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THE NBA PLAYOFFS REALLY HEAT UP - AND WE CHECK OUT THE FRIDAY NIGHT ACTION IN NEW YORK, ATLANTA AND NEW ORLEANS...

PLUS IT'S OUR LATEST NFL DRAFT INSTALLMENT AS WE DELVE INTO THE OUTSIDE LINEBACKER POSITION

By Jim Hurley:     

It's a close-but-no-cigar type of opening-round NBA Playoff series for the New York Knicks: The Big Apple's top hoops squad - and the #6 seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference this post-season -- was burned in Boston 87-85 in Game #1 last Sunday night as Celtics great sharpshooter Ray Allen canned a wing triple with 11 seconds left to win it and than the C's struck again in Game #2 with a tight 96-93 victory - by the way, both were Knicks' covers (as 6- and 6 ½-point underdogs) but that hardly soothed the pain for a franchise that hasn't won a post-season game since Betty White was a teenager!

The Knicks will try, try, try again on this next-to-last Friday in April but a loss here and all the air will be out of NYC when it comes to the town's basketball hopes/dreams. We'll get to our Celtics-Knicks Game #3 preview plus the goodies in Atlanta and New Orleans too but first this important message:

And now hear this:  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 go online right here: Check-in times are after 11 a.m. ET for weekday afternoon Baseball; after 1 p.m. ET for all weeknight NBA & MLB games; and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays. Extra, extra: The NBA Playoffs have swung into action - please make sure you're all signed up for the whole hoops post-season with our NBA PLAYOFF PACKAGE. Just talk to Jim or one of his service representatives today!


THE NBA PLAYOFFS: HERE'S FRIDAY'S GAME #3 SHOWDOWNS

In the Eastern Conference, it's...
    
BOSTON at NEW YORK - Celtics lead series 2-0
If the Knicks are looking for "good news" here it's that F/C Amar'e Stoudemire is expected to play after sitting out 30 minutes of game-time with back spasms in Game #2 - but the flip side is Stoudemire has been beset by such woes for much of this year plus PG Chauncey Billups likely will continue to sit it out with a knee injury that occurred late in Game #1. The M*A*S*H-like Knicks have been gallant thus far but they have not made the down-the-stretch plays and even a 42-point, 17-rebound, 6-assist performance by F Carmelo Anthony in Tuesday's three-point loss was not enough.

If Mike D'Antoni's crew is gonna crawl back into this best-of-seven series than someone must step in the driving lanes of Boston PG Rajon Rondo (career playoff-high 30 points and 7 assists in Game #2) who really set the tempo of that last tilt with 14 first-quarter points.
  
    
ORLANDO at ATLANTA - Series tied 1-1
Here's the real under-the-radar question that must be posed prior to this Game #3 in "Hot-lanta": Can Magic big man Dwight Howard - yes, a/k/a "Superman" - play another full 48-minute game as was the case in the gritty 88-82 non-cover win in Game #2?

Howard was the only player on either team to go the route in that "get-even" win this past Tuesday night and he pumped up the stat page with 33 points and 19 rebounds but if the Hawks choose to do so they might be able to bump-and-grind Howard on every possession here and make him a tad tired by the final quarter - hey, Atlanta may have no either real strategy plus Larry Drew's club has to continue playing all-out perimeter defense as note Orlando shot just 5-of-23 from beyond the three-point arc in Game #2 and just 27-of-78 overall from the field (that's less than 35 percent).

In the Western Conference, it's...
    
LOS ANGELES LAKERS at NEW ORLEANS - Series tied 1-1
The game plan now is simple for the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers: Do anything/everything possible to slow down (or stop) Hornets point guard supreme Chris Paul... even if it means using mega-star Kobe Bryant on him much of the night.

Bryant's offensive numbers sagged badly in LA's 87-78 non-cover win against 11 ½-point underdog N'Orleans in Game #2 - he finished with only 11 points while shooting a dreadful 3-of-11 from the floor - but save for end-of-half and end-of-quarter jumpers by Paul (see 20 points and 9 assists) the Lakers did a solid job handling the slippery "Bugs" backcourt star and now Bryant can expect another heavy-duty night of defensive patrol here.

Hey, if New Orleans is gonna bag at least one of these next two games at home, than Paul's gonna need the bench to give New Orleans a spark as that unit shot just 5-of-17 from the floor while producing 13 points in Game #2 and so keep an especially close eye here on journeyman G Jarrett Jack who played 27 minutes in Game #2 and figures to play 23-to-28 minutes here. Odds are he'll have to take over things for a few minutes when Paul's getting pine time.

 

THE NFL DRAFT: IT'S THE TOP OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Editor's Note: We will continue with our complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage of the NFL Draft (April 28-29-30) right here and than right into early next week too and it's all capped off by our annual Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft which will be posted on this website on Wednesday, April 27th: Now, here's a look at the draft's top Outside Linebackers:

VON MILLER, OLB, Texas A&M - The 2010 Butkus Award winner is the hands-down best defensive player in this year's NFL Draft and most draft boards have him getting gobbled up somewhere in the first three overall picks (and most likely to Buffalo at #3). Miller - who played four years for the A&M Aggies and led the team with 10 ½ quarterback sacks a year ago - plays his best in big games as evidenced by his nine tackles (three of them for losses) in Texas A&M's bowl loss against LSU and note this 6-foot-3, 245-pounder is a sure tackler with great instincts when it comes to rushing the opponents' passer. Only real question is can he drop back and defend the pass but probably won't be asked to do so often on this next level.

AKEEM AYERS, OLB, UCLA - Most projections place this 6-foot-3, 255-pounder somewhere in the draft's top 18-to-25 picks but this Los Angeles native could catapult higher should an NFL team that plays a three-man front catch his eye. Ayers is a speedy pass rusher off the edge who isn't afraid to mix it up and he did face a slew of humongous OTs in his time inside the Pac-10. Note that Ayers finished third in the Butkus Award balloting last year and has some real positive momentum while heading into next week's draft. New England at #17 could decide to tab this Bruins star.

BROOKS REED, OLB, Arizona - A fast riser on the NFL Draft boards, this Tucson native projects best at OLB in a 3-4 defensive setup and his 4.65 time in the 40 was better than 18 of the 24 LBs that were tested in Indianapolis. The 6-foot-3, 257-pound Reed is 24 years old and the fact that he started for three years at 'Zona makes him a grizzled vet in a draft that has lots of young (and somewhat untested) players. It might be a stretch to call Reed a first-round selection but you could see it happen in the final three or four selections in Round I.

JUSTIN HOUSTON, OLB, Georgia - Last year's Georgia Bulldogs finished with a losing record at 6-7 but don't point any fingers of blame at this 6-foot-3, 258-pounder from Statesboro (GA). Note that Houston cranked out 18 ½ tackles for losses last year and 10 sacks and he wowed NFL Combine folks with his 4.68 time in the 40-yard dash. No doubt NFL teams will be checking him out as a pure pass rusher and an explosive side makes him an on-the-fence guy in terms of being selected in Round I. Gut feeling is Chicago at #29 could snap him up.
   

NOTE: There's more NBA Playoff coverage plus MLB Notes and NFL Draft News in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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