Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 3:31 PM
THE NBA REPORT
IT'S DOWN-THE-STRETCH TIME, FOLKS WITH THE PLAYOFFS LOOMING THIS WEEKEND
PLUS IT'S OUR BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES: LADIES AND GENTS IN LAS VEGAS, WANT A "DO-OVER" ON THOSE RAMPAGING ROYALS?
You can count 'em down now, ladies and gentlemen. As we begin this new work week, there are only 29 regular-season games in all remaining on this NBA schedule (and you thought we'd never get here!) and - just as Commish Adam Silver would like it - a whole bunch of 'em come with playoff meaning whether it is playoff seeding at hand or even who fills in the final berth or two in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.
Hey, here's some of what really interests us as the NBA locks into its down-the-stretch mode with the playoffs - finally - set to get revved up beginning this Saturday/Sunday, so let the Jim Sez Q&A session officially begin:
Q: Who's gonna cop the final two playoff spots in the NBA's Eastern Conference?
A: Okay, so the once-tanking Boston Celtics (38-42) head into the week with not only a one-game lead over both Brooklyn and Indiana (both at 37-43) but with the all-important tie-breakers against both the Nets and Pacers in place, so Brad Stevens' club has to be the "betting favorite" to snag one of the two remaining berths with the sked calling for a home game Monday versus Toronto and a road game for the C's on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, the Nets - fresh off a 96-73 loss at 1-point home fav Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon - host Chicago (Monday) and Orlando (on Wednesday) while Indiana hosts Washington (Tuesday) and plays at Memphis (Wednesday).
Looks like the Nets have the advantage here but consider that Lionel Hollins' crew has not exactly been Team Consistency this year while the Pacers are roaring-hot down the stretch with a five-game winning streak at press time and seven victories in their last 10 games.
Did somebody say thanks for coming back, Paul George?
Note that Brooklyn owns the tiebreaker (two wins-to-one) against Indiana and so eighth place would go to the Nets if the records here are dead-even and thus a first-round best-of-seven set against the Atlanta Hawks.
Q: Okay, so then who snags that final playoff berth in the NBA's Western Conference?
A: New Orleans and Oklahoma City started this new week knotted up at 43-37 with the Pelicans owning the tiebreaker three wins-to-one - and New Orleans is at woeful Minnesota on Monday night and then home to surging San Antonio on Wednesday while Okie City hosts Portland on this Monday night and then wraps up regular-season play at aforementioned Minnesota.
If you expect the Timberwolves to lose both of those games to the playoff-contending Pelicans and Thunder then it's comin' down to that other tilt and gotta say advantage OKC even though PG Russell Westbrook's wild 54-point game on Sunday wasn't enough to beat 2.5-point favorite Indiana in a 114-106 pull-away-late win for the Pacers.
Still, the question is do we really know what other NBA playoff-bound teams will be "playing for" come Wednesday night - right now it looks to be an important game for the Spurs who entered this week sitting in that #2 seed (they were in seventh place just a week ago, folks) while there could be major movin'-and-shakin' in the NBA Western Conference seeding world where otherwise the only things really set was that the Dallas Mavericks are gonna finish in seventh place and the Portland Trail Blazers is a division winner and thus assured of at least the third seed in the West.
Q: Finally, could "resting" players wind up affecting the balance of power this final week of regular-season play?
A: In a word, you-betcha! Many NBA teams have been criticized for providing "rest" games for star/veteran players and so why is that gonna change now that teams are playing games #81 and #82 in this seemingly interminable regular season?
It's not and so if the likes of the Washington Wizards "rest" PG John Wall as they did last week in Brooklyn or if the locked-in Blazers sit the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and/or star PG Damian Lillard in the above-mentioned game this week against Okie City (and the former is expected to sit with a bad foot) then nobody better utter a foul word 'cause teams have been pulling this junk all season long.
Okay, so nobody's asking but if we had our proverbial druthers than we'd like to see Western Conference first-round series between Portland versus Houston (last year's six-game set won by the T-Blazers was epic stuff) and we'd like to see an Eastern Conference first-round series pitting Atlanta versus Indiana simply because the Pacers are on a major run and could be just the team mighty Atlanta doesn't want to see here.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers/Bloggers are hitting their stride these days in pro hoops and we'll be cashing in big with the NBA and also with Major-League Baseball each and every day this month. Just go online right here, or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 and we'll send you straight into the winner's circle. Remember: The NBA Playoffs begins Saturday - so make sure you sign up now for all the winning action!
THE BASEBALL UPDATE
We kid you not: The Kansas City Royals - the defending American League champions and one of the real great stories in the 2014 Major-League Baseball season - entered this here-and-now campaign expected to win fewer games than AL Central rivals Detroit, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox as the "experts" posted an over/under wins total on KayCee of just 80.5.
Umm, did you want that "do-over," Las Vegas?
Yes, gotta admit that we agreed with MLB Network chatterbox Chris "Mad Dog" Russo who - to his undying credit - claimed he thought that wins total was "too low" as we felt Ned Yost's club likely was good enough to win between 85-to-88 games but don't look now as the Royals are on a pace to actually finish 162-and-oh! Ha-ha.
The Royals exited the weekend with an uber-spiffy 6-0 record - only those aforementioned Tigers (also 6-0) could match that mark - and keep in mind Kansas City swept both the visiting White Sox and the host Los Angeles Angels by a combined score of 40-15 - you read that right, 40-15!
Among the pinch-yourself-if-you're-a-Royals-fan items are these factoids:
New starting pitcher RHP Yordano Ventura picked up his second straight win as his rocking-chair 9-2 triumph in Anaheim on Sunday afternoon featured 7 strikeouts in 5.2 innings and Ventura - one of KC's integral cogs in the bullpen last season - bounced back nicely from his Opening Day start against the Pale Hose when a cramp in his pitching thumb forced him to leave the game that the Royals won 10-1;
Then there's the plain-and-simple truth that these Royals have been hitting great in the clutch - Sunday's offensive heroes included the likes of leadoff hitter/shortstop Alcides Escobar and RF Alex Rios who each whacked two-run doubles in the series-sweeping win and those dudes now are hitting .375 and .360, respectively, with 10 RBI between 'em;
And let's give a shout-out to iron-man C Salvador Perez who has bounded out of the 2015 starting gate like it's nobody's business with a robust .417 batting average (and a .440 on-base percentage) with three home runs and eight ribbies and let's not forget Perez's guidance as a backstop as this pitching staff continues to shine even though there's been major re-jiggering including no more RHP James Shields - remember him? -- and, obviously, no more Ventura in the bullpen.
And this just in: Kansas City's defense was one of the truly marvelous aspects of last year's team as the Royals caught everything (and we mean everything) with some great Gold Glove work in the outfield and some dynamite "D" on the infield and behind the plate - so it shouldn't come as any great surprise that a rare error by CF Lorenzo Cain on Sunday marked the Royals' first "E" of the year ... really!
Want to see exactly what the Royals have earned their "financial backers" through the first full week of this 2015 season ... here's the rundown and we'll base all games on $100 plays (home teams in CAPS below):
|4-6||ROYALS||- 120||White Sox||10-1|
|4-8||ROYALS||- 108||White Sox||7-5|
|4-9||ROYALS||- 133||White Sox||4-1|
So, through KC's first six games this year a pro-Royals wager every game would already have netted you a cool sum of $645 - not bad for a team that wasn't expected to play .500 ball this year, right?
Next up, a three-game set at offensively-challenged Minnesota - did anyone say 9-and-oh!
Okay, so the Royals will be forced to lay some prices here at Target Field but - right now - is there anyone that can stand in KC's path ... no less a Twins team that's scored 13 runs in six games thus far.
NOTE: Catch more NBA News/Notes/Previews plus there's MLB Updates and our NFL Draft Reports in the next edition of Jim Sez.