NBA Playoff Are Set - NFL Draft: Running Backs

Network Baseball 2-1 Wednesday Night, now 25-16 on the season and won 4 of last 5!

NBA NEWS & NOTES COLUMN:

FIRST THE LAKERS SQUEEZE INTO THE POST-SEASON, THEN THEY LAND THE #7 SEED IN THE WEST AND AVOID OKIE CITY IN ROUND I ...

PLUS THE NFL DRAFT UPDATE IS HERE AS TODAY WE CHECK IN ON THE BEST AVAILABLE RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS

By Jim Hurley:

Let the record state that the 2012-13 NBA regular season didn't end till 1:26 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, April 18th but not before - surprise, surprise - more drama from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Heck, you just knew that the roller-coaster-like 82-game regular season couldn't end with a whimper and so there were the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers first getting their wishes granted and making it into the playoffs in the first place thanks to Utah's 86-70 no-show loss in Memphis earlier in the evening and than for good measure the Lakers went overtime to defeat Houston 99-95 to thereby avoid a first-round playoff series against defending conference champ Oklahoma City.

No problem, right?

The fact of the matter is the seventh-seeded Lakers went some seven-plus minutes from late in regulation into the OT without a field goal and still managed to snag the "W" as Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined for 33 points and 38 rebounds and both were monsters at crunch time: Howard with his defensive stops against Houston's James Harden - okay, so maybe Howard got away with a foul or two on a couple of Harden drives to the tin but who's counting? - while Gasol (11 assists) completed some of the best interior passes you'll ever see plus it sure helped that the perimeter-oriented Rockets connected on a mere 8-of-33 shots from beyond the three-point arc.

Maybe the Lakers won't be going very far now in this year's playoffs but gotta believe a best-of-seven set with a banged-up (and old) San Antonio team is a whole lot better alternative than playing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Thunder mates ... don't you think?

And so the matchups are set:

In the West it's #1 Oklahoma City vs. #8 Houston; #2 San Antonio vs. #7 LA Lakers; #3 Denver vs. #6 Golden State; and #4 LA Clippers vs. #5 Memphis.

In the East it's #1 Miami vs. #8 Milwaukee; #2 New York vs. #7 Boston; #3 Indiana vs. #6 Atlanta; and #4 Brooklyn vs. #5 Chicago.

The NBA Playoffs will kick into overdrive this Saturday and Sunday and note that we will have our complete NBA Playoffs First-Round Previews beginning with tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez and there's in-depth post-season coverage here right through June, so don't miss out!

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 - CHECKIN' OUT THE TOP RBs AND FBs

Note: The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25th and our Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage continues here as we take a position-by-position look each/every day: Today it's the top Running Backs and Fullbacks:

EDDIE LACY, RB, ALABAMA - There is major reason to think we won't see a single running back selected in Round I of this year's NFL Draft but if there is one player at this position that will get nabbed it's this 5-foot-11, 232-pound steamroller who is a handful to tackle but, truth is, he didn't knock any of the NFL folks out with last week's sluggish Pro Day workout. Lacy last year rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 TDs while averaging a haughty 6.5 yards a carry for the back-to-back national champion Crimson Tide and his powerful keep-the-pile-moving leg drive reminds many folks of former 'Bama back Trent Richardson but - also like Richardson - it appears Lacy will be slightly injury-prone as his recent history lets on that feet, ankle and turf toe issues could well continue right into his pro career. Gut feeling is that Lacy could be on someone's radar that is willing/able to trade down in the first round and we're thinking Miami who currently owns the #12 pick.

JOHNATHAN FRANKLIN, RB, UCLA - This 5-foot-10, 196-pound Los Angeles native clearly is second-round draft material but note his solid Pro Day last month might well have inched the Bruins back up some six-to-eight spots in Round II. Overall, Franklin rushed for 1,734 yards in a stunning senior season that proved he's more durable than critics thought plus his cat-quick ways to dart through the line of scrimmage earned his the nickname "Jetski" by some teammates. If there is a problem with Franklin's game, it's ball security as he lost three fumbles during one five-game stretch a year ago and his sub-200 pound frame makes one wonder if hard-hitting LBs will jar the ball loose on a fairly regular basis. Could be a nice pick-up in the second round by either Cincinnati or Chicago.

LE'VEON BELL, RB, MICHIGAN STATE - The first of back-to-back Big 10 running backs here and note that this Ohio native scored 12 touchdowns last year and averaged 4.7 yards a pop while rushing for 200-plus yards in three different games. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has good, soft hands and so he's a positive on passing plays and could be underrated by pro scouts who believe Bell may be a bit selfish and too stat-oriented. Most draft boards rate Bell below Wisky's Montee Ball (see below) but we give Bell the edge because he starred behind an O-line that was not nearly as good or experienced as last year's Badgers' blocking wall. Expect Bell to go later on in Round II (somewhere in the top 55 overall picks).
 
MONTEE BALL, RB, WISCONSIN - The 5-foot-11, 214-pound TD-maker figures to land somewhere in Round II after banging out 39 TDs a year ago but there remains questions as to how much he benefited from playing behind a prototypical beefy Wisky offensive line. No question that Ball sports great balance and a great durable side considering he sported more than 600 touches. The Missouri native is a great change-of-direction runner and that could make him more valuable than just the 55th-to-60th player on the big board. Might Ball zoom up to the top of Round II and be part of Kansas City's rebuilding project? Stay tuned.

GIOVANI BERNARD, RB, NORTH CAROLINA - A true do-it-all player who also excelled on the Tar Heels' special teams the past couple of seasons, this undersized 5-foot-8, 202-pounder probably will last into the NFL Draft's third round but note Bernard did rush for more than 2,500 yards combined the past two years in Chapel Hill. Still, durability concerns are a problem for Bernard who has been plagued with an array of injuries the past couple of years including a torn ACL back in the 2010 campaign.

KYLE JUSZCZYK, FB, HARVARD - Okay, so don't expect any fullbacks to be drafted in the first two or three rounds but this 6-foot-1, 248-pounder is a probable fourth-rounder who will be Harvard's first draftee since the spring of 2005. Juszczyk combines soft hands with good blocking techniques and so he'll be an H-back/fullback who could get a few touches per game and could be a nice puzzle piece for an NFL team that needs a supplemental player - thinking Denver or Houston might have interest here in this Ivy Leaguer.

LONNIE PRYOR, FB, FLORIDA STATE - This 6-foot-0, 227-pounder is an intriguing player who combined a thick, powerful frame and decent 4.64 speed in the 40. The Okeechobee (FL) native may never have found his true niche in college but there's good value here considering Pryor is not expected to go until the fifth or sixth round. Could be a nice fit with San Francisco as a nice complement to RB Frank Gore.

NOTE: Catch our NBA First-Round Playoff Series analyses in the next couple of Jim Sez columns plus - of course - there's more NFL Draft coverage too!

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