We know the sports equinox of October — with all four major sports in action — and early April’s stretch of the March Madness title game, baseball’s opening day and the Masters are golden times for sports fans.
But so is Memorial Day weekend, with the Indy 500, NBA and NHL playoffs and a big fight all clamoring for our attention amid the barbecues, pool and family time.
For sports bettors, the options are both plentiful and appetizing.
How will seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson fare in his Indy 500 debut? Will the Game 5 collapse of the Colorado Avalanche spiral into a complete freefall? Who will meet the Golden State Warriors in next week’s NBA Finals?
All of it’s on the table starting Friday night, with the Boston Celtics standing as a comfortable 8.5 point favorite to end their Eastern Conference Final series against the visiting Miami Heat.
Here is a betting guide to navigating the busy schedule:
Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues, Game 6, Western Conference semifinals, Friday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
How could that spot in the Stanley Cup Final against the awaiting Edmonton Oilers not have slipped into Colorado's minds when it led 3-0 at home in Game 5?
Now that it’s slipped away, this road game and perhaps a desperate Game 7 Sunday remain. It’s an aching, uncomfortable position for the pre-playoff NHL favorite Avalanche.
The pick: Blues +140 moneyline.
Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers, Game 6 Eastern Conference semifinals, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Leading this series, 3-2, the Hurricanes seek to reach their third conference final since 2009 but will need to do so against the persistent Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
New York has outscored Carolina, 7-2, at its famed venue this postseason, and with the Tampa Bay Lightning awaiting the winner following their sweep of Florida, the Rangers have yet to fade from a position of weariness.
The pick: Parlay Rangers -110 and under 5.5 goals scored.
Miami Heat at Boston Celtics, Game 6 Eastern Conference Finals, Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Winning Game 5 in Miami by a 93-80 margin was the dagger shot for Boston as the frigid shooting of the Heat’s guards sealed a fate that should be finalized this evening.
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The Celtics, after Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for 47 points in Game 5, are favored by 8.5 points at Tipico Sportsbook. The 201.5 points over/under reflects Miami’s errant aim and its expected late surrender in hostile environs.
The pick: Parlay Celtics -8.5 and the under 201.5.
Sunday, 12:45 p.m. ET, NBC
Four-time winner and defending champion Helio Castroneves and record-fast pole-sitter Scott Dixon (234.046 mph four-lap average) are definite forces to contend with, but most of the attention and betting action will be on Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, after first racing in the IndyCar series in March, has moved from 30/1 to a 16/1 choice to win Sunday, according to Caesars Sportsbook.
Caesars reports Johnson, 46, leads the betting action among the 33 drivers by drawing 8% of the total tickets. He leads +400 favorite Dixon (7%), Castroneves and 22/1 longshot Ed Carpenter (6%), who sits on the inside of row 2.
“I think Jimmie could surprise a lot of people,” NBC’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday on a conference call. “This whole month, he was able to have so much time with the car and the team at the facility, sort of move beyond the enormity of the moment.
"I know that’s going to be nearly impossible when he walks out on the grid for the race to sort of be beyond the enormity of the moment or the weight of it. I really think Jimmie could do really, really well.”
Castroneves would pass legends A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser if he won, and he’s one of eight former Indy 500 winners in the race along with Dixon, Takuma Sato (14/1), Will Power and Tony Kanaan (both 18/1), Pagenaud (25/1), Alexander Rossi (50/1) and Juan Pablo Montoya (100/1).
Yet, Brazil’s Castroneves hasn’t finished better than eighth in five races this season. He has slid to 25/1 despite his comfort at the track and his confidence to weave his way from the outside of the ninth row to a record triumph.
He’ll have to find a way to catch Dixon and the other occupants of the first row — Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay.
Palou has improved from 15/1 to the +450 second choice at Caesars while VeeKay is the fifth choice at 12/1.
Mexico’s Pato O’Ward, starting on the inside of row 3, is the third choice at +850 and Josef Newgarden, starting in the middle of row 5, is the fourth choice at 10/1.
Newgarden has won twice this season — in Texas and Long Beach.
The pick: O’Ward won in Alabama earlier this month, and is ideally positioned to stay among the leaders and strike in the second half of the race to hold off Newgarden and VeeKay.
Gervonta Davis (26-0, 24 KOs) vs. Rolly Romero (14-0, 12 KOs), Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Showtime pay-per-view
Baltimore's Davis is a staggering -1400 favorite over Las Vegas' Romero in a talk-filled showdown between two of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s products.
While Davis has increasingly hinted that he’s bracing to depart the Mayweather stable after this bout, Romero has used the platform to flex both his physique and, more important, his gift of gab.
Romero disputes the perception that Davis is one of the sport’s most destructive fighters, criticizing him for nearly losing to Isaac Cruz in his most recent bout where he fought a weight-drained Mario Barrios and an undersized Leo Santa Cruz before that.
“There’s been a month of upsets, with Canelo losing, and now ‘Tank’ (Davis) is going to get his (rear) beat, too,” Romero said.
Attempting to verbally offend Davis, the 26-year-old Romero identifies himself as “the No. 1 self-promoter in the game right now. That’s why I’m in this position before everyone else. I forced my way to the top.
Romero has made this a compelling matchup by aggressively working to bother Davis. Should he win here, he’ll undoubtedly elevate into becoming one of the sport’s top draws.
“(Others) don’t have the personality. If it wasn’t for Floyd, ‘Tank’ wouldn’t be anything. He’d be a complete no-name, because he has zero personality," Romero said. "Everybody already knew who I was, and now I’m fighting a pay-per-view before everyone else.”
But his résumé is lacking now, and Davis’ power is significant. Only those intrigued by the hype will back Romero here.
The pick: Gervonta Davis by knockout/TKO -350. I’ll target a finish by rounds seven (+1000 at BetMGM), eight (+1100) and nine (+1200).
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Indy 500, Jimmie Johnson headline sports betting weekend