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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 9:14 AM

You tell us ...Is it a foregone conclusion that the Miami Heat will be playing the Oklahoma City Thunder one mo' time in this year's NBA Finals ...Or might there be a dark horse team (or two) that could throw a big-time monkey wrench into those plans?

We know, we know.

It's not as if the Thunder's an automatic bet to win the West this year although ask most NBA in-the-know experts and they tell you it'll be tough for anyone in that conference - the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets or the Los Angeles Clippers to name just a few contenders - to beat this OKC team four times in a seven-game set but let's use our imagination here and come up with a dark horse team in each conference that might get hot-hot-hot and unset the Heat and Thunder as defending conference champs, respectively.


CHICAGO (43-35) - Yes, the Bulls seemingly have been "on hold" all year long as to whether or not star point guard Derrick Rose is gonna return from knee surgery but let's just say that if the one-time league MVP does come back at the end of this 2012-13 regular season or just in time for the post-season, the Bulls could be ultra-tough to beat.

Consider that Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau has done a simply remarkable job guiding this Rose-less bunch to a .551 winning rate while heading into Friday night's game in Toronto and keep in mind these Bulls snapped both the 27-game winning streak by Miami and the 13-game winning streak held by the New York Knicks and you get the sense that more Chitown hoop headlines could be in the offing ... no?

Right now the Bulls are pegged to play Brooklyn in the #4 vs. #5 playoff set in the East with the winner to get LeBron James and the Heat (62-16) ... think Miami won't have a real rooting interest in that first-round series?


MEMPHIS (53-25) - Okay, so we've been targeting this team for a while as a potential party-crasher to this year's NBA Finals - and why not?

The Grizzlies entered Friday night's game in Houston having won seven of their last 10 games overall and they own the best defense in the West while yielding a mere 89.5 points per game. Throw into the mix the fact that last year Memphis was stung in that first-round series by the Clips and you know there's extra motivation now for Lionel Hollins' club.

If star F Zach Randolph (15.3 ppg and 11.2 rpg) and the aforementioned Hollins can keep their little sideline snits to a bare minimum than Memphis could be a real dark horse team and wouldn't it be sweet stuff to get another crack at the Clippers in the first round (right now that's the #4 vs. #5 matchup in the West)?

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.



Note: The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25th and our Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage - a position-by-position look each/every day comes your way in this column space - continues here with a glance at the top Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:

CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, WR, TENNESSEE - The highest-rated pass-catcher in this year's NFL Draft is an intriguing player who spent just one year with the Volunteers after a snazzy stat-filled stay at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Patterson immediately made an impact with this SEC team with a pair of long-distance touchdown plays in the opener against N.C. State and when the dust settled on an otherwise disappointing year for the Rocky Top gang, there was the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Patterson with 1,858 all-purpose yards in all that included 46 receptions for 778 yards (16.9 ypc) and five TDs. The scuttlebutt is that Patterson needs to sharpen his pass route skills and must improve on making a few too many drops but he's a game-changer type in a pass-first NFL and could zoom into the top six or seven picks come Draft Night (note that we've seen some mock drafts having Patterson getting tabbed at #23 or #24 and to that we say no way!). If the Cleveland Browns at #6 can't land a CB it likes, than Patterson could be their man or he might wind up at #9 with the New York Jets who need everything in this draft.

TAVON AUSTIN, WR, WEST VIRGINIA - Don't automatically believe that just because he's only 5-foot-9, 175 pounds that this Mountaineers star is headed for a life as a slot receiver because some NFL teams trust his durability and strength to line 'em up out wide. In short, Austin has blazing speed (he recently ran a 4.28 in the 40) and changes direction on a proverbial dime and some folks believe he will be a better pro than the aforementioned Patterson simply because he's more apt to turn a 15-yard gain into a 50-yard pass play. Last year Austin caught a whopping 114 passes for 1,289 yards (11.3 ypc) with 12 TDs. Still, the lack of size figures to hurt a bit on Draft Night as we project he'll fall at least a handful of picks behind Patterson. Best guess right now? While just about every mock draft we've checked has Austin going to the St. Louis Rams at pick #16, he might well get plucked at pick #14 by the Carolina Panthers.

TYLER EIFERT, TE, NOTRE DAME - This 6-foot-6, 250-pounder snagged the Mackey Award a year ago after catching a team-best 50 balls with four TDs and just about every draft board has him getting nabbed somewhere in the top 25 picks and our only "complaint" about Eifert is that we believe he should be a bigger red-zone factor. The positives include great athleticism and the ability to block extremely well and keep in mind that Eifert often lined up as a wide receiver last year for Brian Kelly's BCS Championship Game runners-up and so he would be a perfect fit on a team that really stretches the field and puts four and five pass-catchers out on routes. How does #19 to the New York Giants sound to you?

ROBERT WOODS, WR, USC - No doubt that last year's 112-catch season (for 1,292 yards and 15 TDs) pushed this Southern Cal star into the upper echelon of rookie wide-outs but some folks suggest his 6-foot height could work against 'em plus needs to prove that he's past the ankle issues that often cost him bits-and-pieces of playing time the past couple of years. Still, Woods is a borderline first-round pick who could wind up filling out Round One with the 32nd overall selection with the Baltimore Ravens although we have seen some talk of him going higher to Houston at pick #27. In terms of sheer talent, Woods projects as one of this draft's top 25-or-so players but if there becomes a run on O- and D-linemen late in the first round than the Trojans star actually could get bumped into Round II.

ZACH ERTZ, TE, STANFORD - This 6-foot-5, 250-pounder sat behind current Indianapolis Colts TE Coby Fleener for a couple of years at "The Farm" but than when the full-time job became Ertz's last year he registered an eye-popping 69 receptions for 898 yards (that 13.0 yards per catch) and 6 TDs. The Alamo (CA) native decided to skip his final season at Stanford and most draft experts believe he'll be gobbled up in the early-to-mid portion of Round II. If there is something that needs work, than Ertz must not "hear footsteps" when he's going over the middle or else his only real effectiveness as a pass-catcher will come in the occasional downfield routes. Both San Francisco and Atlanta - as the heir apparent to returning TE Tony Gonzalez in the latter setting - are said to have second-round interest.

KEENAN ALLEN, WR, CALIFORNIA - Here's the third consecutive Pac-12 player on this WR/TE list and this 6-foot-2, 206-pounder may not have blazing speed but he's a top-quality pass-catcher who is more than capable of making the tough/in-traffic catches. Last year Allen snared 61 receptions while averaging 12.1 yards per grab and he scored 6 TDs while missing three games with nagging injuries. It's possible that Allen could be late first-round material should folks see these other pass-catchers get picked but Pittsburgh in Round II seems a perfect fit after the Steelers lost WR Mike Wallace (to Miami) in the free agency frenzy.

QUINTON PATTON, WR, LOUISIANA TECH - At 6-foot, 205 pounds this gifted pass-catcher may seem a bit small by NFL standards but he chewed up some "name" competition last year including a monstrous stat night against Texas A&M. Note that Patton followed up his 2011 season that featured 79 catches for 1,202 yards and 11 TDs with even bigger numbers in 2012: That's 104 receptions for 1,392 yards (13.4 ypc) and 13 scores. There's talk that Patton drops too many balls but he also is quite capable of making the acrobatic catch and he's a solid mid-to-late second round draft pick here that could really help the likes of New England or Houston.

NOTE: We continue to gear up for the NFL Draft with more position-by-position analyses plus there's NBA and MLB notes too in the coming editions of Jim Sez!

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