Plenty Of Memorial Day Weekend Basketball & Baseball

THE NBA PLAYOFF CONFERENCE FINALS - THE LONG HOLIDAY WEEKEND IS HERE AND WE'RE ASKING WHO'S GOING ON THEIR SUMMER VACATION FIRST AS MAGIC-CELTICS COLLIDE IN GAME 6 TONIGHT WHILE LAKERS-SUNS WILL SQUARE OFF  IN A GAME 6 SATURDAY NIGHT ...

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES INCLUDES TRADE TALK AS HOUSTON'S OSWALT AND MILWAUKEE'S FIELDER FIND THEIR WAY ONTO OUR CHANGE-OF-ADDRESS LIST

By Jim Hurley:

And you thought Kobe Bryant shooting a last-second air-ball was gonna be bad for the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers!

By now everyone knows Bryant's misfire was turned into the game-winning points for the Lakers when Ron Artest was right place/right time for his basket that lifted LA to a thrilling 103-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns in last night's Game 5 clash in the Western Conference Finals.

Forget for a moment that Artest finished with just two made field goals on the night or that his premature three-point shots in the game's final minute-plus earned the fans' groans inside Staples Center (to say nothing of the looks head coach Phil Jackson displayed) and instead just remember this factoid:

The Suns now don't win this series without beating the Lakers in a Game 7 in Hollywood - so we don't know why Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry and so many of his players were smiling after Game 5. Heck, there might not even be a Game 7 in this series if the Suns aren't able to jack themselves up for a Saturday night Game 6 win in the Valley of the Sun and we'll get to some comments on that one shortly 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. Remember that there are 9 matinee games in MLB on Monday, Memorial Day.

SPECIAL 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 click here and 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.

THE NBA PLAYOFFS

WESTERN CONFERENCE - LOS ANGELES LAKERS 103, PHOENIX 101 - Lakers lead series 3-2
Game 6 is Saturday (in Phoenix) at 8:30 p.m. ET

Everyone's busy digesting the late-game plays here that made Game 5 so special from the Jason Richardson bank shot from three-land that tied it up for the Suns to the aforementioned Bryant miss/Artest make that won it for LA but so many things that happened on Thursday night figure to impact what we will see in this possible elimination game on the final Saturday in May:

One question we have is will Jackson dare put a bigger body on splashy Suns point guard Steve Nash who registered a team-best 29 points on Thursday night with many of his dozen made field goals coming against Lakers' seven-footer Pau Gasol - we thought that the first couple of jumpers came on defensive switches but that was not the case as Gasol was trying to utilize his length to deter Nash but that strategy really blew up in LA's face. In Game 6 you can count on a little more Bryant (game-high 30 points on Thursday) defending Nash and even some double teams against the two-time MVP once he gets inside the foul line area with the ball.

Next topic for debate is should Gentry - who hopefully will have stopped his vomiting by game time here - be more gung-ho with his reserves in the first half of this must-win affair? In Game 5, the Suns' reserves scored 29 second-half points with the duo of Channing Frye and Jared Dudley combining for 24 points and 14 boards overall - maybe these two along with guard Goran Dragic deserve to see a chunk of game time in the first half and remember they were the stars of that last home win by Phoenix back on Tuesday night.

Finally, from a Lakers' standpoint, it's obvious that the team defense that has carried LA this far is struggling to keep Phoenix down-and-out here - even with a major second-quarter drought in Game 5, the Suns still wound up with more than 100 points and a 47 percent shooting rate from the floor (see 36-of-77 FGs). Look for the Lakers to milk a few more seconds off the shot clock on a bunch of possessions and then expect more harassment of Nash and some physicality when dealing with the aforementioned likes of Frye, Dudley and starting forward Grant Hill.

The Lakers had three guys with 20-plus points in Game 5 - Bryant, guard Derek Fisher (22 points) and Gasol (21) -- and still they needed some last-second miracle stuff to survive.

We just wonder if the Suns let this series slip away in that fifth game - but they better not even be thinking about that lost opportunity come Saturday night.

Here's the game-by-game breakdown of this NBA Western Conference Finals series (all home teams in CAPS):

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

5-17

LAKERS

- 6

LAKERS 128-107

5-19

LAKERS

- 7

LAKERS 124-112

5-23

SUNS

- 1½

SUNS 118-109

5-25

Lakers

- 1½

SUNS 115-106

5-27

LAKERS

- 8

LAKERS 103-101

EASTERN CONFERENCE - ORLANDO at BOSTON - Celtics lead series 3-2
Game 6 is tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET

You know what the Boston sports fan is saying right about now ... not again!

Just a couple of weeks after the beloved Bruins blew a three games-to-none series lead and were exiled from the NHL Playoffs by the Stanley Cup Finals-bound Philadelphia Flyers, here are the cagey Celtics getting more than just a little antsy while heading into tonight's game at "The Garden".

Maybe folks such as ESPN analyst Avery Johnson are right - Boston head coach Doc Rivers would have "signed for" a three games-to-two series lead here over Orlando prior to the start of this best-of-seven set -- but now even the ever-philosophical Rivers must have stomach churning here as not only have his Celts dropped the last two games in this series but his players are starting to drop like flies.

Kendrick Perkins - the muscle-man defensive presence in the post - will play here after the league rescinded the second technical called on him in Game 5 (a universally held belief that it was a bad "T" in the first place) but might center Dwight Howard already figured out how to maneuver 'round Perkins in the low box?

Than there was that eerie sight of big man Glen "Big Baby" Davis staggering three-quarters of the court the other night after being knocked on his noggin by elbow-chucking Magic center Howard and so not sure yet if he's been able to clear out all the cobwebs following what was termed a "mild concussion".

Then there's Boston point guard Rajon Rondo's muscle spasm woes, forward Paul Pierce's stiff neck and hurting right shoulder and Ray Allen's tired wheels and you see just why the Celtics are fretting right now while heading into this  Game 6 in their own backyard.

If Orlando is able to start zinging in three-pointers at the start of this game - following an electric 13-of-25 showing from beyond the arc in Game 5 - than Boston's gonna be backed into a proverbial corner and so here's three keys to victory for the Celtics:

First, take away Orlando's perimeter game and get in the grill of point guard Jameer Nelson (4-of-5 treys in Game 5 en route to a game-high 24-point outing);

Secondly, tap into your off-the-bench "energy guy" as soon as possible (that's swingman Tony Allen who played just 11 minutes in Game 5);

Finally, turn the tables on Howard: Instead of letting him swing his elbows wildly, give him some of own his own medicine and rough things up early and make him think about always getting whacked - still  no need to fear him at the free-throw line (7-of-12 FTs in Game 5).

P.S., Only 3 teams in NBA playoff history have even forced a Game 7 after being down three games-to-none in a best-of-seven series - that's 3-of-93 teams (or slightly more than 3 percent).

With two straight wins, Hurley's Network is locked in as the conference finals hit crunch time and we're set with the winner Friday night! Click here to learn more!

Here's the game-by-game breakdown in the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals:
        

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

RESULT

5-16

MAGIC

- 7

Celtics 92-88

5-18

MAGIC

- 7

Celtics 95-92

5-22

CELTICS

- 3½

CELTICS 94-71

5-24

CELTICS

- 7

Magic 96-92(OT)

5-26

MAGIC

- 4

MAGIC 113-92

 
BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES

Most Major-League Baseball folks will tell you it's still too early to be making major trades - after all the Trade Deadline is not till July 31st (of course) - but there's been big-time rumblings lately that a handful of teams are itching to pull the trigger on swaps that might well change their team's immediate fortunes. In this Baseball News & Notes segment, we've tossed four names out there - all of whom could be dealt in the coming days/weeks - and we've done our best to come up with their likely destinations. Here goes ...

ROY OSWALT, RHP, Houston Astros - The National League Central club enters the holiday weekend at 16-30 and buried at the bottom of its division and there's little doubt that Oswalt (3-6, 2.35 ERA) will get shipped out of town real soon. Oswalt made his thoughts known last week when he "requested" a trade and no doubt he didn't let trade talk distractions get to him as he hurled eight innings of shutout ball in Wednesday's rocking-chair 5-0 win in Milwaukee.

Even with the win there, the Astros have given Oswalt the lowest per-game run support in the bigs (just 2.07 runs per game) and visions of playing with high-octane offenses in Boston or in Texas must appeal to the veteran righty but expect his final landing spot to be with the New York Mets who have long romanced Oswalt (almost signed off on a three-way deal involving Oswalt and also the Baltimore Orioles a couple of years back).

Word is the 'Stros would like to get Mets' RHP Mike Pelfrey back in return as part of the trade - but that's not gonna happen - and so expect NYM to dangle the likes of minor-league OF Fernando Martinez and young righty Jennry Mejia (among other parts) instead.
 

Hurley won his Underdog Game of the Month on Thursday, plus a 2-0 night in the Blue Ribbon Club. Tonight's it's a Diamond Double Play, ready to turn a parlay on your man! Click here to learn more!


PRINCE FIELDER, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers - Like Houston, these 2010 Brewers (18-28) are going nowhere fast and there's more and more talk that dealing off free-agent-to-be Fielder for a cast of prospects is the way to go for this NL Central squad. Fielder (.271 batting average but with a solid .398 on-base percentage) entered Thursday's game with 7 HRs and 19 RBIs in 170 at-bats but does Milwaukee need their big slugger drawing base on balls all the time?

Gut feeling is that there is a perfect fit here and that's sending Fielder to the offensively-challenged San Francisco Giants in exchange for 1B Aubrey Huff and a batch of prospects that may or may not include Giants' ultra-talented LHP Jonathan Sanchez (2-4, 3.00 ERA with 56 Ks and 25 BB). If the Jints are willing to part with Sanchez than this deal could get down by June 1st - otherwise we would expect these teams to keep chatting for the foreseeable future.

KEVIN MILLWOOD, RHP, Baltimore Orioles - Think losing is just getting a little "old" for this veteran starting pitcher?
The former no-hit author enters his start tonight in Toronto at 0-4 with a 3.71 ERA - and with 56 Ks and only 16 BBs - and so you can't blame him for getting a little cranky with no "W's" on the 2010 docket so far.

The bad-bad Birds of Baltimore know someone will take Millwood's hefty $12 million contract off his hands this year and then count on him to keep supplying big-time innings. Note that Millwood has gone at least six innings in eight of his last nine starts this year and teams such as the aforementioned Mets, the Colorado Rockies and the Detroit Tigers would love to land the 14-year mound veteran but we see him going to the Los Angeles Angels when all the dust finally settles.

YUNEL ESCOBAR, SS, Atlanta Braves - There have been more than a few folks that have landed up in manager Bobby Cox's doghouse throughout the years and this 27-year-old has been a frequent "visitor" in the past year.

Escobar - who just snapped a 15 at-bat hitless streak with a single on Wednesday night against Florida - has been brutal this year with a .188 batting average with just 9 RBI and 13 runs scored. Throw in the fact that he's run the bases poorly and has not played a clean shortstop and the rumor mill has heated up with reports that the Braves will be dealing him soon.

Where's he headed? Well, Boston might be the answer - the Red Sox are not in love with "this year's" shortstop Marco Scutaro but don't discount the possibility of Escobar being traded to the Minnesota Twins for some Triple-A type players.

 

THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND IS HERE AND WE'RE BUSY DISSECTING THE CELTICS' ROMP-IN-THE-PARK SERIES CLINCHER VERSUS ORLANDO PLUS IT'S A GAME 6 PREVIEW OF LAKERS-SUNS ...

BASEBALL NEWS/NOTES: WE GO 'ROUND THE BIGS WITH QUICK-HITTER COMMENTS
 
By Jim Hurley:

If you had put your holiday weekend plans on hold because there might be an NBA Game 7 showdown on Sunday night between the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic, well, go ahead and have that barbecue with your next-door neighbor or take that long late-afternoon ride into the country - as you know by now, there won't be a Game 7 in that Eastern Conference Finals and that was pretty much made clear soon after tip-off in Friday night's Game 6.

Okay, so the Celtics' 96-84 series-clinching triumph over the 3 ½-point underdog Magic sure was a whole lot easier than most folks thought but, then again, that's what happens when your Hall of Fame player - that's forward Paul Pierce - rolls up a game-high 31 points and when your bench gives you a major shot of adrenaline - that's rarely-used guard Nate Robinson who scored all 13 of his points in an action-packed second quarter.

The end result?

Boston now goes on to chase after an NBA-best 18th championship beginning on Thursday night and the very fact that Doc Rivers' club will begin that series on the road won't rattle the C's in the least - after all, they are the first-ever NBA team to reach the Finals having won more road games (26) than home games (24). The Celtics have not even played a win-or-else game in this post-season so far having dispatched of the Miami Heat in five games, the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games and now Orlando in six games - and better yet the city of Boston doesn't have to dread the thought that both its professional hockey and basketball teams might well have blown three games-to-none series leads this playoff season.

Whew!

We'll dig a bit more into Boston's triumphant Friday night in just a moment plus we'll check in with the Western Conference Finals too and there's Baseball talk as well in this holiday weekend edition of Jim Sez but first this ultra-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. Keep in mind that there are Nine (9) matinee games in MLB on Memorial Day including marquee matchups such as Philadelphia at Atlanta and Tampa Bay at Toronto.

SPECIAL 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.

THE NBA PLAYOFFS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS - BOSTON 96, ORLANDO 84 - Celtics win series 4-2

The Celtics did cruise to the winner's circle here as they had in their other series-clinching wins (by 10 points over Miami and by 9 points over Cleveland) and most folks will point to a pair of different parts of this Game 6 versus the Magic as critical junctures:

After Boston took a 30-19 lead into the start of the second quarter, there was Robinson draining a pair of three-pointers to push the Celtics into a 15-point lead and the whole Garden was busting at the seams - and then when Boston opened the second half by scoring 11 of the first 13 points in the third quarter the verdict was officially in. Despite ESPN play-by-play man Mike Breen's silly talk midway in the fourth quarter that Orlando could get back into this one - get real, Mike! - the Celtics led by no less than 14 points throughout the final frame until that final score.

While Pierce - who also added 13 rebounds and played some wonderful perimeter defense again - was the stat star of the night and Robinson played the proverbial "second fiddle" it's worth mentioning that the Celtics won all the hustle plays too with some key steals to go along with 11 offensive rebounds and hats off to Boston point guard Rajon Rondo who took a mean hit to the parquet floor after one rough foul but fought on and turned the ball over only three times in 35 minutes of game action.

Perhaps you heard those "MVP, MVP" chants that were ringing loudly throughout the building!

If all things were looking rosy for the Celtics, the same - obviously - could not be said for the Magic who appeared to get psyched out by the raucous Celtics crowd early on and never did get comfortable from beyond the arc while connecting on a mere 6-of-22 three-point tries (and how about the fact Rashard Lewis didn't sink a single three-ball and Vince Carter nailed only one triple en route to a pedestrian 17-point game on 6-of-15 FG shooting).

Maybe the Magic never was gonna make it all the way back from that three games-to-none series deficit but hoop fans sure would have liked to see a better/sharper effort in this elimination game and, for that, head coach Stan Van Gundy must take a king-sized hit.


WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS - LOS ANGELES LAKERS at PHOENIX - Lakers lead series 3-2

Game 6 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET

Much is being made of the fact the Lakers have won all eight of their playoff home games this spring - but what about the fact that the Suns have won six of their seven post-season home games including the last six in a row?

Hey, folks, it is a major reason why Phoenix is banking on - pardon the pun, Jason Richardson! - forcing a decisive Game 7 back in LA come Monday night but Alvin Gentry's club shouldn't think just because it came oh-so-close to besting the Lakers in Game 5 and having this home-court advantage mojo that this one will be easy.

No doubt the Lakers believe that they'll shoot it better here - in that 103-101 non-cover win in Game 5, LA connected on just under 42 percent of its field-goal attempts (that's 38-of-91) - plus no question that the message from legendary head coach Phil Jackson to Game 5 star Ron Artest is to please think before chucking up one of those 28-foot beyond-the-arc bombs.

In fact, expect the Lakers' offensive strategy here to include fewer triple tries overall (the Lakers connected on just 7-of-24 triples in Game 5 after hurling up 60-plus treys in those Game 3/Game 4 losses in the Valley of the Sun) and paying strict attention to getting Pau Gasol more touches in this triangle offense.
     Gasol nailed 7-of-14 FG tries in Game 5 but often went up and down the floor without getting involved in the action (not his fault!) and so it will be a more back-to-basics deal here for the Lakers who expect Kobe Bryant to take 25-to-32 shots and want veteran guard Derek Fisher to get off at least a dozen FG shots here (see 7-of-12 in Game 5 including a massive contribution late in the first quarter when LA really needed a pick-me-up).

The Suns will utilize their bench plenty with boss-man Gentry not shy about playing his whole reserve unit as one for a full quarter's worth of time here but Phoenix won't allow a long leash for folks such as backup guard Goran Dragic (1-of-5 FGs in Game 5) and swingman Leandro Barbosa (only two FG tries - and both misses - in Game 5).

P.S., expect the Suns to play point guard Steve Nash more than 35 minutes in this clash and look for Gentry to use his timeouts wisely if and when this one's close in the fourth quarter - he must have Nash playing the majority of the final frame.

After all, Phoenix, you can't afford any more "moral victories".

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES

Major-League Baseball's Trade Rumor Mill has lots more names on it than just the four (Houston RHP Roy Oswalt, Milwaukee 1B Prince Fielder, Baltimore RHP Kevin Millwood and Atlanta SS Yunel Escobar) we mentioned in our latest Jim Sez.

One such name being bandied about is Astros LF Carlos Lee who could be a big DH bopper in the days ahead - but Lee's recent struggles (4-for-19 with no HRs in the last seven days leading into the weekend series in Cincinnati) could have GMs thinking that maybe his best days are behind him.

Keep on eye on the immobile Lee this weekend in Cincy and next week when the 'Stros return home to face Washington - a hot week could get Houston some Triple-A type prospects from some team like the Chicago White Sox ...

Is there an more underrated or unsung closer out there than Kansas City's Joakim Soria?

In Thursday night's 4-3 win at Boston that began the four-game holiday weekend set there, Soria marched out of the Royals bullpen and promptly put down the Bosox 1-2-3 as he retired Jeremy Hermida, Jason Varitek and pinch-hitter Victor Martinez without allowing the ball out of the infield. Soria exited that rare Royals road win with 12 saves on the year and with other truly spiffy stats including 25 Ks and only 6 BBs and a 2.84 ERA.

Soria's blown two save opportunities this year but - unless he implodes big-time in the coming weeks - you can look for him to be one of the America League's key late-inning relievers in the All-Star Game in Anaheim on July 13th ...

Just how good has the 2010 Minnesota Twins defense been?

Well, in Thursday night's series-saving 8-2 win over the New York Yankees, Twins' catcher Joe Mauer committed a throwing error in the fourth inning - and that was only Minny's 10th error in its first 47 games.

Compare that with some other American League teams and you'll see that the next-best defensive team in the league are the aforementioned Yankees (20 errors while entering the weekend series against Cleveland) while the once-reliable Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers share the lead with most errors in the junior circuit with 38 apiece. Now you know one reason why both of these playoff-hopeful teams have languished near the .500 mark this season.

Note that the Twins played another "clean" game in Friday's series-opening 2-1 win against Texas ...

It's always interesting to take stock in how teams are faring home and away as we hit the Memorial Day weekend and one team that really has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde bunch are the New York Mets:

The National League East team exited its three-game series sweep over Philadelphia (all three of 'em were shutout wins) with a 19-9 home mark (.679) while the Mets entered this weekend set in Milwaukee at 6-14 (.300) on the road. The Mets just beat last year's World series participants - first the rival New York Yankees and then the archrival Phillies - five times in six home games and note that among NYM's other home conquests this season is an April three-game sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers and a three-game sweep against the Atlanta Braves.

The Mets' road woes continued with the first game of the series in Milwaukee - a tough-to-stomach 2-0 loss as the Mets blew a golden opportunity in the third inning with bases loaded and nobody out. Make it 6-15 away going into the final Saturday/Sunday in May.

NOTE: More Baseball and Basketball News in the next Jim Sez.

23
Nov

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