the Jazz still have not lost a game in this postseason when Donovan Mitchell plays.
Mitchell has been on an absolute mission since returning from the ankle injury that kept him out for a month and a half, with the ailment seemingly not causing him issues until the final 12 seconds of Game 2 on Thursday when a collision with L.A.’s Paul George seemed to aggravate it a tad. After the game, however, Spida said that while it was hurting in the moment, the pain had passed and he was all good by the time he was doing his postgame presser.
If Spida went down, the Jazz would be in serious trouble, but we’ll take the 24-year-old’s word for it that his ankle is all good heading to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4. The Jazz still have a chance to sweep the Clippers, and considering Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic both seemingly tweaked their ankles in Game 2 and Mike Conley continues to deal with a right hamstring strain, head coach Quin Snyder would certainly love a few extra days off or few less games to play.
While I am apprehensive to call for a Jazz sweep, a gentleman’s sweep in five games seems like a pretty sure thing to me. Mitchell was a problem again in Game 2, following up a 45-point effort in Game 1 with a 37-point display in Game 2.
The Clips slowed him down a bit in the second half on Thursday by picking him up at three-quarter or half court and making him work harder during each possession, but down the stretch they couldn’t do much when he decided it was his time to get his team a bucket. No matter who was on him, he would find a way to get a mismatch, get to his lethal right hand, and finish at the rim with very high degrees of difficulty.
I’m not sure the team can afford to waste Kawhi Leonard’s energy defending Mitchell all game long in Game 3, but I’d expect him to match up with Utah’s best player more often than he has so far in this series. Even when the Klaw is on him though, Mitchell finds a way to either beat him or find himself a Luke Kennard or a Reggie Jackson to torment.
Mitchell has been scorching ever since he hit the floor in Game 2 of the first round: Spida (196 points in 195 minutes) and Joel Embiid (175 points in 168 minutes) are the only two players to score more points than minutes played during this postseason. If those two are a glimpse into the league’s future, I think we’re in good hands.
Mitchell’s onslaught is also one of the factors convincing us to take the Jazz with our NBA pick despite the fact that they’ll be underdogs. We would have liked to take a small Clippers spread, but the bookmakers were not being cooperative, so to find some value we had to go to the Utah moneyline for this top pick.
Another reason we’re going with the value on the Jazz moneyline here is because of how poorly Paul George has been playing. A bit of a dip could’ve been expected from Leonard after the way he carried his squad to victory in
round one, but this should be PG’s time to take the reins and show that he is still a premier NBA talent. After these first two games, I’m not so sure he is.
Marcus Morris and George have both struggled mightily in the first two games, Leonard has been slightly subpar, and the rest of the supporting cast has been shooting the lights, with Reggie Jackson going for a team-high 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting from the field in Game 2. Jackson isn’t that good a shooter, so that production will need to be replaced moving forward by George and/or Morris getting out of their ruts.
The Jazz were unconscious from deep on Thursday as well, draining 20 triples at a 51 percent clip. While 20 on 50 percent efficiency won’t happen again, something close to that should almost be deemed likely for this Jazz team at this point. Other than Jordan Clarkson, most of the makes in Game 2 were coming off of quality looks, not lucky contested chuck-ups.
The likely return of pick-and-roll maestro Mike Conley in Game 3 would make the Jazz moneyline at +161 NBA odds not only one of our best bets for today, but one of our top picks for this entire postseason. Conley and Rudy Gobert in that pick-and-roll on top of Mitchell’s forays into the paint, and the deadeye outside shooting will simply be too much for the tired Clippers.
Game 4 (Jazz leads series 2-1)
June 14, 10:00 p.m., Staples Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 32-23, +8.03)
Though the final result in Game 3 looked very ugly for the Utah Jazz, who were 132-106 losers on Saturday evening in the lone NBA contest of the night, the score looks a lot worse because the Jazz essentially threw the towel in halfway through the fourth quarter down just 11. Well, they didn’t throw the towel in so much as they were once again being very cautious with their best player, Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell missed 17 games over a five-week span with a pretty rough ankle injury, but since he made his return in Game 2 of the Jazz’s first round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, he has looked no worse for wear. If there was any rust, he knocked it off long before he came out on the court, as he led his squad to six straight playoff victories before dropping his first contest of this postseason on Saturday night.
After the game, Mitchell told the media that his ankle is fine, and that it was only a slight tweak that forced him from the game and sent him limping to the locker room. The team has said that he was available to return for the remainder of the game, but by the time they had taken a look at the ankle, the game was already out of reach.
The Clippers had been nurturing a lead that was hovering around 10 points for much of the latter half of Game 3, but they could never quite get that extended run to get the lead up over 20 and out of reach—until Spida went down. L.A.’s lead stood at 11 points when Mitchell left the court with just over seven minutes left in the game, and had his comrades kept it around that margin, Mitchell would have likely returned at some point.
But unfortunately, the Clippers took full advantage of his absence almost instantly, going on a 9-0 over the next minute and a half of game action to put the contest out of reach. A couple of minutes after that run, both coaches emptied their benches as the result of Game 3 was accepted by both sides. We are expecting a different result in Game 4 with our NBA pick.
We’re going to take Mitchell’s word for it that he’s all good, because without him, this series would be a wrap. So with Spida in there and the possible return of the Jazz’s maestro, veteran point guard Mike Conley, the Jazz should be able to have a nice bounce back performance here after basically everyone but Mitchell played quite poorly in Game 3.
Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale actually shot the ball well, but they’re probably the least important offensive players in the rotation. Bojan Bogdanovic, meanwhile, went 2-for-10 from the field while Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson went just 5-for-16. It was also another very quiet game for Rudy Gobert on the offensive end, as the absence of Conley has continued to limit his ability to do damage out of the pick-and-roll.
Another big factor in L.A.’s picking up a win on Saturday night was the explosion from Paul George, who went 6-for-10 from deep on his way to 31 big points. Reggie Jackson also continued his sweet shooting, going 5-for-6 from deep while Nicolas Batum was shooting that thang as well, going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Jackson will have to regress to the mean at some point, and that big performance from George is just as likely to have been a fluke as it was an omen of things to come.
Despite my expectations that the Clippers will not shoot 53 percent from long range again, I’m not so sure that the Jazz will be able to get another win in this series without their field general, Conley, out there leading the way with his veteran savvy and ruthless efficiency.
As we’ve done before, we’re going to give you two top picks for this game depending on Conley’s status. If he does make it through the hamstring strain that’s been ailing him to suit up for Game 4, we like the Jazz to win Game 4 straight up as big-time +170 NBA odds underdogs as one of our best bets for today.
However, if he does not play and the Jazz are once again without one of their most crucial pieces, we would advise you to take whatever Clippers spread is out there closer to tipoff. As long as Conley’s out and the spread is at or below five points, an NBA point spread wager on L.A. should do just fine as the top pick of the day.
Game 5 (series tied 2-2)
June 16, 10:00 p.m., Vivint Arena
(Playoff Betting Record: 34-25, +7.99)
Just like in the first round, the Los Angeles Clippers slacked off in the first pair of games before coming back with a vengeance in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series up and turn this best-of-seven matchup into a best-of-three. Against the Dallas Mavericks, the Clippers had the advantage of home court, but they have no such luxury in these Western Conference semis against the Utah Jazz, who had the best record in basketball this year.
After losing two tight games in Utah to go down big in the series, the Clippers responded with a haymaker of their own in Game 3, taking that one by over 25 points. The first quarter of Game 4 honestly seemed like a continuation of that Game 3 butt-whooping the Clips laid on the Jazz, as they jumped out to a 30-13 lead by the end of the first 12 minutes of action.
While the Jazz woke up a bit in the second quarter, the Clippers still put up 38 of their own points in the frame and ended up taking a 24-point lead into the halftime break. L.A. would be outscored by 10 points throughout the second half, but that wasn’t nearly enough for the Jazz to make this into a game after the damage the Clippers had done in the first half.
The deficit was cut down to 13 and 11 points at various times in the fourth quarter, but Utah could never get it into single digits, which is when the goal becomes a lot more attainable for the team that’s trailing. Mitchell once again put up big numbers with 37 points and five dimes, but he went just 9-for-26 from the field, relying more so on the foul line to do his scoring damage in this one, where he was 13-for-15 on the night.
Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles both shot the ball very well, combining to go 13-for-21 from the field on the night, which is a positive sign heading back to Utah, where the supporting cast always plays much better for the Jazz. Jordan Clarkson, who went just 3-for-12 off the bench in Game 4, will also welcome the return to Vivint Arena, as three of his four big games so far in these playoffs have come in the familiar environs of Salt Lake City.
The thing about the Jazz is that their rotation is going to need shortening, as Georges Niang and Derrick Favors continue to prove that they are nearly unplayable in this series. Rudy Gobert will need to play bigger minutes because without him in there the Clippers are getting whatever they want in the paint, and you definitely would prefer to have L.A. chucking up threes than attacking the basket.
Gobert also needs to have a bigger role on offense. He didn’t register a shot attempt until late in the second half, and a couple of well-maneuvered pick-and-rolls with Ingles in the fourth showed glimpses of how he can help Utah dominate a game when he’s got a good point guard to set him up. Ingles is alright in that role and Mitchell still needs a lot of work, so once again, we call on Mike Conley to return to the floor.
The veteran has now missed four straight games with a right hamstring strain, and it seems like now or never for him in Game 5. After going up 2-0 in the series, it made sense to give him a little more time to heal up, but now that the Clippers have taken both games in Los Angeles and the series is tied going into Game 5, the situation is much more desperate.
With Conley in there, everyone on the Jazz offense gets a boost. Mitchell sees fewer double-teams and pressures, Gobert has arguably the best pick-and-roll maestro in the game to work off of, and Utah’s gaggle of sharpshooters are set up with more quality looks. If Conley plays, we’re taking the Jazz at a -3.5 NBA point spread at lovely +100 NBA odds as our best bet for today.
However, if the 33-year-old has to sit for the fifth straight game, I don’t see the Jazz winning on Wednesday night. In fact, if Conley doesn’t play again, I doubt his team will win another game in this series. The offense is simply too one-dimensional without Conley in there, so if he doesn’t suit up for Game 5, we’re taking the underdog moneyline for the Clippers with confidence as our top pick of the day.
The return to form of Paul George and Marcus Morris was big in taking Game 4, as the pair combined for 55 points in the victory on 15-for-31 shooting from the field. Something tells me that the raucous and rowdy (and perhaps some would say, quite rude) crowd in Utah may stop PG from replicating that performance, but if Conley isn’t in there for the Jazz, Utah won’t be able to score enough points for it to matter.
Game 6 (Clippers leads series 3-2)
June 18, 10:00 p.m., Staples Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 35-27, +7.49)
However, the Jazz were also without a crucial piece to their puzzle once again as veteran point guard Mike Conley was unable to play for the fifth straight game due to a right hamstring strain. If the Jazz expect to make it into the Conference Finals, it seems like the 33-year-old pick-and-roll maestro is going to have to suit up and try to help his team do what they can despite his ailment.
We saw James Harden—who has the same hamstring issue—do it for the Brooklyn Nets a couple of days ago, and it seemed as though Beardo had set limits for himself and played within them, which allowed him to finish the game without issue.
Conley and the Jazz would do well to take a page out of the Nets’ playbook and get Conley in there whether he’s at 100 percent or not. At least if he’s in there, he can still run a few pick-and-rolls without pushing himself too much to get Rudy Gobert going, and, arguably more importantly after what happened in Game 5, be a sort of decoy to help Donovan Mitchell get a little more breathing room.
Spida had scored 30+ points in six straight games before Wednesday night, which serves as a new Jazz franchise record, a stretch during which he was scoring 34.8 points a night. He was looking unstoppable, but his roll came to a grinding halt in Game 5 as he was held to just 21 points on 6-for-19 shooting from the field
Mitchell’s field goal percentage has actually decreased with each passing game in this series after hitting at a 53 percent clip way back in Game 1. This seems to be a product of a few factors. A clear one during Game 5 was his inability or unwillingness to get to the basket, as evidenced by just three shots in the paint on the night.
Another big one is the absence of his running mate Conley, who creates easier looks for everyone on the team including their best player, Mitchell. Yet another factor is fatigue, which can also be attributed to the absence of Conley as he is forced to play more minutes, take more shots, and shoulder a much larger portion of the playmaking duties than his burgeoning offensive game can handle at this point.
The ankle injury that forced him to miss the last month or so of the regular season as well as Game 1 of their first round series has also seemingly been tweaked a few times against the Clips.
As we’ve said for the last few games of this series, we really like the look of the Jazz when Conley is in there running the show, but without the savvy vet, we’re not nearly as confident, so his status prior to the game will affect the confidence we have in our NBA pick. Be sure to monitor his status prior to tipoff.
That being said, with Leonard out, we can’t bring ourselves not to back the Jazz, which is why we’re going with Utah to tie this series up in L.A. with our NBA pick on Friday night. Conley is very important to the Jazz’s success, but he’s not their bonafide best and most important player—that’s what the Klaw is for the Clips.
While they overcame his absence in Game 5, I’m not sure they’ll be able to do it again, even with the home court advantage on Friday night. Paul George needed to step up in Leonard’s absence, and he did just that, shining in the starring role with 37 points on 55 percent shooting from the field.
It didn’t hurt that Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson combined for another 47 points on 58 percent shooting from the field. The Clippers were indeed the sweetest shooting team from downtown during the regular season, but they weren’t that good.
Morris has bounced back from a cold run so I’d expect him to continue shooting well on Friday night, but the bottom surely needs to fall out at some point when it comes to the scorching hot Jackson and his ridiculous parabolic threes. Not to mention the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to beat a team—especially the one with the best record in the NBA this year—four times in a row.
Utah head coach Quin Snyder essentially went to a six-man rotation on Wednesday night with Jordan Clarkson coming off the bench, and he will have to do the same on Friday if Conley isn’t fit enough to play. Bojan Bogdanovic answered the bell in Game 5 for the Jazz, but you couldn’t really say the same about any of their other players.
This always seemed like it would be one of—if not the—longest series of the four conference semifinal matchups, and we’re going to stick by that notion for our top pick on Friday night. We’re going with the Jazz to cover a small -3.5 NBA point spread at tasty +111 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today. And please god, let Mike Conley play.
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Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve.