Every time Chris Paul changes teams, he reminds everyone he's one of the best point guards in NBA history.
He did it again with the Phoenix Suns, his fifth team, at age 35. To say he transformed the Suns is an understatement. The Suns hadn't been to the playoffs since 2010. With Paul, the Suns went 51-21 and got the No. 2 seed in the West.
That's what makes Paul's injury potentially devastating for the Suns. Paul injured his shoulder in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers and played just seven minutes in the second half of Game 2. The Suns gave a good effort with Paul as mostly a non-factor but the Lakers won a pivotal game.
If Paul was healthy, the spread for Game 3 might not be so wide. But Paul is clearly affected, and the Lakers are 6.5-point favorites at BetMGM on Thursday night.
The Lakers are also -350 favorites to win the series, which shows what the Suns are up against. It seems likely that Paul's injury has affected the line.
The Suns do have guard depth, and that helped keep them in Game 2 until late. But Paul makes the offense go. Paul was tied for third in the NBA in assists per game this season. He adds experience to a team without much of it in the playoffs. Paul will presumably still play, but six points and five assists on 23 minutes — which is what Paul was able to do in Game 2 — is unlikely to be enough to take a series from the Lakers. Put simply: If Paul's health limits him the rest of the series as much as it did in the first two games, it's very hard to envision Phoenix even keeping the series close.
The Lakers looked like the Lakers in Game 2. LeBron James hit big shots. Anthony Davis rebounded in a big way. Paul's nagging shoulder injury makes betting on Game 3 a tough proposition. Paul was limited in Game 1 as well, and a short turnaround to Game 3 makes it harder to assume he'll be close to 100 percent. The Lakers seem like the right side until we see Paul look like Paul again.
Let's take a first glance at the betting slate for Thursday:
Can the Bucks keep rolling?
The Milwaukee Bucks got out of the first two games against the Miami Heat with wins, taking one by a last-second overtime shot and then just running the Heat out of the building in Game 2. They're 2-point favorites at Miami on Thursday night. I'll still stick with betting the Heat — the memory of them dominating the Bucks in last year's playoffs is hard to shake, and I think Miami is a quality team that's way better than their No. 6 seed — but if the Bucks take Game 3 we might have to wonder if they are better equipped to handle the playoffs than the last two seasons.
Will Blazers-Nuggets keep going back and forth?
If we buy the zig-zag theory (it worked for the New York Knicks on Wednesday), Thursday will be the Portland Trail Blazers' turn to win. The Blazers took Game 1, then the Denver Nuggets rebounded to win Game 2. The Trail Blazers are 4-point favorites at BetMGM in Game 3, and while respecting the zig-zag theory, that number seems slightly high. This could end up being a great seven-game series and we're likely to start getting some much closer games.
Who cashed tickets on Wednesday?
The Knicks came through, taking advantage of a cold streak in the second half by the Atlanta Hawks, and won as a small favorite. It has nothing to do with betting, but how amazing has it been to see the Madison Square Garden crowd going crazy?
The Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz covered as big favorites in Game 2. Neither of those top seeds covered in Game 1, so the zig-zag theory (betting the opposite of what happened in the previous game of a series) went 3-0 on Wednesday. With the Bucks, 76ers and Nets all up 2-0, the East could have three very short first-round series.
In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins are eliminated in a bit of a first-round upset after losing 5-3 to the New York Islanders. The Florida Panthers are also done, with the Tampa Bay Lightning moving on after a 4-0 win. The Vegas Golden Knights lost to the Minnesota Wild, which sets up a great Game 7 on Friday. The team paying the most attention to that might be the Colorado Avalanche, the Stanley Cup favorite that would presumably be pretty happy if Vegas was eliminated in the first round.
It was a fairly chalky day in Major League Baseball, with the Cardinals being the biggest underdog to win at +165 (which we picked in yesterday's Daily Sweat). The Houston Astros were the other notable underdog to win, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers at +125.
What are we betting on this afternoon?
It's a great Thursday MLB slate for anyone looking for some daytime action. There are eight day games, counting a doubleheader and the resumption of a suspended Reds-Nationals game, starting at 12:10 p.m. ET. The best games in the lot could be the Toronto Blue Jays at the New York Yankees, who will play two after being rained out last night. If you're looking for a good one to bet, it makes sense to keep taking a hot San Diego Padres team as a reasonable -125 favorite at BetMGM against a Milwaukee Brewers team that is now under .500 for the season.