NBA Report - NFL Draft Preview - Kickers & Punters

THE NBA REPORT - WE CHECK IN ON WHAT'S STRAIGHT AHEAD FOR A BATCH OF PLAYOFF-BOUND TEAMS WHILE HEADING INTO THE FINAL REGULAR-SEASON WEEKEND ...

THE NFL DRAFT: IT'S TIME TO BEGIN OUR ANNUAL JIM SEZ POSITION-BY-POSITION LOOK WITH THE TOP KICKERS & PUNTERS TAKING CENTER STAGE HERE

By Jim Hurley:

Have you taken a good, long look at the NBA Standings in the past 24 hours?

If you have than you no doubt noticed that there are eight teams with 50-or-more regular-season victories including Chicago, Boston, Miami and Orlando in the Eastern Conference along with San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas and Oklahoma City in the NBA's Western Conference - and that just goes to show you that in a hoops league where there are plenty of "have-nots" there are also a batch of truly elite teams.

Heck, can't you picture any of the above possible matchups being great theatre in the NBA Finals come June ... although a Bulls versus Lakers showdown (you know, Lakers coach Phil Jackson riding off into the sunset while looking for a fourth "three-peat" having to beat his old team for the title) would probably be the best of 'em all!

Agree?

We shall put the NBA on our front-and-center look here as this marks the final regular-season weekend of the 2010-11 campaign and so plenty of thoughts on a batch of teams headed to the post-season plus we also have the first Jim Sez installment regarding the upcoming NFL Draft.

Our position-by-position analyses kicks off with - what else - the kickers and punters and so make sure you are with us each/every day with our NFL Draft items and remember there's fresh news/notes every day on this Jim Sez web site.

Hey, the NFL may be in "lockout" mode these days but the Draft will go on as planned and we'll have plenty to say about the teams and the players in the days and weeks ahead.

First, let's get you to this important reminder: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA and Major-League Baseball Winners when you check in every day either right here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Just call or go online anytime after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays, after 11 a.m. ET for all the weekday Baseball action and after 1 p.m. ET for all the weeknight action.

 

THE NBA REPORT - CHECKING UP ON THE HEAT, KNICKS AND PACERS IN THE EAST AND THE LAKERS AND MAVERICKS OUT WEST

In the Eastern Conference, let's check out these three playoff-bound teams ...

MIAMI (54-24) - Much has been made this year about the fact this Heat team has played so poorly against the Eastern Conference's elite teams (but did you know that Miami is a stunning 20-10 against the West?) but it'll be either New York or Philadelphia serving as the first-round playoff foe beginning next weekend and neither of these clubs is considered "elite" by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, Miami has some health concerns as it closes out regular-season play - note the Heat hosts Charlotte on Friday night and than is home to Boston on Sunday afternoon on ABC - with G Dwyane Wade hurting (bruised right thigh) and important rebounder/defender F Udonis Haslem considered to be a long-shot to make it back for the first round of the post-season, thanks to a torn ligament in his left foot.

Hey, the Heat needs Haslem's in-the-paint toughness to get over the hump in some games and the expected series with either the Knicks or the Sixers could be more of a skirmish without 'em.

NEW YORK (40-38) - The aforementioned Knicks are planning some R&R time for their "big three" of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups before the Big Apple bunch begins the post-season next weekend and wins this past week against Toronto and Philadelphia allowed the Knicks to distance themselves from that rotten recent six-game losing skid.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni - who has felt the media heat building on him in recent weeks - would love to know that underrated guard Toney Douglas (28 points in that 131-118 win/cover against the Raptors earlier in the week) will be a playoff sparkplug and the truth of the matter is the Knicks (17-21 on the NBA road this 2010-11 season) are not deathly afraid of opening up with two playoff games in either Boston or Miami with some thought that Anthony always thrives against good buddy LeBron James. Stay tuned.

INDIANA (36-43) - No one is ready to call this year's Indy Pacers the best NBA team since the 1973 Lakers but all that matters to interim head coach Frank Vogel is that the Pacers are "in" when it comes to the post-season and so that ends a bitter five-year playoff drought and thus it matters little to Vogel and Company whether it's Chicago or Boston serving as the opening-round foe.

The Pacers have witnessed starters Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert expand their games in the post-Jim O'Brien Era and earlier this week Indiana smoked Washington 136-112 behind 15 points and 11 assists by PG Collison along with F Danny Granger's 25 points on 7-of-11 FG shooting. If Granger somehow sparkles to a 30-point plus game in either of his team's first two playoff games, than an Indiana team playing .456 ball (note 27-22 in Eastern Conference play) could cause some headaches.

In the Western Conference, let's look at these two playoff-bound squads ...

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (55-23) - Hey, this is no way to close out a brilliant season as the Lakers have lost their last three in a row while heading into Friday night's clash at Portland.

No doubt that Phil Jackson's club is relatively snug/secure in that #2 seed in the West - San Antonio's above 'em and Dallas is right beneath 'em - but the fact of the matter is G Ron Artest is in a real funk when it comes to the offensive end of the floor (see 1-of-7 FG shooting in the Lakers' 95-87 loss at 5 ½-point underdog Golden State this past Wednesday night) and the Hall of Fame head coach Jackson said Artest is "forcing things" at that end of the floor plus the coach added he believed "complacency" has been a problem in this late-season stretch.

Note that LA's scored 90, 85 and 87 points during this losing streak (a per-game average of 87.3 ppg) and that's a far cry from the team's epic 12-1 SU (straightup) mark in the month of March.

DALLAS (53-25) - Here's another Western Conference club that's been moon-walking backwards lately as the Mavericks enter Friday night's home tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers on a four-game losing slide (see setbacks against Denver, Portland, Golden State and the Lakers while dating back to March 31st).

The Mavs have not been real chatty about things lately but center Tyson Chandler believes the team needs to communicate better in the final few regular-season games and right into the post-season. "All good teams talk (on the court)," said Chandler. "All good teams communicate."

Even head coach Rick Carlisle said not calling out picks or yelling for defensive help has been a problem lately and a potential first-round playoff matchup against slippery PG Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets could pose real problems for Dallas.

 There's less than a week to go in the regular season. You can start winning tonight and keep it all going through the NBA Finals, with our NBA Moneytime package that includes nightly baseball action. Click here to learn more.

OUR JIM SEZ NFL DRAFT POSITION-BY-POSITION REPORT GETS IT ALL KICKED OFF WITH (WHAT ELSE!) THE TOP PLACEKICKERS & PUNTERS

Editor's Note: We will have complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage the next two weeks regarding the upcoming NFL Draft on Thursday, April 28 thru Saturday, April 30 and it's all capped by our annual Jim Sez Mock Draft (to be posted here on this web site on Wednesday, April 20). We get things kick-started today with a look at this group of Placekickers and Punters:

ALEX HENERY, PK, Nebraska - Most in-the-know experts believe he's the best kicker to come out of college in the past 10-to-12 years and great leg strength and accuracy makes him an immediate weapon on an NFL team that needs a sure thing when booting 40-plus yard field goals. Henery connected on 90 percent of his college FG attempts and the lone miss last year was a 51-yarder that was blocked plus he offered the Cornhuskers a double-edged sword as he performed as a top-flight punter too but expect the NFL team to draft him to keep 'em in just the PK role, save for emergencies.

KAI FORBATH, PK, UCLA - The long-time Bruins star drilled 85-of-101 career field goals for this Pac-10 squad although he comes off a somewhat shaky 13-of-18 FG season in 2010. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Forbath was a four-year starter for the Uclans but NFL teams should not count on him being their kickoff guy as he's strictly cut out for FGs and PATs despite his powerful leg strength. P.S., Forbath patterns his kicking after NFL superstar Adam Vinatieri.

JOSH JASPER, PK, LSU - Last year this not-so-secret weapon for the Bayou Bengals drilled 26-of-31 field-goal tries and note he wound up his collegiate career as the only consensus All-America kicker in the school's rich history while making good on 47-of-56 FGs overall (that's an 84 percent accuracy rate). Better yet, NFL teams should consider him as their "pooch" punter as the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Jasper had 14 of his 21 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line last season.

RYAN DONAHUE, P, Iowa - Most NFL Mock Drafts list this 6-foot-2, 195-pounder as the second-best punter in the land behind the aforementioned Henery and note the Hawkeyes' star was one of the three finalists a year ago for the coveted Ray Guy Award. Last season Donahue averaged 44.6 yards a punt with 21 punts pinning opponents back inside their 20-yard line. Note that in high school he boomed an Iowa state-record 90-yard punt.
 
MATT BOSHER, P, Miami - This Jupiter (FL) native has come a long way having had four punts blocked in his first two seasons in college and last year this 6-foot-1, 210-pounder with great leg strength averaged a hefty 44 yards a punt plus chipped in 13-of-17 FG makes too. Bosher's best day last year was when he slammed punts of 56, 62, 52 and 61 yards against Virginia. Likely will be a mid-to-late draftee but expect his versatility to allow him to "stick" at this next level.
 
JAKE ROGERS, PK, Cincinnati - The former Bearcats star connected on 11-of-14 field goals last year including a pair of 3-for-3 games against Oklahoma and South Florida and keep in mind he drilled FGs covering 48, 49 and 49 yards along the way in 2010. In the 2009 season, Rogers kicked a 47-yard pressurized field goal in the Sugar Bowl and his ability to get great distance on bad-weather kicks makes him an intriguing later-round pick for someone like the Cleveland Browns or the Buffalo Bills.
 

NFL DRAFT ORDER, ROUND 1
In case you didn't have it right in front of you, here's the up-to-the-moment NFL Draft order for Round I on April 28th:

1 - Carolina Panthers
2 - Denver Broncos
3 - Buffalo Bills
4 - Cincinnati Bengals
5 - Arizona Cardinals
6 - Cleveland Browns
7 - San Francisco 49ers
8 - Tennessee Titans
9 - Dallas Cowboys
10 - Washington Redskins
11 - Houston Texans
12 - Minnesota Vikings
13 - Detroit Lions
14 - St. Louis Rams
15 -- Miami Dolphins
16 - Jacksonville Jaguars
17 - New England Patriots
18 - San Diego Chargers
19 - New York Giants
20 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
21 - Kansas City Chiefs
22 - Indianapolis Colts
23 - Philadelphia Eagles
24 - New Orleans Saints
25 - Seattle Seahawks
26 - Baltimore Ravens
27 - Atlanta Falcons
28 - New England Patriots
29 - Chicago Bears
30 - New York Jets
31 - Pittsburgh Steelers
32 - Green Bay Packers



THE JIM SEZ WEEKEND REPORT - BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES STARTS US OFF PLUS IT'S OUR LATEST NFL DRAFT POSITION UPDATE AS WE CHECK OUT THE TOP CORNERBACKS

By Jim Hurley:

So, you think this has been a topsy-turvy start to the 2011 Major-League Baseball Season ...hey, you ain't alone!

Who would have thought that heading into the second weekend of the here-and-now campaign that the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays would be a combined 0-and-12?

Okay, so that combined record was "upgraded" to 2-12 following the Friday results that included the Red Sox nailing down a wild 9-6 win in their Fenway Park opener against the hated New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays' come-from-behind 9-7 win at the Chicago White Sox.

Note that last season the Rays roared their way to an American League East crown with 96 wins while the oft-injured Red Sox still wound up with 89 victories and right now anyone holding "laundry tickets" to go over with either or both teams cannot be feeling very good. Right?

Maybe the wackiest thing to the start of this season for Tampa Bay is that - while the offense pitters along with the injured 3B Evan Longoria (and missing some key pieces from a year ago such as LF Carl Crawford and 1B Carlos Pena) there's uber-talented lefthander David Price sitting at 0-2 with a bloated 4.85 ERA after suffering through a 4-1 loss to Baltimore back on April 1st and then Thursday's 5-1 loss at the Chicago White Sox.

Okay, so we tabbed Price as our 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner - and we're not giving up the ship just yet here at Jim Sez - but it's tough to win when your team scores a run-a-game - and did you know that Tampa Bay had registered a grand total of 8 runs and 27 hits through the first six games and now Joe Maddon's club has to go the rest of this weekend in Chicago without Price on the hill.

Speaking of Price - who cranked out a 19-6 record last year with a tidy 2.72 ERA - he blurted out the following response after that Thursday matinee loss: "Nobody cares about how much money you make (in response to the fact Tampa Bay's payroll is way, way down from a year ago). If you lose, you're not having fun." Price added, "This isn't fun for us right now. It's terrible."

Meanwhile, there were the Red Sox heading into their home Opening Day without a single win after getting swept three in a row in both Texas and Cleveland. Terry Francona's squad - slated to win 95 games this year (or so says the experts in Las Vegas) - off to their worst single-season start since 1945 when that Bosox team dropped its first eight games in a row right out of the starting gate.

This Boston team can't hit a lick as evidenced by the fact the Red Sox scored 16 runs in their first six games and top-of-the-order guys CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.167), the new and aforementioned LF Crawford (.174) and 2B Dustin Pedroia (.227) simply are not getting on base - and wasn't it a tad strange that Francona moved the veteran Crawford down to seventh in the batting order on opening weekend in Arlington? Hmmm.

The Friday matinee win did include a dozen hits for the Bosox including Pedroia's first home run of the season and so maybe things will take a swing in the other direction - but let's not hold any parades through Beantown just yet.

Okay, so even the world's biggest pessimist would tell you things are bound to get better for both Boston and Tampa Bay - right, they can't get any worse! - but the fact of the matter is the Red Sox own one of baseball's best starting rotations powered by hard-luck lefty Jon Lester (no runs, three hits in seven innings against Cleveland in that 1-0 loss suffered by reliever Daniel Bard) while the Rays have enough solid starting pitching to go along with Price to make things right before too long.

Hey, we won't even "pick on" the St. Louis Cardinals here (see 2-5 start following Friday's 5-4 extra-innings loss in San Francisco) just for fear of how ornery manager Tony LaRussa might deal with us ...wow, now that was a great little piece of LaRussa video the other day and good thing he doesn't have to deal with the media hordes in Boston or New York!

We'll get to our Jim Sez NFL Draft analyses in just a moment but first let's get to this very important business reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA and Major-League Baseball winners when you check in every day either right here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Just call or go online anytime after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays, after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday Baseball action and after 1 p.m. ET for all the weeknight action.

Note: The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, April 23rd and run through mid-to-late June - so don't sit on the sidelines now just 'cause the college kids have finished up their season. Be part of all the winners in the NBA Playoffs and make sure to sign up today either here online or at that aforementioned toll-free line of 1-800-323-4453.

NFL DRAFT POSITION-BY-POSITION REPORT

Editor's Note: We will have complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage of the upcoming NFL Draft that takes place Thursday, April 28th thru Saturday April 30th. Note that it's all capped off by our annual Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft to be posted right here on Wednesday, April 27th. Now, let's get to the top Cornerbacks (CBs) on the rookie market this season:

PATRICK PETERSON, CB, LSU - This Pompano Beach (FL) native piled up the hardware last season as a 20-year-old as the Bayou Bengals best player won the Bednarik Award as the nation's best defender, the Thorpe Award as the country's top defensive back plus he nabbed the SEC's Defensive and Special Teams MVPs and rarely was he challenged by opposing passing games. Peterson picked off four passes last year in his junior season and he averaged a dazzling 16.1 yards a pop on punt returns and so no wonder NFL teams have salivated about this natural athlete that could well be plucked somewhere in the first 8 or 9 picks. Note that many mock drafts have Peterson going to the San Francisco 49ers at the #7 overall pick - and who are we to argue?

PRINCE AMUKAMARA, CB, Nebraska - This 6-foot, 205-pounder figures to be gobbled up in the draft's first dozen-or-so picks as he sports great athleticism and is considered a hard-hitting defender but there are questions about his hands (note Amukamara intercepted only five passes in his college career and all of 'em occurred his junior seasons). The Cornhuskers converted him from a high school running back to an elite college corner and the Glendale (AZ) native has major "quicks" as evidenced by his 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash. Both Tennessee at #8 and Houston at #10 could be interested.

AARON WILLIAMS, CB, Texas - Most draft boards project this 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Round Rock (TX) to be a late first-round selection but he's performed extremely well in personal workouts and the fact he reminds many NFL scouts of former Texas corners Cedric Griffin and Aaron Ross likely has elevated his stock and so don't be at all surprised if Williams gets nabbed on/around the 20th overall pick. P.S., one particular item that Williams thrives in is when defending the bubble screen pass that so many NFL teams run these days. Note that Williams - who exited college following his junior season - started 23 of his final 26 games for the Big 12 team.

JIMMY SMITH, CB, Colorado - This 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has answered all the questions when it comes to his playing ability as the self-proclaimed "shutdown corner" has size, speed and good tackling techniques but it's his off-the-field issues that could knock 'em down in the first round of this year's draft. Smith has been twice arrested in Boulder plus he failed a 2007 drug test but the 22-year-old California native claims he has "matured" and promises NFL teams that his problems are a thing of the past. Most draft boards have him getting selected somewhere in the #21-thru-#26 range and the Seattle Seahawks (at #25) could be his eventual destination.

BRANDON HARRIS, CB, Miami - This three-year performer was a workout whiz at the NFL Combine (note that he posted a 34 ½-inch vertical jump) and last year he finished second nationally in passes defended with a 15 but he finished with just one interception for the 2010 campaign. Most draftniks believe Harris is a second-round pick but he could get in under the first-round wire and might even wind up with the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers with the #31 overall selection. Note that all reports claim he's a better man-defense corner than when his club sits in a zone.

CURTIS BROWN, CB, Texas - This six-foot, 180-pounder from Gilmer (TX) figures to fall into the mid-portion of Round II but some great workout numbers has many in-the-know folks believing that a "run on cornerbacks" could improve his draft position and so don't necessarily be shocked if he gets picked somewhere in the top 37-or-38 picks.
 

NOTE: Get more NFL Draft analysis plus MLB and NBA action in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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