Featured post

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Saturday, 27 April 2019

NBA PlayOffs Second Round Picks 2019 (April 27-May 6)

NBA PlayOffs 2019- Second Round Series Games 1-4 (April 27th-May 6th)
The Second Round of the NBA PlayOffs begin this weekend and the Eastern Conference Semi Finals have been decided a few days ago while we have yet to get the pairings of the Western Conference at the time of writing.

It was always felt that the Eastern Conference was top loaded while the Western Conference was more competitive from Number 1 through 8 Seed and that is how the PlayOffs have worked out. However from this stage we should be expecting to see both Conferences producing some top PlayOff games and that all begins on Saturday.

One of the Western Conference First Round Series has gone to a Game 7 so the Second Round Series involving the Portland Trail Blazers will begin on Monday, but the other three Series could all get underway on Saturday and Sunday as long as the Golden State Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 on Friday.

Saturday 27th April
Philadelphia 76ers @ Toronto Raptors Game 1 Pick: The Eastern Conference half of the NBA PlayOffs has offered very little drama outside of the opening day of the post-season. On that day both the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers were upset at home as they dropped Game 1 of their First Round Series, but both were then able to sweep up the next four games to move through to this Second Round Series.

The intensity of the PlayOffs are going to ramp up now and the Toronto Raptors have to face their poor history in the post-season which has seen them lose fourteen of their sixteen Game 1s played. A number of those Series have been turned around, but the Raptors are looking to make a statement with this opening game of this Second Round Series and they are favoured to make a positive start.

That is going to encourage a fair few to back the Philadelphia 76ers, but the visitors are going to need to play a pretty perfect Series if they are going to work their way past this opponent. The Raptors have matched up well with the 76ers in the regular season, although both teams have changed somewhat thanks to moves made ahead of the trade deadline.

Marc Gasol's arrival with the Raptors was a trade made to counter what Joel Embiid can bring the 76ers on the court. However the bigger concern for Philadelphia may be the knee issue that has been plaguing Embiid in the First Round Series with the Brooklyn Nets. If he is limited it is going to be that much more difficult for the 76ers to win this Series especially as they don't have the same depth that the Raptors can bring to the court.

The likes of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are capable of getting very hot from the field, but it does feel like the 76ers are going to be relying on special performances from individuals to win this Series. Toronto have a superstar of their own in Kahwi Leonard who dominated the First Round Series against the Orlando Magic and the roster around him looks more capable than the one the 76er have.

Toronto won and covered in both home games against the Philadelphia 76ers in the regular season and have improved to 4-0 against the spread in their last four here against the 76ers. The home team and the favourite has had strong trends in the recent games between these teams and I do think the Raptors are the better team.

Their Game 1 record in the NBA PlayOffs is a bit of a concern, but I will lay the points with the Raptors.

Sunday 28th April
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks Game 1 Pick: This looks like being the Eastern Conference Second Round Series which is most likely to produce the team that will compete for the NBA Finals out of this Conference. The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers will feel they can have something to say about that, but the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best record in the East and the Boston Celtics were the pre-season Eastern Conference favourites.

Both teams looked very strong in the First Round as they swept past the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers respectively and both look to be peaking for this time of the Play Offs.

Right now it feels like the Milwaukee Bucks are still the stronger team, but the way the Boston Celtics have built their chemistry in the final few weeks of the regular season as well as their performances in the First Round of the Play Offs bodes well for them. It certainly makes Game 1 much more intriguing despite the fact that the Bucks are pretty big favourites to win.

Revenge will also be on the mind of the Bucks who were beaten in the First Round of the PlayOffs by the Boston Celtics in 2018. That Series needed all seven games to separate the teams and the home team won all of those games so the feeling is that home court is going to be very important in this Second Round Series too.

In the regular season the Milwaukee Bucks edged out the Boston Celtics 2-1 in the head to head and the only game played between these teams in Milwaukee ended with a single point win for the home team.

The rest is going to make this an interesting Game 1 with both teams admitting they have had enough time to take a break between the First and Second Round Series. It does make you wonder if the Offensive chemistry may just be affected without the rhythm of games that teams are used to in the NBA, especially as both teams have some of the better Defensive players in the League.

Marcus Smart's continuous absence is a concern for the Celtics, but I do think the total points line could be a touch on the high side for this Game 1. The 'under' has gone 7-1 in the last eight games Boston have played against a team who have won at least 60% of their games, while it is also 6-2 in their last eight games when playing on three or more days rest between games.

The 'under' has also covered in the last four games Milwaukee have played when playing on three or more days rest and I think the two teams will have something of a feeling out process against each other in Game 1. They are two talented teams capable of scoring plenty of points when they find their rhythm, but I am looking for the rest to have just cooled down the Offenses and both teams being challenged by much teams than they played in the First Round.

I am looking for a slow first half that may be enough to make sure the total line is not breached in Game 1.

Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors Game 1 Pick: The Houston Rockets have been well rested and have been preparing in the Bay Area for a couple of days in anticipation of the Western Conference Second Round Series beginning on Sunday. It turned out to be the correct decision when the Golden State Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday to earn their spot in the next Round.

It was a more difficult Series for the Golden State Warriors than most would have imagined as they needed six games to see off the Clippers. A bigger worry has to be the knocks suffered by the key players of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry which makes them a doubt for Game 1.

The task to beat the Houston Rockets would be that much tougher for the Warriors if both are sitting out and it would be something of a measure of revenge for the Rockets who feel they lost the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors last year because of a key injury to Chris Paul when 3-2 up in the Series.

Any sympathy for any injury concerns for the Golden State Warriors would have been lost in that moment and this is a Houston team who have been preparing for twelve months for revenge. They will feel they are the team best equipped in preventing the Warriors from making it to five straight NBA Finals out of the Western Conference and I do think this has the makings of a classic Series.

Games between these teams in the regular season have shown how close this Series could be as Houston have really played well against Golden State. With Game 1 coming just two days after the Warriors completed their First Round Series I do think we are going to see a situation where Houston have every chance of stealing away Home Court from their hosts.

The hosts do have a strong record in the Second Round of the NBA PlayOffs, but teams coming off big wins have struggled against the spread. Th Rockets are also 3-0 against the spread when set as the underdog of 5 or more points this season and I do think they are going to be mentally ready to make a statement against the Warriors on Sunday.

Houston have not performed off a rest as they would have liked, but Golden State are 19-40-2 against the spread off a double digit win. I will look for the Rockets to cover with the start on the handicap in this one.

Monday 29th April
Philadelphia 76ers @ Toronto Raptors Game 2 Pick: The Toronto Raptors may have had something more to prove than simply winning Game 1 as they didn't want to hear the same naysayers speaking about their team if they had dropped that game yet again in the NBA PlayOffs. After doing that in the First Round the likes of Kahwi Leonard made it clear the history of the franchise was not bothering him at all in first PlayOff run as a Raptor and it was Leonard who dominated Game 1 of this Second Round Series.

The Raptors comfortably saw off the Philadelphia 76ers and it is a big test for the road team to come out and show they can make this a much more competitive Series than it has looked at the outset. They can't match the bench that the Raptors can send out onto the court and if the starters are struggling it is very difficult to know how Philadelphia can extend Toronto.

You have to think the manner of the loss in Game 1 will have focused the 76ers to perform much better this time around, but they are going to need to make some serious adjustments. Defensively they had a hard time dealing with the Raptors who shot over 50% from the field and it is also up to Philadelphia to find a way to get the best out of their own star players.

Joel Embiid is not at 100% and it is clear from Game 1 that he is going to be tested much more than in the First Round Series. Marc Gasol was traded from the Memphis Grizzlies with the assignment to guard the likes of Embiid in mind and Gasol got the better of the battle in Game 1 and it looks to be a key part of this Series.

If Embiid is struggling again and the rest of the starters can't raise their level by a couple of notches it is going to very difficult for the 76ers. Historically it is tough for teams to cover the spread as the host in Game 2 of the Second Round, especially if they are off a big win like the Toronto Raptors, but the latter have covered a similar number in all three home wins over the 76ers this season.

The 76ers dropped to 3-10 against the spread as an underdog of 5 points or larger this season. They have failed to cover in their last five visits to Toronto and the favourite has improved to 21-7 against the spread in the last twenty-eight games between these teams.

Philadelphia have bounced back from double digit losses in recent spots, but Toronto are 6-2 against the spread off a double digit win and I will lay the points with the Raptors for a second time in this Series.

Portland Trail Blazers @ Denver Nuggets Game 1 Pick: While most of the NBA PlayOff Second Round Series have already played Game 1 this weekend, the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers had to wait until Monday to get underway. That is down to the fact that the Denver Nuggets needed a Game 7 to see off the San Antonio Spurs and they will be hoping being in rhythm can overcome any potential fatigue against the well rested Trail Blazers who blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to reach the Second Round.

This really is not a Second Round Series many would have predicted even a few months ago and it is a big opportunity for both Denver and Portland. The Nuggets had the better of the regular season which will give them confidence, especially as Portland look like they are going to struggle to have an answer to Nikola Jokic in Game 1.

It should have been a monumental battle with Jusuf Nurkic coming up for Jokic, but the Portland Center was lost for the season and replacement Enes Kanter is a doubt for Game 1. Regardless of whether he suits up or not, Kanter is not going to be at 100% for Game 1 and I think Jokic can pick up from where he left off.

The Nuggets have also been able to play enough good Defensive basketball which has seen them slow down Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. It is almost impossible to think those two players will not get their points, especially with the way Portland have been shooting the ball from the three point arc, but Denver will feel they can make them earn their points inefficiently and that should give them the edge.

Home Court advantage could be very strong for the Nuggets in this Second Round Series and I think they are a team I am happy to lay the points with. The Nuggets are 3-1-1 against the spread in the last five at home against the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver are now 6-1-1 against the spread in the last eight overall against them.

Portland have not played since last week thanks to an early wrap up of their First Round Series with the Thunder and with Denver's First Round Series being extended to go the distance. However they have played well when on three or more days rest so I am going to give them their respect, but I think the Nuggets have some momentum and being at home can inspire them to a win.

In recent years the host of Game 1 of the Second Round Series have covered more often than not and Denver's match up with Portland looks to be a good one. Barring any lingering fatigue from Saturday's Game 7 win over San Antonio, I think the Nuggets can edge out Portland in Game 1 here and I will lay the points with them.

Tuesday 30th April
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks Game 2 Pick: In Game 1 of this Second Round Series I favoured the two teams to use their Defensive prowess to just get the better of two Offenses that had not played a game of basketball for a few days. It turned out to be a comfortable winner, but I was just as surprised as anyone else out there that the Boston Celtics were able to blow out the Milwaukee Bucks in the way they did on the road.

Game 2 comes from the same venue and you have to expect a real reaction from the Bucks who finished with the Number 1 record in the NBA. They will be looking to make the adjustments to free up Giannis Antetokounmpo who struggled in the opening game of the Series thanks to the stellar work Al Horford was doing at both ends of the court.

Pressure is on Antetokounmpo who needs to get more support from his team-mates who had struggled in Game 1. Players like Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez have huge PlayOff experience to think they are going to be able to bounce back from sub-par efforts in Game 1 and Milwaukee have shown through the course of the season that they don't allow themselves to dwell on losses.

Boston will be looking to get more of the same out of their roster which has entered the PlayOffs believing they have finally all turned to the same page. The returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injuries that kept them out of the Celtics run to the Eastern Conference Finals twelve months ago were supposed to give Boston a strong regular season, but those players are beginning to rally together and Boston are the only team in the post-season who have won all of their PlayOff games.

Last season these two teams needed all seven games in the First Round Series to separate them and all of those games were won by the home team. Winning on the road will give Boston huge belief, but they would love to secure a second win here before heading home although I think that may be beyond them with the feeling the Bucks have a big bounce back performance in them.

Milwaukee are an incredible 18-4 against the spread off a loss this season and they have covered in their last five following a defeat of double digits. The Celtics are in very good form and they have some strong recent trends overall and in their visits to Milwaukee, but they did suffer a couple of big losses here in the PlayOffs last season and I think the Bucks can cover what is a big number.

The money is heavily slanted to the Celtics on the spread, but I don't mind opposing the public in this one.

Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors Game 2 Pick: Both teams bemoaned some of the refereeing in Game 1 of what is going to be a tense Series between the two best teams in the Western Conference. The Houston Rockets were particularly upset with some of the calls that went against them including James Harden being fouled on what was a game tying three pointer inside the final minutes of Game 1.

The NBA have made it clear it was a blown call and Harden and the Rockets have urged the referees to be 'fairer' to them in Game 2.

In most cases when capping the NBA PlayOffs you would want to think about the kind of adjustments teams are likely going to make between games, but for the first time I think you have to think about the Officials. With all the talk out of Game 1, there is a feeling they may err on the side of caution whenever there is contact and we could see a long Game 2 which has both teams going to the Free Throw line at a much more frequent rate than usual.

That is part of the reason I am expecting more scoring in this one after a relatively low-scoring Game 1 which saw the Houston Rockets lose, but cover. The public are very much behind the Rockets again in Game 2, but I think they are going to have be much stronger at both ends of the court after failing to take advantage of the 20 turnovers Golden State gave up.

Both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry looked fairly healthy after ankle injuries in the Series win over the Los Angeles Clippers and I think they are going to be two players who could find themselves up at the Free Throw line. With James Harden likely to keep attacking and Defenders perhaps also easing off challenging those three point shooters if the referees call some early fouls then it could also be a chance for both teams to have a strong Offensive showing.

The total points line has come down a few points from Game 1 and the 'under' is trending 5-1 in the last six between these teams in Golden State. However the two regular season games here produced at least 230 points in each one and with the extra scrutiny on the foul calls being made in Game 2 I think the teams can surpass the line where it is at the moment.

Wednesday 1st May
Portland Trail Blazers @ Denver Nuggets Game 2 Pick: The followers of the old zig-zag theory will be feeling very happy with the way the NBA PlayOffs Second Round Series have begun. All three of the Game 2s played have seen the opposite team cover from Game 1 and that is a major reason I have been put off from backing the Denver Nuggets to win and cover the spread for a second game with the Portland Trail Blazers.

A couple of days ago the Nuggets were deserved winners of Game 1, although the Portland Trail Blazers were not happy with some of the decisions that seemed to be going their way in that one. Now it is up to the visitors to make the adjustments, although I can't really back them with confidence considering their poor recent record in Denver.

The Trail Blazers did not allow a poor record to dictate the way their First Round Series was going to be approached though and that saw them beat the Oklahoma City Thunder comfortably. They will feel they need to play slightly more careful basketball if they are going to steal Home Court from the Denver Nuggets.

Fatiguing the home team might be difficult considering this is a roster used to playing in the altitude of Denver, although the fact they were pushed to Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs and are playing this game as the third one in a six day period can't be easily set aside.

The Trail Blazers will be looking to be more efficient from three point range while they are looking to cut down on the turnovers that effectively cost them Game 1. It won't be easy, but neither team played a lot of quality Defense in Game 1 and I think Game 2 could follow suit which means backing the 'over' to come through for a second game in a row.

Both teams have recently struggled to pick up the intensity on that side of the court when they are being asked to play on one day rest like they are for this one. Both have strong trends favouring the 'over' in that situation, while that has been the play when Portland have travelled to Denver as seven of the last nine have ended with more points than the layers have anticipated.

The 'over' is also 9-3 in the last twelve games following a Portland loss, while it is 5-2 in the last seven following a Denver win. There is no doubt that it is a very big number and will need some heavy three point shooting and continued porous Defensive work to surpass it, but I will look for that to be the case in Game 2.

Thursday 2nd May
Toronto Raptors @ Philadelphia 76ers Game 3 Pick: We are going to learn a lot about the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers over the next few days as they complete their Game 3 and Game 4 of this Second Round Series. The 76ers managed to tie up the Series by stealing Home Court in Game 2 in Canada, but the Toronto Raptors may feel they have more room for improvement of the two teams.

The Raptors really did not shoot the ball as well as they can in Game 2 and while some of the credit can be given to Philadelphia, the Raptors will be more than aware that their role players just did not perform as they did in Game 1. It was a poor start that left the Raptors chasing their tails throughout Game 2, but I am expecting a positive reaction from the road team.

A huge effort from Jimmy Butler helped the 76ers secure the upset in Game 2 and they are going to need more of the same from the player that was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves during the season. The problem for Philadelphia is that they can't really rely on Joel Embiid to bail them out with his issues piling up and the Raptors having the kind of players who will thrive when it comes to battling Embiid.

Toronto have to be better when it comes to securing the ball off the glass having been out-rebounded by a wide margin in Game 2. The 76ers look like they will have the better of the boards anyway, but the margin is the key and Toronto have to challenge them better if they are going to recover Home Court.

It does feel this Series is going to be in Toronto's hands having held Philadelphia under 100 points for a second game in a row and I do think they are going to bounce back despite going 1-4 in their last five Game 3s in the NBA PlayOffs.

Toronto are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven games following a loss and a road team coming off a Game 2 defeat have been very strong historically in this Round of the PlayOffs. The Raptors are 27-12-2 against the spread in their last forty-one games in Philadelphia and won here in February, while it seems like the public might be moving behind the 76ers despite some of the bigger money coming down on the Raptors.

I want to be with the sharps in this one as I think Toronto are the better team and I believe they have the bigger scope to make the adjustments from Game 2 to Game 3 compared with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Friday 3rd May
Milwaukee Bucks @ Boston Celtics Game 3 Pick: These two teams have split blow out wins over the other already in this Second Round Series and Game 3 is played on Friday evening. Game 4 will have to wait until Monday evening so there is a real chance for one of these teams to make the other have a really good think about what they need to change by taking a 2-1 lead in the Series.

It is a very close Series and I do think it is very difficult to split them in Game 3 with the amount of adjustments we have seen between the two games. I have to admit I am tempted to back the Milwaukee Bucks as the underdog which has been a situation in which they have thrived throughout this season, but this is a very difficult Arena in which to perform.

The Boston Celtics have been a little inconsistent at home this season, so I would be surprised if they win both Game 3 and Game 4, although the PlayOff record under Brad Stevens deserves to see the home team well respected. The Celtics are 16-3 against the spread in nineteen home games that does not involve facing LeBron James and it is enough for me to take a watching brief as far as picking a side is concerned.

There are too many unknowns to determine a side in Game 3 when you think the first two games have changed on the way one or two players have performed. The Celtics certainly have the players who can slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Eric Bledsoe stepped up where he failed in Game 1 and that was a big factor in the Milwaukee win.

Instead of picking a side I am going to back these teams to combine for fewer than the total points line that has been set for Game 3. Game 1 finished with an 'under' and Game 2 barely went 'over' and I do think the two teams have shown enough Defensively to think one of them will fail to score the points to aid the 'over' in this one.

It took some late scoring to make sure Game 2 went 'over' the mark and I am not surprised the layers have adjusted by dropping the number for a third game in a row. However I think they may still not have gone as low as they should have and I am looking at these teams to step up their Defensive play and not see a franchise record number of three pointers like Milwaukee had in Game 2 which was the main reason the mark was surpassed.

To be fair, the 'over' has a strong trend in both Milwaukee and Boston games in recent weeks, while it is also a favourable option when these teams have met one another. However the majority of the numbers on the total points line have been much lower than the one we are seeing in Game 3 and I am going to back the adjustments to have been made Defensively which will mean the selection is going 'under' the total point line.

Denver Nuggets @ Portland Trail Blazers Game 3 Pick: One of the factors that has to be considered going into Game 3 of this tied Second Round Series is the health of Jamal Murray. He didn't finish Game 2 once it became clear that the Denver Nuggets were going to be dropping it to the Portland Trail Blazers, but he hasn't had a lot of time to recover from the issues picked up when trying to fight through screens.

The Nuggets have to be pretty disappointed with the way they played in Game 2 as they continue to miss open three after open three in the second quarter. Instead of adjusting and making plays towards the basket, which was not being that well guarded by the Trail Blazers, Denver persisted with a shot that wasn't falling and the total 12 points scored in that quarter is the reason they went down to a 7 point defeat.

They were improved in the second half and the Nuggets will be asked to make the adjustments to try and regain Home Court advantage which has been lost in Game 2. For the most part they are playing well, but Denver will know they can't be as poor from the field as they were last time out if they are going to beat this Portland Trail Blazers team.

Portland have to be much happier as Enes Kanter continues to not only fight through the pain, but also the traffic on the court which is leading to plenty of action around the glass. He has been a key figure in the first two games for the Trail Blazers and Portland will need his energy to keep Nikola Jurkic having to work very hard and making sure he is needed to have a big impact at both ends of the court to tire him out.

They have yet to have a really big game from Damian Lillard despite heading back home at 1-1 in this Second Round Series, and Portland will need one if they are going to hold serve twice over this weekend. It is a difficult spot for the Trail Blazers considering how closely matched these two teams are and coming off a win as an underdog and then being favoured by this many points is not easy in these close Series.

Toronto did not cover on Thursday, but historically road teams off a Game 2 loss at home have been very strong when it comes to covering the number. Teams coming off a loss as a favourite and then being set as the underdog also have a strong cover rate in the Second Round Series of the NBA PlayOffs and both of those trends favour the Denver Nuggets.

You can't ignore the fact that Denver have not been as strong on the road as they have been at home, but they are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven visits to Portland. The Nuggets also have a very strong 8-4 record against the spread when looking for revenge against an opponent who beat them as the underdog.

With Portland going 6-6-1 against the spread in their last thirteen as the home favourite I am going to take the points on offer here and that despite the concerns about the availability of Jamal Murray.

Saturday 4th May
Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets Game 3 Pick: This was supposed to be the Series that the Houston Rockets had been preparing for in anticipation of revenge for what happened twelve months ago. Instead they find themselves 2-0 down in the Second Round Series to defending Champions Golden State Warriors, although the mindset has to be that the Warriors have only been holding serve by winning two games at home.

The key for the Rockets is to find an answer to Kevin Durant who is showing the entire world why he is the best basketball player on the planet. It is quite a remarkable showing from someone who is rumoured to be taking his player option to end his contract with the Warriors in the next few weeks and possibly heading to new pastures.

Kevin Durant himself has refused to get involved in the speculation and is doing his best to put that to the back-burner with the kind of performances he is producing on the court. The Rockets have to find a way to slow him down, but they will also be hoping James Harden is able to recover from having his eyes raked in Game 2 which he admitted affected his vision.

I would expect Harden to play knowing the Series is almost certainly on the line in the next couple of days with Houston needing to win both games at home to have a chance of upsetting the defending Champions. The Warriors also have a couple of injury concerns with the most notable one being Steph Curry who hurt his fingers in Game 2, but again finished that one and is expected to suit up in Game 3.

The Warriors have been favoured in the first two games in the Series, although they are 1-1 against the spread despite winning both straight up. This time the Series has shifted favouritism to the Houston Rockets and I do think that is a difficult spot for them to be in.

One favoured trend of recent times of backing a team that is 0-2 down in a Series to cover the spread in the first half of a Game 3 is no longer a big option in my opinion. At one time you could get some deflated spreads on the Half Time Spread from the layers, but that has been worked out by the oddsmakers after a strong run of wins from those teams and so Houston are favoured to cover by the same number at half time as they are at the conclusion of this game.

It still may be the best avenue to approach if you want to back the Rockets who have to come out desperate to get back into this Series, but I also think the Warriors are looking to make a statement. In the Second Round of the NBA PlayOffs it has not been a winning play to oppose a Number 1 Seed as an underdog and that was the case again in Game 3 of the Boston-Milwaukee Series on Friday.

Golden State will be looking to keep that trend going as they are picking up quite a few points in this one in what feels like being another close game. Teams being given less than five points as the underdog and the Number 1 Seed have a very strong covering record in the Second Round of the PlayOffs and that is also a trend that was continued by the Bucks on Friday evening.

The road team is 4-1 against the spread in games between the Rockets and Warriors and it is Golden State who have tended to perform better with the kind of rest we are getting between Game 2 and Game 3.

You can't discount the Houston Rockets finding a way to get things done by a clear margin with their ability shooting the three pointer, but Golden State look in the mood to make a statement. I will take the points with the road underdog in Game 3 of this Series.

Sunday 5th May
Toronto Raptors @ Philadelphia 76ers Game 4 Pick: The last two games have seen the Philadelphia 76ers take control of this Second Round Series and they could move to the hill by holding serve at home for a second time. Game 3 saw the Toronto Raptors go cold at the wrong time at the beginning of the fourth quarter in a tight game and that allowed the 76ers to pull clear and comfortably see off their visitors.

There are some problems for the Toronto Raptors to address with news that Pascal Siakam looks set to miss Game 4 and it is a big loss to lose someone who has scored at least 20 points in the first three games of this Series. It puts more pressure on Kyle Lowry to find a way to get out of his slump and offer some support to Kahwi Leonard who has been a one man wrecking ball for the Raptors.

Ultimately Toronto are not going to win this game with only Leonard contributing which has been the case in the last couple of games. Over the course of the regular season the Raptors depth has been very important for them, but the absence of Siakam will hurt their production and they are going to need to dig very deep if they are not going to be on the brink of yet another early NBA PlayOff exit in the coming days.

Philadelphia have fewer adjustments to make as they managed to pull away and crack 100 points for the first time in the Series in Game 3. The starting five are very important for the 76ers so it was good to see them all scoring in double figures, while the 76ers also broke down the Toronto Defensive unit which had performed well in the first two games north of the border.

Joel Embiid is the face of the franchise, but it is the play of Jimmy Butler which is sparking Philadelphia and it is up to the Raptors to find a way to get their feet back under them. Slowing down the 76ers won't be easy, but Toronto fans have to believe their team is still very much alive in the Series having been very close in Game 3 before finding their shooters going cold at the beginning of the fourth quarter which was the turning point of the game.

Toronto do have a favourable trend of being in the position of underdog in Game 4 off a loss as favourite in Game 3. Teams in that spot have a very good covering rate in the NBA PlayOffs Second Round while the Raptors are also 17-4-1 against the spread in their last twenty-two visits to the 76ers when they are not being favoured by 4 points or more.

The 76ers are also going to have to find a different sort of motivation- it would have been easy to come out fired up in Game 3 after being set as the home underdog, but the 76ers are only 4-11 against the spread as the favourite of less than 4 points this season.

We have also seen the Raptors cover in their last five games coming off a straight up loss of double digits, while Philadelphia are 5-11 against the spread in their last sixteen following a double digit win. I have to respect the way the 76ers have performed in the last couple of games to move 2-1 ahead in this Series, but I think the Toronto Raptors can rally together and I will take the points in this one.

Denver Nuggets @ Portland Trail Blazers Game 4 Pick: The first NBA PlayOff game since 1953 that needed FOUR Overtimes to decide the winner is in the books and there is not a lot of time for the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers to rest between Game 3 and Game 4.

I don't imagine a lot of work was done on the court on Saturday after the late Friday finish and the early afternoon Sunday start in Portland. Both Head Coaches will know they need to extract another big effort from their wounded teams without rest and it is a big moment in this Second Round Series with the Portland Trail Blazers trying to take a 3-1 lead in the Series having won the last two games.

Rodney Hood was the hero for the Trail Blazers, but there were many players out there deserving praise on Friday. Now it is a big task for Michael Malone to extract something from his Nuggets players having been on the wrong side of the defeat and with the Portland Trail Blazers looking slightly healthier even if Enes Kanter is somehow battling through his own personal pain.

Both teams have admitted there are going to be some tired bodies going out onto the court on Sunday and it does make it a much harder game to predict. You have to imagine it is going to have an impact on the Defensive effort the teams are able to put together, but that might be an issue for the Denver Nuggets with the Trail Blazers players finding some rhythm shooting the ball.

It could also be tough to play the fast tempo that both teams like and I would not be surprised to see this game hit the 'under', although my preference is to pick the Portland Trail Blazers to make it 3-1 in the Series. I backed the Denver Nuggets to cover in Game 3, but they are off back to back straight up losses now and road teams have suffered in the Second Round of the NBA PlayOffs in that spot down the years.

Out of the two teams it is Portland who have the stronger record against the spread when playing with just one days rest and I think that could play a part in this one too considering the way Game 3 ended. The Trail Blazers are also 16-7 against the spread as a favourite of less than 4 points this season and I think they might have the energy of the crowd behind them which can help prop up the flagging players in this game.

Laying the points with the home team looks to be the play in Game 4 having also played through the First Round in five games compared with the seven Denver needed to get through. That may also add to the potential fatigue in play and I think Portland can move into a commanding position in this Second Round Series.

MY PICKS: 27/04 Toronto Raptors - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
28/04 Milwaukee-Boston Under 223.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
28/04 Houston Rockets + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
29/04 Toronto Raptors - 6.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
29/04 Denver Nuggets - 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
30/04 Milwaukee Bucks - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
30/04 Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets Over 220.5 Points @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
01/05 Denver Nuggets-Portland Trail Blazers Over 219.5 Points @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
02/05 Toronto Raptors - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
03/05 Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks Under 219 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
03/05 Denver Nuggets + 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
04/05 Golden State Warriors + 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
05/05 Toronto Raptors + 2 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
05/05 Portland Trail Blazers - 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Second Round Update: 7-5, + 1.37 Units (12 Units Staked, + 14.16% Yield)

First Round PlayOff Final23-17, + 4.02 Units (40 Units Staked, + 10.05% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2019 (April 27th)

The 2019 season has been a really good one for the Tennis Picks, but I think Friday 26th April is comfortably the worst day I have had during over the course of the first four months of the year.

My selections went 1-4 on the day, but it was a highly frustrating one with both Kei Nishikori and Petra Kvitova having no right to not cover in the wins they earned. The former missed a shedload of break points in the early stages of the second set and could easily have taken it 6-1 or 6-2 with some better composure, while the latter was on the brink of a cover despite losing the first four games of the match. That all went up in smoke when Petra Kvitova failed to hold serve one more time when leading 4-2 in the final set and both players missed the cover by half a game.

Matteo Berrettini's win over Pablo Cuevas also failed to cover the number as he decided to take the second set off which was dropped 6-1 and then missed multiple break points which would have earned the cover in the final set.

The only selection I was actually disappointed in was Guido Pella who was outplayed by Dominic Thiem, but with that in mind I had no right going 1-4 on the day.

On Saturday we are into the Semi Final matches at the tournaments being played this week and you can read my selections below.

Kei Nishikori v Daniil Medvedev: This is a fascinating Semi Final and one that is going to tell us a lot about Daniil Medvedev and whether he really has turned a corner on the clay courts like his results over the last two weeks are suggesting. Prior to the 2019 season, Medvedev had struggled to impose himself on opponents on the clay courts, but he has won some big matches already this year which is perhaps further evidence of the overall improvement the young Russian has made over the last twelve months.

The victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic stand out and adding Kei Nishikori to that list would be really impressive. So far this week Medvedev has barely been tested as he has made comfortable progression through the draw into this Semi Final, and his numbers have remained impressive.

Daniil Medvedev is continuing to serve very well, but he is backing it up with some impressive returning which is making him a real threat on the surface. Last week he was beaten surprisingly by Dusan Lajovic considering the wins Medvedev had earned on the court in Monte Carlo prior to that and I do think Kei Nishikori is very comfortable on this surface and is playing well enough this week to win this pick 'em contest.

The Japanese star has yet to drop a set this week in Barcelona where he is a former Champion, but this is an opponent who is playing at a higher level than the previous ones he has faced.

However Kei Nishikori will be feeling very confident from the fact he has held 93% of his service games, although I do think that number is going to be given a severe examination by the Medvedev return game. Both players will be confident in their return game as Nishikori comes into this match having won 44% of return points this week and only a poor performance on the break points in the last Round prevented him from having a better number than the 37% of return games in which he has broken serve.

These two players have met three times in a little over twelve months and in that time it is Nishikori who has had the edge with two wins to one for Medvedev. In those matches Nishikori has had the slightly superior service numbers which have proven to be a difference maker, while Nishikori also dominated their one clay court match in the Monte Carlo Masters in early April 2018.

I can't deny it feels like Medvedev has improved on the clay in the time since that last match, but Kei Nishikori is one of the best players on the Tour on the surface and I will back him to edge to a win.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-4, - 4.74 Units (12 Units Staked, - 39.50% Yield)

Friday, 26 April 2019

Weekend Football Picks (April 26-28)

The Premier League is down to the last three weekends of the season and that means we are into the final stretch when it comes to the Premier League title race, the battle for the Champions League spots behind the top two teams and also the final relegation spot having seen Huddersfield Town and Fulham already demoted to the Championship.

This could also be the weekend when it is confirmed that Norwich City are going to be replacing one of those teams and Sheffield United will be virtually a Premier League club too if they can beat bottom team Ipswich Town at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

It is a big time of the season for clubs up and down the country, but it is also the final push for Fantasy players with three GameWeeks left before the season draws to a close. At this stage there really isn't a lot you can do if you are miles behind in your Leagues, but there is still time for late swings if you get it right.

My problem for the majority of people chasing is that your teams begin to have a similar feel to those around you in the League and finding the differentials is the key. With that in mind my Fantasy Advice this week is going to focus on those players I feel can make a difference and who are not heavily owned in the Fantasy game.

So it is unlikely you are going to see Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard in the section below the thoughts about the Premier League games. Instead I will search out those I think could see points clawed back by those who are looking to get back into their Leagues over the next three weeks.

Liverpool v Huddersfield Town Pick: At half time in the Manchester derby on Wednesday Liverpool fans might have been very comfortable with the way things were going, but Manchester City's strong second half led to a 0-2 win and a place back at the top of the Premier League table with three League games remaining for both clubs.

Right now the only thing Liverpool can think about doing is winning their remaining three games and hoping Manchester City slip up when they face Burnley, Leicester City or Brighton. Over the next two weeks Liverpool get to play first so they can at least put some pressure on Manchester City by continuing to overtake them in the League table and I would be hugely surprised if they don't do that this week.

A home game with Huddersfield Town on a Friday night is the perfect spot for Liverpool to earn a comfortable win and then prepare for Barcelona in the Champions League Semi Final. Huddersfield Town will look to be tough to beat and try and dig in, but this is a team who have struggled at this level and anything other than a relatively straight-forward Liverpool win would be a massive surprise.

It does mean finding an angle for the pick is very difficult as Liverpool are being asked to cover a three goal Asian Handicap. They can very much do that, but I do think Liverpool could bring off key players once they go 2-0 up as they begin to focus on the Champions League and I think the mark set by the layers is right on the money.

The angle I recommended when Tottenham Hotspur hosted Huddersfield Town is not really an option either- where Spurs were odds against to win with a clean sheet, Liverpool are very short odds on to do the same.

My belief is that Liverpool are going to be looking to make a very fast start to this fixture and making sure they are in a position to win the game without expending too much mental and physical energy. At Anfield they have managed to get their noses in front in games pretty early over the last couple of months and they had scored inside twenty minutes in 4 in a row at Anfield before needing second half goals to beat Chelsea.

In 3 of those games Liverpool had been leading by the twenty minute mark and they can be backed to be doing the same on Friday at odds against. To be fair to Huddersfield Town they have been making solid enough starts in their recent away games despite eventually beginning to concede plenty of goals.

Even Tottenham Hotspur needed the 24th minute to score their opener against them in the 4-0 win earlier this month, but I think Liverpool will want to remind Manchester City that they haven't lost hope in the Premier League title race. That should see the players come out a bit quicker than Tottenham Hotspur's much changed team did and I will look for Liverpool to be leading by the twenty minute mark.

Fantasy Star: Roberto Firmino- was rested in the away Leg at Porto so I imagine he is one of the fresher of the Liverpool attackers. Missed a huge chance last week against Cardiff City, but scored home and away against Huddersfield Town last season.

Alternative: Virgil Van Dijk- a threat from set pieces and every chance of yet another clean sheet at Anfield.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United Pick: Tuesday night was proving to be a very frustrating night for Tottenham Hotspur as they struggled to break down a disciplined Brighton team. Some poor composure in the final third and some misfortune looked to be leading to two more points being dropped by a team who were chasing the top four positions in the Premier League.

The late goal was a huge boost for Tottenham Hotspur as they continued their winning run in their new Stadium and they will feel this fixture is perhaps going to be an easier one to deal with.

There is a real rivalry between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United that may make a mockery of that statement, but I think Manuel Pellegrini's men won't be able to defend as well as Brighton did on Tuesday. West Ham United have been conceding plenty of goals in recent fixtures as the players have perhaps lost a touch of focus and The Hammers have conceded two or more goals in 7 of their last 9 away games in all competitions.

Last season they did earn a draw at Wembley Stadium in the Premier League and also beat Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup, but the two games played this season at the London Stadium have been won by Spurs.

Mauricio Pochettino's team selection could give West Ham United a chance, but I think the importance of making sure a top four spot is all but secured before the Champions League Semi Final will mean a strong team is selected. With the spaces likely to be much more open in the final third than what was faced against Brighton, I think Tottenham Hotspur are going to create much better chances than they fashioned on Tuesday.

Slightly better finishing will give Tottenham Hotspur a chance to win this by a comfortable margin. West Ham United have lost 6 of their last 9 away games by two or more goal margins and while I do think they will be highly motivated by the rivalry, I also think this team are perhaps already thinking about what the future will hold for them and the focus may not be where it should be.

Backing Tottenham Hotspur to win and cover the Asian Handicap and go into their Champions League Semi Final with some momentum is my selection.

Fantasy Star: Hueng-Min Son- Tottenham Hotspur could make changes with the Champions League Semi Final in mind, but Son is suspended for the First Leg so very likely a starter on Saturday.

Alternative: Felipe Anderson- if West Ham United are going to become the first team to score at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and then earn the upset, Felipe Anderson is going to have to be inspirational. 

Crystal Palace v Everton Pick: There is more on the line for Everton than there is for Crystal Palace in this Premier League fixture, but that may actually aid the game and help it produce some entertainment for the neutrals tuning in.

One of the big problems Crystal Palace have had at home all season is an inability to find the best way to break teams down, but that should not be an issue in this one. With Everton likely trying to get forward and score goals, The Eagles could have room to operate on the counter attack where they really are at their most dangerous.

Everton are chasing 7th place in the Premier League which could be rewarded with a place in the Europa League next season. That ambition will mean needing to get forward and create chances which will leave them vulnerable defensively as they have been for much of the season.

I do wonder if Crystal Palace have a mental block to overcome too with just 14 home goals scored heading towards the end of the season, but they have scored at least once in their last 9 at home in all competitions. Add in the issues Everton have had at the back and I do think the home team will have their chances.

However I would very much think Everton can continue to create chances as they have been in recent fixtures and they should be full of confidence after the result in the win over Manchester United. The loss of Richarlison is a blow, but Everton have enough in the final third to cause problems for a Crystal Palace team who have conceded two or more goals in 3 of their last 4 at home and who are missing significant defensive players.

In recent years Crystal Palace versus Everton fixtures have not really produced fireworks, but both teams can get on the scoreboard in this one. With nothing to lose for Crystal Palace, I would expect them to try and keep this game open while Everton will be chasing three points and so perhaps doing the same and a stretched game may produce three or more goals at a decent looking price.

Fantasy Star: Wilfried Zaha- could be playing one of his final home games for Crystal Palace and always a big threat for them.

Alternative: Gylfi Sigurdsson- Everton were surprisingly beaten by Fulham in their last away game, but the Icelandic midfielder continues to be a huge threat for them as shown when scoring in the win over Manchester United.

Fulham v Cardiff City Pick: There will be some disappointment in the home ranks that this match does not mean more to Fulham having had relegation confirmed, but Scott Parker's men come into this Premier League fixture in about as positive a frame of mind as at any time this season. Wins over Everton and Bournemouth without conceding a goal is a huge achievement for Fulham, although they have been riding their luck a little bit as far as the defensive clean sheets are concerned.

More positive is the attacking play that have led to chances being created and I think that makes Fulham a dangerous opponent with nothing to lose in this one.

Neil Warnock's team have much more on the line as they are looking to close the gap to Brighton in 17th place in the Premier League table and with games running out. Cardiff City will look at the next two fixtures against Fulham and Crystal Palace as the chance to earn six points and doing that may be good enough to keep them from the drop.

The inferior goal difference may cost Cardiff City at the end of the season, but for now they have to concentrate on trying to put some pressure on Brighton by winning at Craven Cottage before The Seagulls kick off their fixture with Newcastle United.

Cardiff City have to be confident of securing a result here considering they recently won 0-2 at Brighton and have also beaten another relegation rival Southampton away from home. They haven't been creating a lot of chances, but Cardiff City have been efficient and they will believe they can do the same against a Fulham team who have not defended that well.

However the bigger issue may be keeping Fulham from scoring and the amount of chances the home team have been creating in their last few games has to be respected. Both teams scoring will not be a surprise and recent history has shown that to be the case more often than not when these team have met each other.

The importance of the three points for Cardiff City could keep the game more open than it would have been on another day as Fulham will be looking to keep their run of wins going too. Fulham have nothing to lose so can take chances and I think both teams will hit the net and the situation should lead to opportunities to see three or more goals shared out between these teams on the day.

Fantasy Star: Victor Camarasa- Cardiff City will need the Spanish midfielder to be at his creative best as they look to escape the bottom three.

Alternative: Ryan Babel- has been in good form for a Fulham team who have won back to back Premier League games. Could punish Cardiff City with his pace if the visitors need to chase the game.

Southampton v Bournemouth Pick: There is still a little bit of work for Southampton to do to ensure they are playing in the Premier League again next season. After dropping two points thanks to a last minute equaliser conceded during the week at Vicarage Road, Southampton are still edging towards safety with one more win guaranteeing their place in the top flight.

They will believe they can earn that this weekend as they face injury hit Bournemouth who have been pretty terrible away from home since November. The Cherries have won 2 of their last 3 on their travels, but one was at Huddersfield Town and the other was a strange day at Brighton, but Bournemouth have been beaten in 11 of their last 13 away from home.

Now they have to face a Southampton team who have been much improved at St Mary’s under Ralph Hasenhuttl. The side have won 3 of their last 4 here and have found a way to score plenty of goals in front of their own fans and I do think that is going to make the difference for them here.

Creating chances has not been an issue under Hasenhuttl, but the finishing has perhaps let Southampton down. I expect they are going to have the chances to win this fixture, but it can be difficult to predict whether they are going to show the composure that has perhaps been lacking all through the season.

I believe that is going to be an issue they try and resolve in the summer and they can guarantee Premier League survival with a win on Saturday. Southampton are facing a Bournemouth team who are offering up plenty of chances and they have beaten their south coast rivals in 2 of the 3 Premier League games played here since Bournemouth were promoted to the top flight.

I do think Southampton will need to score at least twice when you think of the defensive issues they have had and Bournemouth are dangerous going forward. Backing the home team to win a fixture containing two or more goals is the selection here.

Fantasy Star: Nathan Redmond- I was going to select Shane Long here after he scored for the third game out of four, but he has a slight injury concern. Nathan Redmond has some strong underlying stats and scored twice in the last game at St Mary's.

Alternative: Callum Wilson- not really been the same player since an injury earlier in the season, but played well in Bournemouth's last away game with a goal and two assists. Should have chances against this Southampton defence.

Watford v Wolves Pick: They may have huffed and puffed without blowing down the Brighton house last weekend, but Wolves showed there is plenty left in the lungs with their destruction of Arsenal on Wednesday night. That has moved them back in control of 7th place in the Premier League which may yet come with a Europa League spot, but this weekend revenge may be on the mind of the players.

Wolves have been beaten twice by Watford this season, but it is the second of those in the FA Cup Semi Final which would have hurt the most. On that day Wolves led 2-0, but somehow managed to allow Watford to score twice in the final ten minutes and then go on and win in Extra Time to book their place in the Final in May.

It won't make up for that defeat earlier this month, but Wolves would love to get one over on Watford and move clear of their hosts who are a point behind in the League table.

Both teams will look to get the ball down and play their attacking football and I think this could pick up from where the FA Cup Semi Final left off. The attacking players on the pitch will want to get forward and score goals and I think the managers will encourage them to express themselves in a fixture that does have some importance attached to it with both clubs going for the highest finish in the League table as is possible.

Wolves have not been the same attacking threat away from home as they have been in front of their own fans. They have also struggled for results with 3 losses in their last 4 away Premier League games, but Watford have looked far from watertight at the back and I do think the visitors will have their opportunities in this one.

However I also believe Watford have shown enough of an attacking threat to earn the victory on the day and they will believe they can score the goals they need to do that. In the last couple of games at Vicarage Road they have created chances without showing the composure to finish them off, but I can see Watford being more focused with the memory of Raul Jimenez's celebration in the FA Cup Semi Final still something that will be getting under their skin.

Both teams can get on the scoreboard as they did in the FA Cup Semi Final and I am going to back three or more goals to be shared out at what looks a big price.

Fantasy Star: Gerard Deulofeu- his two goals in the FA Cup Semi Final helped Watford beat Wolves and he could haunt the visitors again.

Alternative: Raul Jimenez- hasn't scored since the FA Cup Semi Final and will be looking to break his duck. Needs to be an inspiration if Wolves are going to end their poor away run.

Brighton v Newcastle United Pick: The second live game from the Premier League on Saturday comes from the Amex Stadium and it would be a huge surprise if we are going to be offered up a goal-glut when Brighton host Newcastle United.

The visitors do get to come to the south coast and play with some freedom as back to back wins have made sure they are going to be playing Premier League Football again next season. Rafael Benitez may not be the manager for the long-term, but he is well supported by the fans and his teams have tended to be tough to beat with the tactics that are employed.

They are facing a Brighton team that has to be short of confidence having failed to score in all 7 games played in all competitions since the March international break. Defensively they have looked better in the last couple of games at Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur, but Brighton have lost 3 in a row at the Amex Stadium and have been beaten by Bournemouth and Cardiff City in their last two games here.

With that in mind Brighton look incredibly short when it comes to winning this fixture and I think it has much to do with the fact that the home team 'need' the win more than Newcastle United. However they are a team struggling for goals and struggling for clean sheets at home and this Newcastle United team have shown they can be dangerous getting forward, especially on the counter attack.

My feeling is that Brighton may not offer a lot of spaces and may feel a draw is putting them in a strong position in the Premier League table anyway, especially if Cardiff City have not won at Fulham earlier in the day. That is hard to predict prior to the kick off, but I have to respect the fact that Newcastle United have only lost 2 of their last 5 away Premier League games.

Brighton's home record against Newcastle United where they have won 3 of the last 4 against them puts me off from backing The Magpies with the start on the Asian Handicap though. Instead I think there is a real chance one, or both, of the teams fail to get on the scoreboard on Saturday as has been the case in 7 of their last 8 against each other including in all 3 Premier League fixtures played in the last two seasons.

The price on offer is slightly bigger than I thought it would be and is perhaps the best angle on this big game for Chris Hughton managing against his former club.

Fantasy Star: Shane Duffy- he really let me down in GW34 as Brighton conceded seven goals in two home games, but Shane Duffy is going to need to be at his best to help this club avoid the drop. A clean sheet is a possibility and remains a threat from set pieces.

Alternative: Salomon Rondon- Brighton's lack of goals is a concern and the amount they conceded in their last three games here could be exploited by Newcastle United's leading attacker.

Leicester City v Arsenal Pick: Early Sunday kick offs in the Premier League can sometimes produce sleepy performances from teams, but Leicester City and Arsenal have tended to match up well with each other and this could be a game filled with goals.

Both Brendan Rodgers and Unai Emery like their teams to get forward and they will have noted the defensive vulnerabilities the opposition have displayed in recent weeks. That is something that they will want their teams to exploit and there is enough motivation for both teams to try and get forward that could see a few goals shared out on the day.

Leicester City will be chasing 7th place in the Premier League, but Rodgers may be more keen to show the fans that his team is going to be one that can compete with the top teams in the Premier League. Finishing up the season with Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea gives the new manager a chance to impress the fans and Leicester City have been scoring plenty of goals under Rodgers' watch which is how the manager likes things.

Arsenal are likely to come onto Leicester City which will suit the home team too, although I would expect a reaction from the back to back losses suffered over the last eight days. In both games Arsenal conceded three goals and they do look a team that is going to have to out-score opponents to achieve their goals for the 2018/19 season.

This is a very tough test for The Gunners who were beaten 3-1 here last season, but I do think they will play their part. Backing at least four goals to be shared out would have been a winner in each of the last 3 Premier League games between these teams and I think they can wipe the sleep out of the eyes of the fans tuning in with a solid display of attacking football.

Fantasy Star: Jamie Vardy- has nine goals in his last ten appearances and can continue his fine end to the season against this Arsenal defence. Has scored three goals in the last three home games against The Gunners.

Alternative: Alexandre Lacazette- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may not be available and Lacazette has shown he scores goals at this level. The lack of Leicester City clean sheets should mean he has a couple of good sights of goals.

Burnley v Manchester City Pick: The tension is going to be ramped up in each passing game for Manchester City as they try and hold off Liverpool in the race for the Premier League title and this is another difficult looking away game for them to negotiate. After a tight first half at Old Trafford on Wednesday, Manchester City exerted their quality in the second half and were able to come away with a 0-2 win although Pep Guardiola will want his players to be a little more composed in the final third.

It was not a game in which Manchester City created a host of chances, although they were comfortably the deserved winners on the day. Now they have to face a Burnley team in good form and who have nothing to lose with survival potentially guaranteed by the time this game kicks off on Sunday afternoon.

Burnley have beaten Tottenham Hotspur here and earned a tough draw with Chelsea on Monday evening so they are a team that has to be respected. While Manchester City have beaten Burnley comfortably at home in their four fixtures at the Etihad Stadium over the last two seasons, Pep Guardiola will not have forgotten the 1-1 draw here in their last visit to Turf Moor.

Even in his first season Burnley took the lead before Manchester City were able to fight back and earn a 1-2 win at this ground so I do think this is potentially a difficult afternoon for the visitors who will likely be chasing Liverpool again. However Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all won by two or more goals here and I do think Burnley are a team that has been giving up some big chances in recent games and perhaps earned results better than they have deserved.

Manchester City have won 11 in a row in the Premier League and they have won 5 in a row away from home while conceding a single goal in that run. It is going to be a different challenge dealing with Burnley's two striker system and the home team are capable of ruffling the feathers of teams above them in the League table, but Manchester City are playing with some real confidence and they don't offer a lot of chances to teams.

Dutching Manchester City to win by either a two goal or three goal margin here looks the play with the odds against quotes on offer for it. I can see the visitors being tight at the back and the quality in the final third breaking down their opponents and Manchester City can match the margin of wins both Manchester United and Liverpool earned here.

Fantasy Star: Bernardo Silva- scored during the week and can make Manchester City fans forget about Kevin De Bruyne for one more week. A threat for goals and assists and a key player to Manchester City the rest of the way.

Alternative: Sergio Aguero- has eight goals in seven games against Burnley including scoring twice at Turf Moor in a 1-2 win two seasons ago.

Manchester United v Chelsea Pick: The final game of the Premier League weekend comes from Old Trafford and sees two of the top four chasing teams meeting when Manchester United host Chelsea.

The form of Manchester United has dipped away alarmingly and the run of 7 losses in 9 games in all competitions has hurt the team. That has seen them exit both the FA Cup and Champions League, while back to back defeats in the Premier League to Everton and Manchester City have dented top four ambitions.

With an inferior goal difference to the three teams above them, Manchester United have to really win this game if they are going to have a chance to earn a return to the Champions League next season. The feeling has to be that Arsenal won't win at Leicester City on Sunday afternoon so this fixture could really determine which of the two teams playing in it are able to make the top four.

A Manchester United win would leave them level on points with Chelsea, but with a more manageable fixture list than The Blues and Arsenal, although current form makes it had to trust the home team.

A lack of goals in big games at Old Trafford has to be a real concern as I pointed out ahead of the Manchester derby with that becoming the latest game where Manchester United have failed to find the net against the top teams that have visited the ground. Chances have been at a premium in those games too so you can see why Manchester United are such a price to win this fixture.

However Chelsea are not easy to trust either despite their more positive run in recent weeks. They are a team that have struggled away from home in the Premier League and Chelsea have also had their difficulties in front of goal when they have visited the top six clubs in the Premier League.

In fact Chelsea have only scored one goal in visits to Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League. Add in the fact that they didn't score against Manchester United in the FA Cup Fifth Round at home and also failed to find the net at Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Semi Final and you can see the difficulties Maurizio Sarri has had in implementing 'Sarri Ball' at the club.

Games between Chelsea and Manchester United have also tended to feature at least one of the teams failing to score. Last season that was not the case at Old Trafford and neither did it happen at Stamford Bridge in the League earlier this season, but the trend may have returned in the FA Cup Fifth Round tie played two months ago.

8 of the last 11 between these teams have seen one fail to find the net and I don't think either team is really confident enough to fight back from behind in this fixture. We have seen heads drop for both Manchester United and Chelsea when they fall behind and my feeling is that the first goal will win on Sunday.

The stats for the home/away games respectively of Manchester United and Chelsea suggests that trend of at least one team failing to score may improve to 9 out of 12 and at odds against backing at least one team keeping a clean sheet looks a huge price.

Fantasy Star: Paul Pogba- there has been a lot of speculation surrounding his future and Paul Pogba needs to respond. Big chance to do that against a Chelsea team who can let their heads drop if things don't go right for them.

Alternative: Eden Hazard- everything good from Chelsea comes through the Belgian. If they are going to win at Old Trafford, Hazard is going to be the player who has dragged them to the three points.

Fantasy Football
The Official FPL game is now down to the final three weeks of the season and in this section I am going to try and find the players that can make the difference for your teams. For those chasing points I am going to find the players who could help make the difference in GW36, although it is a week where the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City players should be popular considering the fixtures they have.

Last week my personal team produced 116 points, but I do think it could have been even better. It's still a week that has pushed me way above 2000 points for the season, although I still have some ambitions to achieve before the 2018/19 season comes to a close.

Goalkeeper 4.8 Million and Above
Martin Dubravka (Newcastle United- 5 Million, Owned by 0.5%): Brighton's severe lack of goals has seen them drop into a relegation battle. With the tactics served up by Rafael Benitez, Martin Dubravka could prove a cheaper alternative to the likes of Alisson and Ederson who should have a chance of a clean sheet this week too.

Goalkeeper 4.7 Million and Below
Mat Ryan (Brighton- 4.4 Million, Owned by 5.3%): Brighton looked back to their battling best defensively in their last two game and Mat Ryan played well in both. They will need their Goalkeeper at his best if Brighton are going to secure a positive result against Newcastle United this weekend.

Sergio Rico (Fulham- 4.4 Million, Owned by 0.4%): It is hard to trust Fulham considering what we have seen all season. However back to back clean sheets should have given the Goalkeeper some confidence and could free up funds elsewhere this week.

Angus Gunn (Southampton- 4.3 Million, Owned by 1%): Again this is an option for those who want to free up funds. Southampton are not a team who do a lot of clean sheets, but they have been in good form at home and face a Bournemouth team who are inconsistent and struggling with injuries.

Defender 5.1 Million and Above
Fabian Delph (Manchester City- 5.3 Million, Owned by 0.3%): With Fernandinho expecting to miss out and Ilkay Gundogan carrying a knock, could Fabian Delph come into the Manchester City midfield? Would mean having the clean sheet points and a chance of some attacking returns, but the risk is whether he is trusted enough to start in such pressurised situations.

Vincent Kompany (Manchester City- 5.2 Million, Owned by 1.1%): Pep Guardiola has tended to rotate Aymeric Laporte's partner, but Vincent Kompany has started last two away League games. I am wondering if his experience is something Guardiola is leaning on down the stretch this season.

Defender 5 Million and Below
Joel Matip (Liverpool- 4.9 Million, Owned by 1.2%): The big Champions League Semi Final with Barcelona is coming up, but Jurgen Klopp has insisted there is enough recovery time to select his best team for this game with Huddersfield Town. Cheapest and least owned way into the defence for what is likely to be a clean sheet is Joel Matip who has also been carrying the ball forward in recent games.

Sean Morrison (Cardiff City- 4.7 Million, Owned by 0.4%): Scored in the last away game at Brighton and missed a sitter against Liverpool. A threat from set pieces and could cause problems for Fulham on Saturday.

Lewis Dunk (Brighton- 4.4 Million, Owned by 3.8%): Will be key with partner Shane Duffy when it comes to keeping a clean sheet that is going to be invaluable to Brighton. Not as big a threat as Duffy from set pieces, but has got two goals this season too.

Jonny (Wolves- 4.3 Million, Owned by 3.2%): Hasn't been as popular a pick as opposite wing back Matt Doherty, but Jonny had two assists in the win over Arsenal during the week.

Midfielder 7.1 Million and Above
David Silva (Manchester City- 8.5 Million, Owned by 4.3%): Has been getting plenty of Premier League rest over the last few weeks and is going to be very important in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne. Can chip in with key goals too.

Naby Keita (Liverpool- 7.1 Million, Owned by 1.6%): Has started the last three Liverpool League games and chipped in with a goal. Plays in an advanced position and could have chances against this Huddersfield Town team.

Midfielder 7 Million and Below
Youri Tielemans (Leicester City- 6.1 Million, Owned by 1.7%): Two goals and five assists in his last eight games for Leicester City and should be able to have an impact against a vulnerable Arsenal defence.

Ryan Babel (Fulham- 5.5 Million, Owned by 0.9%): Three goals and an assist in his last five games for Fulham. A threat on the counter attack if Cardiff City need to chase the game on Saturday.

Harvey Barnes (Leicester City- 5.5 Million, Owned by 0.2%): Finally got the goal he has been threatening for weeks in the 2-2 draw with West Ham United last weekend. A different cheap option into the Leicester City midfield.

Forward 6.4 Million and Above
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City- 9 Million, Owned by 9.7%): As you can imagine, finding different options to others from the top strikers is problematic with most building their teams around these options. Jamie Vardy's record against Arsenal (three in three at the King Power Stadium) coupled with Arsenal's poor defensive record makes him a chasing option.

Forward 6.3 Million and Below
Andre Gray (Watford- 6 Million, Owned by 2.7%): Scored during the week and will lead the line against a Wolves team who have conceded goals for fun in recent away games.

Ashley Barnes (Burnley- 5.6 Million, Owned by 2.1%): Has been in great form to help Burnley climb away from relegation trouble and scored last week at Chelsea. The biggest threat to Manchester City's Premier League title bid this Sunday.

MY PICKS: Liverpool Leading at 20 Minutes @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365
Crystal Palace-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor
Fulham-Cardiff City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.77 Bet Victor
Southampton to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.25 Ladbrokes
Watford-Wolves Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor
Brighton-Newcastle United Both Teams to Score- NO @ 1.85 Bet Victor 
Leicester City-Arsenal Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.55 Bet Victor
Manchester City to Win by Two or Three Goals @ 2.27 Bet365
Manchester United-Chelsea Both Teams to Score- NO @ 2.30 Bet Victor