The NBA's Final Days - NFL Draft: Guards and Centers

THE NBA REPORT

WHAT'S COOKING THESE FINAL DAYS OF REGULAR-SEASON PLAY WITH THE PLAYOFFS ALL SET TO TIP SATURDAY AFTERNOON ...

THE NFL DRAFT - TODAY WE CHECK IN ON THE TOP GUARDS & CENTERS

By Jim Hurley:

Life's not exactly the way you thought it would be here late in the NBA regular season, right?

The Los Angeles Lakers (44-37) - fresh off Sunday night's 91-88 electrifying home win against the 3-point favored San Antonio Spurs - are discovering what life is like without Kobe Bryant and there never did get to be a mad scramble for the spots behind the Eastern Conference's #1-seeded Miami Heat as everything's pretty much cut-and-dried in the #1-thru-#4 seeds following New York's easy 90-80 win/cover against 3 ½-point pup Indiana on Sunday afternoon. The Knicks locked up the #2 seed and could very well be playing the Pacers in a second-round best-of-seven set for the right to play the Heat.

Right, right. We're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves but - hey - isn't that what this time of the year is all about as we exited Sunday's action with just three - count 'em, three - days left in a 2012-13 NBA regular season that's told us the following:

Miami's LeBron James will be the league's MVP and should get it via unanimous selection - his closest runners-up in the NBA MVP balloting should be Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, New York's Carmelo Anthony and the Los Angeles Clippers Chris Paul ... in that order!

Meanwhile, with just 29 NBA regular-season games remaining between Monday-through-Wednesday night, there's still some important things to settle:

In the Eastern Conference, while the #1 Miami vs. #8 Milwaukee and #2 New York vs. #7 Boston best-of-seven series have been etched in stone, there remained who would be playing Indiana and Brooklyn in those best-of-seven sets and let's just say both the Pacers and Nets would gladly welcome a showdown series with an Atlanta Hawks team that many folks believe is paper-soft and not long for this year's post-season. The Hawks (44-36) - who host Toronto on Tuesday night and play in New York on Wednesday night - should want to finish #5 and thus get a spot opposite Brooklyn in Round I simply because there are plenty of Atlanta players who would love to stick it to one-time mate Joe Johnson.

In the Western Conference, the aforementioned Bryant-less Lakers - hey, nothing against Kobe but we watched his Achilles Heel injury more than the JFK assassination clip! - lead Utah by 1 ½ games while heading into the new week and the Jazz play in Minnesota on Monday and then play in Memphis on Wednesday night while the Lakers play their final regular-season tilt on Wednesday evening against the visiting Houston Rockets (45-35) who are very much battling it out with Golden State (also 45-35) for the #6 seed out West and thus the opportunity to avoid having to play either Oklahoma City or San Antonio in opening-round action.

It just might turn out that the biggest game here in the West will be the Warriors game at going-nowhere Portland on Wednesday night - if Stephon Curry and mates win Monday night at home versus San Antonio than Mark Jackson's club will have plenty to play for on the final night of the schedule ... don't you think?

All we know is that the NBA West will have a real buzz going if we get first-round playoff series such as Houston vs. Oklahoma City - the Rockets' James Harden deserves lots of those MVP votes too - and what about a possible first-round series between Denver vs. Golden State? Hey, the first team to 130 points could be the winners of those head-to-head tilts.

Keep in mind in the NBA's Western Conference that even the Los Angeles Clippers are an amazing 16 games over .500 in conference play this year - while OKC is 38-13 in conference action, San Antonio is 33-17 in same-conference games and aforementioned Denver is 37-14 against fellow West foes. Just sayin'!

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will rock the 2013 NBA Playoffs right through the month of June and so remember to sign up today -- check for all the Major-League Baseball winners either here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. For now, make sure you're all aboard for the daily/nightly regular-season winners these final few days of play before the post-season gets here beginning on Saturday, April 20th!


THE NFL DRAFT - THE TOP GUARDS AND CENTERS

Note: The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25th and our Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage - we take a position-by-position look each/every day - continues here with a glance at the top Guards and Centers:

CHANCE WARMACK, G, ALABAMA - Most draft boards believe this 6-foot-2, 317-pounder is one of the top three players overall in this year's draft thanks to his size, athleticism and exceptionally quick feet. Heck, if you listened to Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban blabber on regarding his veteran blocker than you might think anyone crazy's not taking Warmack with its first-round pick. The Atlanta native started 40 games for 'Bama including two national championship game wins and his ability to fend off defenders with his long arms is a key - except there are some folks who believe being 6-foot-2 and not 6-foot-4 will be a major disadvantage in his NFL career. Still, the best of the G/C players in this draft and should be a lock top 10 pick - keep an eye on Buffalo with that #8 overall choice.

JONATHAN COOPER, G, NORTH CAROLINA - This 6-foot-2, 308-pounder is ranked amongst the top 15-to-18 overall players in this draft and the Wilmington (NC) native should get called to the stage by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sometime during the midway point of the opening round. Note that Cooper - like Warmack - is a college football veteran having started 47 games with the Tar Heels and last year he finished among the runners-up for the coveted Outland Trophy. May not be quite as physically strong as some NFL teams would like but count us among the folks who will be shocked if he drops past St. Louis at pick #16. The "smart money" says Miami (at #12) will snag Cooper should Warmack already be off the board.

LARRY WARFORD, G, KENTUCKY - Should get nabbed somewhere inside the top 50 picks in this draft as the Richmond (KY) native and note that Warford could double as some NFL team's center. Warford started the Wildcats' final 37 games and note he didn't allow a single sack last year. The criticism of Warford is that he carries "too much weight" at 333 pounds but he did show good stamina in his college days and is more athletic than advertised. Some folks believe Dallas will nab him in Round II (that's overall pick #47) but he could go inside the top 40 picks, for sure.

TRAVIS FREDERICK, C, WISCONSIN - Here's the first pure center that figures to get drafted and he's a second-rounder no matter how you slice it. The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Frederick is a cerebral player with great techniques but some draft folks believe he's not athletic enough in this here-and-now NFL to serve as a real point man on one's offensive line. Played some guard at Wisconsin too and now the latest in a long line of Badgers offensive linemen to make the next step up. Interested NFL teams here include NFC North teams Chicago and Detroit.

BRIAN SCHWENKE, C, CALIFORNIA - This 6-foot-3, 323-pounder is projected to be either a late second-round or early third-round selectee and he's versatile as this Pac-12 team pin-balled him between guard and center for much of his college career. Schwenke - however - experienced some problems in the shotgun formation (see game versus Ohio State last year) and so he needs polishing here. Still, a top 75-type that could be a valuable asset to some NFL team needs to plug a hole ... could he be part of the Chicago Bears' OL solution in the future?

BRIAN WINTERS, G, KENT STATE - Lots to like about this Mid-American Conference stud who stands in at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds and showed major staying power as he played in all 49 of his team's games in his college career. Note that Winters lacks great foot speed and has been hampered by nagging shoulder issues but look for him to get gobbled up in the top 75-to-80 picks. P.S., Winters played 33 of his Kent State games at left tackle and so there's some thought that down the road that will be his position in the league where they play for pay.

NOTE: We continue to gear up for the NFL Draft with more position-by-position analyses plus there's NBA and MLB notes too in the coming editions of Jim Sez!

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