Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors
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Hello and Happy Friday, everyone. I hope your weekend is off to a wonderful start. I know I can't imagine a much better one than mine. I'm sitting outside writing this because it is unseasonably warm in my part of the world. It's a gorgeous day with the sun shining, and I hope it's an omen for what's to come with our picks tonight and over the weekend.

Of course, I live in Chicago, so while I'm sitting in this beautiful weather, there's also a weather advisory in the area for possible snow on Sunday night into Monday morning. Because why wouldn't there be? At least I haven't packed away my winter clothes yet.

Now let's get these winners in before winter returns for like the fifth time this year.

All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook

🔥 The Hot Ticket

Bulls at Heat, 7 p.m. | TV: TNT

  • Key Trend: The Bulls are 3-0 against the Heat this season and 8-3 ATS in the last 11 meetings in Miami.
  • The Pick: Bulls +5.5 (-110)

Who has play-in Fever?! That's right! We all do! Unfortunately, everybody's favorite television ratings grab ends tonight, as the final playoff seeds will be decided. 

We'll start in Miami, where we've received terribly unfortunate news. Following her dominant performance in the Bulls' win over the Toronto Raptors, Diar DeRozan will not be present in Miami tonight. Her father, DeMar DeRozan, confirmed the news earlier today, explaining that Diar has school and a game of her own tonight. Considering the impact her screams had on the Raptors at the free-throw line on Wednesday, this is a significant loss.

However, it is not one that scares me off the Bulls tonight. I don't think it's entirely coincidental that in the short history of the play-in, the loser of the 7/8 game has gone 1-3 against the winner of the 9/10 game. The Heat did not play like a team that seemed very desirous of extending their season the other night, and now face a Bulls team that overcame a 19-point deficit to get past Toronto.

It's also a Bulls team that has gone 3-0 against the Heat this season, winning by an average of 10.7 points per game. The Bulls were underdogs in those games, and it's not just the Bulls who have performed well as dogs against this Heat team this year. On the season, Miami is 19-37-3 ATS as a favorite. As a home favorite, the Heat are 11-24-2. This Miami team has struggled to play to expectations all season long. It may win tonight, but its history suggests that if it does, it won't cover.

Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model is with us on the spread, but it loves one side of the total.

💰 The Picks

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Thunder at Timberwolves, 9:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN

The Pick: Thunder +5.5 (-110) -- Yes, I'm taking the other underdog as well, and not just because underdogs went 4-0 ATS in the first games or because of the stat I shared earlier about the losers of the first play-in games going 1-3 against the winners.

No, I'm picking the Thunder for a very simple reason.

Any time I have a chance to fade Karl-Anthony Towns in a big game, I will jump at the chance. What happened earlier this week when the Wolves fell apart in the fourth quarter against the Lakers is nothing new. KAT curled up into a ball and hid, instead allowing Anthony Edwards (who hadn't made a shot all night) to keep chucking up shots that had no prayer or hoping Mike Conley would bail him out. He's incredible, but KAT's performances in games like this aren't coincidental. This Thunder team is young, fun, and too dumb to realize it has no shot of getting past Denver. I'm taking the points, but do not be surprised when the Thunder win this game.


Angels at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. | TV: Apple TV

The Pick: Red Sox (+100) -- The Red Sox's 5-8 record is misleading. They have a -2 run differential, despite the record. Their pitching has been the primary problem, but metrics suggest a bit of bad luck is also involved.

Tonight's pitching matchup is relatively even, with neither Los Angeles' Patrick Sandoval nor Boston's Tanner Houck being the type that misses a lot of bats. What Houck does better than Sandoval is draw groundball contact, which could help dampen the Angels' bats a bit. Meanwhile, I think the Sox have the chance to elevate the ball against Sandoval. Also, when did we decide the Angels -- a team that can't reach the playoffs despite having Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout -- should be road favorites against any non-rebuilding teams?

⚽ Soccer

Aston Villa vs Newcastle United, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. | TV: USA
The Pick: Under 2.5 (-125) -- 
Sorry, but I'm making you wake up early Saturday morning for this one, and don't expect a lot of excitement! When Newcastle United got its new Saudi ownership, we knew an influx of cash was coming that would improve the team, but it was supposed to take a few years before we saw the results we're currently seeing. Newcastle enters the weekend third in the Premier League, and it's gotten there by having one of the best defenses in the league. Newcastle has allowed only 21 goals in 29 matches on an xG allowed of 28.8. While that may suggest it's due for regression, that xG allowed is mostly the result of teams taking a bunch of bad shots against Newcastle from long range. Newcastle ranks second in the league in xG allowed per shot, and the 3.1 shots on target allowed per match are third. Simply put, unless you're a very good team, you will have a difficult time scoring against Newcastle.

Is Aston Villa a very good team? It's played like one under Unai Emery. Looking at the Premier League table from the day Emery replaced Steven Gerrard, Villa has the third-most points in the league. It has won six of its last seven matches and allowed only two goals in those seven matches. In other words, we've got a battle between two teams playing very well because of their defense. This isn't the kind of matchup that should result in an outbreak of scoring.

West Ham United vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 9 a.m. | TV: USA
The Pick: West Ham or Draw (+130) -- 
Arsenal fans are a bit nervous. While Arsenal remains atop the league, it was battered in a 2-2 draw against Liverpool last week that saw Liverpool compile an xG of 3.9. While that's an outlier performance from this Arsenal squad, there is some signal in that noise. Arsenal has been much worse on the road this season (though still very good compared to others), and its defending has dipped in recent months, even if the results have papered over it.

Now Arsenal is away from home for the second straight week against a West Ham team desperate to survive. The Hammers picked up a massive 1-0 win over Fulham last week to get out of the bottom three, but they're far from safe. They've also been much better defensively outside a 5-1 battering by Newcastle 10 days ago. With Arsenal feeling the heat from Manchester City breathing on its neck and West Ham playing at home (where it averages 1.42 xG per match compared to 1.11 on the road), there's a good chance we could be in for a "shocking" result Sunday morning.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: If you're looking for a prop bet in tonight's NBA play-in games, even though the stats don't count, the bets do, and SportsLine's Matt Severance sees a Rudy Gobert prop worth your investment.