Welcome to the Winner’s Circle, a weekly column by Bet For The Win senior writer Prince J. Grimes. Here, you’ll read about stats and trends that can help you make informed betting predictions for the week ahead and beyond.
The Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs Sunday, losing in a Game 7 to the Boston Celtics by 28 points. But rather than being critical of how they looked at the blowout, I came away from the game with an even better appreciation of what the Golden State Warriors have been able to accomplish the last few years and what they’re continuing to do.
After advancing past the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday, the Warriors are in the conference finals for the sixth time in eight years. If they can get past the Dallas Mavericks, they’ll be 6-0 in those series with a chance to improve on their 3-2 finals record in that span. They’ve made it look so routine that it’s easy to forget just how hard it is to do what they repeatedly pull off. Milwaukee’s shortcomings put that in perspective; not just that it’s really difficult to make it back to the big stage, but to win it all again…and again.
After winning last year’s championship, the Bucks entered this season with the third best title odds behind the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. They were one of my personal two favorites to win it all this year, along with the Phoenix Suns. But Khris Middleton suffered a sprained MCL in the first round of the playoffs, and that threw everything into question. In their very first postseason after winning a title, the Bucks had to go without one of their two All-Stars and their second-leading scorer for an entire series. Those are the type of bad breaks the Warriors somehow avoided in their streak of championships.
Golden State’s ability to potentially reach six finals isn’t simply about how good they’ve been — though they’ve been really good, and at times, all-time great — it’s also about how lucky they’ve been. Significant injuries didn’t ravage their roster until after the heart of their run of titles. From their first championship in 2015 through their last in 2018, none of their core three All-Stars was forced to miss an entire series. The closest they came was the six games Stephen Curry missed across the first two rounds of the 2016 playoffs, but they went 4-0 in the four games he was able to play through those two series.
For the Bucks, the significance of Middleton’s absence was very evident, as they were still able to push the series to seven games but desperately missed his ability to score from the perimeter. Now, as they head into the offseason full of disappointment, the Warriors are somehow still going. Two years after Klay Thompson suffered his first of multiple catastrophic injuries and Kevin Durant departed for Brooklyn, and then Stephen Curry and Draymond Green also went down with injuries, Golden State is in prime position to add a fourth championship in eight years. Juxtaposed with Milwaukee’s early playoff exit as Giannis Antetokounmpo remains arguably the league’s best player, it’s incredible to witness. All you can do is tip your cap to the Warriors.
Golden State had the fourth-shortest preseason odds to win this year’s title, one spot behind Milwaukee. Now they hold the best odds of the final four teams remaining at +135 on Tipico Sportsbook. They’re 5.5-point favorites for Game 1 on Wednesday, and I’m rolling with them to cover.
Here are a few more things I’m looking at in the week ahead.
Bryce Harper did Bryce Harper things last week on his way to the National League Player of the Week award. Harper was the only qualified batter in the majors to post a slugging percentage better than 1.000 — his was 1.261 — and he logged nine extra base hits in 23 at-bats, including three home runs.
Your NL Player of the Week: Bryce Harper. pic.twitter.com/meqYY7yzxz
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) May 16, 2022
Overall, Harper was 14-of-23 at the plate for a .609 average with eight RBI and four walks. He takes that hot bat into a matchup with the San Diego Padres and Mike Clevinger on Tuesday, and I like his chances to keep it up.
Clevinger will be making his third start of the season after missing all of the last year, and he hasn’t completely settled in yet. He’s also struggled more than usual against lefties in his limited action this year, giving up seven hits, three walks and all five of his earned runs allowed this season.
Steele, the Chicago Cubs lefty, threw a career-high 10 strikeouts Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. And for an encore performance, he’ll likely get the D-backs again on Friday, as Chicago opens up a four-game set at home.
Justin Steele has his first career 10-strikeout game! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/3JlKlUgkPa
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 15, 2022
The Diamondbacks have the third-highest strikeout percentage in the majors and enter Tuesday top five in total strikeouts this season. Steele isn’t normally a high strikeout pitcher, and he hasn’t been as effective at home for the Cubs, but if there was a matchup for him to stack some Ks, this is the one. I’d take his over as high as 6.5 strikeouts.