‘I really did want to stay’

Before Jalen Brunson became a star with the New York Knicks, the Dallas Mavericks could have signed him to a four-year, $55 million contract extension, Brunson said on an episode of “All The Smoke” with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes.

“I really did want to stay in Dallas,” Brunson said.

Brunson was eligible for that extension in the 2021 offseason and throughout the 2021-22 season, his fourth in Dallas. According to Brunson (both in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes 11 months ago and in this recent one) and Brunson’s father, Rick (in an interview with ESPN’s Tim MacMahon 22 months ago), he told the Mavericks that he’d be willing to sign that on two occasions: Before the season started and in the first half of the regular season. Both times, they said the Mavericks declined to put the offer on the table.

“I wanted to stay there, I thought I would be there for a long time, and I liked my role there,” Brunson told Jackson and Barnes. “It’s funny because my agent was like, ‘You can do so much, you can get more, you can get more.’ I’m saying, ‘Well, I want to be safe. I’m not trying to gamble right now. This is not something you really gamble with if it’s out there.’ But [the Mavericks] were like, ‘We want to see where we’re at by like 20, 25 games into the season.’ We were like, ‘All right, well, if you’re not going to do it, I kind of don’t want to do it until after the season. I’m not trying to think about this [during the season].’

“So there was a period where Luka [Doncic] went out and I started to start. I was playing really well, I think I was averaging like 20 and like six, maybe, whatever. It was about that 20-, 25-[game] mark. And so we went back, we’re like, ‘Hey, if the deal is there, we’re thinking about it.’ Like, ‘I’ll do it, like right now.’ Still, it was no. It wasn’t a hard no — it was just like, ‘We want to see, we want to see.'”

As the trade deadline approached, Brunson said he figured he was about to get traded. Dallas did not trade him, and after the deadline passed, it put the four-year, $55 million deal on the table. But this was too late.

“I was like, ‘No, I think I’ve outgrown that now,'” Brunson said. “Personally, that’s what I thought.”

In the 2022 playoffs, with Doncic sidelined, Brunson led Dallas to wins against the Utah Jazz in Game 2 (in which he scored 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting) and Game 3 (in which he scored 31 points on 12-for-22 shooting) of the first round. The Mavericks went on to win that series and beat the No. 1-seeded Phoenix Suns in seven games before the Golden State Warriors eliminated them in the conference finals. The night their season ended, in an interview on Bally Sports Southwest, owner Mark Cuban told Marc Stein, “We can pay him more than anybody. And I think he wants to stay, and that’s more important.” Brunson saw the clip on Twitter.

“So he says that in an interview, whatever, like literally right after the game,” Brunson told Jackson and Barnes. “So I’m thinking, ‘OK.’ After that, it was just like crickets. From my point of view — I can’t speak to anyone else or my agent’s — from my point of view, it was crickets.”

.@jalenbrunson1 details his last season in Dallas. He was ready to sign a 4-year $55 million contract, but the Mavs front office balked.😳

Full episode of All The Smoke with JB drops tomorrow on our YouTube. pic.twitter.com/whxbOrez0w

— All the Smoke Productions (@allthesmokeprod) February 21, 2024
Cuban sees things differently. Last April, he blamed Rick for the guard’s departure and said that Dallas didn’t have a chance to negotiate with Brunson in free agency. “Knowing the numbers now, I would’ve paid it in a heartbeat, but he wouldn’t have come anyway, Cuban told ESPN. He also claimed, per the Dallas Morning News, that, two days before the 2022 trade deadline, Rick had. Through agent Aaron Mintz, he demanded that the Mavericks dump salary so they could immediately renegotiate and extend Brunson’s contract.

That July, New York signed Brunson to a four-year, $104 million contract that now looks like a bargain. The previous month, it had hired Rick as an assistant coach. When Rick was a player, he was the first client of agent Leon Rose, who is now the president of the Knicks. Rose is Brunson’s godfather. In December 2022, the league took a second-round pick away from New York as punishment for having conversations with Brunson before the official start of free agency.

This season, Brunson is averaging 27.6 points on 59.6% true shooting (with a 29.2% usage rate), 3.8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. He is one of the most popular human beings in the city of New York, and he probably should have started this past Sunday’s All-Star Game. On “All The Smoke,” when Jackson said Brunson’s decision to sign with the Knicks was the “best move you made,” Brunson nodded his head.

“Best move,” he said.


Jamal Crawford gives Warriors star Klay Thompson advice about coming off the bench

Now in the twilight of his career, Klay Thompson might have to get used to coming off the bench. Thompson was recently left out of the Golden State Warriors’ starting lineup for the first time since his rookie season, and three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford had some advice for him.

In last Thursday’s 140-137 win over the Utah Jazz, Thompson came off the bench and went berserk. He made seven of his 13 three-point attempts and ended the night with a game-high 35 points. Thompson looked rejuvenated after struggling for most of the 2023-24 season.

Crawford knows a thing or two about having success off the bench. Crawford joined ‘The Draymond Green Show’ and spoke about the adjustment Thompson will have to make.

“I actually reached out to Klay before he came off the bench because we talked about it on TV,” Crawford said. “Everybody is trying to bury Klay. I’m like, he’s still averaging 17 points. I said, ‘The fight is with himself because he’s been so legendary for so long. Klay’s battle is that, and obviously the injuries and everything. With him, I’d tell him to embrace it. I can give him a whole other wind. We don’t see legendary players like that who have had four-time champions and averaging 17 points be like, ‘I’m gonna come off the bench.'”

Crawford also laid out the benefits of Thompson playing a reduced role. When Thompson does get on the court, the offense will run through him, and he might be able to play more freely with less pressure on his shoulders.

“You’re the focal point of the offense when you do that,” Crawford said. “It gets you in a rhythm. Forget off the bench or starting. You’re gonna have better numbers doing this than you’re doing it right now. You may have more fun. Enjoy this s–t. … Enjoy it because it goes so fast, and you’ve earned that.”

Following last week’s game against the Jazz, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Thompson dealt with the situation like a professional.

“I thought he handled everything beautifully, the way he came out — determined, competitive,” Kerr said. “That’s difficult, but Klay’s a champion. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. He responded accordingly, and played a great, great game.”

The Warriors’ next game is a home clash against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, so we’ll see if Thompson keeps thriving in his new role.


Knicks star doesn’t rule out surgery, but says shoulder is ‘getting better’

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle hasn’t played since Jan. 27 because of a dislocated shoulder, and, in his first public comments since the injury, the All-Star said Wednesday that surgery has not been ruled out.

“I mean, we’ll see,” Randle told reporters, via SNY. “There’s still, like, necessary steps, and it’s a process to everything. I have to weigh out everything, ultimately, and decide from there. But right now I’m just focused on trying to avoid that, obviously, and get back on the court as soon as I can.”

Asked if he’d need surgery eventually, even if he were able to come back and play the rest of the season without it, Randle said, “I’ve heard many different opinions.”

Randle said that he knew his shoulder was dislocated as soon as it happened. While he’s been sidelined, he has been “diving into the film” with coach Tom Thibodeau, he said, in order to “see how I can get better and apply it when I’m able to really get out there on the court.”

Last week, SNY’s Ian Begley reported that the Knicks were optimistic about Randle’s progress and the chances of him being able to return this season without surgery.

“Every day I’m getting stronger, I’m getting better,” Randle said. “So just taking it a day at a time, just continuing to try to just stay locked in on what I have to do to continue just to get healthy. Not just physically but mentally as well.”

The Knicks are “taking it step by step” with Randle, Thibodeau told reporters Wednesday, via SNY.

“Right now, he’s preparing to come back to play,” Thibodeau said. “He’s putting a lot into it, he looks good, he’s got a great spirit about him, he’s working out twice a day. So all things are good right now.”

The previous day, Thibodeau told reporters that Randle is “meeting all the markers” and “moving around pretty good,” but hasn’t been cleared to practice yet.

This season, Randle has averaged 24 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 46 games. He was named to his third All-Star team, but was unable to participate because of the injury.

New York lost four straight games and five of six entering the All-Star break, but it was extremely shorthanded during that stretch. The Knicks will still be without its entire starting frontcourt – OG Anunoby, Randle and Mitchell Robinson – when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, but forward Bojan Bogdanovic, center Isaiah Hartenstein and wing Donte DiVincenzo are all expected to return to the lineup.

On the season, New York is 33-22 and fourth in the East, with only a half-game lead on the fifth-place Sixers. The Knicks rank eighth in the NBA in offensive rating, ninth in offensive rating and sixth in net rating. With Jalen Brunson, DiVincenzo, Anunoby, Randle and Hartenstein on the court, they have outscored opponents by 16.6 points per 100 possessions, but that lineup has logged only 180 minutes in 10 games.


2024 NBA picks, Jan. 16 best bets by proven model

Two of the best teams in the NBA meet at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Philadelphia 76ers welcome the Denver Nuggets to town, with Philadelphia playing on the second end of a back-to-back. The 76ers are 15-6 at home and 25-13 overall, while the Nuggets are 28-13 overall and 11-9 away from Denver. De’Anthony Melton (back) is listed as out for Philadelphia.

For this game, SportsLine consensus lists the 76ers as 1.5-point favorites, and tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. The total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, or the over/under, is 233.5 in the latest Nuggets vs. 76ers odds. Before making any 76ers vs. Nuggets picks, you need to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 13 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 42-23 roll on all top-rated NBA picks this season, returning nearly $2,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Sixers vs. Nuggets and just locked in its picks and NBA predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Now, here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Nuggets vs. Sixers:

Nuggets vs. 76ers spread: 76ers -1.5
Nuggets vs. 76ers over/under: 233.5 points
Nuggets vs. 76ers money line: 76ers -125, Nuggets +105
DEN: The Nuggets are 7-13 against the spread in road games
PHI: The 76ers are 2-4 against the spread with no rest
Nuggets vs. 76ers picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Nuggets can cover
Denver’s offense attracts earned attention, but the team’s defense is also stout. The Nuggets are allowing only 1.13 points per possession this season, ranking in the top 10 of the NBA in defensive efficiency. Opponents are shooting only 46.5% from the field and 52.3% from 2-point range against Denver, and the Nuggets are giving up only 12.5 second-chance points per game. Denver is also in the top 10 in assists allowed (25.6 per game), and the defensive performance further fuels an elite offense.

The Nuggets are near the top of the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 118.6 points per 100 possessions, and Denver is in the top five of the NBA in field goal percentage (49.8%) and 2-point percentage (56.4%). The Nuggets are also shooting 37.8% from 3-point range, and Denver is elite in generating assists (29.7 per game) and avoiding turnovers (12.7 per game). From there, Denver is in the top tier of the league in producing points in the paint (54.9 per game), and the Nuggets secure 30% of available offensive rebounds. See which team to pick here.

Why the 76ers can cover
While the 76ers have a rest disadvantage on paper, Philadelphia does have the edge in playing at home at Wells Fargo Center. The 76ers are 15-6 at home this season, out-scoring opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. Philadelphia is elite on both ends of the court, forming a strong overall baseline. On offense, the 76ers are putting up more than 1.19 points per possession and leading the NBA in both free throw creation (27.1 attempts per game) and free throw accuracy (84.0%). Philadelphia is also in the top eight of the NBA in fast break points, offensive rebound rate and second-chance points, with the 76ers committing a turnover on only 12.5% of offensive possessions.

Denver struggles to force turnovers on defense, creating only 12.6 per game, and Philadelphia does not have that issue with its own defense. The 76ers lead the NBA with 9.1 steals per game while posting a top-five mark in creating 14.9 turnovers per contest. Philadelphia also leads the NBA in 3-point defense, holding opponents to only 33.7% shooting from beyond the arc. See which team to pick here.

How to make 76ers vs. Nuggets picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Under on the total, projecting 228 combined points. The model also says one side of the spread hits well over 50% of the time. You can only see the model’s picks at SportsLine.


Why the Timberwolves are a strong underdog bet to win the Western Conference

It’s time to start taking the Minnesota Timberwolves seriously. The Western Conference’s top team entered Tuesday with a 28-11 record. Only the Boston Celtics, who are largely considered the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, have won more games so far this season. However, sportsbooks are consistently projecting the Timberwolves to be the fourth- or fifth-most likely team to win the Western Conference. Minnesota has made tremendous progress since falling short of the playoffs last season, but it has the goods to reach the final stage in 2023-24.

The most significant change from last year’s Timberwolves and this year’s is defense. Minnesota swung for the fences in 2022 by acquiring Rudy Gobert via trade. The former Utah Jazz big man was expected to anchor his new squad’s interior with his rim protection, but Minnesota finished with a middling defense that was largely underwhelming. That problem is long gone.

The Timberwolves are currently allowing a league-low 107.3 points per game and all but one of their starters has a defensive rating lower than 109. Of all the league’s five-man lineups with more than 300 minutes played this year, only the Celtics’ starting five can top the 106.8 defensive rating that Minnesota’s starters have posted.

Another thing that’s made a huge difference for Minnesota is rebounding. Gobert played for strong rebounding teams in Utah, but last year’s Timberwolves gave up the ninth-most rebounds per game to opposing teams. Only the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks have given up fewer rebounds than this year’s Timberwolves, though. Karl Anthony-Towns’ availability has had a lot do to with that drastic change.

KAT’s rebounding average dropped below 10.0 for the second time in his career in 2022-23, when Gobert came along and pushed him to power forward. Towns snared 8.1 boards per contest and appeared in just 29 games due to injury. A healthy offseason and a strong start to 2023-24 have given him time to adjust, though, allowing the Timberwolves to dominate with length on the glass and prevent second-chance opportunities. It’s clear that pairing the two in one frontcourt was a great idea, and the results show it. The Timberwolves went just 21-23 in games Gobert played in without KAT last season. They’ve gone 41-23 with both bigs playing since Gobert’s move to Minnesota.

The Timberwolves’ young core lacks legitimate playoff experience, but the numbers favor them making a strong run right now. The last four Western Conference champions have had top-10 scoring defenses and were top-10 in terms of limiting opposing teams’ rebounding production. If you’re looking for a dark horse to bet on, it’ll be hard to find a more enticing option than the Timberwolves’ Western Conference title odds at +700.


Kings coach Mike Brown fined $50,000 by NBA for on-court actions, off-court comments toward refs vs. Bucks

The NBA announced that Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown was given a $50,000 fine following his actions during and after the team’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. Brown was irate for what he felt was inconsistent officiating during his team’s loss, and during the postgame press conference went on a five-minute rant, complete with props to show why he was so frustrated and what led to his ejection.

The league said Brown was given a fine for “aggressively pursuing a game official during live play, and for publicly criticizing the officiating.”

With just under 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and with the Kings down 105-95, Brown can be seen yelling at a referee as the Bucks were in transition. He stepped onto the court and accidentally bumped into Bucks forward Pat Connaughton, and then got face-to-face with the official. He was quickly ejected and had to be held back by Malik Monk.

Mike Brown had to be held back by Malik Monk after he was ejected from tonight’s game 😬 pic.twitter.com/t36hpcy05g

— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 15, 2024
After the game while talking to the media, Brown brought in a laptop to show why he was upset.

“I just wanna show you guys why I got kicked out of the game,” Brown said as he prepared to show reporters clips of the game.

Brown proceeded to show a series clips of what he felt were bad foul calls on the part of the officials.

Mike busted out the film to break down why he got ejected tonight 😂 pic.twitter.com/7sO8yJ3g9y

— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 15, 2024
“The referees are human, and they’re going to make mistakes, but you just hope that A) there’s some sort of consistency and B) there’s some sort of communication between the refs,” Brown said. “And the refs tonight, they were great, they communicated with me all night. But in terms of consistency, you guys saw it right here. Dame coming off the pick-and-roll and Foxy getting hooked and almost falling coming off the pick-and-roll.

“And, on top of that, if you get communication and you get some form of consistency in the game, OK, then you can live with some things. But the consistency that I [saw] tonight — wasn’t in my opinion — there. And then, I don’t understand the rule, if the rule is you’ve got to go vertical both hands up, how can you take away two free throws with a guy with his forearm down here? If they’re going to change the rule on me and say, ‘OK the forearm can be down here, and another one can be up there,’ then all right I know that going forward. But that’s not what the rule is, because we get called on [Sabonis] all the time and they tell us he’s got to have both hands up if you want to go vertical. That’s why I got kicked out.”

It’s a hefty fine for Brown, but I’m sure it was well worth it as he was able to get his point across to show what he felt has been some inconsistency in officiating. He’s the latest head coach to be given a fine for criticizing officials, with Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic getting hit with a $25,000 fine for a postgame rant that called the officiating in a loss against the Lakers a “shame for the league.”


2024 NBA picks, Jan. 16 best bets by proven model

The Oklahoma City Thunder (27-12) and the Los Angeles Clippers (25-14) square off in a conference duel on Tuesday night. These are two of the top 10 scoring offenses in the NBA. The Thunder are currently sitting in the third spot (122.1 points per game), while Los Angeles is in ninth place (117.4 PPG). This is the second matchup of the season between these clubs, with OKC both winning and covering the first time around. Ivica Zubac (calf) is out for the Clippers.

Tipoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. The Clippers are 6-point favorites in the latest Thunder vs. Clippers odds via SportsLine consensus. The over/under for total points is 237.5. Before making any Clippers vs. Thunder picks, you need to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 13 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 42-23 roll on all top-rated NBA picks this season, returning nearly $2,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Thunder vs. Clippers and just locked in its picks and NBA predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Now, here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Clippers vs. Thunder:

Thunder vs. Clippers spread: Clippers -6
Thunder vs. Clippers over/under: 237.5 points
Thunder vs. Clippers money line: Clippers -244, Thunder +198
OKC: 26-12 ATS this season
LAC: 20-19 ATS this season
Thunder vs. Clippers picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Thunder can cover
Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is having an MVP-caliber campaign. Gilgeous-Alexander uses his length to glide to the rim and shoot right over the outstretched arms of defenders. The Kentucky product also owns an excellent mid-range jumper with the court vision to find open teammates. He’s third in the NBA in scoring (31.3) with 5.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists. On Jan. 13 versus the Magic, Gilgeous-Alexander totaled 37 points, six boards and seven assists.

Forward Chet Holmgren (7-foot-1) has the length to be an effective shot-blocker and owns a soft touch around the rim. Holmgren is putting up 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. On Jan. 10 against the Heat, he racked up 23 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. See which team to pick here.

Why the Clippers can cover
Forward Kawhi Leonard is having a superb campaign for Los Angeles. Leonard is almost automatic from mid-range and does a great job drawing contact at the rim. The five-time All-Star averages a team-high 24 points with 6.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. In his last outing, Leonard supplied 26 points, nine boards and four assists.

Forward Paul George generates offense from all three levels. George’s offensive arsenal is so smooth due to his jumper and relentlessness in attacking the paint. The eight-time All-Star averages 23.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists. On Jan. 12 against the Grizzlies, George notched 37 points, three boards and went 7-of-10 from downtown. See which team to pick here.

How to make Clippers vs. Thunder picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Under on the total, projecting 233 combined points. The model also says one side of the spread hits almost 60% of the time. You can only see the model’s picks at SportsLine.


Clippers’ Ivica Zubac to be re-evaluated in four weeks due to calf strain, per report

Los Angeles Clippers’ starting center Ivica Zubac is dealing with a right calf strain and will be re-evaluated in four weeks, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Such an absence is highly unusual for Zubac, who had missed only 12 games since joining the Clippers in 2019 prior to Tuesday’s news.

Zubac’s absence will be significant for a Clippers team that has been playing very well of late. After losing their first five games with James Harden, the Clippers have gone 22-6 since. The developing chemistry between Harden and Zubac in pick-and-roll has been a big reason for that success. Zubac is averaging a career-high 12.4 points and 1.4 blocks per game this season. As a team, the Clippers have been 8.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than without him this season. He is their defensive anchor and an increasingly important part of their offense, so he will be missed while he is out.

Fortunately, the Clippers are getting former backup center Mason Plumlee back from the injury he suffered earlier this season. They have also gotten good production out of Daniel Theis, whom they signed after he was bought out by the Indiana Pacers earlier in the season. The two of them should be able to keep the Clippers afloat while Zubac recovers, and if necessary, Los Angeles has enough forward depth to potentially play small-ball for stretches. P.J. Tucker has largely been out of the rotation lately, but Zubac’s absence could earn him a few small-ball center minutes.

Injuries were expected to be a problem for the Clippers this season as they have for the past several, but Zubac was the last player they expected to lose. Fortunately, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who have both dealt with myriad injuries since joining the Clippers, have largely been able to remain on the court. As long as they have their stars, the Clippers can survive a stretch without their starting center.


Underdogs fight hard in wonky regular-season finales

We’ve made it. The final week of the USFL regular season. Thank you to all who have followed my picks this year — it’s been an interesting experience — and now we march into what is probably the most interesting week from a gambling perspective.

Week 10 of the USFL regular season will likely play out much like Week 18 of the NFL regular season. Playoff teams could rest their starters, so we have no idea what to expect in a few of these matchups. Lower your unit, your half-unit, whatever it may be. This isn’t the week to pay the mortgage. We can save some more fun plays for next week.

For USFL championship odds, click here. Let’s jump into the picks.

USFL ATS record: 20-16
USFL straight up record: 25-11

All odds are via Caesars Sportsbook

Philadelphia Stars at New Jersey Generals (-2.5)
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET (USA Network)
ATS records: Stars (5-4), Generals (5-4)

This is pretty wild. The Stars and Generals will play each other this week, and then next week in the playoffs as well. The way I view it, head coaches Bart Andrus and Mike Riley won’t want to give much away in terms of game-planning. Both teams should probably start their reserves and prepare for next week. There is something to be said about establishing some momentum for yourself entering the postseason, but that takes a back seat in my mind if I have to play the team I’ll face in a do-or-die situation the very next week.

The Stars are on a four-game winning streak, and the Generals haven’t lost since way back in Week 1. There isn’t much of a point in betting this matchup, but I’ll take the favorite.

The pick: Generals -2.5
Projected score: Generals 20-17

Birmingham Stallions (-3.5) at Tampa Bay Bandits
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (Fox)
ATS records: Stallions (6-3), Bandits (3-6)

The Stallions began the season 6-0 ATS, but are 0-3 ATS over the last three weeks. The main headline, of course, is Birmingham losing its first game of the season last week to the Houston Gamblers, but I don’t know how much stock we want to put into that outcome. Vegas still views the Stallions as the favorite to win the USFL Championship.

The Stallions would like to create some momentum for themselves after a bad couple weeks, but I’m sure Skip Holtz wants to keep his team healthy as well. I’m going to bet on the underdog Bandits and hope that the Stallions either mail this one in, or just fail to cover the spread.

The pick: Bandits +3.5
Projected score: Stallions 21-18

Michigan Panthers (-2.5) at Pittsburgh Maulers
Sunday, 12 p.m. ET (USA Network)
ATS records: Panthers (3-6), Maulers (4-5)

Here’s a game we can feel maybe a bit more comfortable betting on. While the Panthers and Maulers won’t be in the playoffs, I would guess they want to finish out the season in a strong fashion as opposed to just going through the motions. I could be wrong, we’ll see. These are the two worst teams in the league.

The Panthers haven’t won a game since May 1, and that actually came against the Maulers. While Michigan is on the longest active losing streak in the league, it has kept games relatively close when Josh Love has played. The Panthers lost by two points to the Generals last week, and lost to the New Orleans Breakers in overtime three weeks ago. Love did not play in the 46-24 loss to the Stars two weeks ago. The quarterback situation this week will be interesting to watch, as Eric Barriere and Love both took snaps last week.

The Maulers have held a soft spot in my heart. Vad Lee is my favorite quarterback on the team, and he fights to the end. So does this team as a whole, as we saw last week. I’ll take a flier on the Maulers.

The pick: Maulers +2.5
Projected score: Maulers 24-21

New Orleans Breakers (-3) at Houston Gamblers
Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
ATS records: Breakers (6-3), Gamblers (4-5)

I’m proud of my ATS win last week for New Orleans. That defense came out vs. Tampa Bay and dominated from the jump. Jerod Fernandez forced two fumbles in the first half, and New Orleans recorded three total sacks in the first two quarters. The Breakers also have the best passing offense in the league, as they average 204.1 passing yards per game, but are they going to be throwing the ball all over the field after clinching a playoff spot?

The Gamblers handed the Stallions their first loss of the season last week, which is something we should not completely overlook. The defense recorded a safety, an interception and two sacks. I’ll take an upset in this matchup with New Orleans looking toward the postseason.


QB Kyle Sloter among honorees who could make the leap to NFL

As the new United States Football League (USFL) approaches its inaugural postseason, dozens of players across the startup’s eight teams have been honored as part of the All-USFL Team, announced Thursday. In the NFL, meanwhile, teams are gearing up for crunch time of the offseason, with 90-man rosters preparing for training camp and preseason competitions.

So which USFL all-stars have the best chance of making the leap to the NFL, even if just as offseason competition? Here are some names to keep an eye on this summer:

QB Kyle Sloter
Team: New Orleans Breakers | Age: 28 | College: Northern Colorado

You’ve probably heard his name before, because he’s already spent time with seven different NFL teams, mostly as a No. 3 or practice-squad veteran. But the ex-Vikings prospect could find himself back in a battle for an emergency role after leading the USFL in passing yards and ranking fifth in touchdowns. Most recently, he fought through an injury to help lead New Orleans to a playoff berth. At 28, he’s still plenty young enough to be somebody’s camp arm.

WR/KR Maurice Alexander
Team: Philadelphia Stars | Age: 25 | College: Florida International

A converted college quarterback who split time at receiver and returner before going undrafted in 2020, Alexander is small (5-11, 180) but speedy, leading the USFL in kick return yards (707) and averaging over 30 yards per runback. He’s also been dynamic on punt returns, averaging 12.6 yards per return. His athleticism could justify a look as a hybrid running back/receiver/return man.

DE Chris Odom
Team: Houston Gamblers | Age: 27 | College: Arkansas State

You can never have enough pass-rushers in the NFL, and Odom doesn’t just have his own NFL experience, floating between practice squads and active rosters with Washington and the Packers between 2017-2019, logging two sacks with the former. He’s also been dominant in a starring role in the USFL, leading the league with 11 sacks to go along with six forced fumbles.

LB DeMarquis Gates
Team: Birmingham Stallions | Age: 26 | College: Ole Miss

Just call him the king of developmental leagues. Since a short-lived stint with the Browns as an undrafted rookie, Gates has wreaked havoc in the AAF, XFL and now the USFL, leading the league in tackles for loss (10) while adding 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He’s got the size (6-2, 230) and playmaking reputation to vie for a reserve LB job.