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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM


The NBA Playoffs will take a one-night “break in the action” here on this Thursday evening — it’s the first night off since the post-season started back on Saturday, April 18 — but let’s review what happened in last night’s Game 2 tilts from Cleveland and Houston:

HOUSTON 115, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS 109 — Series tied 1-1
It sure was looking as if the two-game absence of Clippers point guard Chris Paul (hamstring) wasn’t gonna hold Doc Rivers’ team down as the Clips built up a 65-56 halftime lead here but a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line: The Rockets paraded to the free-throw line for much of the second half — heck, the Rockets actually connected on 42-of-64 FTs for the game — and so this best-of-seven set is even/steven at a game apiece but check out these observations:

First off, this was a winnable game late for the Clips but for some reason the aforementioned Rivers had free-throw-challenged C DeAndre Jordan on the bench for some key defensive situations and that made it easier for Houston’s James Harden (he scored 16 his 32 points in the fourth quarter) to barrel his way to the rim without any repercussions … if it was offense/defense that Rivers was shooting for late then why not pop Jordan in on “D”?;

Secondly, there’s no question that Clippers star Blake Griffin — who scored 26 of his game-high 34 points after intermission — wore down in the latter stages of this game plus the entire LA offense starting to stagnate (we recognized that before TNT’s Charles Barkley ever said that in the post-game report) and ball movement was atrocious in the final five or six minutes here.

The bottom line is the Clippers played hungry for three-plus quarters — they already had their “split” while entering Game 2 — while the desperate Rockets didn’t always play with a pep in their step. Okay, so Houston head coach Kevin McHale praised the team’s 15 offensive rebounds but from what we’ve seen there’s a whole lot not to like about the Rockets in this here-and-now series.

They’ve got till Friday night to straighten out matters — and maybe Dwight Howard can spend a few moments practicing his free throws (see 8-of-21 from the line as Rivers has turned the Hack-A-Insert-the-Name into his advantage this series.
Keep in mind the Clippers covered both Game 1 and Game 2 on the road without the aforementioned Paul.

CLEVELAND 106, CHICAGO 91 — Series tied 1-1
Let’s be frank … just about anyone that’s watched the brilliant career of LeBron James knew this was gonna be a “set-the-tone” effort by the four-time league MVP and headband-and-all there was “The King” slamming down any/all hopes that the Chicago Bulls had of going back home with a commanding two games-to-none series lead.

Loved the fact that James got to the “Q” three hours before tipoff — guess he wanted to make sure his headband fit (worn for the first time since early March) and it didn’t take long for the Cavaliers to snag a 22-point first-quarter lead en route to a 38-18 lead after the opening frame as James registered a final stat line of 33 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Bulls?

Well, they got the split they were after in these two games in Cleveland but can someone tell us why stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler — a combined 11-of-34 from the field for a combined 32 points -- insisted on firing away on a night neither one of ‘em “had it” and so now the $64,000 question is can the Bulls rebound in Friday’s Game 3 with Rose shooting 6-of-20 from the floor and Butler going 5-of-14 from the field?
We think you know the answer to that one!

It’s been a pointspread split thus far in this best-of-seven series.

Now, here’s an up-to-date look at the NBA Playoffs Pointspread Standings (thru the games of Wednesday, May 6). Note the next time we post these standings it will include only the “still-alive” teams:

New Orleans310.750
San Antonio430.571
LA Clippers540.556
Golden St.240.333

And now hear this …
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have been bashing the books right from the start of this year’s NBA Playoffs and nothing’s gonna change here as we dig deeper and deeper into Round II.
We’ll continue to rock-n-roll our way through the NBA post-season — and so just go online right here at or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 each/every day and be sure that we’ll send you straight into the winner’s circle.

Plus, there’s Major-League Baseball on tap every day and so the time is just right to cash in big this spring!

Perhaps you tuned in to the MLB Network for the Wednesday afternoon show of “High Heat” where host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo interviewed Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
Okay, so the banter was fun stuff and all but what we took from the 10-minute-or-so spot was that Gibbons truly believes the big bats in his team’s lineup — those belonging to RF Jose Bautista and 1B Edwin Encarnacion — will come alive any day now and, obviously, that could be really good news for a Jays team that leads the major leagues in runs scored (with 150) through the games of May 5th.
Still, Bautista — who got a night off Tuesday while suffering through some shoulder woes — entered last night’s home game against CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees with only 5 home runs and 17 runs batted in through 78 at-bats and his lowly .205 batting average and .344 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage are far from what’s expected of an All-Star Game starter.
Encarnacion, meanwhile, isn’t exactly hitting to the “back of his baseball card” either these days with only 4 HR and 14 RBI through some 108 at-bats and the .222/.271/.370 slash line have some Toronto execs wondering if his bat has slowed down this year.

Gotta believe Gibbons that both Bautista and Encarnacion will heat up sooner rather than later but they are not the only big bats in the big leagues struggling to get jump-started this offensively-challenged 2015 campaign.

Here’s some other stars that have yet to hit their stride …
Pittsburgh Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen has been struggling physically with a sore left knee lately but even he said yesterday afternoon that it was “no excuse” for the sluggish start that includes a putrid .184 batting average (and note he’s just 7-for-50 with no homers in his last 13 games).

McCutchen is a stand-up guy making $10 million this season and he’s frustrated with his start and the Pirates start as they began yesterday eight full games back of the roaring-hot St/ Louis Cardinals (20-6) and don’t look now but the Buccos rank 12th in the National League in runs scored with 94 and one-time MVP McCutchen’s knocked in or scored just 25 runs in all and that means he’s “on the pace” to drive in/score about a run a game this year and that’s simply not good enough if Pittsburgh wishes to make it back to the post-season for a third straight season …

Finally, Philadelphia Phillies veteran 2B Chase Utley was out of the starting lineup for last night’s game in Atlanta, thus marking the second straight day manager Ryan Sandberg sat the slumping Utley and thereby giving him a three-day break (Phils off Thursday) before he tries to crank it back up against the New York Mets and 5-and-oh hurler Matt Harvey in Friday night’s game at Citizens Bank Park.
Utley’s numbers have been downright horrific so far this 2015 season with a slash line of .103/.182/.207 with 3 HR and 14 RBI in 87 at-bats. The quick, compact, hockey-type swing that made Utley a multi-time All-Star has been painfully inconsistent and thus the rumors fly that he’s “finished” — he may or may not be but it’s amazing that Utley has more strikeouts (14) than hits (9) this year and that from a guy who rarely struck out (see 43 Ks in 2012 and only 39 Ks in 2011).
In other MLB News & Notes …

Here’s some fun facts to chuck your way as we head towards an exciting May weekend of baseball — we’ll be playing close attention to those series between Kansas City at Detroit (following last weekend’s four-game split between these AL Central powers) and the Interleague set between Cincinnati at the Chicago White Sox to see which team — if either — is able to get a little positive momentum going after tough starts:

Washington Nationals RF Bryce Harper’s three-home run game against Miami in Wednesday afternoon’s hang-on 7-5 home win was his first three-dinger game in the bigs but did you know in his six games in which Harper’s hit two-or-more homers in a game the Marlins were the victims on three different occasions? …
Okay, so they may not yet to be mentioned in the same breath as Koufax and Drysdale or Spahn and Sain but be sure that the top of the rotation for the here-and-now Houston Astros has been wonderful so far in this ’15 campaign:

In fact, the combo of LHP Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.80) and RHP Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41 ERA) have been so good that the Astros are a resounding 10-1 in the 11 total starts made by this dynamic duo.
Maybe the best stat besides that is Keuchel’s WHIP is 0.76; McHugh’s is 1.17. Wow!

Note: Catch more NBA Playoff Previews/Recaps in the next edition of Jim Sez plus more MLB News & Notes.


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