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Last run for Dallas?

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Mavericks' Slim Chance for West's Final Playoff Spot Starts Now

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban never has been afraid to spend top dollar on his team, and his wallet was a big reason the Mavericks won the franchise's first NBA title in the 2010-11 season.

However, the team has largely slipped into irrelevance since then. Despite still having an in-prime superstar in Dirk Nowitzki, Cuban chose not to bring back the likes of Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea to give the Mavs a chance to repeat last season. Cuban was banking on having massive salary cap room for the summer of 2012 and the chance to lure one (or two) of Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

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The Mavs slipped to 36-30 in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season and were easily dispatched by Oklahoma City in a four-game sweep in the conference semifinals. Cuban couldn't lure the free agent Williams this past summer, while Howard and Paul decided to invoke their one-year options and stay put. Both can become unrestricted free agents this summer, although most expect Howard to stay with the Lakers and Paul with the Clippers.

Thus the Mavericks could be stuck in mediocrity for a few years, and Nowitzki is showing his age. The 34-year-old future Hall of Famer missed the first 27 games this season after knee surgery. Nowitzki is averaging just 16.0 points on 44.7% shooting and 6.7 rebounds.

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Dallas, which started 12-15 without Nowitzki, was left for dead as recently as January 9 when a loss to the Clippers left the Mavericks 10 games under .500 at 13-23. They were still eight under entering February but now have some playoff life. Dallas is 5-1 in March and enters Thursday night's game at San Antonio - which will have live play-by-play betting at the book - on a four-game winning streak (3-1 ATS). Entering Wednesday's action, the Mavs are three games behind the No. 8 Lakers for the West's final playoff spot and another half-game behind No. 7 Houston.

It seems unlikely that Dallas will catch the Lakers, who are starting to play to expectations. Catching Houston is a possibility, however. It's quite a lot to ask Dallas to win in San Antonio on Thursday as the Spurs are 3-0 (and ATS) against Dallas this season, with none of the three games ever in doubt. Should the Mavs pull the upset as eight-point underdogs, and San Antonio remains without Tony Parker, they have just one road game the rest of March: next Monday at Atlanta.

That's the good news. The bad is that seven of the Mavs' eight home opponents the rest of the month are playoff teams or nearly so: Oklahoma City, Brooklyn, Boston, Utah, LA Clippers, Indiana and Chicago with Cleveland the only one not in that category. Dallas is an average 17-12 at home overall (16-13 ATS). It certainly would have helped the Mavs' cause if they could have acquired Boston's Paul Pierce at the trade deadline, a deal that nearly happened.

The Mavericks are 150/1 to win the NBA title and 75/1 to win the West.

As for the Spurs, coach Gregg Popovich reminded bettors why they should steer clear of backing San Antonio on the second of a back-to-back. Popovich loves to rest his starters when that second game is on the road, and that was the case Tuesday in Minnesota, a night after the Spurs' big win against Oklahoma City. Starters Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard were both left home for the trip to the Twin Cities, and San Antonio was blown out by the Timberwolves.

Expect Popovich to continue that strategy the remainder of the season to keep his veterans rested for the playoffs. The Spurs' next back-to-back is March 31 at home against Miami with a trip to Memphis the next night. Unless the Southwest Division and playoff seeding is up for grabs in that Grizzlies game, look for some Spurs stars to not travel to Memphis.

*-Also available for Live Betting Thursday is the Knicks at Trail Blazers. Friday and Saturday are NCAA conference tournament heavy, so no NBA Live action. On Sunday, the book offers Knicks at Clippers, Warriors at Rockets (a big one at the bottom of the West playoff race) and Kings at Lakers.

Raptors Better Off Without Bargnani?

Sliding Toronto announced Wednesday that forward Andrea Bargnani, the former No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, will miss the rest of the season with a right elbow sprain. A different right elbow injury sidelined the Italian big man for 26 games earlier this season.

The Raptors made a mini-playoff push after acquiring Rudy Gay, but have faded of late and will again be in the lottery. Bargnani is averaging just 12.7 points per game, his worst in five seasons, and shooting 40% from the field. He may have played his final game for the franchise as it has been actively looking to trade Bargnani. He's due about $22 million overall the next two seasons. Toronto had talks with Chicago about a Bargnani-for-Carlos Boozer deal at the deadline and that could be revisited this offseason.

This injury could actually help Toronto short-term. Bargnani is one of the worst defensive players in the NBA and is essentially worthless when he's not shooting well as the 7-footer averages a scant 3.7 rebounds per game. Here's all you need to know: the last 11 times Bargnani played at least 30 minutes in a game, the Raptors lost.

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