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Clippers vs Celtics NBA betting picks and predictions: L.A. to head into break on high note

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The Celtics are short home favorites over the Clippers on Thursday night as both teams play their final game before the All-Star break.

We build the blueprint for betting this marquee matchup on the NBA basketball odds board, from our favorite bets for the side and total to some quick-paying picks and prop plays.

QUICK HITTER

The Clippers have been treading water of late and enter off a 110-103 road loss to the Sixers on Tuesday. Los Angeles has dropped two of its last three straight up and three of five ATS and has slipped to third place in the Western Conference standings.

Boston had its seven-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday night in Houston as James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 78 points in a 116-105 Rockets victory. The Celtics received a balanced offensive effort with all five starters scoring in double-figures. Gordon Hayward led the way with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Both teams have defended well in the early stages of the game, especially Boston, who are ranked fourth allowing just 26.5 points in the first quarter this season. The first-quarter Under is 6-4 in the last 10 games for the Clippers. With the All-Star break looming, both teams will get off to a slow start.

Pick: Under 57.5 First Quarter

FIRST HALF

Jaylen Brown limped off the floor in the fourth quarter against the Rockets but is probable to suit up on Thursday with a calf injury. Brown is averaging 21.3 points on 51.5 percent shooting over his last 10 games and is a key cog in the Celtics’ rotation.

The Clippers have been a profitable first-half bet on the road this season and are 15-11-1 ATS. Both teams will enter this game hungry coming in off a loss, but Los Angeles is a little healthier and has had recent success in this series winning the last two matchups in Boston. Take the road team to win the first half outright.

Pick: Clippers First Half ML (+100)

TEAM/PLAYER PROP

Paul George is coming off one of his worst offensive games of the season scoring just 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting against the Sixers. However, George did grab 12 rebounds for the second time in his last five games.

The Celtics allowed 45 rebounds to an undersized Rockets lineup on Tuesday including 18 combined from guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The backcourt boards will be open for business again on Thursday night with George muscling up on the glass.

Pick: Paul George Over 6.5 Rebounds

TOTAL BET

Boston continues to rely on its defense as eight of the last 11 games staying under the total. They committed 18 turnovers against the Rockets and scored fewer than 23 points in two of four quarters. The Celtics are ranked second allowing just 105.7 points per game this season.

The Clippers have also been stingy of late with four of the last six games going Under. Los Angeles won the prior matchup between these two teams 107-104 as the game stayed under the relatively low total of 217.5. The Under is 15-12 in Clippers’ road games this season. Expect this one to stay beneath the total.

Pick: Under 227

SPREAD BET

Marcus Morris scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds against the Sixers in his second start with Los Angeles since being acquired in a trade from the Knicks before the deadline last week. Morris played just 22 minutes in his debut Sunday against the Cavaliers but saw 35 minutes of action against Philadelphia.

After missing the win over Cleveland due to rest, Kawhi Leonard returned to the floor against the Sixers and dropped 30 points. It was Leonard’s first 30-point performance since reaching that plateau in nine straight games from Jan. 10 through Feb. 1. Leonard is averaging 27.1 points per game this season.

The Celtics have struggled at home in this series, dropping two straight against the Clippers at TD Garden. Los Angeles has won four straight overall and is 6-2 ATS in the last eight meetings. Boston appeared to run out of gas in the fourth quarter against the Rockets and that could carry over into Thursday. Los Angeles is a good bet to head into the All-Star break on a winning note.

Pick: Clippers +1.5

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.