Vegas veteran Benjamin Eckstein, author of America’s Line, brings three decades of experience to make weekly picks in his “Ecks & Bacon” column.

LAS VEGAS — Everyone is expecting LA LA vs LA LA in the Western Conference final, but first the Lakers have to get past the Rockets. Will they? Check out the regular-season scores. They might help you.

NBA Pick

The first game was back in January and the Lakers (+3.5) beat the Rockets in Houston 124-115. The OVER/UNDER total was posted at 235.5 and it went OVER. The next game was in Los Angeles, but the Rocks (+6) picked up a 121-111 win and the game went UNDER the posted total of 239.5. The final game was in the bubble, and the Rockets (-3.5) rocked the Lake Show 113-97. The total was 228 and went UNDER. Just FYI, LeBron DID NOT PLAY!

How about a little delicious nugget that might SHOCK you. The Rockets won the first round on the strength of their defense. YUP. Houston has THE BEST defensive rating in the playoffs inside the bubble, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions.

Still not 100 percent sure that Russell Westbrook is 100 percent, which could be a YUGE problem for the Rockets. Think that the purple and gold are gonna take the first game, but the 6 might be too much. So, back to Teaser City for a two-team 6-pointer. Take the Lakers down from -6 to even, so all they have to do is win by one. Then attach the Heat, and bump Miami up from +5.5 to +11.5 points against the Bucks.

NHL Pick

On the ice, the two GREATEST words in sports, GAME SEVEN! No real feel in the first game between Colorado and Dallas. Maybe a tiny tickle, tiny, to the Avalanche. In the nightcap, man, it’s tough. Have some love in my heart for both teams. Live in Vegas so the Golden Knights are kinda my second or third or maybe fourth favorite team. However, Vancouver is my SECOND favorite city in the world!

Have spent many summers overlooking Stanley Park and English Bay, and my daughter was married up on Grouse Mountain. And yeah, we took Gondolas to the summit! So, don’t get mad at me, but I’m gonna just sit back, watch and enjoy.

Kentucky Oaks/Derby Pick

And how about some Friday ponies. Gonna take a look at the Kentucky Oaks, which is basically the Kentucky Derby for fillies. And the winner gets a garland of lillies, which they call “Lillies for the Fillies.”

#1 Swiss Skydiver – She comes off a Grade 1 win in the Alabama at Saratoga at a distance of a mile and a half! So this is a cut back to a mile and an eighth and a handicapping angle for some bettors. She also finished second against the colts in the Bluegrass Stakes to Art Collector, who was probably the second choice in the Derby until he was injured. This filly earned a triple-digit Beyer speed rating in her last race (102). But she will have her hands full against the Bob Baffert-trained Gamine.

#5 Gamine – Ran a 108 Beyer in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga and 110 in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park. Those are two serious speed ratings. The only problem is that those two races were at seven furlongs and a mile. Her only try at a two-turn race, she was all out to just hang on at a mile and a sixteenth against Speech.

#4 Speech – Have to add Speech into this conversation. She won the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland and earned a career-best 104 Beyer speed rating. Although she was closing in on Gamine in the Oaklawn Park race, she never passed her. That race seems a light year away as it was run in May. But both have progressed into serious fillies.

So, how we gonna bet the Oaks???

It looks as if Gamine will take this field as far as she can go. We witnessed Serengeti Empress take them gate to wire last year from post 13, so speed will be good, especially at Churchill Downs. But I think Gamine is vulnerable at the two-turn mile and an eighth. I see Swiss Skydiver sitting right off her flank and going by in the stretch.

The bet is $100 win and place on #1 Swiss Skydiver.

In the Oaks/Kentucky Derby daily double, got a full Benjamin/100 bucks on Swiss Miss and Tiz the Law in the Derby.

Speaking of Tiz the Law, we’re gonna go YUGE tomorrow in the Derby, and ask you to drop TWO BENJAMINS/$200 on the Law. Thank goodness my first name is Benjamin, and NOT LOONIE!!!

Benjamin Eckstein is a nationally syndicated sportswriter/oddsmaker. His column, America's Line, with the Ecks & Bacon appetizer, has run in the New York Daily News and over 100 other papers since 1988. You can follow him online at He is beloved by most, when he picks winners, and detested by others, when he picks the occasional loser. If you wanna piece of Eck, hit his Email...Ben@Americasline.Com.

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