Saturday's NBA Playoff Previews - NFL Draft: Quarterbacks

THE 2010 NBA PLAYOFFS ARE HERE - AND IT ALL GETS STARTED WITH OUR INSIDE LOOK AT THE FIRST-ROUND SERIES THAT WILL TIP OFF SATURDAY ...

EXTRA, EXTRA: MORE NFL DRAFT NEWS AS WE EXAMINE THE TOP QBs

By Jim Hurley

Gentlemen ... start your engines!

Nope, this isn't the Indy 500 but there's gonna be some real high-speed action in the next couple of months now that the 2010 NBA Playoffs have finally arrived - and there are plenty of storylines on tap in opening-round play alone:

There's the Los Angeles Lakers looking to begin their quest to repeat as NBA champs and bucking heads with the league's scoring leader Kevin Durant;

There's the whole LeBron James Saga to follow - will he or won't he lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever NBA title? The Cavs tip off all the post-season madness with their first-round series against the Chicago Bulls and we'll see just how quickly Cleveland can dispatch with the Bulls (or will this be a first-round shocker)?

And then there's plenty of juicy playoff subplots including:

Are the Dallas Mavericks ready/willing/able to win it all after making the league's biggest pre-Deadline deal?

Are the Denver Nuggets focused enough to get into this year's NBA Finals with or without their ailing head coach George Karl?

And what's left in the tank for the aging Boston Celtics - will they be first-round fodder for the Miami Heat or can the 2008 champs get a nice, long post-season run going here?

There's a lot to digest - plus this is our NFL Draft column that deals with the top-flight QBs - and so now hear this important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA and Major-League Baseball Winners each and every day when you either call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or when you go online right here: The check-in times are after 11 a.m. ET for weekday afternoon Baseball; after 1 p.m. ET for all weeknight NBA Playoffs and MLB games; and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.

Editor's Note: The NBA Playoffs swing into action Saturday afternoon and make sure you're all signed up for the whole hoops post-season with our NBA PLAYOFF PACKAGE. Get in touch with Jim or one of his service representatives today!

Now, here's the up-to-the-minute "Odds to Win it All" for this year's NBA Championship (note all figures below are based on $100 per-play wagers):

TEAM

ODDS TO WIN IT ALL

Cleveland

+ 100

LA Lakers

+ 140

Orlando

+ 375

Boston

+ 1000

Denver

+ 1000

Atlanta

+ 1200

Dallas

+ 1200

Phoenix

+ 1200

San Antonio

+ 1200

Utah

+ 1200

Oklahoma City

+ 1350

Portland

+ 2600

Charlotte

+ 4000

Miami

+ 4000

Milwaukee

+ 4000

Chicago

+ 6500

NBA PLAYOFFS - THE FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS

Here are the NBA Playoff First-Round Playoff Series that begin on Saturday - we'll have all the Previews/Past Performances for the matchups that begin Sunday in the next edition of Jim Sez.

Note that the team's conference playoff seeds are listed below along with the regular-season records -- the Game #1 starting times are included here too. Also, note that home teams are in CAPS in our listing of the regular-season head-to-head showdowns:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#8 CHICAGO (41-41) at #1 CLEVELAND (61-21) - 3 p.m. ET, ABC
It won't be the first - nor the last - time that you're liable to hear this about the 2010 Cavaliers: It could be now-or-never time when it comes to bagging a championship even though all signs appear to point to a return to Cleveland for free-agent-to-be megastar LeBron James (29.7 ppg).

The Cavs enter this post-season as the betting favorite to win it all and with batteries recharged as James sat out a batch of meaningless late-season games for the team with the best overall won/lost record this year (and the lone 60-win team in the NBA) and now Mike Brown's squad sports the home-court advantage right through the NBA Finals (should it get that far) with a team that lost only six times in its own building.

Game plan here for Cleveland is to defuse Chicago point guard Derrick Rose from the proverbial get-go and make him take perimeter jumpers instead of being a drive-and-dish guy and so transition defense is key for the Cavs and so is getting G Mo Williams (15.8 ppg) out of the chute quickly.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

11-5

CLEVELAND

-11½

Chicago 86-85

12-4

CLEVELAND

-13

CLEVELAND 101-87

3-19

Cleveland

-9½

Cleveland 92-85

4-8

CHICAGO

-6

CHICAGO 109-108


#6 MILWAUKEE (46-36) at #3 ATLANTA (53-29) - 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
If there is an under-the-radar team to keep an eye on in this year's NBA Playoffs, it's the Atlanta Hawks:

Mike Woodson's crew sports four players who average 14 points or more - including dead-eye shooter Joe Johnson (21.3 ppg) - and the Hawks now have been in enough post-season battles to know their way around ... so don't be shocked if Hot-lanta winds up getting to the Eastern Conference Finals.

But, first things first and that means disposing of a Bucks bunch that's been a changed team ever since G/F John Salmons (15.4 ppg) came aboard at the trade deadline (see 22-8 record). Throw in the fact that shiny rookie guard Brandon Jennings (who started all 82 games this year) can be an ultra-streaky scorer and the Hawks should not expect a walk in the park here in this best-of-seven series.

Note that Milwaukee's Andruw Bogut (broken hand, wrist) isn't expected back this year unless the Bucks go real deep into these playoffs. 

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

2-28

ATLANTA

-8½

ATLANTA 106-102 (ot)

3-22

MILWAUKEE

-6

MILWAUKEE 98-95

4-12

Atlanta

-1½

Atlanta 104-96


#5 MIAMI (47-35) at #4 BOSTON (50-32) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Has the "window of opportunity" to win another crown already closed on the Boston Celtics?

No doubt the champs of two years ago really staggered their way through much of the season's past six weeks and now there are reports that head coach Doc Rivers has had enough - with word leaking out that he likely won't be back no matter how this 2009-10 season ends for the green gang.

The Celts still have the "big three" with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett averaging 49 points among 'em per game but the real key to this series is point guard Rajon Rondo (13.7 ppg and 9.8 apg) who must keep everyone happy and than make sure he doesn't fizzle out late in close games. There's a real "shelf life" on this Boston bunch but the expiration date may not be till mid-June.

On the flip side, Miami did go 23-18 on the road this season and G Dwyane Wade (26.6 ppg) is showing more and more faith in Michael Beasley (14.8 ppg) these days and that's key 'cause someone other than do-it-all Wade is gonna have to come up with some late-game heroics here - keep an eye on Miami's Quentin Richardson taking (and maybe making) some big-time triples in this series.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

11-29

Boston

-3½

Boston 92-85

1-6

MIAMI

Pick

Boston 112-106 (ot)

2-3

BOSTON

-5½

BOSTON 107-102

 

The Jim Hurley Network concluded the regular season on a 36-20 run and we're ready to roll into the playoffs! Click here and learn how you can be a part of a two-month long winfest that will end with YOU pouring the champagne in mid-June and your man weeping on the sideline in frustration!

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#5 UTAH (53-29) at #4 DENVER (53-29) - 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Just how tight were things in the NBA's Western Conference below those front-running Lakers?

Well, four teams in this conference won 53-to-55 games as every playoff team out West played plus-.600 ball and so who'll be surprised here of this tug-of-war series goes six or seven games ... not us!

The Nuggets did win three-of-four regular-season showdowns against the Jazz in 2009-10 (including two wins/covers at home) and so "holding serve" in the Mile High City is key here for a Denver team that won't have popular head coach George Karl on the sidelines for this series. Karl could be back for Round II if the Nuggets can swipe this opening-round set and so that's a form of motivation to win for the Nuggets who need Carmelo Anthony (28.2 ppg) to keep his head on straight after some perplexing late-season games this year.

Meanwhile, Utah must prove it's not in a hangover state after getting torched by Phoenix 100-86 in the final regular-season game - a win there would have put Jerry Sloan's club up against short-handed Portland but instead the Jazz spit the bit while shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. Check on the status of Utah's Carlos Boozer who missed that home game against the Suns this past Wednesday night.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

10-28

DENVER

-5

DENVER 114-105

1-2

UTAH

-6

Denver 105-95

1-17

DENVER

-6½

DENVER 119-112

2-6

UTAH

-8

UTAH 116-106

 

THE NFL DRAFT: THE QUARTERBACKS

Editor's Note: We will continue with our complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage of the NFL Draft (April 22-23-24) right here this weekend and into next week and it's all capped off by our annual Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft which will be posted on this website on Wednesday, April 21st: Now, here's a look at the draft's top Quarterbacks:

SAM BRADFORD, QB, Oklahoma - The scuttlebutt 'round NFL circles is that this 2008 Heisman Trophy winner will be the top player picked in next week's NFL Draft but whether it's the St. Louis Rams or the Cleveland Browns (or maybe a surprise team) that's snapping up this 6-foot-4, 235-pounder remains unsettled at press time. Bradford played in parts of only three games for last year's Sooners before being sidelined with an AC joint (shoulder) injury but all reports have green-lighted him for a big-time pro career and his accuracy, release point and ability to read defenses had NFL folks salivating this past spring. His 4,720-yard passing season in '08 remains one of the best single-season numbers in college football history.

JIMMY CLAUSEN, QB, Notre Dame - There are varying reports as to where this 6-foot-3, 222-pound slinger will get drafted but now it appears somewhere between #10 and #17 appears to be the right call. Clausen was solid in his "Pro Day" workouts and showed he could make all the tough throws while proving he's more elusive than you think while getting chased down by pass rushers. If Clausen's stock can be buoyed by anything, it's that he played under offensive whiz Charlie Weis at South Bend - the Irish hurler threw for 8,148 yards and 60 TDs while starting 34-of-35 games and so he's proven to be durable too.

COLT McCOY, QB, Texas - The $64,000 question here is what sort or short- or long-range damage did that national championship hit on his right (throwing) shoulder do to this former Longhorns star that played just a handful of snaps before getting bounced from the title tilt against Alabama? McCoy - who won 45 games as a starter for this Big 12 team - is the shortest quarterback on this elite draft list (he's 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds) but has shown solid zip on his passes in recent workouts and is a real strong leader who threw for over 13,000 yards in a star-studded career.

TONY PIKE, QB, Cincinnati - There are lots of questions regarding this 6-foot-6, 225-pound slinger who has been injury-prone on the college level but did play through broken arms and other nagging injuries. Some folks consider Pike to be a "late bloomer" while others feel he is a classic overachiever who once upon a time was listed as the fourth-strong quarterback for the Cincy Bearcats. The pro scouts like his arm - but don't love it - and firmly believe he's much more effective from the shotgun and thus might get passed over by a couple of teams that have a basic need to get a quarterback. Likely a Round II pick but could drop if some teams get spooked by his injury history.

TIM TEBOW, QB, Florida - No matter how you slice it this 2007 Heisman Trophy winner will wind up being a highly controversial draft pick based on all the swirling talk that he can't play quarterback in the pros. Tebow - who stands 6-foot-3, 235 pounds - re-worked his delivery and basically re-invented himself as a passer but there remains questions as to whether or not he can play under center (and not just from the shotgun) and whether he will be able to read defenses after playing a "system" for the Gators the past four years. Tebow did throw for 9,285 yards and 88 TDs (and only 18 INTs) in his illustrious college career.

DAN LeFEVOUR, QB, Central Michigan - One of the most productive college signal-callers in recent history, this 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is slated to be third- or fourth-round material but he may zip up the charts if a team that operates the West Coast offense gets a shot at 'em. LeFevour led the CMU Chippewas to bowl games in all four of his seasons but remains better suited to play in the shotgun and did have some inconsistent deep throws during his recent "Pro Day".


NOTE: Catch the next segment of our NBA Playoff First-Round coverage plus more NFL Draft Position Previews in the next Jim Sez.

THE NBA PLAYOFFS - FIRST-ROUND PREVIEWS ROLL ON HERE WITH THE FOUR SERIES THAT START UP SUNDAY...PLUS THERE'S MORE NFL DRAFT POSITION-BY-POSITION GOODIES AS TODAY WE CHECK IN THE TOP DBs AND LBs

By Jim Hurley:

We'll get you right to our jam-packed weekend edition of Jim Sez in a moment -there's NBA Playoff Previews and NFL Draft analyses galore -but first this important message:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Playoffs and Major-League Baseball Winners each and every day when you either call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or when you go online right here: The check-in times are after 11 a.m. ET for weekday afternoon Baseball; after 1 p.m. ET for all weeknight NBA Playoffs and MLB games; and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays. Extra, extra: The NBA Playoffs have swung into action this weekend and so please make sure you're all signed up for the whole hoops post-season with our special NBA PLAYOFF PACKAGE. Get in touch with Jim or one of his service representatives today!

THE NBA PLAYOFFS

Here are the NBA Playoff First-Round Series that begin on Sunday -note that we've included the team's conference playoff seeds below along with the regular-season records. The Game #1 starting times are included here as well. Also, take note that home teams are listed in CAPS in our listing of regular-season head-to-head showdowns:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#7 CHARLOTTE (44-38) at #2 ORLANDO (59-23) -5:30 p.m. ET, TNT
The Orlando Magic -as everyone knows -has a new and different mix to this 2010 team from last year's NBA Finals runner-up squad as Vince Carter (16.6 ppg) is an integral part of this unit where once Hedo Turkoglu was an important ingredient. Yet, it really all comes down to just how dominant center Dwight Howard (18.3 ppg and 13.2 rpg) can be in the paint and how often the Magic can click from beyond the three-point arc.

No doubt that Stan Van Gundy's gang counts on the trifecta as the Magic drilled an NBA single-season record of 841 triples plus Orlando is super-deep -probably the NBA's deepest team at this point in time -and there's no major drop-off when the"subs" step foot on the floor.

In this opening-round playoff clash against Larry Brown's Bobcats, the Magic figure to start off each game concentrating on getting the ball down low to Howard and hoping he's either quick to the hoop or quick to throw an outlet pass to an open perimeter shooter -while the flip side says Charlotte's only got a chance to win this best-of-seven set if star scorers Stephen Jackson (20.6 ppg) and Gerald Wallace (18.2 ppg) get hot early and stay hot late and if center Tyson Chandler (hip pointer and elbow injury) is healthy enough to stand in against Howard for some 30-plus minutes a night.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

11-10

Orlando

-4

Orlando 93-81

11-16

ORLANDO

-12

ORLANDO 97-91

1-23

Orlando

-1½

Orlando 106-95(ot)

3-14

ORLANDO

-8½

Charlotte 96-89

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#8 OKLAHOMA CITY (50-32) at #1 LOS ANGLES LAKERS (57-25) -3 p.m. ET, ABC
Now that Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson has tossed the first stone -he said publicly this week (and then paid the NBA headquarters 35K for saying so) that Okie City megastar Kevin Durant (a league-best 30.1 ppg) gets the favorable whistles from officials -there's instant"juice" in this playoff set that already had major hype thanks to the principals:

Durant may indeed by one of the NBA's new saviors but this remains Kobe Bryant's kingdom -the playoffs are where the four-time champion makes his bones and now everyone will see whether or not Bryant gets more calls than the second-year pro from Texas.

Bryant (27 ppg) put things into cruise control late in the year -note that he missed nine games in all for the defending champs -but now you can expect a spirited effort from LA's biggest star plus look for the Lakers' defense to roll out on Durant, James Harden, Jeff Green and others when they're looking to spot up from deep.

In a nutshell, that's the key here as the Lakers must keep Okie City's three-point tries/makes to a bare minimum and must get 30-plus points in the paint each game where Pau Gasol could have a real field day.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

11-3

Lakers

-7

Lakers 101-98 (ot)

11-22

LAKERS

-10½

LAKERS 101-85

12-22

LAKERS

-10

LAKERS 111-108

3-26

Lakers

- 1½

OKLA CITY 91-75


#7 SAN ANTONIO (50-32) at #2 DALLAS (55-27) -8 p.m. ET, TNT

It seems like old times for these Lone Star State franchises as this will mark the fifth time in the era including Spurs star Tim Duncan and Mavericks kingpin Dirk Nowitzki (25 ppg this year) that these clubs will clash in post-season play -in case you're keeping score these teams have split the prior four post-season series with Dallas winning the last two in a row including that five-game series win last spring.

Nowadays, the Mavs consider anything prior to that pre-Trade Deadline deal that imported the likes of Caron Butler, Brandan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to be ancient history and no doubt that Rick Carlisle's club has played splendid ball since that February 13th deal with the Washington Wizards (maybe exporting bad-guy Josh Howard was really the biggest part of that deal!).

Now, Dallas' younger legs will look to get into a full gallop against a San Antonio team that creaks plenty -Duncan (17.9 ppg and 10.1 rpg) ain't what he used to be and even point guard Tony Parker remains covered in rust these days after a prolonged injury-related layoff. If Parker has trouble staying step-for-step with Mavs point guard Jason Kidd (9.1 assists per game) than this could be a short-and-sweet series.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

11-11

Dallas

-2

SAN ANTONIO 92-83

11-18

DALLAS

-3

DALLAS 99-94 (ot)

1-8

SAN ANTONIO

-4½

Dallas 112-103

4-14

DALLAS

-5

DALLAS 96-89


#6 PORTLAND (50-32) at #3 PHOENIX (54-28) -10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Both of these Western Conference clubs finished the regular-season on nice runs as the Phoenix Suns copped wins in eight of their last 10 games while the Portland Trail Blazers won seven of their final 10 tilts -but you sure get a different perspective when looking at these teams on the eve of this post-season series.

The Blazers have more of a doom-and-gloom feel to 'em as Nate McMillan's team will be going without superstar G Brandon Roy (21.5 ppg) who could well be gonzo for the year with a blown-up knee while the Suns have a refreshed feel to this franchise with young blood (see Channing Frye, Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley, et al) helping veterans Steve Nash (11 apg), Amar'e Stoudemire (23.1 ppg), Jason Richardson and Grant Hill have a real pep in their step.

If the Blazers are gonna make any noise in this series than point guard Andre Miller must play close to mistake-free ball in the half-court game and 36-year-old born-again F/C Marcus Camby must be a major force on the offensive glass where the Suns could be vulnerable.

Plus, the Blazers will need some X-factor types to deliver late in the game where Roy used to be the automatic go-to guy -perhaps kid Nicolas Batum (54 made triples this year and a 41 percent shooter from beyond the arc) will have a coming-of-age party here in this series. Stay tuned.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

12-17

PORTLAND

- 1½

PORTLAND 105-102

2-10

PHOENIX

- 9½

Portland 108-101

3-21

PHOENIX

- 6

PHOENIX 93-87

 

THE NFL DRAFT: TOP DBs AND LBs ARE THE ORDER OF THE DAY

Editor's Note: We will continue with our complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage of the NFL Draft (April 25-26) into next week and it's all capped off by our annual Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft which will be posted on this website on Wednesday, April 21st: Now, here's a look at the top Defensive Backs and Linebackers:

ERIC BERRY, FS, Tennessee -The NFL draft boards all claim this 6-foot, 210-pounder will be among the top half-dozen players picked in this draft but we've seen 'em get beat plenty in this Volunteers career and so he could be a major overrated item. Berry's chief strength is the ability to read-and-react to plays in a hurry plus he can be a real burner once he picks up a fumble or grabs an INT.

JOE HADEN, CB, Florida -Best cover corner in this draft and thus many SEC teams avoided throwing to his side of the field in 2009. Haden's super-fast at 5-foot-11, 193 pounds and he can close on an enemy wide receiver and last year wound up being named a Jim Thorpe Finalist. Look for this former Gators star to get nabbed inside the top 10 picks.

ROLANDO McCLAIN, ILB, Alabama -Major key to the Crimson Tide snagging last year's national championship, this monstrous 6-foot-4, 250-pounder won the '09 Butkus Award and probably should have garnered a batch of Heisman Trophy votes too. McClain is considered coach-on-the-field material and he spearheaded a rush defense last year that allowed just 68.2 ground yards a game (second-best in the nation). Most draft boards have him getting picked #11-thru-#15 but we would leap at a shot to grab him in the top five picks.

BRANDON GRAHAM, OLB, Michigan -Pro scouts love the tenacity shown by this former maize-and-blue star who last year led the country in tackles for losses (26) along with his 10 ½ quarterback sacks. Graham's 6-foot-2, 268-pound frame means he can really pack a wallop and his stock could be rising from mid-first round pick to somewhere right around #10 or #11.

EARL THOMAS, CB, Texas -Here's a player who figures on getting drafted in the middle of Round I more on potential as he departed the college scene after his redshirt sophomore season and having played safety for the Longhorns. Thomas has plenty of good football sense but remains rough around the edges and not considered to be a strong tackler at this stage of his development.
 
TAYLOR MAYS, FS, USC -There's plenty of debate regarding this four-year starter who often was burned in high-profile games and often was beaten when the Trojans played man coverage. Mays is a great physical specimen at nearly 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and some folks believe he's a better pick at FS over Tennessee's Berry but some in-the-know folks think he regressed in his senior season.

KYLE WILSON, CB, Boise State -Most NFL draft boards have this 5-foot-10, 195-pounder as the third-best corner in play but the former Broncos star should land somewhere in Round I and may have improved his status with a fabulous"Pro Day" that included a sizzling 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash. Throw in the fact Wilson performed exceedingly well in last season's Senior Bowl and you might see this four-year starter get gobbled up inside the top 22 or 23 picks.

SEAN LEE, ILB, Penn State -This 6-foot-2, 235-pounder produced some great"Pro Day" numbers including a solid 40 time of 4.60 and remember he came off knee surgery in the spring of 2008. Lee is ultra-active on the field (see 11 tackles for loss last year) and sports major leadership skills and should be among the top 50 players picked in this year's NFL Draft.

SERGIO KINDLE, OLB, Texas -At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds this former Longhorns star is rock-solid and cat-quick to the ball as he collected 34 ½ tackles for losses over the course of the past two seasons. Kindle's had a series of nagging injuries in his college career and that could scare away some NFL folks at the bottom of Round I or at the top of Round II.

CHAD JONES, SS, LSU -The two-sport star (drafted by the Houston Astros in the 13th round) could wind up getting tabbed early in Round II (and thus higher than most forecast) based on all-around athleticism as his return skills must be included into the mix. Jones started at free safety in all 13 of LSU's games last year but he's been tabbed a strong safety for his pro career and has shown the ability to be an excellent open-field tackler.

NOTE: More NFL Draft Preview info (the Defensive Linemen) and NBA Playoff talk too in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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