NBA Conference Finals Time - The Celtics Surprise While Suns-Lakers Showdown Starts

IT'S NBA CONFERENCE FINALS TIME - THE CELTICS - SURPRISE, SURPRISE -- CHARGE OUT TO A GAME 1 WIN IN ORLANDO, WHILE SUNS-LAKERS SHOWDOWN ALL SET TO SQUARE OFF TONIGHT IN L.A. ...

OUR JIM SEZ BASEBALL REPORT CHECKS IN ON THOSE WEEKEND SERIES IN SAN DIEGO AND NYC

By Jim Hurley:

Remember what we said last week about that oft-heard phrase "Celtic Pride"?

Well, it applies big-time today following Boston's wire-to-wire 92-88 win over the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic on Sunday afternoon. Not only did the Celtics - a hearty 7-point underdog in Game 1 (and note the Magic was installed as a solid 3-to-1 betting favorite for this Eastern Conference Finals set) - play harrowing team defense but they played smart, they played with energy and they played with a purpose.

P.S., you can't actually say the same thing about Orlando but - let's be fair - it's tough to bury a team that had entered this series having won eight consecutive playoff games without a loss and with a spiffy 14-game SU (straightup) winning streak overall that dated back to April 2nd.

Still, the TV, radio, internet and newspaper folks aren't the only ones tossing around those "Celtic Pride" words today - no doubt Boston head coach Doc Rivers has uttered the phrase to his mostly-veteran squad and can you've go to ask the question that the ABC/ESPN game announcers were starting to bounce around and that is ...

Do these here-and-now Celtics have what it takes to win the franchise's 18th championship?

Okay, so that's a discussion for another day - but on this day you can paint the NBA green-and-white as the Celtics have drawn first blood in this best-of-seven series.

Lots more to say about Celtics-Magic Game 1 action plus we have an NBA Western Conference Finals Preview straight ahead as we dig deeper into the Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers showdown but first this important message:

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THE NBA PLAYOFFS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS - BOSTON 92, ORLANDO 88 - Celtics lead series 1-0

Game 2 is Tuesday in Orlando at 8:30 p.m. ET

Next!

Hey, the Celtics already have disposed of the likes of Miami's Dwyane Wade and Cleveland's LeBron James in this dandy playoff run so far and now Boston's bent on showing Orlando center Dwight Howard that he ain't no "Superman" -- no matter the hype.

And let us quickly interject this following editorial:

Maybe Howard would like to re-think that dopey halftime "interview" with himself (we didn't stick around to watch once we saw Howard was also doubling as Clark Kent - sure wish the ABC/ESPN folks would stop treating its hoop fans like a bunch of baboons!) and instead work on developing his game more which sure was the numero uno storyline in this Game 1 bash.

Howard's less-than-ordinary stat line - 13 points (on 3-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-12 from the free-throw line) and 12 rebounds were bad enough but his energy level was super-low and he was continually manhandled and stifled in the paint - mostly by Boston's muscleman center Kendrick Perkins (he earned his five personal fouls on the day!) and also at times by the tandem of Glenn "Big Baby" Davis and veteran Kevin Garnett.

The Celtics not only shut down Howard's path to the hoop and did a superb job of boxing him out - notice that the Magic center snared only three offensive rebounds in all - but Boston really "D'd up" big-time from the perimeter as Orlando finished this messy game draining only 5-of-22 triple and let us remind you that Orlando set an NBA regular-season record this year for most made threes in a season.

Throw in the fact that Orlando handled the ball like a proverbial hand grenade - especially in the first quarter - and wound up with 18 turnovers and really only received energetic play at times from reserves Marcin Gortat and J.J. Redick (a combined 15 points, 7 rebounds and some stern defense too) and it's downright amazing that Stan Van Gundy's club was able to trim the score down to two points (at 90-88) with just seconds to go.

The Celtics were buoyed on offense by Ray Allen's game-high 25 points - including the icing-on-the-cake two foul shots with 6.1 seconds to go - and by Paul Pierce's 22 points and note Boston wound up with 21 assists (all by the starters) and really showed poise and composure whenever Orlando took mini-runs at 'em.

Now, Howard and the Magic have to put this sluggish Game 1 performance in the rear-view mirror - or else, soon enough, the Celtics will be putting Orlando in their rear-view mirror just as they did with the Heat and the Cavs.

Put up or shut up, Magic men!
 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS - PHOENIX at LOS ANGELES LAKERS - Game 1 is tonight at 9 p.m. ET

Hey, it didn't take long for Lakers head coach Phil Jackson to inject his opinions into this best-of-seven series with the Zen-meister declaring that Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash travels when he regularly handles the ball - the 10-time NBA champion coach (six with the Chicago Bulls and now four with the Los Angeles Lakers) figured he'd get that point across even before the opening jump ball of this series and give Nash - a two-time Most Valuable Player in this league - high marks for saying that the "best coach" in the NBA didn't have a problem with it in that last series.

Note that would be San Antonio's Gregg Popovich and so score one on-the-mark zinger for Nash here - although Jackson appeared to be amused by his response.

Now, just how amused will the heavily-favored Lakers (- 330-to-$100) be when they have to go up against the dynamic Nash (17.8 points per game and 9 assists per game) in this series?

No question that the full seven-day rest period between Phoenix's series sweep over the Spurs and this set allowed Nash's swollen and battered eye enough time to properly heal and what the stellar point guard sees here figures to be lots of "overplaying" on the Suns' pick-n-rolls sets.

Trust us: The Suns need to get Amar'e Stoudemire (20.5 ppg and 7 rpg against San Antonio) right into the swing of things and the best way he gets involved is by cutting to the hoop and taking the Nash feeds and so - you could make the case - that this series will revolve not only on whether Lakers' megastar Kobe Bryant has the legs late in games to hit those clutch shots but whether or not LA's Pau Gasol can handle Stoudemire's drives to the basket once he does get the pick-n-roll pass.

Okay, so we've gone a couple hundred words here in this NBA Western Conference Preview and not even mentioned the Suns' leading scorer in this post-season: Guard Jason Richardson (21.9 ppg) made a batch of big shots in Round I to help sink Portland and he was quietly effective in stopping San Ant runs with big hoops in Round II but odds are the Lakers' defensive game plan will be to shadow Richardson from out deep and not let him get going from trey-land.

Let's see if they can get "mission accomplished" here.

On the flip side, Bryant (27 ppg in this post-season) rested plenty in recent days with his continual right index finger woes plus some tired/injured knees but anyone expecting the NBA's best player - are you listening, LeBron? - to go less than 41 or 42 minutes per tilt here is simply kidding themselves (and ditto for the aforementioned Gasol who comes into this series averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebs a game).

Note: Home teams in CAPS below in our regular-season head-to-head matchup chart between the Suns and the Lakers:

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

11-12

LAKERS

- 7.5

LAKERS 121-102

12-6

LAKERS

- 9

LAKERS 108-88

12-28

SUNS

- 1

SUNS 118-103

3-12

Lakers

- 2

Lakers 102-96

WATCH & WIN MONDAY

 With a lucrative night in front of the television set awaits us on Monday! It starts at 7 ET on ESPN when the Red Sox make the first trip of the season to the Bronx to take on the Yankees. Then 9 ET, there's a a real explosion on TNT, as the Suns and Lakers open their Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles. You've got high-profile games involving very public teams, meaning that knowing what way the smart money is going and what way square money is moving is of paramount importance. The Jim Hurley Network has all the connections in Las Vegas to make that happen and we have an army of stat handicappers with sharp numbers that ensure we can pound those soft targets. And they are soft indeed on Monday! There's value on the board and we've got the winner in both Red Sox-Yanks & Suns-Lakers!

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THE MLB REPORT: DODGERS SNAG WEEKEND SWEEP WHILE TWINS FINALLY WIN ONE IN THE BRONX

When we last left you here at Jim Sez, there were a pair of baseball's best weekend series on tap - call it a coast-to-coast thing - as we examined the Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres showdown along with the Minnesota Twins versus New York Yankees bash.

Is it possible that we can say there were really three winners out of the four teams here?

We'll explain how that's the case:

The Dodgers were - without a doubt - the biggest weekend winners in Major-League Baseball as they swept a three-game set in San Diego and how about the fact the Padres scored a mere four runs in the set?

In Sunday's 1-0 old-fashioned pitchers duel, the Dodgers prevailed behind bulldog righty Chad Billingsley (4-2, 4.03 ERA) who faced 26 hitters and allowed just four harmless singles en route to a 7 1/3-inning effort. Billingsley - who earlier in the week won 7-3 at Arizona - even helped his own cause here with a key sixth-inning sacrifice bunt that preceded leadoff hitter Russell Martin's sharp RBI single to center field.

The Dodgers were flailing away at the start of this 2010 season with lots of off-the-field issues nagging away at the team (see the owner's well-published and messy divorce) but things have taken a turn for the better for Joe Torre's team - Los Angeles exited Sunday's tilt on a season-high seven-game winning streak and, maybe more importantly, showed the Pods that they weren't gonna run away with anything in the National League West this year.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country there was the marquee matchup involving the Twins and Yankees in The Bronx - not exactly Minny's favorite venue these past couple of years. Whether it was the "old" (and now torn-down) Yankee Stadium or this sparkling second-year ballpark on River Avenue, the Twins were always turned into rubble after a series there.

In fact, heading into Sunday's game the Twins had lost 12 in a row overall to the Yankees including last year's sweep at the Bombers' hands in the AL Playoffs. When the Yanks copped 8-4 and 7-1 wins this past Friday and Saturday, Joe Girardi's club was all set for yet another clean sweep against the Twins but the "Bat Day" crowd in New York City instead watched Minnesota's Jason Kubel crack an eighth-inning grand slam off closer Mariano Rivera and so Ron Gardenhire's gang finally had something to smile about after leaving the Big Apple.

The Yankees - who continue to fend off injuries (mainly to their outfielders) - saw power hitters 3B Alex Rodriguez and 1B Mark Teixeira "go yard" in back-to-back games this past weekend - A-Rod's seventh-inning grand slam on Friday night caused plenty of buzz 'cause the Twins elected to walk Teixeira to set up a possible inning-ending double play - but Minny had to leave the big city feeling somewhat vindicated with Gardenhire's bullpen throwing two key shutout innings on Sunday including a ninth inning where closer Jon Rauch (10 saves) fended off a first-and-second, nobody out situation to strike out DH/SS Derek Jeter, CF Brett Gardner and the aforementioned Teixeira in succession to avert a complete and utter weekend meltdown.

Sorry, Padres, but you're the only real loser when it came to these two series!
  

NOTE: More NBA Conference Finals News & Notes in the next Jim Sez including a Game #1 re-cap of Suns-Lakers (and a quickie Game 2 preview) and an Eastern Conference Finals look at Celtics-Magic. Plus, we'll chuck in some MLB News/Notes too!

20
Aug

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