Has it already been a year? It seems like yesterday we were watching Lonzo Ball and the UCLA Bruins do their thing at the Pac-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Arizona Wildcats ended up winning the title after beating UCLA in the semifinals, but it was already obvious that Ball was a special player. Now he’s with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he’s a consistent jump shot away from being an All-Star.
That’s Champ Week for you. The Division I conference title tournaments are great basketball in and of themselves, but they’re also a great way to get yourself prepared for March Madness. Some of the conferences have already been decided; note how the Michigan State Spartans, like the Bruins last year, fell to the Michigan Wolverines in the semis of the Big Ten tournament. Which other big-name programs are in peril? Arizona (24-7 SU, 11-18-2 ATS) looks ripe for the picking as the No. 1 seed in this year’s Pac-12 tourney; they have the bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll play either the No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes or the No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils at noon Eastern on the Pac-12 Network.
Ball for All
Speaking of Ball, he and the Lakers (28-35 SU, 35-28 ATS) are on a tear right now. They’re 5-1 SU and ATS since the All-Star break as we go to press, with Ball returning to action after missing over a month with a sore knee. And that jump shot is starting to look good, too; Ball has shot 50.0 percent from the field since his return, up from 35.6 percent before the break. The impending Lakers dynasty hasn’t started yet, though. They were sellers at the trade deadline, taking on Isaiah Thomas (minus-4.2 BPM) and sending Larry Nance Jr. (plus-3.7 BPM) to the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to secure a first-round pick this summer. But at least Thomas has been a positive contributor for the Lakers on offense (plus-0.8 BPM), and they won’t have to worry about Jordan Clarkson (minus-1.2 BPM) anymore after shipping him to Cleveland. Conveniently enough, Los Angeles will host the Cavaliers (37-26 SU, 20-42-1 ATS) this Sunday at Staples Center, tipping off at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. Circle this game for your NBA picks this weekend.
Put the Biscuit in the Basket
Speaking of Los Angeles, it’s about time the Kings (36-25-5) started winning some hockey games. They have the fourth-best goal differential in the entire Western Conference at plus-27, but they’re only fourth in the Pacific Division at press time, and wouldn’t even make the playoffs if they began today. Hardly seems fair.
Good thing L.A. has another 16 games to make up for lost time. They’ve won six of their last nine, putting them 4.29 units in the black at 36-30 against the puck line. And they’ve got a winnable game coming up this Saturday at Staples against the 35-26-5 St. Louis Blues (35-31 ATS, minus-2.58 units), who have a goal differential of plus-4 and just one victory in their last nine games. Game time is 4:00 p.m. Eastern with regional Fox Sports coverage for both teams.
Before we go, we have to tell you about Saturday’s big boxing match in nearby Carson, California. The WBO featherweight title will be on the line when champion Oscar Valdez (23-0, 19 KOs) squares off against challenger Scott Quigg (34-1-2, 25 KOs). It’s being hyped as a potential Fight of the Year candidate, and it looks like the odds are starting to edge towards Quigg at around +285 after the early action was on Valdez. ESPN has the coverage at 10:30 p.m. Eastern; bet appropriately, and may the squared circle be with you.