Anthony finally might attain playoff payoff

In the NBA, reputations are made in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony is an exception because he entered the league with star status and never has lost it despite rarely winning in the playoffs.

Anthony is a flawed star not as cool as his image, similar to Tom Cruise, who is insecure, tiny and keeps putting out movies that come up short.

But the stage is set for Anthony, the league scoring champion this season, to show he’s more than a failing star in the postseason. The New York Knicks, off back-to-back losses in a series they appeared a sure bet to win last weekend, are close to a panic attack.

The blue-collar Celtics, a team with proven playoff stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, are using trash talk and toughness to rattle Anthony and the Knicks, who are 1½-point favorites in today’s Game 6 in Boston.

“It’s a weird series. It’s kind of confounding,” said handicapper Erin Rynning of Sportsmemo.com. “Watching the Celtics in the first three games, it seemed so difficult for them to score. I figured the series was pretty much over. I still think the Knicks are the better team, and certainly if it goes to Game 7, they should win the series.”

Boston, a 9 ½-point underdog Wednesday, made 11 of 22 3-pointers to sink the Knicks, 92-86. Anthony shot 8-for-24, missing all five of his 3s, and J.R. Smith missed his first 10 shots.

The Knicks returned to being knuckleheads, relying on jump shots and isolation plays for Anthony instead of allowing point guards Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd to move the ball around the perimeter and make plays.

“I think Carmelo is playing at a higher level than he played at the last three or four years,” Rynning said. “But he’s really not that efficient of an offensive player. He takes so many shots. He’s still pretty flawed defensively. I see a lot of holes in the Knicks, but in the Celtics you see a lot of holes, as well.”

Despite their shortcomings, the Knicks are 10-1 favorites with a 3-2 series lead over Boston. A bettor actually laid $10,000 to win $1,000 on New York at William Hill sports books after Game 5. That’s not a bet I would make.

But I do believe the Knicks will win the series, if not today then in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. It will be the second time in Anthony’s 10-year career that he leads a team past the first round.

Nevertheless, no team in the Eastern Conference is capable of pushing the Miami Heat to seven games. Only the Knicks have a shot, and it’s a long shot.

All of the mystery is out West, where a season-ending knee injury to point guard Russell Westbrook has wrecked the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances. Kevin Durant can handle the Houston Rockets, but he will miss his co-star in the next round against Memphis.

I’m advancing the Grizzlies, up 3-2 and 6½-point home favorites over the Los Angeles Clippers today. The big man combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol has exposed Blake Griffin and the Clippers as too soft.

“San Antonio is probably the favorite now coming out of the West,” Rynning said. “I don’t think the Thunder have a lot of answers. Outside of Miami, I think Memphis is as good as anybody.”

Rynning is picking the Grizzlies, who will be series underdogs, to take down the Thunder. The Spurs, meanwhile, won’t easily kick aside the Golden State Warriors, who finished off the biggest upset of the first round.

Stephen Curry is my favorite player to watch, and the Warriors have become my favorite team. Curry’s 22 points helped sixth-seeded Golden State, plus-400 in the series, eliminate Denver 92-88 Thursday night in Game 6.

The Warriors’ performance was not flawless, however, as they squandered most of an 18-point lead and barely covered the closing line of 2½.

But Curry is a shooting star, and he earned his reputation in the playoffs.

■ BOTTOM LINES — Betting good money against Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a bad idea. Mayweather, who defends his WBC welterweight title Saturday against Robert Guerrero at the MGM Grand Garden, is a minus-700 favorite at most Las Vegas books. I never recommend laying that high of a price, especially in a circus such as boxing.

The plus-500 takeback on Guerrero appears tantalizing considering he’s a southpaw who could create trouble for Mayweather, possibly rusty in his return from another retirement. But that’s not enough value to bet the underdog, so make your contribution to a church or charity instead of a bookmaker.

Mayweather is 43-0 with only 26 knockouts. The best bet is Mayweather by decision at minus-160, as he’s most likely to dominate several rounds and win easily on the judges’ scorecards. …

Want a sharp opinion on the Kentucky Derby? I don’t have one. But our Sports Betting Spotlight returns Saturday with complete analysis of the 20-horse field from handicapper Dave Tuley (ViewFromVegas.com) and Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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