Bucks favored over slumping Bulls

The Milwaukee Bucks can move into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference on Friday night.

The Bucks visit the Chicago Bulls (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) as the Bulls look to avoid a fourth consecutive loss. The Bulls lost 130-124 to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night as Atlanta outscored the Bulls 74-61 in the second half.

It wasn’t that long ago when Chicago was tied for first in the East during the All-Star break. But the Bulls are now 2.5 games behind the Miami Heat as the Heat took down the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday in Kevin Durant’s first game back from a knee injury.

The defending NBA champions have won two consecutive games entering Friday night after beating the Hornets and the Heat. Those two wins came after losses to the Sixers and Nets.

The Bucks are favored by 3.5 points at BetMGM against the Bulls and we like them at that number. Milwaukee didn’t play on Thursday night while the Bulls are on the second night of a back-to-back with a plane ride in between. The Atlanta loss came on the road.

Milwaukee is also a much better team against the spread on the road than at home. The Bucks are just 12-22 against the spread at home but are 15-14 on the road. The Bulls are 22-11 against the spread at home — Chicago is the only team to have more than 20 wins ATS at home — but we’re wondering if regression is bound to hit the Bulls at some point.

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Friday’s game is also just the second game between the Central Division rivals this season. Milwaukee won the first game 94-90 and can clinch at least a share of the season series with a win on Friday night. That’s huge as the race for the playoffs in the East is exceptionally close. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in sixth place and just five games back of the Heat.

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) talks with Khris Middleton (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Philly favored at home vs. Cleveland

The Sixers host the Cavaliers on Friday night in another game that’s pivotal in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia is favored by 7.5 points as it looks for a fifth consecutive win and a fourth with James Harden on the floor.

The Sixers have scored at least 123 points in each of those four wins after tallying just 87 points in a 48-point loss to the Celtics. Harden has scored at least 26 points in each of his three games with the Sixers and has come exceptionally close to tallying a triple-double in all three of those games.

The Cavaliers should have Darius Garland after he made his return from a back injury in a loss to the Hornets earlier in the week. But while Philly surges, Cleveland is scuffling. The Cavs have lost five of their last six games and the only win came over a Washington Wizards team that’s playing for next season. We like Philly in this one too.

Rory McIlroy becomes the favorite at Bay Hill

Rory McIlroy shot a 7-under 65 during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to become the favorite to win the tournament.

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McIlroy is +275 to win the tournament ahead of the second round on Friday. Billy Horschel is the No. 2 favorite at +450 as of Friday morning thanks to a hot second round start and Viktor Holland is at +700 to win the tournament. If you’re looking for a flier, Beau Hossler was at 5-under after the first round of the tournament and was +2500 on the board. That’s pretty good value relative to McIlroy.

Who cashed tickets Thursday night?

Betting against the Nets turned into a profitable venture once again as Miami’s second-half comeback propelled the Heat to a 113-107 win over Brooklyn. Miami was a 2.5-point underdog on the road as Durant made his return to the court and Brooklyn got off to a hot shooting start in the first half. But that cooled off in the second half and Miami took advantage.

The Boston Celtics also easily covered a 2.5-point spread as the favorite with a 120-107 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were just 42-of-99 from the floor while Boston made nearly 52% of its shots.

The Lakers also failed to cover in their loss to the Clippers. The Clippers were 2.5-point favorites ahead of the 132-111 blowout win. That loss for the Lakers drops them to 27-35 overall and just two games ahead of the tanking Portland TrailBlazers for 11th in the Western Conference.

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