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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM



By Jim Hurley

Dig this, NBA fans:

There are 13 games on this Friday night calendar and all of ‘em but one — that’s Cleveland at Milwaukee — has some sort of playoff implication and how do you beat that with now less than a full week remaining in this 2013-14 regular season … you don’t!

So, without further ado let’s dribble-drive our way through a half-dozen games this evening with playoff meaning …

WASHINGTON (40-38) at ORLANDO (23-55) — The Wizards don’t exactly seem hell-bent on landing that coveted #6 seed (and thus avoiding a first-round playoff series with either Miami or Indiana) as Randy Wittman’s club has dropped back-to-back home games to Chicago and Charlotte this past week. Even PG John Wall’s triple-double (that’s 14 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists) weren’t enough to beat the Hornets in OT the other night when Washington roared back from a 20-point first-half deficit and still lost in bonus time. Watch for key reserve Nene (10 points in 17 minutes versus Charlotte) to be a key figure here tonight.

NEW YORK (33-45) at TORONTO (46-32) — The Knicks enter tonight’s tilt two full games back of Atlanta for that eighth seed in the East, but Carmelo Anthony’s hurting (shoulder) and the likes of C Tyson Chandler and G J.R. Smith give Mike Woodson’s troubled team zero defense these days. On the flip side, the Raptors — locked in a dead-even draw right now with Chicago for that #3 seed — are streaking towards the finish line on a current four-game winning streak and playmaking G Kyle Lowry just made his return from a three-game knee-related absence to pour in 29 points in Wednesday’s 125-114 non-cover win against 13 ½-point underdog Philadelphia … hey, weren’t the Knicks supposed to have a deal for him about mid-season?

INDIANA (54-25) at MIAMI (53-25) — The headline game of the night is this fight for first place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference but, then again, neither team seems to be making it a top priority to finish with the numero uno seed as the Pacers “rested” their entire starting five in Wednesday’s last-second 104-102 win at 2-point pup Milwaukee while the Heat’s coming off back-to-back losses to Brooklyn and Memphis, and the two-time defending champs don’t appear to be in a major rush to get G Dwyane Wade (hamstring) back on the floor. Hey, Wade’s not the only dude hurting for Miami these days as key reserve C/F Chris “Birdman” Andersen has knee/back issues and F Udonis Haslem has been ill. Expect a key to this game to be whether Indy coach Frank Vogel throws an array of defenders at LeBron James who is beginning to look frustrated lately.

ATLANTA (35-43) at BROOKLYN (43-35) — Don’t look now, but the Nets have not lost inside the cozy confines of the Barclays Center since Jan. 31st (that’s 15 home wins in a row) and the arrow remains pointed up for a team that can get anyone hot as Joe Johnson’s 31 points may not have been enough to turn back host Orlando two nights ago, but check out the fact Brooklyn’s got three players averaging between 13.5-to-16 ppg (that’s Johnson, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams) and it all appears to be too much for a Hawks team that, truthfully, can’t decide if it wants “in” or “out” of this year’s post-season.

PHOENIX (47-31) at SAN ANTONIO (60-18) — The Suns enter the evening with a slim one-game lead over Memphis for that eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference, but how about the fact Jeff Hornacek’s squad has won three in a row and eight of its last 10 games? No doubt Phoenix is playing its best ball of the year right now, but winning in the Alamo City ain’t gonna be easy even if the Spurs have a virtual lock on the #1 seed. If the Suns shine here than star-to-be guard Gerald Green (team-best 21 points in the 94-88 win at New Orleans on Wednesday night) must hit some big triples when called upon. P.S., note Phoenix is in Dallas on Saturday night and home to Memphis on Monday … no time to cool down now, gang!

GOLDEN STATE (48-29) at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (25-53) — This sure seems to be a walk-in-the-park game for the Warriors, who entered last night’s home game against Denver a full game ahead of Dallas for the #6 seed in the West. The Warriors remain short-handed these days with board-banger David Lee (right hamstring problems) out for the foreseeable future, but Andrew Bogut did snag 11 rebounds last Sunday’s drubbing of Utah and he’ll either key the fast break for Mark Jackson’s club with an array of outlet passes … or else G-State may be really in a dogfight to win this game against the beleaguered Lakers … and we’ve seen enough of coach Mike D’Antoni’s sideline faces already!

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Remember: The NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, April 19th.

Okay, so it’s exactly as if any media folks described the modern-day version of the Cincinnati Reds as this era’s “Big Red Machine”, but did you happen to notice that heading into this weekend’s Interleague series against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays that Cincy’s averaging a meager three runs a game?

Cincinnati’s rotten 3-6 start has first-year manager Bryan Price’s club right there in the basement of the National League Central, and optimists out there will be quick to tell you that things automatically will get better in a few weeks when flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman returns from his scary spring training head injury but it’s all not on the current bullpen.

The aforementioned bats have been deadly silent — note that in Cincy’s first nine games it’s scored 0, 1, 6, 3, 3, 2, 3, 5 and 4 runs while losing two-of-three against St. Louis, losing two-of-three at the New York Mets and then dropping two-of-three in St. Looie — not a real good pattern so far, right?

The Reds rank 26th in the bigs in runs scored with 27 overall runs, 21st in batting average at .234 and 23rd in on-base percentage at .298 — worse yet, 1B Joey Votto is hitting just .250 (8-of-32) with one RBI thus far and really looking lost, and our Jim Sez preseason MVP choice RF Jay Bruce is hitting a tepid .188 (that’s 6-of-32) and he’s already struck out nine times.

The stats on the back of the respective baseball cards of both Votto and Bruce suggest things will turn in their favor sooner than later, but might the free-agent departure of Shin-Soo Choo to Texas had a damning effect on the rest of this Reds’ lineup? We keep hearing about base-stealing threat Billy Hamilton, but so far he has only a .250 on-base percentage.

Maybe the Reds won’t get healthy this weekend against a standout Tampa Bay pitching staff but you have to wonder if — perhaps — the NL Central club will be quick to deal in another month or so for an extra bat (and preferably one that lead off with some pop). Hey, wonder what Dusty Baker is thinking about these days?

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As we said yesterday, “March Madness” rudely interrupted our Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage for the better part of the past three-plus weeks, but we’re back and one day after getting you up to snuff with the best incoming crop of Cornerbacks, we’ll let you know who’s being watched closely at the Safety position:

HASEAN CLINTON-DIX, FS, Alabama — Better known as “Ha-Ha” during his stellar career with the Crimson Tide, this 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has great ball skills, keen awareness and a general sense of how to play the game right but he’s not without faults as his numbers dropped last year and he was suspended for two late-season games. Still, odds are he’s a top 15 pick in this May 8th NFL Draft, and could zoom up even higher on some boards with Detroit or Tennessee (at picks 10 and 11) maybe looking a spot or two down for someone that really wants Clinton-Dix and thereby snag an extra pick … St. Louis could be that team but may think it won’t get ‘em at #13.

CALVIN PRYOR, FS, Louisville — This 5-foot-11, 208-pounder is right there in the mix of top 15 picks according to all the draftniks out there, and why not? Pryor sports great closing speed and he loves contact and if there’s any fear about the way this former U of L Cardinals star played it’s that he may be flagged in NFL-land for some excessively-violent hits. If you scan the first-round draft board you could make a nice match with Pryor and the Chicago Bears at pick #14. Just sayin’!

JIMMIE WARD, SS, Northern Illinois — The NFL folks love his ability to cover the slot receivers and he was among college football’s most elite cover guys in this role last year while he vied for the Jim Thorpe Award. Note that the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Ward is great at taking the proper angle to pass-catchers and he doesn’t back down from bigger/stronger foes. Look for him to go somewhere late in Round II or very early in Round III.

TERRENCE BROOKS, FS, Florida State — Here’s another likely late second-rounder/early third-rounder who sports nearly the identical height/weight as Ward even though they play different safety positions. Brooks has long arms/good balance but he’s shown bad hands in college while dropping a slew of potential INTs. It doesn’t hurt that he comes off a national championship season, you know.

Note: More NFL Draft coverage goodies plus NBA and MLB Updates in the next few editions of Jim Sez.

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