Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, May 28, 2012 at 1:05 PM
IT'S A JAM-PACKED HOOPS COLUMN TODAY HERE AS WE DIG INTO THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS...
PLUS A GAME 1 RE-CAP AND GAME 2 PREVIEW OF OKIE CITY VS SAN ANTONIO AS WE FIND OUT HOW THE WEST WILL BE WON...
BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES:
A MEMORIAL DAY LOOK AT THE HERE-AND-NOW DIVISION LEADERS
Hey, let's not anybody kid ourselves here:
The NBA Western Conference champions – whether they be the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder – will be expected to win it all in this year's NBA Finals but both of these teams need to show more championship mettle the rest of this Western Conference Finals set or we'll believe that team from South Beach or maybe even that "ancient" team from Boston can snag the pro hoops crown in late June.
The reason we raise our eyebrows at both the Thunder and the Spurs following Sunday night's 101-98 non-cover win by top-seeded San Antonio is because 5 ½-point underdog Okie City showed zero patience at the start of the fourth quarter (a final frame that the Spurs won 39-27) with both point guard Russell Westbrook andSixth Man Award winner James Harden all too often going recklessly to the rim and either committing charging fouls or turning the ball over while San Ant was a mistake-filled squad in the first half – we couldn't believe the 14 turnovers before intermission for Gregg Popovich's club – and was ripe to be had here in this series opener until this mad rush in the last 12 minutes of play.
Sure, TNT announcers Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller raved on-and-on late about what a great game it was but the reality of the situation is the Spurs were all-too-ready to hand over Game 1 to Oklahoma City in the first half and thanthe Thunder – still a touch immature, if you ask us – rolled over and played dead for the first 10-or-so minutes in the fourth quarter.
No doubt we'll be hearing all about "adjustments" while heading into Tuesday night's Game 2 in the Alamo City but the fact remains the Thunder must "handle prosperity" better the rest of the way while the Spurs need to hit a few more triples after going just 8-of-24 from beyond the three-point arc in Game 1 – here's a wake-up call to Danny Green (0-for-6 FGs including 0-of-5 from trey-land)!
Catch our Thunder-Spurs Game 2 Preview below but first, it's ...
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS –
#4 BOSTON at #2 MIAMI – Game 1 is tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET
Perhaps you spotted the up-to-the-minute Las Vegas series price on this grudge match showdown:
The Miami Heat – who own the home-court advantage and the extra rest time while heading into this Game 1 bash in the Sunshine State – are a minus 550 to a $100 play (you get back + 400 with Boston) and so, in layman's terms, this is not supposed to be a real competitive series.
In short, all the heat's on the Heat here and that may bring about some interesting situations:
Miami – off since last Thursday's series-clinching win against the Indiana Pacers – still don't know what forward Chris Bosh can give 'em in this series (if anything at all!) but we've all have a major about-face when it comes to Miami guard Dwyane Wade who staggered his way through a few playoff games before stepping on the gas pedal in that must-win Game 4 tilt at Indiana and then he poured in 41 points in the clincher – and who among you realized that Wade is averaging a haughty 23.8 points per game through his 11 post-season tilts?
If Wade is at or near this per-game numbers against the C's – and if MVP LeBron James (averaging 29.0 ppg this post-season) – keeps hitting all the big buckets than this could be your basic "Heat in 5" series scenario but that may be asking a lot against a Boston team that plays defense all the time.
Note the Celtics have allowed just 83.9 ppg in this post-season versus Atlanta (in six games) and Philadelphia (in seven games) and holding the Heat to the low-to-mid 80s here could have Doc Rivers' squad hanging 'round in each/every every game. P.S., the Heat has been installed as a solid 8-point betting favorite for Game 1.
One note on Boston:
The quick turnaround here for Game 1 can't be very good for 'em and their veteran/old legs but PG Rajon Rondo (18 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists in last Saturday's 85-75 win/cover against the 5½ -point underdog 76ers) has plenty left in his tank and he'll handle the ball for most of this game but a word of caution to his mates:
Fellas, those 3-balls have to go down or it's lights out. Note the Celtics nailed just 3-of-17 shots from three-land in Game 7 against Philly and we thought they'd never connect on one of those bombs after starting off a dreadfully bad 0-for-13 from deep.
Here's how the four Celtics-Heat regular-season games went in the 2011-12 campaign (note that all home teams are in CAPS):
DATE FAV SPREAD DOG RESULT
12-27 MIAMI - 9½ Boston MIAMI 115-107
4-1 Miami - 3½ BOSTON BOSTON 91-72
4-10 MIAMI - 7½ Boston Boston 115-107
4-24 BOSTON - 7 Miami BOSTON 78-66
That's no typo: The Celtics covered all four head-to-head games with the Heat in regular-season play including a pair of upset wins.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS –
#2 OKLAHOMA CITY vs. #1 SAN ANTONIO – Spurs lead series 1-0
Game 2 is Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET
Anyone and everyone that had the Thunder plus the 5 or 5½ points in Game 1 is bowing down to the aforementioned Harden for drilling that last-second triple but guess what?
It's that other lefty shooter in this series that was the star-of-stars the other night as San Antonio's Manu Ginobili (team-high 26 points in 34 minutes of action) initially kept the Spurs in the game with a wickedly good first half and than a fourth quarter for the ages as Ginobili poured in 11 points in the final frame and scorched a tired Oklahoma City crew.
If Ginobili isn't sent on his rump a time or two here in his slashing/driving moves to the hoop, than shame on Scott Brooks' club who did plenty of things right in Game 1 including 9 blocked shots and some fierce in-the-paint defense against San Antonio's Tim Duncan (just 6-of-15 FG shooting for 16 points).
Much was made following this Spurs win about how sloppy San Ant was in that first 24 minutes but how about the fact – as pointed out by a sweaty Ginobili right after this game – that the Spurs only committed two second-half turnovers and consider that PG Tony Parker was far from his very best here with just 6-of-15 FG shooting for 18 points to go along with 6 assists and 4 turnovers?
Parker can be counted on to come out of the Game 2 starting gates quickly and Duncan should get plenty of touches as he tries to get into the swing of things here but whether or not the Thunder "get even" in Game 2 likely depends on Westbrook, Harden and Kevin Durant (the latter had 27 of this trio's 63 points) playing with more poise and more coolness here – guys, what's the rush in getting the ball up on the backboard anyway?
Let's figure that Thunder reserve guard Derek Fisher isn't again gonna drain 6-of-8 FGs (for 13 points) in Game 2 as the Spurs had better get out on him in a hurry and so someone else is going to have to help Durant here – tell us right now that Westbrook is going to miss 14-of-21 FG tries and we'll tell you there's a 90 percent chance the Spurs will lead this series two games-to-love by midnight!
Here's how the Thunder-Spurs best-of-seven NBA Western Conference Finals series has gone so far:
DATE FAV SPREAD DOG RESULT
5-27 SAN ANTONIO - 5½ Oklahoma City SAN ANTONIO 101-98
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BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES:
QUICK-HITTER LINES ON ALL THE DIVISION LEADERS
We've now passed the "quarter pole" on this here-and-now Major-League Baseball season and so let's get you our quickie thoughts on the six division leaders:
In the National League, it's ...
EAST -- WASHINGTON (29-18)
The Nationals have a boatload of high-quality starting pitchers but who thought that LHP Gio Gonzalez might right now be the leading candidate to start this summer's All-Star Game?
CENTRAL -- CINCINNATI (27-20)
The Reds have won eight of their last 10 games and 1B Joey Votto (7 home runs) may just be getting ready to heat up.
WEST -- LOS ANGELES DODGERS (32-15)
Baseball's best team so far is an amazing 21-5 at home and yet 2011 should-have-been MVP Matt Kemp has missed nearly one-third of his team's games.
In the American League ...
EAST – (tied) BALTIMORE (29-19) and TAMPA BAY (29-19)
The Orioles just locked up their numero uno star OF Adam Jones for the next handful of years (cha-ching!) while the Rays keep rockin' with 3B and mega-star Evan Longoria still on the shelf. Hmmm.
CENTRAL – CLEVELAND (26-21)
Lots of storylines to follow with this year's Tribe bunch but fiery closer Chris Perez (16-of-17 in save opportunities) has some Cy Young feel to 'em these days.
WEST – TEXAS (30-18)
The Rangers sure can bash the baseball as they scored 34 runs this past three-game set against Toronto but how's this for a stat line: Texas already has eight different players with 20-or-more runs scored this season and right now they're on a pace to hit 236 home runs. Va-va-va-voom!
NOTE: Get NBA and MLB News & Notes in all of this week's Jim Sez columns plus keep an eye on NFL News/Notes in the coming days soon!