Heat Heading To Finals - Weekend Baseball

THE HEAT'S HEADING TO THE NBA FINALS! ...

WE TAKE THE "FIRST LOOK" AT THE DALLAS-MIAMI SHOWDOWN SERIES THAT BEGINS TUESDAY ...OUR HOLIDAY WEEKEND BASEBALL NEWS/NOTES SEGMENT FEATURES THE TOP SERIES (SEE TAMPA BAY AT CLEVELAND; CINCINNATI AT ATLANTA)

By Jim Hurley:

Here's the message the Miami Heat really sent to the Chicago Bulls following last night's electrifying 83-80 come-from-way-behind win that wrapped up the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals ... Not so fast, my friends!

Hey, who could blame the Bulls for believing that they were gonna win on their home floor last night after sporting a 77-65 lead with three minutes left but everything that could go wrong for Chicago did go wrong - see a four-point play by Miami's achy Dwyane Wade and a couple of monster three-point hoops by "Best Player on the Planet" LeBron James - and faster than you could say Pat Riley there was the Heat grabbing this game (and the Bulls) by the proverbial horns and winning this best-of-seven series in just five games.

No doubt that Chicago's rancid finish exposed the Bulls' offensive shortcomings - heck, even league MVP Derrick Rose was flat for much of the night with only 9 field-goal makes in 29 attempts en route to an underwhelming 25-point performance - and no doubt that defensive whiz head coach Tom Thibodeau joined with the likes of Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks in showing just how not to run your offense late in playoff games when your team has the big lead.

So, the Bulls - the NBA's winningest team with 62 triumphs in the 2010-11 regular season - are officially history and so we take a quickie sneak peek at what's straight ahead beginning on Tuesday night in Miami:

The NBA's Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks - who are a collective 12-3 SU (straight-up) in this year's post-season run (that's an .800 winning percentage, folks) goes up against the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat (also 12-3 SU in this year's playoffs) and it's tough to find many weaknesses on either side while breaking down the squads here:

Okay, so it must be pointed out that Dallas won both regular-season meetings between these teams while copping a 106-95 home win back on November 27th (center Tyson Chandler's 17 rebounds were key in that "W") to go along with a 98-96 victory in South Beach on December 20th (Dirk Nowitzki's 26 points led the way in that one) but haven't we just all learned a valuable lesson about this Heat team?

After all, the Heat lost all three of its regular-season meetings versus Chicago and then rolled through four straight wins following a Game #1 loss here in the Eastern Finals and so you might want to chuck out the regular-season results although we'll chart them for you in a few days when we officially preview this year's NBA Finals.

The Mavs are a on a magical run behind Nowitzki who is averaging 32.2 points a game in this year's post-season; the Heat has the "Big Three" starring James who scored a team-high 29, 35 and 28 points in three of his team's four wins in the just-completed Eastern Conference Finals;

The Mavs have a savvy leader at point guard in the ageless Jason Kidd (keep in mind his 13 assists also helped to key that first win against Miami this past regular season) while the Heat puts up that "defensive wall" and makes life tough on anyone going to the hoop.

Consider the thoughts of TNT game analyst Reggie Miller who insists the better bench will win this upcoming NBA Finals - but, than again, which team has the better bench if the likes of Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller are gonna plays like stars for the Heat?

Ahh, now we all soak it in for the next few days - go ahead and enjoy a "hoop-less" Memorial Day Weekend (can't remember the last time that's ever happened!) - and we'll have lots to say about the NBA Finals in the coming days with game-by-game previews throughout.

Now hear this: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Finals action - that's the Sides & Totals, folks - beginning when the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat collide Tuesday night in South Beach. Just remember to call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here and make sure you're all aboard for the ground-breaking hoops winners. Plus, make sure you stay with us right through the holiday weekend and beyond for all the daily Major-League Baseball winners as well. Go ahead and rock-n-roll your way into this Memorial Day Weekend with lots of winners!

 

NBA PLAYOFFS - THE EASTERN CONFERENCE GAME-BY-GAME BREAKDOWN

Here's how this NBA Eastern Conference went on  game-by-game basis and note all home teams are in CAPS:

DATE FAV SPREAD DOG RESULT
5-15 CHICAGO - 2 Miami CHICAGO 103-82
5-18 CHICAGO - 2.5 Miami Miami 85-75
5-22 MIAMI - 5 Chicago MIAMI 96-85
5-24 MIAMI - 5 Chicago  MIAMI 101-93 (ot)
5-26 CHICAGO - 3 Miami Miami 83-80

 

THE BASEBALL REPORT - TRACKING THE TOP WEEKEND SERIES

In the American League, it's ...

CLEVELAND (30-17) at TAMPA BAY (26-23) - Fri, Sat & Sun

Now go ahead and raise you hand if you thought the 2011 version of the Cleveland Indians would be sporting the best record in all the big leagues while heading into Memorial Day Weekend.

Egads, the season is now nearly two months old and here's the Tribe - still - on top of the Baseball world although some folks would like to point out that Cleveland's playing just .500 ball on the road (see 11-11) and have been able to fly under the proverbial radar in this early portion of the here-and-now season. The Tribe gets a real test this weekend in Tampa Bay where facing Rays' lefthander David Price this evening makes it a tall task but pay attention to those stats that show Cleveland's second in the American League in team batting average (.262), second in the league in runs scored (262) and third in the junior circuit with 50 home runs.

If streaking SS Asdrubal Cabrera (10 HR, 34 RBI and batting .306) can "turn around" a Price fastball tonight, than it could launch a big weekend for Manny Acta's club that sends underrated RHP Josh Tomlin (6-1, 2.41 ERA) to the hill in the series lid-lifter ... hey, is there a better head-to-head pitching matchup on the Friday night docket (we think not!).

Meanwhile, keep your eye on this new-look Rays bullpen that has veteran Kyle Farnsworth in the closing role right now:

Farnsworth - who has been discarded by more than a few teams in his big-league career - has nine saves in 10 opportunities so far this season while pitching to a tidy 1.69 ERA. The $64,000 question is can T-Bay manager Joe Maddon "trust" Farnsworth to deliver the goods here?
 
In the National League, it's ...

CINCINNATI (26-25) at ATLANTA (28-23) - Fri, Sat & Sun

Let's just say that the Cincinnati Reds could have used a day off following that rather epic four-game series in Philadelphia:

Not only did Dusty Baker's crew drop three-of-four in that set at Citizens Bank Park but the Reds had to endure that 19-inning loss on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning and about the only good thing to come out of the series was RF Jay Bruce's long-ball production.

Bruce leads the NL with 14 dingers - his two-run homer on Thursday afternoon temporarily tied the game at 3-3 before the Phils went on to win 10-4 - and take note that the lefty-hitting Bruce has 6 HRs and 14 RBIs during this eight-game hitting streak and - by the way - he's batting a robust .486 during this time span. Still, the Reds are scuffling in other areas as RHP Homer Bailey lasted just four rocky innings on Thursday (allowed 4 runs and 5 hits in his brief stay) and star lefty reliever Aroldis Chapman is spending time on the DL these days with left shoulder inflammation.

The Reds - who just sent ineffective RHP Edinson Volquez (6.35 ERA in 51 innings pitched) to the minors -- may be in a real hunt for a well-pitched game this weekend and it falls on the shoulders of former reliever Mike Leake (just fresh from a stint in the minors) along with RHP Bronson Arroyo (3-5, 5.28 ERA) and righty Johnny Cueto (4-2, 2.19 ERA) in this three-game set at Turner Field.

Think there are some folks in the Braves' lineup who are salivating (see 2B Martin Prado who has 6 HR and 29 RBI in an All-Star like season so far)?

In other MLB News & Notes ...

Does any good team in the Major Leagues get less national attention/acclaim than the Florida Marlins?

The Fish - who exited yesterday's three-game clean sweep in San Francisco with a 29-19 record (note the .604 winning rate in the second-best in the NL behind NL East-leading Philadelphia who ventures into Citi Field this holiday weekend at 31-19 for a .620 winning rate) may be a national secret these days but all you need to know is that Edwin Rodriguez's club is flying high and mega-buck SS Hanley Ramirez has yet to kick it into overdrive.

Ramirez is batting just .211 with 4 home runs and 17 runs batted in through his team's first 48 games and injuries to key starters Logan Morrison and Scott Cousins have forced the Fish to play without some key components - and now ace righthander Josh Johnson is down too (right shoulder inflammation).

The Marlins remain on this West Coast trip this weekend with a three-game set against the host Los Angeles Dodgers and then it's three games in Arizona before returning home - maybe the country can sit up and take notice one of these days.

NOTE: Get more NBA Playoff Reports and MLB News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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