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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 1:31 PM



It's one of our favorite all-time quotes used in a sports setting and it goes back two-plus decades to when then-Houston Rockets' head coach Rudy Tomjanovich stated, "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion".

Ole' "Rudy T" was getting emotional right after his Rockets had just wrapped up their second consecutive NBA crown with a clean sweep of the Orlando Magic (remember?) and now fast forward to this past Tuesday night when LeBron James - a three-time champion himself - and his Cleveland Cavaliers were trailing by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter (after once being down 14 points in the first half) and yet showing "heart of a champion" traits en route to their 113-112 overtime win in Toronto in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series. Okay, so James - who still showed fatigue signs from that opening-round seven-game series win against Indiana - admitted afterwards that he wasn't "at (his) best" even though he finished with a heady stat line of 26 points / 11 rebounds / 13 assists.

The bottom line is James - who finished just 12-of-30 from the floor against the Raptors - bagged two big field goals in the game's final 1:32 of regulation and then sharpshooters Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith drained important OT shots and suddenly it's the favored Raptors (- 210 for the series) that's in hot water while heading into Thursday's Game 2 tilt North of the Border.
Toronto was a 7-point favorite in Game 1 - and the money was all Raptors in the immediate hours before tip - and now here for this 6:05 p.m. Eastern time start in Game 2 it's duly noted that the Canadian club is a 6.5-point betting choice. Hmmm.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers continue to rock with NBA Playoff and MLB winners, so make sure you cash in big right here online or at 1-800-323-4453.

In Thursday's other Eastern Conference semifinal bash, the (once-again) home underdog Boston Celtics (+ 3.5) look to go up two games-to-love here against a Philadelphia 76ers' squad that shot just 35-of-83 from the floor (42 percent) in that never-in-doubt 117-101 loss in Game 1 at the TD Garden. True, the Sixers had built up some rust after eliminating the overmatched Miami Heat in five games (while the Celtics were going the distance in a series win against Milwaukee) but it's worth noting that three players were -20 or worse in the oft-overlooked plus/minus category in Game 1 and that included Ben Simmons who heard it from the crowd ... "Not a rookie, not a rookie" and really didn't respond while missing five free throws and playing shaky defense.

If the 76ers - a pre-series -400 betting favorite and a 3.5-point fav here in Game 2 at 8:35 p.m. ET - are gonna get back on the right track here than Simmons must do better than get 6 assists / 7 turnovers and the Philly bench must answer Boston's reserves as both Marcus Morris (11 points and 5 rebounds in 27 action-packed minutes) and PG Shane Larkin (5 points, 4 assists and a +10) gave Boston head coach Brad Stevens some great minutes - now let's see if either/both Game 2 favorites can "get even" in this series.


Sorry, but we're not gonna bore you with talk about "luxury tax" and the like as we roll through a batch of potential trades here: The fact is there are a load of "Have-Not" teams in Major-League Baseball this year and most of 'em have star players that figure to be on the move.

So, here's what we could see - and see it way earlier than the July 31st Trade Deadline - what with the "Have-Nots" knowing they can max out the value sooner rather than later based on the notion that a slew of teams is desperate and very much in the market for a jolt of energy.

Add it all up and here's what we could see in the next two or three weeks ...

Okay, so the likes of the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers have staggered out of the 2018 starting gate - both of these National League teams were projected win 95-or-more games this year and win their respective divisions - but instead it's been veritable train wrecks for both sides and here's what they may thinking in terms of the trade front:

Washington (14-16) - The Nationals know that RF Bryce Harper could well be gonesville via free agency at the conclusion of '18 and so now-or-never time for this NL East squad that figures to be interested in Kansas City OF Alex Gordon and/or Texas Rangers' OF Delino DeShields and maybe even former Philadelphia LHP Cole Hamels. No, we don't expect the Nats to swing any deals with their "neighbors" from Baltimore although there will be inquiries regarding reliever RHP Brad Brach.

Los Angeles Dodgers (12-17) - Earlier this week we were among the first to make the Baltimore SS Manny Machado-to-the-Dodgers connection but it doesn't sound as if that will fly even though LA is expected to be without SS Crey Seager (Tommy John surgery) for the remainder of the season. Instead, the Dodgers could be turning their shortstop interests to another "Have-Not" team as aforementioned Kansas City could be moving on from SS Alcides Escobar (hitting just .216 at press time with a weak .281 on-base percentage). Still, there's more: The Dodgers know they need to add to a pitching staff that currently ranks 10th in the league (what!) and so expect overtures to the likes of lefty Hamels (Texas) and Baltimore RHP Kevin Gausman (2-2 with 30 Ks and just 10 walks in six starts this year).

Other players from "Have-Not" teams that could get dealt include Cincinnati Reds' 2B Scooter Gennett (team-best .409 slugging) and San Diego closer LHP Brad Hand.
NOTE: Catch more NBA Playoff and MLB action in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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