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By Jim Hurley:

Okay, so tonight they'll be handing this year's NBA Most Valuable Player award to Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose - but will the Atlanta Hawks then be handing Rose and Company a two game-to-none series deficit some 2 ½-to-3 hours later in the evening?

No doubt there have been lots more-than-usual shockers in these NBA Playoffs so far but Atlanta's rather lopsided 103-95 win at the 9-point home favorite Bulls in Game #1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals was a real doozy - especially when you stop to consider the Las Vegas and off-shore big-wigs posted the Bulls as a resounding 8-to-1 betting favorite in this best-of-seven series - and so the heat's really gonna be on the Chitowners here when they step onto the United Center court tonight and here's hoping Rose doesn't have to think he has to lug that MVP hardware around with 'em while he's trying to drive, dish and score!

And talk about a "must win" early in a series!

Meanwhile, the story reads the same out West where the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are facing a similar 1-0 series hole following Monday night's 96-94 meltdown loss to the 6-point underdog Dallas Mavericks. Hey, if it wasn't bad enough that the Lakers coughed up a five-point lead in the game's final 3:32 of play, there was ace-in-the-hole scorer Kobe Bryant missing that 26-footer at the buzzer and somehow it simply wasn't a Hollywood ending to that clash. Here's the Lakers now in desperate straits to get this Western Conference series even - but will there be any carryover effect from Monday's tilt?

And now hear this: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Playoffs 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, of course, anytime after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays. Go ahead and pile up your spring-time profits with America's #1 Handicapper - the one-and-only Jim Hurley.

Now, here's the two NBA Playoff games on this Wednesday night:

EASTERN CONFERENCE -  ATLANTA at CHICAGO - Hawks lead series 1-0
You take your pick as to what were the real key moments in Monday's runaway road win by the Hawks - was it right at the start of the game when Chicago missed its first nine consecutive field-goal attempts while going an ice-cold 6-of-21 from the floor in the first quarter or was the key that third/fourth-quarter "bridge" where Atlanta reeled off a 15-2 scoring advantage and thus quieted the "Madhouse on Madison" crowd?

In any event, it'll be a shocker this evening if the Bulls don't play air-tight defense right from the start for newly-named NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau who was quoted following Game #1 that, "There wasn't one aspect of the defense that was good."

Overall, the Hawks drained a mesmerizing 51.3 percent of their FG tries (that's 40-of-78) and the tag team of G Joe Johnson (12-of-18 FGs including 5-of-5 from trey-land for 34 points) and key reserve Jamal Crawford (8-of-16 FG makes for 22 points in Game #1) came up big when called upon but one forgotten Game #1 key for Larry Drew's team was some skin-under-the-fingernails defense against the aforementioned Rose who needed 27 FG attempts to net 24 points before he went off and - amazingly - sprained his ankle with three seconds remaining in the game when he should have been walking off the court for the night. Geez!

One key here in Game #2 is the Bulls need to sink those timely triples to get the crowd juiced up and so the accuracy of reserve G's Kyle Korver (he was 3-of-4 downtown in Game #1 but must take and make more bombs here) and Ronnie Brewer (1-of-1 from beyond the arc in Game #1) may just be what makes the diff not only here but throughout this entire best-of-seven set.

First things first here before previewing Game #2 of Mavs-Lakers and that's a favor of the TV folks - any way we can avoid ever seeing silly Dallas owner Mark Cuban (and his cheapo T-shirts) the rest of this series?

Okay, so Cuban and Company have reason to chirp following that gritty Game #1 comeback that included a 9-2 scoring run to end the game and a brilliant 28-point, 14-rebound performance by F Dirk Nowitzki who was among many "name" players to pull bonehead moves at one point or the other in Monday's opener but hard to kill Nowitzki following that funky lean-into-the-lane jumper and those two critical free throws inside the final minute of play.

The Lakers - who blew a 16-point second-half lead in Game #1 and who scored a grand total of 16 fourth-quarter points - didn't always use their noggins in that series opener and head coach Phil Jackson (who rightfully received a chunk of post-game criticism) has LA convinced now that the big-man tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have got to show better than a combined 23 points and 16 rebounds.

One thing to watch for in Game #2 is the aforementioned Bryant (a game-high 36 points but needing 29 FG tries to get there) must draw some double teams and dish off - did you realize that Kobe didn't have a single Game #1 assist?

Something tells us that reserve G Shannon Brown (6 points in 14 minutes in Game #2 and a real sparkplug in some post-season games the past couple of years) is gonna have to energize this Staples Center crowd with some monster jams and/or big-time baskets. Note that the Lakers bench was outscored 40-to-25 in Game #1 - folks, that normally doesn't happen to great playoff teams at home - and so the combination of big hoops by Brown and mates and the fact the Lakers better stop G Jason Terry/ F Peja Stojakovic (a combined 25 points in Game #2) must be slowed are essential aspects of this Game #2 if this one is gonna be "even Steven" by night's end.


Let's just say it's not every day in May when you get a pair of 4-and-oh hurlers staring against one another in a Major-League Baseball game but all eyes will be on the Cleveland Indians at Oakland A's tilt tonight (10:05 p.m. ET) when the Tribe sends RHP Josh Tomlin (4-0, 2.45 ERA) against A's righty Trevor Cahill (4-0, 1.88 ERA).

The Indians - no doubt the real numero uno story thus far in this 2011 Baseball Season - have a litany of great stories but make sure you put Tomlin right at or near the top of the feel-good list as this kid's thrown 33 innings and surrendered a mere 22 hits and note that his K-to-BB ratio is a rock-solid 18-to-8.

You get the idea with Tomlin that he's not gonna flame-throw the ball right by batters but he won't beat himself and his stylish ways on the hill could well wind up getting him an All-Star berth in Arizona this summer. One thing Tomlin wants to avoid in this start is throwing too many pitches: He threw 100 pitches in just six innings in his last start - a 7-2 home triumph over the Kansas City Royals last Wednesday - while on the flip side the clever Cahill actually is pitching to an 0.86 ERA in his last three starts and his totals so far in 2011 include 31 hits allowed in 38.1 innings with a 33-to-12 K-to-BB ratio.

 In Cahill's last start - a 3-1 victory against the visiting Texas Rangers - he also threw 100 pitches (in seven IP) and walked four batters but so far American League hitters are not discovering all that many chinks in the armor of either relative no-name starter.

So, who draws "aces" tonight?

NOTE: Get more NBA Playoff coverage in the next edition of Jim Sez including lots to say on the Celtics-Heat series and the set between the Grizzlies-Thunder.


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