NBA Playoff Weekend Update

JIM HURLEY HITS HUGE TRIFECTA AT BELMONT!
Race 4 Friday...Crimson Tempest/Morningsideheights/Miss Tequilla
Exacta $121.50 - Trifecta $843.00

OUR NBA PLAYOFFS UPDATE: LAKERS KEEP UP THE WINNING GROOVE WITH  THEIR 2-0 SERIES LEAD OVER THE SUNS

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES:
INTERLEAGUE PLAY HAS ARRIVED AND WE CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S INTERLEAGUE BEST & WORST SIDES PLUS PREVIEW THE RED SOX-PHILLIES, YANKEES-METS AND GIANTS-A'S

The NBA figures to find itself in a 'been-there, done-that' Finals in a couple of weeks -- but that's A-OK with Commissioner David Stern and his media partners.

After all, if someone would have told Stern weeks ago that his league was looking at a Boston Celtics versus Los Angeles Lakers showdown in the NBA Finals he might well have asked for a rubber room for that guy/gal.

Sure, the Lakers appeared dead set all along at getting back to a third consecutive NBA Finals and now -- after nabbing their eighth consecutive playoff win this spring with Wednesday's 124-112 win/cover against 7-point underdog Phoenix -- the league's best-ever rivalry would appear to be just right around the corner.

Still, both the Celtics and Lakers do have some unfinished business to take care of in the coming days and we'll get into both the NBA's Western and Eastern Conference Finals series shortly in today's Jim Sez but first this reminder:

Extra, extra:

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

NOTE: Jim Hurley's Blue Ribbon Baseball program introduces a special offer that runs through June 1st -- and here's the lowdown:
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THE NBA PLAYOFFS --
CONFERENCE FINALS ROLL ON
(AND SO DO THE LAKERS AND THE CELTICS!)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
LOS ANGELES LAKERS 124, PHOENIX 112 -- Lakers lead series 2-0
Some folks may claim that the underdog Suns are in a 'pick-your-poison' mode these days: Do they let Lakers' mega-star Kobe Bryant (21 points and 13 assists in Game 2) go one-on-one against Phoenix's not-so-quick/not-so-long defenders and beat them from the perimeter or do they look to get right in Bryant's face and hope for the best when it comes to handling Lakers' big man Pau Gasol (29 points and 9 rebounds in Game 2) and his supporting cast guys?

One thing that Suns head coach Alvin Gentry and his staff painfully discovered this past Wednesday night is that the Lakers -- not Phoenix -- usually decide how they want to pick apart defenses and the Bryant dish-offs and Gasol lay-ins often made this tilt appear to be clinic-like in its nature and even when Phoenix forged a 90-90 tie after three quarters of play you never really did get the sense that the third-seeded Suns were gonna get 'mission accomplished' at Staples Center.

Maybe the worst part of this Game 2 result for the Suns was that they shot the ball at a 49.4 percent accuracy rate (that's 41-of-83 from the floor) and really did some damage from beyond the three-point arc where Jared Dudley drained all five of his trifecta tries while Phoenix canned 10-of-24 treys -- can they really shoot it any better in Sunday's Game 3?

One final side note here: The Lakers' Lamar Odom (17 points and 11 rebs in Game 2) now has 36 points and 30 boards in the first two games of this set and yet he feels almost like an afterthought for Phil Jackson's crew when writing a wrap-up of Games 1 and 2 -- pretty scary stuff, right?

Here's what the Lakers now have done at home so far during these 2010 NBA Playoffs (Home Team in CAPS):

4-18 LAKERS - 7.5 Oklahoma City LAKERS 87-79
4-20 LAKERS - 5.5 Oklahoma City LAKERS 95-92
4-27 LAKERS - 6 Oklahoma City LAKERS 111-87
5-2 LAKERS - 6.5 Utah LAKERS 104-99
5-4 LAKERS - 5.5 Utah LAKERS 111-103
5-17 LAKERS - 6 Phoenix LAKERS 128-107
5-19 LAKERS - 7 Phoenix LAKERS 124-112

The Lakers remain unbeaten at home in this year's post-season action but what's really telling is the fact that the defending champs have covered five of these tilts (a tantalizing .714 winning rate) and note the average pointspread here has been 6.3 points a game -- and the truth is LA could have covered that Game 1 against Utah back on May 2nd (they dribbled out the ball in the closing seconds).


EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS --

ORLANDO at BOSTON -- Celtics lead series 2-0
Game 3 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET
Here's something that you have not been hearing and won't be hearing from the at-the-scene ABC/ESPN announcing team of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson -- Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is coaching the pants off Magic boss-man Stan Van Gundy.

Okay, so that's not the be-all and end-all of this best-of-seven series that finds Boston back home after having won back-to-back road games to start this set (the first time that's ever happened in this proud franchise's post-season history) but don't underestimate the fact Rivers and his talented staff have come up with the perfect formula for handling this rather robotic Magic team: Don't let 'em get their fast break in gear and make sure you're shadowing 'em at all times on the perimeter too.

The Celtics have held the high-scoring Magic to 88 and 92 points in the first two games of this series -- that's way below Orlando scoring averages -- and it's no secret that everyone on this Boston team can play some defense: Note the Magic's shot below 40 percent from the field in both games (28-of-71 for 39.4 percent in Game 2) and the three-point likes of Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter -- a combined 2-of-5 from beyond the arc in the Game 2 loss -- not only are not making threes but they aren't even getting off many triple tries either!

If Orlando is gonna get back into this series with a Game 3 win than not only will center Dwight Howard (30 points in Game 2) need to put his personal stamp on things here but Lewis, Carter and others must bang home treys and get plenty of transition points too -- or else.
Right now the Celtics have all the right 'mojo' working for 'em with point guard Rajon Rondo (25 points and 8 assists in Game 2) having reached a whole new level and with lots of bounce still in the ancient legs of Paul Pierce (team-high 28 points in Game 2) and Kevin Garnett.

Here's what the Celtics now have done so far at home during these 2010 NBA Playoffs (again, Home Team in CAPS):

4-17 BOSTON - 4.5 Miami BOSTON 85-76
4-20 BOSTON - 1 Miami BOSTON 106-77
4-27 BOSTON - 6.5 Miami BOSTON 96-86
5-7 BOSTON - 1 Cleveland Cleveland 124-95
5-9 Cleveland - 1.5 BOSTON BOSTON 97-87
5-13 BOSTON - 1.5 Cleveland BOSTON 94-85

As you can see, the Celtics have won five of their six home playoff games SU (straightup) for a sizzling .833 winning percentage and note the C's are also 5-1 ATS (against the spread) at home too. Just one more reason the Orlando Magic should fret as they head into Saturday's Game 3 prime-time clash in Beantown.

More NBA Lottery Notes ...

Don't believe the rumor mill that stated if the New Jersey Nets -- who had a 25 percent chance to get the number one pick in the NBA Lottery just drawn the other night -- would have indeed secured the top pick they would have put together a blockbuster move that would have brought in Kentucky point guard John Wall followed by the tandem of mega-million-to-be free agent LeBron James and Wall's college coach John Calipari.

Sure, the Nets would have loved to grab the top pick and made Wall their central on-court player for the next 10 or 11 years but this notion that James/Calipari would have come marching in the door right behind 'em is a whole lot of nonsense. We will say that new owner Mikhail Prokhorov figures to be extremely involved in bringing New Jersey a monster-sized free agent to go along with the third overall pick in the draft -- hey, a Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech) and Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors) tandem wouldn't be a bad start! ...

Word is the Minnesota Timberwolves -- who own the fourth pick in next month's NBA Draft -- might be willing to trade that selection should they be able to convince last year's star draftee guard Ricky Rubio to come aboard in time for the 2010-11 season. The Wolves might be able to package the #4 pick along with point guard Johnny Flynn to Portland for a bevy of bodies that might include anyone on the roster other than star Brandon Roy ...

Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers could well get into the mix for a big-time deal on Draft Night (June 24th) as rumors persist that 2011 free agent point guard Chris Paul 'could be had' for the right price and here's one potential scenario:

The New Orleans Hornets deal Paul and the #11 pick in this year's draft to the Lakers for the oft-injured center Andrew Bynum, guard Shannon Brown and a couple of draft picks.

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES:
HIP, HIP, HOORAY AS INTERLEAGUE PLAY

We'll get to a trio of key National League vs. American League weekend series in just a moment but here's a look back at the best and worst MLB teams in Interleague Play in 2009:

THE BEST --

LA Angels 14-4 .778
Colorado 11-4 .733
Tampa Bay 13-5 .722
Chicago White Sox 12-6 .667
Minnesota 12-6 .667
Baltimore 11-7 .611
Boston 11-7 .611

THE WORST --

Cleveland 5-13 .278
Oakland 5-13 .278
Philadelphia 6-12 .333
Arizona 5-10 .333
Milwaukee 5-10 .333
NY Mets 5-10 .333
San Diego 5-10 .333


Note: All series below run from Friday-thru-Sunday:

BOSTON at PHILADELPHIA -- All's not right in either of these baseball worlds as the two-time NL champion Phillies have been a stop-and-start team all year long and it's not as if Charlie Manuel's club has played good ball at home (see the standings!) -- maybe RHP Roy Halladay (6-2, 1.64 ERA) can give the Phils either the series win or a potential series sweep with his Sunday afternoon start on TBS.
On the flip side, the Bosox have some internal issues to deal with -- like why don't some of the team's pitchers like how catcher Victor Martinez is handling 'em these days? After Monday's start at Yankee Stadium, Sox manager Terry Francona had to sit down RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (7.89 ERA) with Martinez to find out why they couldn't 'get on the same page' in that outing and there's been rumblings that other Boston hurlers would prefer the return of Jason Varitek behind the dish. Stay tuned.

NEW YORK YANKEES at NEW YORK METS -- The Subway Series has not exactly excited baseball fans in the Big Apple as Mets' TV broadcast lately have been banging everyone over the head with the 'tickets still available' bit. Maybe if the Mets' core players -- that's SS Jose Reyes, LF Jason Bay and 3B David Wright -- ever could get a big hit it might serve to juice up NYM fans but that hasn't been the case so far in 2010 and manager Jerry Manuel has not exactly looked like a modern-day version of Casey Stengel!
Meanwhile, the Yankees have endured their own struggles lately with injuries piling up (catcher Jorge Posada actually has two different foot-related injuries these days!) and with closer Mariano Rivera getting tagged a trio of times this past week including that grand slam blast last Sunday by Minnesota's Jason Kubel and a hiccup against aforementioned Boston too.

Bottom line on this series?

If the Yankees do snag the clean sweep at Citi Field, Manuel will be out the door by Monday morning and the Mets fans might get their prayers answered ... did somebody say Bobby Valentine?

SAN FRANCISCO at OAKLAND -- This Bay Area battle royal would be made better if A's hurler Dallas Braden -- a/ka/ Mr. Perfecto -- was getting a start but that won't be the case after Braden lost 5-1 versus Detroit this past Wednesday night.
P.S, the Giants won't be starting two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum either after his turn last night in Arizona and so a major theme for this set is whether San Fran's new #3 hitter Freddy Sanchez can help awaken a lineup that entered last night's game having scored four runs or less in four of the team's last five games. Note that is 3B Pablo Sandoval now hitting cleanup for a Jints team that had a grand total of 31 home runs in the team's first 39 games.

NOTE: There's more NBA Playoff Updates in tomorrow's weekend edition of Jim Sez.

OUR NBA PLAYOFF WEEKEND UPDATE --
WE PREVIEW SUNDAY'S
WESTERN CONFERENCE GAME 3 BASH
AS LAKERS-SUNS COLLIDE IN 'ZONA ...
PLUS NFL NEWS & NOTES IS CHOCK FULL OF
ROUND-THE-LEAGUE GOODIES

It's all in the timing, folks:

Just consider that the Los Angeles Lakers were all knotted up at two wins apiece with the spunky Oklahoma City Thunder back on April 25th in first-round playoff action and the whole hoops world proclaimed the defending NBA champions to be 'vulnerable'.
Egads!

Now, fast-forward things to this next-to-last weekend in May and there are the Lakers holding a commanding two games-to-none series advantage over the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals -- the Lakers enter Sunday night's game in the Valley of the Sun on a scorching-hot eight-game playoff win streak and guess they don't look all that vulnerable right about now, right?

Check out some of the final scores during this eight-game post-season winning streak and you'll see that the Lakers have beaten Oklahoma City (in Games 5 and 6), Utah (in a four-game sweep) and Phoenix (in games 1 and 2) by a per-game average of nearly 11 points a game -- again, hardly vulnerable, eh?

Now, the Lakers head into this Game 3 clash in Phoenix knowing that another quickie series will give Phil Jackson's club some R&R time till the start of the NBA Finals and everyone in LA-LA land knows Kobe Bryant (right index finger and knees) -- among others -- could really use all the rehab time they can get before what could be a lengthy series against the Eastern Conference champs.

Funny how things go, though.

Less than a full calendar month ago the Lakers appeared ripe for the proverbial picking -- now a Game 3 road win here and they're really sitting pretty.

More analysis on Lakers-Suns in just a moment in this weekend edition of Jim Sez but first this important message:

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


NOTE: Jim Hurley's Blue Ribbon Baseball program introduces a special offer that runs through June 1st -- and here's the lowdown: Anyone who signs up for Baseball also will receive the NFL Preseason 2010 games plus the September Blue Ribbon Football for FREE. Last year the Football Blue Ribbon selections hit 62 percent winners -- so why not get in now and get all the MLB plus all this Free Football too? So, go ahead and pile up your summertime Basketball and Baseball profits with America's #1 Handicapper.

NBA PLAYOFFS --
MORE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS UPDATES

WESTERN CONFERENCE --
LOS ANGELES LAKERS at PHOENIX -- Lakers lead series 2-0; Game 3 is Sunday night at 8:30 p.m.
We devoted much of the above comments here to the Lakers -- and so let's now give the host Suns equal billing. If Alvin Gentry's club is gonna get back into this (so far) rather lopsided best-of-seven series, than Phoenix must do the following:

Prevent the Lakers from getting such easy paths to the hoop -- no doubt the Suns are not as physical as they need to be but this is getting downright ridiculous watching Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (29 points on 19 field-goal attempts in that 124-112 win in Game 2) cruise to the iron and flip in easy five-footers. Gasol is getting position in the low box without any sort of enemy resistance -- are you listening, Amar'e Stoudemire? -- and then simply awaiting the quick passes from Bryant (13 assists in Game 2) or his fellow mates:

Set more effective screens for Phoenix point guard Steve Nash. One thing you can say so far about the first two games in this series is that the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player really has not been allowed to roam about and create havoc for enemy defenses -- don't be fooled by those game-high 15 dishes in Game 2 as the Lakers made sure to keep Nash under wraps when it mattered most and have done a terrific job handling Phoenix's pick-n-roll plays. Gotta believe that Nash will be more dynamic at home here but he may also have to attempt a few more triples to loosen up the Lakers (just 1-of-3 from behind the arc in Game 2);

Finally, the Suns need a couple of bench players to step to the fore here. In that 12-point loss on Wednesday night, only Jared Dudley (5-of-5 from three-land for 15 points) was truly effective as the remainder of Gentry's subs shot a collective 3-of-17 and gave zero energy to a team that faded badly in the final quarter when the Lakers outscored 'em 34-22.

There's no 'fat lady' singing just yet but if the Suns don't follow these golden rules here, then it will be Lakers 3-0 -- and just about over-and-out.

Here's what the Suns have done at home so far in this year's NBA Playoffs (Home Team in CAPS):

4-18 PHOENIX - 9 Portland Portland 105-100
4-20 PHOENIX - 8.5 Portland PHOENIX 119-90
4-26 PHOENIX - 7.5 Portland PHOENIX 107-88
5-3 PHOENIX - 4 San Antonio PHOENIX 111-102
5-5 PHOENIX - 3 San Antonio PHOENIX 110-102

Strange but true that the Suns have not played a home game in some two-and-a-half weeks but that's the case and at least Alvin Gentry's guys have not disappointed the Valley of the Sun folks with four SU (straightup) wins in five tries and a spiffy 4-1 ATS (against the spread) record too for a sizzling .800 winning percentage. The problem for Phoenix is that it better be a 100 percent SU winner at home in Games 3 and 4 or this best-of-seven series or this one will soon be history.

NFL NEWS & NOTES

Let's check in 'round the NFL to see what's happening with a handful of teams:

TAMPA BAY -- Surprise, surprise. Tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. was not at the start of the team's OTA (Organized Team Activities) this past week as he continues to rehab from his fifth knee surgery. Winslow's latest medical procedure was considered minor as he had some scar tissue removed from that 2005 motorcycle accident when he was a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Last year Winslow led the Bucs in receptions (77) and in receiving yards (884) but by most accounts he was not the downfield factor Tampa Bay hoped he would be for then-rookie QB Josh Freeman. Keep in mind that this past off-season the Bucs lost WR Antonio Bryant to the Cincinnati Bengals but the NFC South club did draft a pair of high-profile wide outs in Illinois' Arrelious Benn (39th pick) and Syracuse's Mike Williams (a fourth-round selection) and both of them, in reality, could take away a batch of aerials previously available to Winslow.

JACKSONVILLE -- Speaking of the recent NFL Draft, that was no typo regarding these Jaguars as the AFC South club did draft four defensive linemen with its first four picks and recent reports say third-rounder DT D'Anthony Smith (Louisiana Tech) showed great quickness and power in recent one-on-one workouts leading head coach Jack del Rio to proclaim his rookie D-linemen have proven to be 'disruptive' and 'athletic' so far in Jaguar OTAs.

Keep in mind that last year Jacksonville registered an NFL-low 14 quarterback sacks (the fifth-lowest NFL single-season team sack mark in league history) and they do play in a division starring the likes of Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning, Houston QB Matt Schaub and Tennessee's Vince Young.

NEW YORK GIANTS -- Might this NFC East team have struck gold right in its own backyard (and with a free agent, no less)?
Tom Coughlin's club likely won't carry seven wide receivers this year as it did in 2009 but one guy who could make some noise is Rutgers WR Tim Brown who was not selected in last month's NFL Draft and yet has wowed the Jints so far in recent mini-camp workouts. Brown has shown wonderful hands and the keen ability to shake free from CBs -- now if he can prove to be a solid special teams contributor than Brown will eventually make the cut and that could cost annual disappointment WR Sinorice Moss.

Note that the Giants also will have a change this year at punter after the recent retirement of 44-year-old Jeff Feagles and seventh-round draftee Matt Dodge (East Carolina) comes with rave reviews.

KANSAS CITY -- The Chiefs have combined for all of 10 wins in the past three years and the annual rebuilding project is in full gear now with OTAs but KayCee's not allowing RB Jamaal Charles to play ... just yet. Charles underwent right shoulder surgery back in January and the Chiefs are being ultra-cautious even though the former University of Texas star would like to be out there right now. 'I guess they are going to be careful,' said Charles who made it clear that he'd like to be practicing right now.

Two other KC veterans who have been partaking in the OTAs are LB Mike Vrabel and guard Brain Walters -- both of whom boycotted last year's OTA events. Kansas City head coach Todd Haley loved the fact that these two cornerstone players were part of the action -- a 'good sign of commitment', said Haley -- and both Vrabel and Waters claimed they could sense a difference in this Chiefs camp as compared to the one last year that preceded a 4-12 season.

SEATTLE -- The Pete Carroll Era has begun in the great northwest and already the former USC boss-man likes what he sees from expected #1 quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

Carroll believes the 27-year-old will be able to succeed long-time starter Matt Hasselbeck but the head coach also knows this is a player who hasn't take a single snap in his first four years in the league and has thrown for only 1,031 yards in preseason action since 2006 -- not exactly a big-time body or work.

As Carroll says about his newfound starting signal-caller, 'The physical stuff is there ... Charlie has a terrific arm and a nice release.' He added, 'Charlie has done everything we've asked of him.'

The always-enthusiastic Carroll believes the Seahawks have handed Whitehurst a great target in Notre Dame rookie WR Golden Tate (a second-round pick in this year's NFL Draft) but keep in mind that Seattle did lose WR Nate Burleson to Detroit via free agency this past off-season. Burleson last year snagged 63 balls for 812 yards and 3 TDs and, realistically, Carroll and Company would be ecstatic if Tate could produce similar numbers in 2010.

NOTE: Catch our NBA Conference Finals Reports but Baseball News/Notes too in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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Aug

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