Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors
Huge Eastern Conference playoff implications in this one north of the border. The Raptors are in the postseason but are neck-and-neck with the Washington Wizards for the No. 3 seed. The advantage of earning the No. 3 likely would be avoiding the LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers until the conference finals. The Raptors had a great night Wednesday in beating the Detroit Pistons 105-102. That’s because All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry returned from wrist surgery and looked in fine form with 27 points and 10 assists. The Raptors got much better defensively in Lowry’s absence with the trade acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Before the All-Star break, the Raptors allowed 106.0 points per 100 possessions, which was 16th in the NBA. Since the break, that number is 103.1, fourth in the NBA.
Has any coach done a better job this season than Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. The Heat was left for dead at 11-30 but are 27-10 since. There are good players on this team like Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, but not 27-10 talent. The Heat might miss the playoffs, however, as they are bunched with Chicago and Indiana for the East’s final two spots. The remaining schedule isn’t kind to Miami as it travels to Washington on Saturday, then hosts Cleveland on April 10 and Washington on April 12. Thus the Heat could help determine whether the Raptors get that No. 3 seed or not.
New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
These AL East teams look similar on paper: good lineups, excellent bullpens and very questionable starting pitching. The Yanks have Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the eighth and ninth innings, while the Orioles have Zach Britton to close things out, and he had arguably the greatest season ever for a closer in 2016. Friday’s series-opening pitching matchup tells bettors all the need to know about both rotations. It’s Luis Severino for the Bombers. This could be a make-or-break season for him in the majors. Severino has been excellent in the minors but just 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA in the majors last year after a promising 11-game stint in 2015. Baltimore counters with Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave up the walk-off three-run homer to Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion in last year’s wild-card game. Jimenez has been consistently inconsistent in his three seasons with the Orioles. He’ll have a stretch of good games but then a longer stretch of bad ones and has a 4.72 ERA in a Baltimore uniform. Jimenez is in the final year of a $50 million contract, so the Orioles might cut bait sooner rather than later if he struggles in 2017.
Dustin Johnson Shocker
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson entered the Masters having won three straight PGA Tour events, but he slipped on some stairs at his rental home in Augusta on Wednesday and made it as far as the first tee on Thursday before withdrawing because of back pain. Sportsbooks in Las Vegas handled that W/D differently. Some refunded the money, believing that it’s a no-bet if the golfer doesn’t tee off. However, others told bettors that Johnson’s lack of a single stroke still resulted in a lost futures wager.