Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, June 2, 2014 at 9:30 AM
THE NBA FINALS:
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, AS SPURS-HEAT COLLIDE FOR
THE SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND …
PLUS OUR BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES:
WE RANK THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT STARTING PITCHERS (SO FAR) IN THIS 2014 SEASON
By Jim Hurley
Okay, so just how uncommon is it to have teams playing one another in the NBA Finals in back-to-back years?
Well, we dug out our dust-covered research books—okay, we Googled it!—and discovered the following:
When the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs square off come Thursday night to begin this year’s NBA Finals, it will mark the 11th time overall and the first time since 1997 and ’98 when the same teams spared for the title.
The Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls won both of those spring-time showdowns against the Utah Jazz, remember—but dig a little bit deeper and you’ll see the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons bucked heads for the crown in back-to-back NBA Finals in 1988 and ’89 (the Lakers won in ’88; the Pistons swept ‘em in ’89).
It also happened in 1984 and ’85 with the Lakers and Boston Celtics splitting those titles; in 1978 and ’79 with the Seattle SuperSonics and then-Washington Bullets splitting titles; it happened in 1972 and ’73 with the Lakers and New York Knicks each nabbing a title apiece back then; and it happened three different times with the Lakers and Celtics in the 1960s with the “C’s” winning all six of those playoff series; and twice in the 1950s with the St. Louis Hawks splitting with the Celtics in 1957 and ’58 and the Minneapolis Lakers besting the Knicks in both 1952 and ’53.
So, it’s rare enough in a hoops league that first began play way back in 1950 but—let’s face it—it’s darn appropriate that we’ve got two of the real goliaths as the Spurs already have piled up four crowns since the strike-shortened 1999 season while the Heat’s gunning for a third straight crown and remember that pre-LeBron James championship back in 2006 when Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and mates stunned the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
In an NBA post-season that sported five different Game 7 tilts in Round I, we haven’t had a Game 7 since, and so maybe this one’s gonna produce another barnburner series as was the case a year ago when San Ant sure-as-shinola looked to be ready to nab a fifth NBA Finals title (the Spurs also won in 2003, ’05 and ’07 versus New Jersey, Detroit and Cleveland, respectively) before they blew it with Miami copping Game 6 by a 103-100 score in overtime—yes, maybe Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich’s worst-ever NBA game -- and then came the Heat’s 95-88 triumph in Game 7.
How will this one turn out?
Well, we’ll dissect the NBA Finals with an in-depth preview in Wednesday’s edition of "Jim Sez", and we’ll have heavy-duty coverage of this best-of-seven set each/every day here in this column space and—remember—this is no longer a 2-3-2 series in terms of home court as we’re going 2-2-1-1-1 should this go the distance.
Meanwhile, let’s take a few moments to turn back the clock and look at how San Antonio surged into these NBA Finals.
This past Saturday night, it was …
NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS—
SAN ANTONIO 112, OKLAHOMA CITY 107 (ot)—Spurs win series 4-2
Forgive us for patting ourselves on the back, but in our Game 6 Jim Sez Preview we offered up the line that read something like this:
One of the (Spurs) supporting players (we called ‘em an X-factor) must come through here whether it be Boris Diaw or Patty Mills and then San Antonio will be staring at a second straight trip to the Finals:
Okay, so the veteran Diaw was absolutely brilliant with his 26 points on 8-of-14 field-goal shooting off the pine, but even we would have raised eyebrows over San Ant prevailing here without star G Tony Parker playing a single minute following the halftime break.
Parker’s balky ankle—which figures to be Topic A upon entering this week’s NBA Finals—didn’t allow him to get on the court after 19 generally ineffectual first-half minutes but Diaw was a monster and how about the fact San Antonio managed to win Game 6 while shooting a yucky 38-of-94 from the floor (that’s just 40.4 percent) and who knew that coach “Pops” could get his club into the winning column on a night when the Oklahoma City tag team of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went off for a combined 65 points?
The Thunder roared back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to force the OT session but—among the game’s biggest plays—Tim Duncan banked home an off-balance jump shot with 20 seconds left in OT to give the Spurs a 110-107 lead and the still-underrated Kawhi Leonard blocked a Reggie Jackson shot with 45 seconds left in the OT session while San Antonio then was holding a one-point lead.
If the Thunder wishes to kick itself here, then it can point to the bench (a nothing game save for some valuable late-game minutes by savvy G Derek Fisher) and those 19 turnovers were a killer too with Durant and Westbrook (7 turnovers apiece) especially careless while the Spurs built up their third-quarter lead.
Here’s the Thunder-Spurs series in game-by-game chart form (and note that all home teams are in CAPS below):
|5-19||SAN ANTONIO||- 6||Okla City||122-105|
|5-21||SAN ANTONIO||- 5||Okla City||112-77|
|5-25||OKLA CITY||- 2½||San Antonio||106-97|
|5-27||OKLA CITY||- 2||San Antonio||105-92|
|5-29||SAN ANTONIO||- 5||Okla City||117-89|
|5-31||San Antonio||+ 3½||OKLA CITY||112-107 (ot)|
NBA PLAYOFF POINT-SPREAD CHART
Here’s our complete NBA Playoff Pointspread Team-by-Team Breakdown Chart while heading into the NBA Finals:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will rake in the profits in this year’s NBA Finals as we roll on big-time in this post-season—hope you’ve been with us right from the very start, folks!
Go online right here at www.vegassportsmasters.com or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155 each/every day of these NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs and remember to cash in too with all the Major-League Baseball winners!
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THE BASEBALL REPORT
It’s easy to flick onto the stats page of your favorite web site or even do the old-fashioned thing and peruse the daily box scores to discover who’s been having a marvelous year on the mound, but we’re here today to rank the three most important starting pitchers following the first two months of play, so here goes …
MASAHIRO TANAKA, RHP, NEW YORK YANKEES—Can you possibly imagine where this year’s broken-down and battered Yankees would be without this Japanese import?
Tanaka (8-1, 2.06 ERA) earned his latest win this past Saturday with a 3-1 triumph over pesky Minnesota, and keep in mind Tanaka now has made 11 consecutive “quality starts” for Joe Girardi’s club and this one was an eight-inning effort where he allowed one unearned run on four hits with nine strikeouts to boot.
The numbers on Tanaka—that’s 88 Ks and just 12 BBs—are incredible but here’s the Yanks without three-fifths of its supposed starting rotation (no C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda) for most of this current campaign and yet the Bombers are 29-26 and just 3 1/2 games back of sizzling-hot Toronto while heading into the new work week.
TIM HUDSON, RHP, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS—Okay, so we’ve sung the praises of this 38-year-old before in this "Jim Sez" column space, but consider that “Huddy” is now 6-2 with a masterful 1.75 following Sunday’s 8-0 win against the defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Hudson struck out six and walked two while going seven scoreless innings in that win at Busch Stadium, and so in a year when San Fran starter Matt Cain has but one win and former All-Stars Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum have combined for seven wins in 22 starts, here’s Hudson saving the day for a Giants team that is 37-20 and making it a runaway in the NL West.
Better yet … you could have had Hudson plus the price (+125 or so) in Sunday’s game in St. Loo, and how many times do you get a shot to cash in with a team ace and take a price to boot?
YU DARVISH, RHP, TEXAS RANGERS—Make no mistake about it:
The Rangers have been pitching-strapped since the start of this current campaign, but credit Darvish for giving Ron Washington’s squad a sturdy outing each/every time he takes to the mound.
In Sunday’s 2-0 win in Washington, there was Darvish (5-2, 2.08 ERA) silencing the Bryce Harper-less Nationals lineup with 12 Ks, 2 BBs and just five hits allowed over the span of eight innings and—like fellow countryman Tanaka with the Yankees—the question arises where would this AL West crew be without this ultra-valuable arm?
The Rangers (29-28) are hanging in gamely for one of the wild card spots and how about the fact that Texas has won eight of Darvish’s 10 starts this year … and the Rangers are therefore 21-26 in all other games not started by Mr. Darvish. ‘Nuff said!
Note: Catch our NBA Finals Preview in the next edition of "Jim Sez".