The Los Angeles Lakers’ visit to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks has lost a lot of its luster.
The Lakers only play at the world’s most famous arena once a year and this year it will be without LeBron James. James was hit with a one-game suspension by the NBA for hitting Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart with an elbow on Sunday.
It’s the first suspension for James in his storied 19-year career. The NBA said James “recklessly” hit Stewart in the face and “initiated an on-court altercation.” James’ elbow to Stewart caused a bloody cut and the second-year big man took exception as repeatedly tried to go after James and was separated by teammates and coaches.
Without James, the Lakers are 4.5-point underdogs at BetMGM against the Knicks, who are 9-8 on the year and coming off a six-point road loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night. The Lakers, meanwhile, managed to beat the Pistons even after James’ ejection.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Lakers, who are an NBA-worst 6-12 against the spread this season. That includes a 2-4 mark as an away team.
The Knicks were one of the best ATS teams in the NBA last year, but they haven't been doing as well this year. Entering Tuesday night, they are just 7-10 against the number, including 3-6 ATS at home.
Even with both teams playing mediocre ball to this point in the year, there will be a lot of excitement in the air with two of the NBA's premiere franchises squaring off. The return of Carmelo Anthony to New York City helps, too.
UCLA-Gonzaga rematch highlights college hoops slate
If you’re underwhelmed by the NBA options, a rematch of one of the most epic NCAA tournament games ever is on the schedule for Tuesday night.
The two top-ranked teams in the country — No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA — will meet up in Las Vegas. Gonzaga is a 6.5-point favorite with the total set at 154.5 points.
The last time they met up was in last year’s Final Four, which featured Jalen Suggs’ epic half-court heave as time expired to send the Bulldogs to the national title game, where they lost to Baylor.
This year, both teams are undefeated and have looked quite good in the early going. Gonzaga is 5-0 with a win over No. 5 Texas and UCLA is 5-0 with a win over No. 4 Villanova. Both teams are 3-2 against the spread.
Gonzaga returns big man Drew Timme, but also added five-star recruit Chet Holmgren to the mix. Holmgren, a skilled 7-footer, is averaging 11.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.5 blocks per game. UCLA returns four of the five starters from last year’s Final Four team — Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell and Jules Bernard.
The stakes obviously aren’t as high as last year’s Final Four, but a game like this is a tremendous barometer for where you are as a team in the early going of the season.
Before the Bulldogs and Bruins tip off at 10 p.m. ET, there are some other intriguing matchups throughout the day.
Those include Texas A&M (-1.5) vs. Butler, Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Houston (-7.5), No. 14 Illinois (-10.5) vs. Kansas State, Virginia vs. Providence (-2.5), Oregon (-2.5) vs. St. Mary's and Cincinnati vs. No. 13 Arkansas (-4.5).
MACtion’s 2021 finale
The last two midweek MACtion games of the year are on tap for Tuesday night, both at 7 p.m. ET.
In Muncie, Ball State hosts Buffalo and is a 6.5-point favorite with the total set at 58.5. Buffalo is 4-7 and looking to close out its first season under Maurice Linguist with a victory. On the other side, Ball State is 5-6 and looking to get back to a bowl game. The Cardinals won the MAC last year and then beat San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl. It was the first bowl victory in program history.
Elsewhere, Northern Illinois hosts Western Michigan. NIU, at 8-3 overall and 6-1 in conference play, has already wrapped up the MAC West title. WMU (6-5 overall, 3-4 MAC) has clinched bowl eligibility and is a 3.5-point road favorite in this one. The total is set at 63. NIU has played in nine one-score games this season and won seven of them. WMU was 5-2 at one point but has since lost three of its last four.
What are the best bets?
I love MACtion dearly so I’ve got to get one more bet in before it winds down for the 2021 season.
I like the under in the Northern Illinois vs. Western Michigan game. Both are run-based teams, especially NIU. The Huskies run the ball 62% of the time and WMU has the best run defense in the MAC, allowing just 136 yards per game.
With the division wrapped up and a trip to the conference title game coming up, NIU’s approach will be interesting. Will the Huskies be inclined to play even more conservatively than usual and try to keep some guys healthy? Additionally, WMU has been a road favorite three times this season and all three have gone under the total. It’s also going to be a cold, windy night in DeKalb.
There are also a few college basketball games I'm eyeing. I like Illinois laying the 10.5 vs. Kansas State after getting trucked by Cincinnati on Monday. I also like Wisconsin +7.5 against Houston. The Badgers just have a way of playing at a pace to keep games close even when going against more athletic teams.