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The NBA regular season is finally here, which means (meaningful) basketball betting makes its triumphant return for the first time since the Toronto Raptors pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.
Fittingly, the Raptors kick off the 2019-20 campaign at home against the New Orleans Pelicans, while the two biggest headline-grabbers this season - the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers - face off in the nightcap.
However, those aren't the only games on tap during a busy opening six days for the NBA. Here are some of the biggest matchups of the week:
New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors (-7, 231.5)
This game looked a lot more exciting before news broke that Zion Williamson would miss an extended period of time after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn right lateral meniscus. Without him, the Pelicans resemble the 2018-19 Lakers, except with Jrue Holiday starring as LeBron James - which isn't exactly comforting given how disappointing L.A. was a year ago.
It's not a perfect analogy, of course, but it'd still be surprising if New Orleans pulls off the upset in Toronto, where the Raptors went 32-9 straight-up last season, including a 6-1 mark without Kawhi Leonard. Toronto finished the regular season 17-5 SU and 16-6 against the spread in games without Leonard.
It seems the market is down on the "other" Raptors this year, too, while the buzz surrounding the Pelicans may be going too far. Take advantage early.
Los Angeles Lakers (-2.5, 226.5) at Los Angeles Clippers
Two of the NBA's top title contenders steal the spotlight Tuesday in Los Angeles, where the Clippers are catching 2.5 points "at home" to their Staples Center housemates. A Clips squad at full strength would probably be favored here, but Paul George's absence gives the nod to the Lakers in oddsmakers' minds.
But are we sure that makes sense? The Clippers sans Kawhi still won 48 games last year and have essentially the same rotation with a superstar on top. The Lakers, meanwhile, roll out a completely reworked starting lineup featuring James and Anthony Davis, and have questionable depth, at best.
Also, give the under a look. The average total last year was 221.7, according to Sports Database, which is almost five points lower than Tuesday's total. The game should be relatively low-scoring as both teams find their chemistry offensively.
Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers (Wednesday)
A rematch of last year's epic seven-game series should favor the Blazers, who boasted the NBA's third-best home ATS record at 22-15-4 (59.5%) a year ago. The Nuggets were even better at home but were the league's second-worst road team ATS (15-24-2, 38.5%). Also, don't bet on Nikola Jokic to repeat his triple-double exploits. Portland ranked third in rebounds and assists allowed per 100 possessions a year ago and could be even better inside with the addition of Hassan Whiteside.
Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers (Wednesday)
These two East contenders opened last year against each other, and the result was a 105-87 Celtics win. The roles could be reversed this season, though, as Philadelphia boasts one of the largest rotations in the league with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, and former Celtic Al Horford, who's a good bet to feast on the boards against an undersized Boston frontcourt. Going under on the total and the Sixers' made threes is also prudent until we see Philly prove its perimeter prowess.
Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets (Thursday)
The biggest hope for bettors is that oddsmakers buy the James Harden-Russell Westbrook pairing and price Houston as a home favorite. If that happens, pounce on Milwaukee immediately. The Bucks were not only the best ATS team in the league during last year's regular season at 47-32-3 (59.5%), but they were also the best as road 'dogs (4-2-1 ATS) and the third-best ATS against teams with winning records (35-26-2, 57.4%). Both clubs lost key defensive pieces this summer in Chris Paul (HOU) and Malcolm Brogdon (MIL), so buy over on the total and each team's best scoring guards before the market catches up.
Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (Thursday)
Both teams look dramatically different than they did in their playoff meeting a year ago, but revenge could be on the Clippers' side here. Since 2003, away favorites - as L.A. will likely be here - in a revenge spot from the previous playoffs are 9-9 ATS but an impressive 16-2 SU. Leonard is also plenty familiar with cracking this Golden State defense, so lay the points Thursday on L.A., assuming the star forward plays.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.