30 Apr

Darvin Ham’s second year with the Lakers was such a disappointment that he may not deserve a third

With 57.1 seconds remaining in Game 2 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, LeBron James was called for a critical foul on a Jamal Murray miss that sent the young star guard to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game. The contact certainly appeared marginal on first viewing, and though the Last Two Minute report would later confirm that it was indeed a foul, there would have been hardly any downside to challenging the call. The Lakers had two timeouts left, and even if they had lost the challenge, the time it would have taken for the officials to review the play would have given an exhausted, older Lakers team playing at altitude some badly-needed rest.

Darvin Ham, having already overseen the loss of a 20-point second-half lead with minimal adjustments, did nothing. Murray sank the free throws. Denver won at the buzzer. A golden opportunity to seize home-court advantage against an opponent that had so thoroughly dominated the Lakers during his coaching tenure slipped through his fingers. Despite leading for much of the series, the Lakers ultimately fell to the reigning champs in Game 5, 108-106, losing the series 4-1.

The moment was, in many ways, a microcosm of Ham’s second year coaching the Lakers. This was a season bathed in “what if’s.” Almost every supporting player dealt with injuries at some point. The front office supplied Ham with no reliable two-way players aside from the two cornerstones, James and Anthony Davis. The In-Season Tournament seemed to sap the team of energy for a month.

Truthfully, the roster might have been too flawed to ever seriously compete for a championship. If nothing else, it’s hard to imagine any world in which this collection of players could ever beat the Nuggets in a seven-game series regardless of who was coaching them. But Ham didn’t exactly help matters with his rejection of what so often felt like common sense solutions to this team’s problems.

On a macro level, it was his rejection of what worked on the way to last year’s Western Conference Finals that doomed the early season. Rui Hachimura was probably the fourth-best Laker during that 2023 playoff run. When the front office re-signed him to an expensive three-year deal, it was under the assumption that he would hold a significant role in his first full season with the team. Sure enough, with Jarred Vanderbilt injured, a starting spot at forward was seemingly available.

Hachimura played less than 15 minutes on opening night. Ham chose free-agent signee Taurean Prince, a player he briefly crossed over with in Atlanta, for the starting role. Ham’s affection for players he coached before arriving in Los Angeles was a sticking point for at least one other player.

When D’Angelo Russell struggled to gain a footing in Los Angeles, he felt the presence of Dennis Schroder, another former Hawk from Ham’s Atlanta days, was a reason why. “His relationship with Darvin is the reason I couldn’t have a relationship with Darvin,” he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin in a March profile.

Prince was miscast as a starter, and that became a running point of frustration for Laker fans. They won their first 13 games in which Prince played fewer than 25 minutes and ultimately finished the season 25-7 under such circumstances compared to 19-26 when he played 25 or more minutes. Yet Prince held onto his starting position even upon Vanderbilt’s return. With him back in the fold, the Lakers had all of the necessary components for their best unit.

The James-Davis-Russell-Vanderbilt-Austin Reaves fivesome, which started down the stretch and into the playoffs last season, outscored opponents by 37 points in 77 regular-season minutes and nine in 177 playoff minutes. The sample was small, but the fit was basic. Vanderbilt could pick up tough defensive assignments so Reaves and Russell wouldn’t have to. Russell and Reaves provided enough supplementary shooting and playmaking to cover for Vanderbilt offensively.

That lineup played only 32 total minutes together during the 2023-24 season without ever starting a single game. It still had the second-highest plus-minus of any Laker lineup on the season at +27. Which lineup finished No. 1? The four opening night starters… with Hachimura. Ham didn’t start that group together until Feb. 1. It went 18-6 down the stretch.

You can find smaller-scale but thematically similar mistakes across any number of individual games. A December loss to the Mavericks, for instance, was decided on Ham’s utter refusal to guard Dante Exum. The journeyman wing attempted nine 3-pointers in that game. He didn’t take more than five in any other game this season. Yet eight of those shots were considered wide-open by NBA.com tracking data. He made seven. Dallas won by two.

Losses like that wore on the team, and so did the lineup changes that followed them. In January, The Athletic reported that there was “a deepening disconnect between Ham and the Lakers locker room.” James has, at least on one occasion, admitted to overruling his coach on a strategic matter.

“We had switching built in vs. Kawhi and versus James [Harden] and whatever the case may be and I vetoed it in the second half,” he said after a key March win over the Clippers on Mind the Game, his podcast with JJ Redick. James did indeed guard Leonard down the stretch. Davis did not name his coaches directly, but seemingly made a subtle jab at them after Game 2 when he said “we have stretches where we don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor.” Ham felt the need to defend his coaching staff after that defeat, in direct response to what Davis said.

None of this is meant to deny the difficulty of the job Ham was tasked with performing. James has had eight head coaches across 21 NBA seasons. He’s a demanding player, and his very presence invites pressure. The roster Rob Pelinka constructed was enormously flawed. Most of the players it included were highly specialized to either offense or defense. A desperate attempt to achieve balance informed so many of Ham’s early-season lineup decisions before he finally just embraced the all-offense nature of his roster.

Scouting is typically a strength for this front office. The decision to use the No. 17 overall pick to select Jalen Hood-Schifino, a project point guard for a roster not exactly lacking in ball-handling, was puzzling in the moment. Now, 10 months later, it looks like a borderline disaster. The next three picks were Jaime Jaquez Jr., Brandin Podziemski and Cam Whitmore. All three are All-Rookie candidates at positions of greater need. Pelinka didn’t put Ham in a position to succeed.

And that’s one of the biggest reasons Ham may, and probably will, return for a third season. There’s a human element to these decisions that tends to supersede the best interests of the team. The stakeholders who would have to decide to fire Ham are also the ones who hired him. You only get so many coaching changes as a front office before ownership starts wondering what you’re up to. The Russell Westbrook trade was suggested by James and executed by Pelinka. They both survived Westbrook’s Lakers tenure. Former head coach Frank Vogel did not. It becomes a lot harder to pin that deal’s failure on Vogel when the results remain disappointing after he’s gone.

There’s plenty of blame to go around this season, and there’s even more that needs to be fixed going into the next one. This is not a championship-caliber roster. But the year they just had indicates that they likely don’t have a championship-caliber coach either. Maybe Ham could grow into one.

“Maybes” aren’t good enough when James is about to enter his age-40 season. Fixing the roster is a delicate process that the Lakers have limited control over. They can’t force another team to trade them the right players. But a a coaching change is within their own power. If Ham has another season like this one, the Lakers won’t be competing for anything next spring. A coaching upgrade wouldn’t fix everything wrong with this team, but it would hopefully at least address the sort of basic mistakes that held the Lakers back all season. That may not be enough to make them champions again, but it would be better than the first-round exit they just endured.

30 Apr

Nuggets top Lakers, Thunder sweep Pelicans and Celtics up 3-1

The NBA playoffs are underway, and the action has never been hotter. On Monday, the Thunder eliminated the Pelicans with with a 4-0 sweep. The Celtics also took a commanding 3-1 lead over the Heat. And to close out the night, the Nuggets sent the Lakers home packing for a second consecutive season.

Before that, Sunday gave us our first elimination as the Timberwolves completed the 4-0 sweep of the Suns to notch their first playoff series win in 20 years. It was a 122-116 victory that remained tight until the very end. Prior to that, the Mavericks tied the largest comeback in NBA playoffs history when they erased the Clippers’ 31-point advantage and briefly held the lead late in the fourth quarter. But that was as close as they would get. Paul George sizzled in the first half and finished with 33 points, James Harden added 33 and Los Angeles pulled out a 116-11 win to tie the series 2-2. Jalen Brunson got the playoff party started on Sunday, and scored 47 points to set a franchise playoff record as the Knicks held on for a 97-92 win in Philadelphia to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Sixers.

Then, the Pacers took a 3-1 lead over the Bucks with a 126-113 victory. In doing so, Indiana has pushed the injury-riddled Bucks to the brink of elimination.

Previously, on Saturday, the Magic overcame a 2-0 series hole to tie things up at 2-2 with a 112-89 win over the Cavaliers. Then, the Oklahoma City Thunder took a commanding 3-0 series lead over New Orleans, while the Celtics jumped ahead to 2-1 over the Heat. To close out Saturday, the Lakers finally got a win over the Nuggets to avoid a sweep.

The first round of these NBA playoffs will run through May 5. Here’s how CBS Sports experts are picking their brackets.

Monday’s playoff games
Game 4: Celtics 102, Heat 88 (BOS leads 3-1) — Recap
Game 4: Thunder 97, Pelicans 89 (OKC wins series 4-0) — Recap
Game 5: Nuggets 108, Lakers 106 (DEN wins series 4-1) — Recap
Below is a look at the complete playoff bracket. You can see the full playoff schedule here.

30 Apr

Jamal Murray adds to playoff legacy with second game-winner to send L.A. home

For the second time in a first-round series that is now over, Jamal Murray has hit a game-winning jumper — this one to send the Los Angeles Lakers home for the summer and the Denver Nuggets into the second round with a 108-106 victory in Game 5 on Monday.

Denver, who moves on to play the second-seeded Timberwolves, officially wins the series 4-1, but it was a much closer game than that tally would indicate.

After LeBron James knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game with 26 seconds remaining, Murray went to work off a high ball screen from Nikola Jokic that got him going downhill to his left. He planted just inside the free-throw line and faded slightly to create space. That was all he needed. Bottoms.


— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 30, 2024
Murray, who was a game-time decision with a calf strain, was extraordinary all night. He finished with 32 points and seven assists. He made five of his 10 3-pointers. He scored 12 fourth-quarter points, including nine within the final four minutes. There is not a more clutch basketball player in the world than Murray. If you feel like arguing that, you haven’t been watching. He’s been at this for quite a while now.

“For Jamal to add to his playoff lore by having two game winners in a series, it’s just incredible,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who noted that he had the “utmost confidence” in Murray and Jokic working their patented two-man action on the final possession, which is why he elected not to call a timeout.

“The kid’s a warrior,” Malone continued in praise of Murray. “I can’t say enough good things about Jamal Murray. The bigger the moment, the kid just continues to shine. I’m proud of him. [He’s] one tough cookie.”

If you need a refresher on what Murray did to the Lakers in Game 2, here you go:

Jamal Murray ended Game 2 in THRILLING fashion with the #TissotBuzzerBeater 🔥

DEN seeks a 3-0 series lead tonight at 10pm/et on TNT 🍿 pic.twitter.com/URwaN5nuVl

— NBA (@NBA) April 25, 2024
Murray is the fourth player in NBA history to hit two go-ahead shots inside the final five seconds in the same postseason. He is the only player to do so in the same series. He’ll have at least one more round, versus the aforementioned Timberwolves, to become the only player to make three game-winners in a single postseason.

It’s an unlikely feat, but I wouldn’t put it past him. There has never been another player like Murray, who goes from a good regular-season player to an all-time great in the playoffs.

Yes, I’m saying that. Murray qualifies as an all-time great postseason performer. That shouldn’t even be a controversial statement.

For his career, Murray, who has never made an All-Star team, averages 17.5 points per game in the regular season. In the postseason, that numbers rockets up to 24.8 PPG. That is an extreme scoring leap, and potentially one of the biggest in history. Simply put, this is the definition of a big-stage performer.

Murray, of course, could do more in the regular season if he needed to. The Nuggets are just so well oiled and Jokic is so great that the necessity isn’t there. In the playoffs, where shot creation becomes an even more important attribute, Murray becomes the late-game go-to guy even with a probably soon-to-be three-time MVP beside him. That’s how great he is.

Again, if you’ve been watching Murray throughout his career, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But if you haven’t, well, now you know. Jamal Murray is a stone-cold killer.

30 Apr

Purdue vs. NC State live stream, watch Final Four 2024 online, TV channel, odds, spread, prediction, pick

The Final Four’s first game will see No. 1 seed Purdue continue its quest for its first trip to the national title game since 1969 when it face off against No. 11 seed NC State in Glendale, Arizona on Saturday. The winner of this game will have a date with the winner of No. 1 UConn-No. 4 Alabama on Monday.

Purdue’s road to the Final Four started with a win over No. 16 seed Grambling State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers followed up that performance with a statement win over No. 8 Utah State in the second round before knocking off No. 5 seed Gonzaga and No. 2 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively. Purdue is making its first Final Four appearance since 1980 and third all-time.

NC State’s road to the final weekend of the college basketball season has been quite different. The Wolfpack have won nine consecutive elimination games dating back to last month’s ACC Tournament to advance. NC State fired off wins over No. 6 Texas Tech, No. 14 Oakland, No. 2 Marquette, and No. 2 Duke to advance out of the South Region.

Wolfpack star big man DJ Burns Jr. has become a March Madness icon. Burns is coming off his best performance of the season with 29 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocks in the win over the Blue Devils. The Wolfpack last reached the Final Four in 1983 — the same year as their last national championship.

Follow along with LIVE UPDATES as Purdue battles NC State in the 2024 Final Four.

Purdue vs. NC State: Need to know
Purdue seeks redemption: Last spring, Purdue was on the wrong side of one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. The Boilermakers lost to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed and are two games away from writing a similar redemption script as Virginia — the only other team to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history. The year after Virginia lost to No. 16 seed UMBC, they captured the national title. Purdue star big man Zach Edey elected to return to school for another season, and he is on the verge of capturing his second consecutive National Player of the Year award. Edey is the key to a Purdue victory.

NC State’s improbable run: NC State’s run to the Final Four started with a win over Louisville in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. The Wolfpack went on to win five games in five days to capture the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament from the ACC. In the ACC semifinals against Virginia, NC State guard Michael O’Connell hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime to keep his team’s season alive. If it wasn’t for that win, NC State likely get sent to the NIT, and coach Kevin Keatts goes into the offseason on the hot seat. Now, they’re two games away from completing the most improbable run in the history of this tournament.

Edey vs. Burns: The must-watch matchup on Saturday is the battle of centers. Edey is on pace to finish with historic stats from the NCAA Tournament. If anyone is going to slow him down, it’s Burns. Purdue is one of the top 3-point shooting teams, but they rely on post-touches to Edey to get the offense going. When the defense collapses on Edey, it often leads to wide-open 3-pointers — hence why Purdue shoots the ball from deep at such a high clip.

How to watch Purdue vs. NC State live
Date: Saturday, April 6 | Time: 6:09 p.m. ET
Location: State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona
TV: TBS, TNT, truTV | Live stream: March Madness Live

Purdue vs. NC State prediction, picks
Odds via SportsLine consensus

Purdue and UConn are on a collision course to face each other in the national title game. NC State has been on a historic run, and Burns has already etched his name into March Madness immorality, but all good runs end. Purdue’s offense can beat you in so many ways. The Boilermakers have the second-largest rebounding margin (+10.7) and commit the 20th-fewest fouls (14.4). Purdue will feed Edey and advance to its first national championship game since 1969 with a statement performance on the biggest stage in the sport. Prediction: Purdue -9

27 Mar

2024 NCAA Tournament picks, March Madness bets by proven model

The No. 3 seed Creighton Bluejays and the No. 14 seed Akron Zips battle in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament on Thursday. The Zips have won three straight en route to a 62-61 win over Kent State to secure the MAC Championship. Meanwhile, Creighton was upset in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. On March 14, Providence beat the Bluejays 78-73.

Tipoff from the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh is set for 1:30 p.m. ET. The Bluejays are 12-point favorites in the latest Akron vs. Creighton odds from SportsLine consensus, while the over/under for total points scored is 142.5. Before making any Creighton vs. Akron picks, be sure to see the college basketball predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s proven model.

The model simulates every Division I college basketball game 10,000 times. It enters the 2024 NCAA tournament on a 148-106 roll on all top-rated college basketball picks dating back to last season, returning more than $1,700 for $100 players. It also has a strong 29-19 (+810) record on top-rated spread picks this season. Anyone following has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Creighton vs. Akron. You can head to SportsLine now to see its picks. Here are several college basketball odds and trends for Akron vs. Creighton:

Creighton vs. Akron spread: Bluejays -12
Creighton vs. Akron over/under: 142.5 points
Creighton vs. Akron money line: Bluejays -794, Zips +535
AKR: Akron has hit the team total Under in 12 of its last 19 games
CREI: Creighton has hit the team total Over in 19 of its last 35 games
Creighton vs. Akron picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why Creighton can cover
Senior guard Baylor Scheierman is a smooth scorer who owns a reliable perimeter shot and has the range for step-back jumpers. The Nebraska native averages a team-high 18.4 points with nine rebounds and four assists per game. On March 2, Scheierman tallied 26 points and 16 rebounds.

Senior center Ryan Kalkbrenner is a lengthy and effective player in the paint. Kalkbrenner has a soft touch around the rim and in the mid-range area. He logged 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while knocking down 65% of his shots from the field. In the loss to Providence, Kalkbrenner stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

Why Akron can cover
Senior forward Enrique Freeman is an explosive playmaker in the frontcourt. Freeman soars high for easy dunks and piles up rebounds. The Ohio native leads the team in points (18.6), rebounds (12.9) and blocks (1.8) per game. On March 15 against Ohio, Freeman finished with 24 points, 21 boards and seven blocks.

Senior guard Ali Ali is an additional scoring threat. Ali owns the speed and finesse to get around the basket consistently. He is putting up 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest. Ali racked up 18 points, five rebounds and five assists in his last outing. He’s scored at least 17 points in three of the last six games. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

How to make Akron vs. Creighton picks
The model is leaning Over on the total, projecting the teams to combine for 138 points. It also says one side of the spread hits well over 70% of the time. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

27 Mar

2024 NCAA Tournament picks, March Madness bets by model

Teams with vastly different postseason histories clash when the 15th-seeded Long Beach State Beach take on the second-seeded Arizona Wildcats in a 2024 NCAA Tournament West Region first-round matchup on Thursday. Long Beach State (21-14), who won the Big West Conference Tournament championship, will be making its 10th appearance in the event, but first since 2012. The Wildcats (25-8), who won the Pac-12 regular-season title, are making their 38th NCAA Tournament appearance and ninth since 2013. The Wildcats are 58-36 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, while Long Beach State is 7-10. Arizona leads the all-time series 8-0, and has won each game by 15 points or more.

Tip-off from the Delta Center in Salt Lake City is set for 2 p.m. ET. The Wildcats are 20-point favorites in the latest Long Beach State vs. Arizona odds from SportsLine consensus, while the over/under for total points scored is 163.5. Before making any Arizona vs. Long Beach State picks, be sure to check out the college basketball predictions and betting advice from the SportsLine Projection Model.

The model simulates every Division I college basketball game 10,000 times. It enters the 2024 NCAA Tournament on a 148-106 roll on all top-rated college basketball picks dating back to last season, returning more than $1,700 for $100 players. It also has a strong 29-19 (+810) record on top-rated spread picks this season. Anyone following has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Long Beach State vs. Arizona and just locked in its picks and March Madness predictions. You can visit SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Here are the college basketball odds and betting lines for Arizona vs. Long Beach State:

Long Beach State vs. Arizona spread: Arizona -20
Long Beach State vs. Arizona over/under: 163.5 points
Long Beach State vs. Arizona money line: Long Beach State +1270, Arizona -2620
LBSU: The Beach have hit the money line in 18 of their last 30 games (+11.00 units)
ARIZ: The Wildcats have covered the spread in 21 of their last 33 games (+7.80 units)
Long Beach State vs. Arizona picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why Arizona can cover
The Wildcats have four players averaging double-digit scoring, led by senior guard Caleb Love. In his first season at Arizona after spending three years at North Carolina, he has scored 10 or more points 30 times, and 20 or more 14 times, including a season-high 36 in an 87-78 win over Oregon on Jan. 27. In 33 games, all starts, he is averaging 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 32 minutes.

Also helping power Arizona is senior center Oumar Ballo. In 33 games, all starts, he is averaging 13.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 25.9 minutes. He has 18 double-doubles on the year, including two in the Pac-12 Tournament. He scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 67-59 semifinal loss to Oregon on Friday. He had 10 points and 13 boards in a 70-49 win over USC in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. See which team to pick here.

Why Long Beach State can cover
The Beach have been on a roll this past week, sweeping through the Big West Tournament. Senior guard Marcus Tsohonis is a big reason why as he poured in 25 points, added four assists, three rebounds and two steals in the 74-70 win over UC Davis in Saturday’s title game. He had 15 points in the 83-79 win over UC Irvine in the semifinals and had 19 before fouling out in the 86-67 quarterfinal victory over UC Riverside. In 30 games, including 26 starts, he is averaging 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals in 29.1 minutes.

Junior guard Jadon Jones enters the NCAA Tournament as Long Beach State’s second-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game. In 33 games, including 28 starts, Jones also averages 3.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.7 assists and one block in 30.2 minutes. He is connecting on 42.3% of his field goals, including 37.9% from 3-point range and 84.9% at the foul line. See which team to pick here.

How to make Arizona vs. Long Beach State picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Under on the point total, projecting 157 combined points. It has also generated an against-the-spread pick that cashes in nearly 60% of simulations. You can only get the model’s pick at SportsLine.

27 Mar

2024 NCAA Tournament picks by proven model

A first-round matchup in the 2024 NCAA Tournament has the No. 9 seed Michigan State Spartans and the No. 8 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs squaring off on Thursday. The Bulldogs have made the tournament 12 times in school history. On the other side, Michigan State has made the tournament 26 years in a row.

Tipoff from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte is set for 12:15 p.m. ET. The Spartans are 1-point favorites in the latest Michigan State vs. Mississippi State odds via SportsLine consensus, while the over/under for total points scored is 130.5. Before making any Mississippi State vs. Michigan State picks, be sure to see the college basketball predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s proven model.

The model simulates every Division I college basketball game 10,000 times. It enters the 2024 NCAA tournament on a 148-106 roll on all top-rated college basketball picks dating back to last season, returning more than $1,700 for $100 players. It also has a strong 29-19 (+810) record on top-rated spread picks this season. Anyone following has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Michigan State vs. Mississippi State. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several college basketball odds and trends for Mississippi State vs. Michigan State:

Michigan State vs. Mississippi State spread: Spartans -1
Michigan State vs. Mississippi State over/under: 130.5 points
Michigan State vs. Mississippi State money line: Spartans -121, Bulldogs +100
MSU: Michigan State has hit the team total Under in 21 of their last 35 games
MSST: Mississippi State has hit the 1H game total Under in 18 of their last 30 games
Michigan State vs. Mississippi State picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why Michigan State can cover
Senior forward Malik Hall is an all-around player for the Spartans. Hall scores by attacking the basket while putting a lot of energy into defense and rebounding. The Illinois native averages 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. In his last matchup, Hall racked up 12 points, seven rebounds, and two steals.

Senior A.J. Hoggard is an aggressive and energetic guard in the backcourt. Hoggard excels at driving to the basket and plays feisty defense. The Pennsylvania native averages 11 points, three rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. On Mar. 14 against Minnesota, Hoggard finished with 17 points and six assists. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

Why Mississippi State can cover
Freshman guard Josh Hubbard is a creative shot creator with a nice shooting touch on multiple spots on the court. The Mississippi native is putting up a team-best 17.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He’s scored 20-plus points in seven of his last eight games. In the second round of the SEC Tournament, Hubbard totaled 24 points and two assists.

Senior forward Tolu Smith provides the Bulldogs with a force in the frontcourt. Smith scores from the low post with ease and uses his size to create space for rebounds. The Mississippi native logs 15.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and shoots 56% from the field. In his last outing, Smith had 10 points and 10 rebounds. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

How to make Mississippi State vs. Michigan State picks
The model is leaning Over on the total, projecting the teams to combine for 138 points. It also says one side of the spread nearly 60% of the time. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

20 Mar

2023 XFL picks, Week 6 bets by proven expert

The D.C. Defenders attempt to remain undefeated when they host the Houston Roughnecks on Monday in a showdown between division leaders as Week 6 of the 2023 XFL season comes to a close. D.C. (5-0), which owns a 1 ½-game lead over both Seattle and St. Louis in the North, is coming off a 28-20 road victory against the Battlehawks. The Roughnecks (4-1), who were 5-0 in 2020 before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dropped a 21-14 decision at Seattle last week for their first loss of the year.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET at Audi Field. D.C. is a 2.5-point favorite in the latest Defenders vs. Roughnecks odds from Caesars Sportsbook, while the over/under for total points scored is 42. Before locking in any Roughnecks vs. Defenders picks of XFL predictions of your own, you need to see what NFL expert R.J. White has to say.

White, a Fantasy and gambling editor for CBS Sports, consistently crushes against-the-spread picks and went 535-450-30 on his ATS picks from 2017-22, returning more than $3,500 to $100 players. He also closed with an incredible 107-80-6 run on his last 193 ATS and total NFL picks during the 2022 NFL season, returning more than $1,800 for $100 bettors.

White has crushed not only the NFL but also the XFL during its abbreviated 2020 season, going 16-4 on XFL ATS picks before the league suspended operations. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, he has locked in on Defenders vs. Roughnecks and released a confident against-the-spread pick that is available only at SportsLine. Here are the XFL lines and trends for Roughnecks vs. Defenders:

Defenders vs. Roughnecks spread: D.C. -2.5
Defenders vs. Roughnecks over/under: 42 points
Defenders vs. Roughnecks money line: D.C. -150, Houston +126
DC: The Defenders are averaging a league-best 174 rushing yards
HOU: The Roughnecks were kept off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter last week
Defenders vs. Roughnecks picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Defenders can cover
D.C. does the majority of its offensive damage on the ground as it leads the XFL in rushing with 870 yards. The Defenders also are first in the league in touchdown runs with 11 — nearly twice as many as Houston and Orlando, who are tied for second with six apiece. Backup quarterback D’Eriq King has rushed for a league-high five TDs, including a decisive 10-yarder in the fourth quarter at St. Louis last week.

Abram Smith is right behind King with four scoring runs as he doubled his season total with a pair against the Battlehawks. The 24-year-old finished with 218 yards in the contest after running for a 62-yard TD in the second quarter and a 70-yarder in the third. Smith is first in the XFL with 432 rushing yards while signal-caller Jordan Ta’amu, who led the USFL in passing yards (2,014) and TD tosses (14) in 2022, ranks fifth with 208 along with a pair of touchdown runs.

Why the Roughnecks can cover
Houston was first in the XFL after five weeks with 18 offensive touchdowns, including 12 through the air. Quarterback Brandon Silvers entered Week 6 tied for second with 11 scoring tosses and ranked third with 1,189 passing yards. The Roughnecks are last in the league in rushing (408 yards) but were tied for second with six TD runs through five games.

On the other side of the ball, Houston has allowed a league-low 76 points (only 24 in the second half) and ranked first after five weeks with 19 sacks and eight interceptions. Despite missing one game, linebacker Trent Harris tops the XFL with six sacks while defensive lineman Tim Ward is right behind him with five. Cornerback Ajene Harris is tied with D.C.’s Joseph for league lead with four interceptions while former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Sean Davis has made three.

How to make Defenders vs. Roughnecks picks
White has analyzed this matchup and while we can tell you he’s leaning Under the total, he has discovered a crucial X-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s sharing it only at SportsLine.

20 Mar

D.C. Defenders beat Houston Roughnecks to reach 6-0 in Monday night showdown

The second half of the XFL’s regular season featured the biggest game so far, a Monday night matchup in March between the two division leaders. In the end, the D.C. Defenders showed why they’re the league’s only unbeaten team, putting up 37 points against a Houston Roughnecks group that had allowed the fewest points in the league going in.

It was the XFL’s first Monday night game and 12,492 fans showing up at D.C.’s Audi Field to watch the Defenders go to 6-0. The Roughnecks, arguably the second-best team through the first half of the season, fell to 4-2 but stayed a game up in the South Division.

Below, we’ll break down Roughnecks-Defenders and all the games from Week 6, including Saturday’s matchups that saw the Seattle Sea Dragons and St. Louis BattleHawks each improve to 4-2 behind two of the league’s better quarterbacks, as the BattleHawks’ A.J. McCarron and Sea Dragons’ Ben DiNucci threw five touchdown passes between them. On Sunday, Hines Ward’s San Antonio Brahmas got their second win thanks to a strong defense.

Here’s a look at all the Week 6 scores (you can also check out the schedule and league standings).

Seattle Sea Dragons 26, Orlando Guardians 19
St. Louis BattleHawks 29, Vegas Vipers 6

San Antonio Brahmas 15, Arlington Renegades 9

D.C. Defenders 37, Houston Roughnecks 26

Monday night’s game
In primetime, D.C. shows why it’s the team to beat
If there was any doubt who the XFL’s best team is before Monday night’s showdown, the D.C. Defenders made it perfectly clear with a 37-26 victory over the other division leader in the Houston Roughnecks. D.C. quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Abram Smith continued his tear out of the backfield, rushing for 95 yards with a score. Defenders receiver Lucky Jackson also had a big night, with five catches for 136 yards and a TD.

The game actually began as a defensive struggle until late in the first half when, with the Defenders up 9-8, Roughnecks quarterback Brandon Silvers was picked off by D.C.’s Santos Ramirez, who ran it back for a pick-six.

.@sramirez_9 PICK. SIX. 🔥@XFLDefenders lead 17-8 at the half! pic.twitter.com/eKU4uXszl7

— XFL (@XFL2023) March 28, 2023
The Defenders took a 17-8 lead into halftime, and the Roughnecks could never make much of a run in the second half, as 12 Houston penalties in the game proved costly. Silvers (10 for 17, 111 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) and Cole McDonald (8 for 11, 194 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) split time at quarterback for Houston, with McDonald adding a rushing TD. McDonald led the Roughnecks in rushing with 37 yards, but Max Borghi did have two rushing TDs and 25 yards on the ground.

The question now becomes, can anyone beat D.C. this season? They’ll face the 0-6 Orlando Guardians next week, but the following weekend they get a Seattle team on a roll (more on that below). It doesn’t get easier for the Roughnecks next week, as they’ll take on the 4-2 BattleHawks.

Sunday’s game
Brahmas snap three-game losing streak
Despite failing to score 20 points for a fifth time in six games, Hines Ward’s Brahmas posted a 15-9 win over Arlington on the strength of their defense. San Antonio linebacker Jordan Williams’ 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown served as the only score of the first half as the Brahmas took a 9-0 lead at intermission.

Delontae Scott with the forced fumble and Jordan Williams with the scoop and score!

10-0 2 minutes left in the first half #XFL2023 | #HornsForward pic.twitter.com/tvlgPjfKJb

— San Antonio Brahmas (@XFLBrahmas) March 26, 2023
Bob Stoops’ team rallied to tie the score (on the strength of their own interception) before the Brahmas responded with a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter. San Antonio’s defense then sealed the win when defensive back Tenny Adewusi picked off Drew Plitt on the game’s final play.

With the win, San Antonio — which lost a 12-10 decision to Arlington last week — is now within a game of Arlington in the XFL South division standings. The top two teams in each division will face off in the playoffs on the weekend of April 29-30, with the winners colliding in the XFL championship on May 13.

Saturday’s games
Sea Dragons roll off fourth straight victory
After losing their first two games by a combined six points, the Seattle Sea Dragons have won four in a row. Fresh off an upset of the previously unbeaten Houston a week ago, the Sea Dragons bounced back from a halftime deficit on Saturday to beat the Orlando Guardians, 26-19.

Seattle entered the game with the XFL’s top passing attack, and quarterback Ben DINucci threw two more TD passes in Week 6. That was despite Josh Gordon not having a catch. The former NFL receiving leader got off to a fast start in the XFL, but Gordon now has only two catches for 15 yards in the past two games combined. Blake Jackson led Seattle in receiving with six catches for 79 yards, including this 20-yard touchdown in the second half.

Don’t Panic… #JustChill #XFL2023 | #BreatheFire pic.twitter.com/neTMQ1qwWA

— Seattle Sea Dragons (@XFLSeaDragons) March 25, 2023
DiNucci went 18 for 35 for 177 yards, and he was also Seattle’s rushing leader (43 yards). The Sea Dragons’ running backs managed just 35 yards combined.

Orlando remains the XFL’s only winless team despite a strong first half on Saturday. The Guardians went with Quinten Dormady at quarterback after using multiple QBs in previous games this season, including Paxton Lynch, who didn’t play in this one. Dormady went 22 of 44 for 243 yards without a touchdown or interception.

The Sea Dragons will try to make it five wins in a row on Friday night when they visit the Renegades in Arllington.

McCarron nearly flawless for BattleHawks
A.J. McCarron threw three touchdown passes — two of them to Darrius Shepherd — as St. Louis cruised past the Vipers, 29-6, on Saturday night.

The BattleHawks improved to 4-2, with both of those losses coming against the D.C. Defenders, the XFL’s only unbeaten team. McCarron went 23 of 29 for 236 yards and no interceptions along with the three TDs.

The St. Louis defense picked off Vipers quarterback Luis Perez twice. Perez (99 yards passing) and Brett Hundley (120 yards, 1 TD) split QB duties for Vegas, which fell to 1-5.

20 Mar

XFL kicker Donny Hageman sets league record with 59-yard field goal for St. Louis Battlehawks

On Saturday, the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks embraced April Fool’s Day by jokingly announcing a relocation to Los Angeles. A day later, the team made legitimate headlines, with veteran kicker Donny Hageman drilling a 59-yard field goal against the Roughnecks. Not only was the successful kick the longest of the 2023 season, but the longest in XFL history.

Hageman, 30, was drafted by the Battlehawks after a three-year hiatus from professional football. Undrafted out of San Diego State in 2016, the special teamer had only made two 50-yard field goals in his career prior to Sunday’s game against Houston, including both college and stints in the Arena Football League and now-defunct Alliance of American Football.


— St. Louis Battlehawks (@XFLBattlehawks) April 2, 2023
His record kick helped St. Louis take a 17-9 halftime lead over the Roughnecks on Sunday.

Hageman originally began his college career at Mt. San Antonio College, a public community school, before transferring to San Diego State. He made his pro debut with the AFL’s Los Angeles Kiss in 2016, but did not attempt a field goal that season. After three years out of pro football, he resurfaced with the AAF’s San Diego Fleet and tied for the league lead with 14 field goal conversions on the 2019 season. His best numbers came during his first year at San Diego State, where he went 20 of 25 on FG tries, and also made all 37 extra points.