Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 12, 2013 at 8:55 AM
Did somebody say crunch time?
We've now entered the final few days of this 2012-13 NBA regular season - yes, the playoffs begin next Saturday, April 20th - and there's plenty of key storylines out there.
We'll dig into a few of them in today's Jim Sez as we tackle a couple of big games this evening but here's a quickie reminder that we'll have complete NBA Playoff coverage right throughout the NBA Finals in June and that includes series-by-series analyses the end of next week in this column space ... okay?
Now, here's tonight's top games ...
NEW YORK (51-27) at CLEVELAND (24-54) - 7:35 p.m. ET
Okay, so all good things must come to an end as the New York Knicks found out the hard way last night in that 118-111 overtime loss in Chicago.
The Knicks' stirring 13-game winning streak - the franchise's longest since the 1999 season and that's the last time the Knicks made it to the NBA Finals - finally was snapped thanks in large part to ex-Knicks G Nate Robinson (35 points) but now Mike Woodson's club has to get back on point considering NYK only holds a two-game lead over Indiana for the #2 seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference playoff race.
One thing to watch here is how does New York handle the rigors of the back end of this back-to-back road swing - will ace scorer Carmelo Anthony (36 points and 19 rebounds last night in Chitown) still have his legs come the fourth quarter here?
SACRAMENTO (28-50) at SAN ANTONIO (57-21) - 8:35 p.m. ET
Have folks - once again - forgotten all about these San Antonio Spurs?
The four-time NBA champions enter this evening's game a half game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the top spot in the West but the here-and-now says Gregg Popovich's club isn't going gung-ho to get the numero uno seed. After all, the Spurs have only managed to split their last 10 games and that includes Wednesday's 96-86 loss at 4-point favorite Denver - a game that San Antonio PG Tony Parker sat out with a balky back and it didn't help matters that the Spurs connected on a mere 4-of-21 three-point goals ... ugh.
Note that San Antonio scored only 37 first-half points in Denver the other night and even the crusty "Coach Pops" could not have been pleased with his club's 35-of-87 shooting from the floor (that's 40.2 percent) - check on Parker's status here and let's see who (if any) regulars Popovich is gonna sit or will he fight hard for that top seed.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers absolutely roared right through the 2013 College Basketball post-season and now there's lots more hoop action to come as the NBA really heats up and don't forget you can pile up the profits too in Major-League Baseball - so be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winning selections.
THE NFL DRAFT: CORNERBACKS & SAFETIES
Note: The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25th and our Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage - the position-by-position looks - gets rolling here with a look at the top Cornerbacks and Safeties and note that all of the players listed here are ranked somewhere in the top 40 of overall rookie rankings:
DEE MILLINER, CB, ALABAMA - The hands-down best corner in this year's draft, this 6-foot, 200-pound junior comes off back-to-back national championship seasons and he was among the Crimson Tide's top players in that BCS Championship Game route over Notre Dame. In all, Milliner broke up 22 passes last year while being named a Thorpe Award finalist and there is no reason to sweat the torn labrum he had operated on following the 2012 campaign - he's healthy now. A great tackler with top-flight ball-hawk skills who some have favorably compared with Chicago Bears CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman. Gut feeling is that Oakland at pick #3 will reach for him but he could slip down to Cleveland with the sixth overall draft choice.
XAVIER RHODES, CB, FLORIDA STATE - No doubt that this 6-foot-2, 220-pounder combines overall size with a true physicality not matched by the top corners coming out of this year's rookie class and it's safe to say the former Seminoles star is one of the most aggressive CBs to exit college in recent years. Rhodes managed eight INTs the past three years despite the fact most teams - including Northern Illinois in that Orange Bowl tilt last season - stayed away from his side of the field. Note the 39 career starts and instant ability to turn his head and locate the wide receiver. If Milliner goes high (such as #2 or #3) than it's possible that Rhodes' stock will rise too and he could wind up in Cleveland with that #6 pick but otherwise expect him to land in the #10-thru-#14 range with Tampa Bay at #13 a strong possibility providing the Bucs don't deal away that pick to the New York Jets in a much-rumored Darrelle Revis trade.
DESMOND TRUFANT, CB, WASHINGTON - The consensus out there is that this 6-foot, 190-pound senior star is the third-best corner in this draft but the $64,000 question is did his stellar pro day elevate him into top 10 status on Draft Night? Keep in mind that Trufant started a whopping 47 games in his college career and he proved more-than-willing to make open-field tackles but he did suffer through some nagging hamstring woes last year and isn't considered as finely-tuned as some pro teams would like considering all the playing time. Remember his brother Marcus was a first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks 10 years ago. Hey, if both Milliner and Rhodes are both gone prior to the #13th pick - and the Jets have traded away Revis - than we won't be shocked if NYJ head coach Rex Ryan and new GM John Idzki's club snags Trufant at pick #13.
KENNY VACCARO, FS, TEXAS - The top free safety in this year's draft really shined on a shaky Longhorns defense last year with 107 tackles and five takeaways and it appears the six-foot, 215-pound Vaccaro has shaken off his recent hip flexor woes and should now land somewhere in the top 20 in this draft. Vaccaro - who has experienced a couple of off-the-field hiccups including a fight with another Texas student back in 2009 - needs to improve his ball-hawk skills but this dude will run through the wall to make a play and could well be on the radar of the home-state Dallas Cowboys at pick #18.
ERIC REID, FS, LSU - The Bayou Bengals annually ship a batch of high-quality defensive players into the NFL Draft and here's the latest star DB and note this 6-foot-1, 215-pounder is a wrecking ball who may have to turn down the volume a bit here with the NFL closely eyeballing high hits these days. Expect Reid to slip into the early stages of Round II even though his closing speed and physicality has some folks thinking he could go somewhere in the top 25. Maybe the Green Bay Packers at overall pick #26 takes a shot with Reid but more apt to drop to the 35th-to-40th pick range, if you ask us!
JAMAR TAYLOR, CB, BOISE STATE - Look for this 5-foot-11, 195-pounder to force his way into the first round as someone in the final few picks of Round I should nab him (right now we're thinking the New England Patriots at pick #29 could be his destination). Note that last year Boise State surrendered just three aerial touchdowns and Taylor was Exhibit A as he broke up nine passes and snagged four INTs. The one thing you wonder about here is will an NFL team be gun-shy to tab Taylor after one-time Boise State CB Kyle Wilson (New York Jets) has been a below-average player through his first three years in the league.
MATT ELAM, SS, FLORIDA - The big question with this two-year starter is Gainesville is his size: Elam's just 5-feet-10 and 202 pounds and so many NFL teams are said to be scared off despite the fact Elam played his best in the team's biggest games (see 11 tackles and a sack in the team's Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville). Still, this Palm Beach Gardens native is athletic and really packs a punch with his tackling and so he figures to be gone by mind-way of Round II with Miami and/or Tampa Bay potential landing spots for him with the #42 or #43 pick.
NOTE: More NFL Draft coverage in tomorrow's Jim Sez.