NBA Playoff Positioning - NFL Draft: The CB's

THE NBA REPORT: THE PLAYOFF & SEEDING SCRAMBLE NOW WITH JUST ONE WEEK LEFT IN THE REGULAR SEASON ...

OUR MLB NEWS & NOTES SECTION INCLUDES BORN-AGAIN PITCHERS IN NEW PLACES ...

IT'S BAAAAACK! OUR JIM SEZ NFL DRAFT UPDATES TODAY TAKES A LOOK AT THE TOP CORNERBACKS

By Jim Hurley:

Okay, so now that the proud state of Connecticut officially rules the entire college basketball world, it's time to shift our attention here at Jim Sez to the pro hoopsters ... and can you believe it that there's just one full week left in this 2013-14 regular season?

The 82-game grind for the NBA's 30 teams comes to an end Wednesday, April 16th but we're far and away from knowing the first-round playoff matchups or even who's exactly in/out and so let's take a few moments to examine what's straight ahead:

EASTERN CONFERENCE
There's just one playoff spot available in the NBA East although you're hard-pressed to know whether the Atlanta Hawks or the New York Knicks really want it!

Both teams have been fumbling/stumbling down the stretch and now the Knicks have another woe in that star F Carmelo Anthony's shoulder is hurting him - guess that means gunner J.R. Smith (who attempted 22 three-point shots in last Sunday's 102-91 loss in Miami) will be getting revved up to shoot it plenty in remaining games against Toronto (both home and away), Chicago and Brooklyn.

The real scramble in the East centers around - of course - the fight for the No. 1 seed between Miami and Indiana and keep in mind the two-time defending champion Heat hosts the Pacers on Friday night and we'll see if Indiana's internal squabbles have ceased-and-desisted by then. Hey, you would think both of these teams would be fighting like mad to grab the top spot in case they meet in a best-of-seven set in the Conference Finals but fact is Indy entered Wednesday night's game in Milwaukee having dropped seven of its last 10 games with head coach Frank Vogel hearing loud-and-clear criticism from boss Larry Bird while the Heat can't seem to get always-hurting G Dwyane Wade back on the floor.

Dig a lit bit deeper in the East and you see some spirited battles for positioning as playoff novices Washington and Charlotte each eyeball the #6 seed and thus avoid a first-round playoff matchup with either Miami or Indiana while it's shaping up that we'll have a playoff repeat in Round One between Chicago and Brooklyn and who out there doesn't think it'll be another seven-game marathon series?

WESTERN CONFERENCE
As of press time, only five of the West's eight playoff berths were established with Golden State, Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis -- in that order - fighting for three playoff spots and isn't it something that right now the Grizzlies' .584 winning percentage won't be enough to get into the post-season party while the team's solid 45-32 mark is equal or better than any Eastern Conference team save for Miami and Indiana?

The Grizz may be one game out of the playoffs at this moment but it's not exactly a real grind to get there following the Wednesday night home game against the Heat as the remaining sked includes a home game against tanking Philadelphia and a road game at the beleaguered Los Angeles Lakers with a stop in Phoenix and then a regular-season finale home game against Dallas - might Memphis win three-of-four and slip into the post-season wars after all?

No doubt Oklahoma City is fighting hard to maintain the #2 seed behind San Antonio (60-18) so that the Thunder has home-court advantage should a Western Conference semifinal series versus the Los Angeles Clippers comes down the pike but check out Portland sitting now in the five-hole - the Trail Blazers probably can't/won't inch up into the four spot occupied by the Houston Rockets but Portland could slide down a peg or two if it's not careful and note the T-Blazers' remaining tilts are in Utah, home to Golden State and home to the Clippers ... odds are Portland stays put at #5 and fends off Golden State for that fifth seed.

What to watch when we finally get to the final couple of nights out West?

The aforementioned Memphis at Phoenix tilt on Monday will be huge and - quite possibly - so too will the Wednesday games between Dallas at Memphis, Phoenix at Sacramento, Golden State at Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers at Portland.

Ask us and the first-round series we'd like to see in the West would be a Mavs vs. Clippers hoedown should they go #6 vs. #3 in the pecking order, so stay tuned!

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers/Bloggers finally have put a capper on the College Basketball Season and so now it's time to cash in big with the NBA and Major-League Baseball each and every day. Just go online right here or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 and we'll send you straight into the winner's circle. Remember: The NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, April 19th.

MLB NEWS & NOTES

We know, we know. It's terribly early in this here-and-now 2014 Major-League Baseball Season but already we have two starting pitchers in new places that are making quite a "first impression" - and, boy, don't their 2013 teams wish they had 'em back!

First up on our born-again pitcher's look is San Francisco Giants RHP Tim Hudson who's bounced out of the starting gate with back-to-back wins against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson's debut this year was a 2-0 win in Phoenix on April 2nd where the former Atlanta Braves/Oakland A's hurler threw 7 2/3 innings of three-hit, shutout ball and then Hudson followed that up with Tuesday's 7-3 home win against the admittedly woeful D-Backs as this time he went eight innings while allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits while not walking a single batter.

Keep in mind Hudson had his 2013 season end abruptly when he suffered a gruesome broken right ankle injury at Citi Field last July 24th and so this rather amazing start - which has helped buoy a Giants team that doesn't quite have the same pitching as it did from the World Series champion teams in 2010 and '12 - has been welcome. Hudson's first two starts sees 'em at 2-0 with a tidy 1.15 ERA and right now his two-year, $23-million contract is looking to be a bargain ... think the injury-ravaged Braves' rotation could have found a spot for him between the likes of Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana?

Then there's a guy on the other side of the Bay Area ... Lefthander Scott Kazmir of the Oakland A's also is a spiffy 2-and-oh out of the starting chute after banging out victories against Cleveland (his 2013 team) and Minnesota. Note that Kazmir - once the pride-and-joy of the New York Mets organization till an ill-fated deal with Tampa Bay some 10 years ago - so far has pitched to a 2.03 ERA in the 6-1 win against the Tribe and this past Monday's 8-3 road win in Minnesota.

Okay, so it remains to be seen if he's the "missing piece" to the A's pitching puzzle this year that lost out on RHP Bartolo Colon to free agency (and, ironically enough, to the Mets) but so far, so good for the 30-year-old Kazmir who wasn't thrilled with his lack of efficiency against the Twins (four walks and 101 pitches in just six full innings) but the new environment so far suits' em well.

Keep your eyes on Hudson and Kazmir - they could tilt the balance of power in the National League West and American League West, respectively, this year and who would have guessed that last winter, right?

THE NFL DRAFT REPORT

Folks, "March Madness" rudely interrupted our Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage for the past three-plus weeks but in today's edition we roll on with the top Cornerbacks:

JUSTIN GILBERT, Oklahoma State - Most draft boards consider this 6-0, 202-pound senior to be a top 10-type selection although he could drop simply if there's more of a run on offensive players following those three QB selections of Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater. The most positive part of Gilbert's game is that he's ultra-competitive and backpedals well in coverage but some NFL scouts believe he could get called for lots of penalties with his "grabby" nature in pass coverage. Don't be shocked if he winds up at pick #15 with the secondary-needy Pittsburgh Steelers.

DARQUEZE DENNARD, Michigan State - Last year's Jim Thorpe Award winner is a shade smaller than Gilbert at 5-foot-11, 199 pounds but truth is there's not much that separates these two top corners who could go back-to-back here in the NFL Draft's opening round on May 7. Dennard wasn't challenged much by Big 10 quarterbacks last year but when he was the Georgia native displayed great ball skills and wound up with four INTs and 14 passes broken up. If he's still on the board when the aforementioned Steelers are up at #15 - and if Gilbert's been picked earlier - than Dennard winds up with Mike Tomlin and Company. There is a chance that this former Spartans star could leapfrog Gilbert - with St. Louis at #13 a possibility.

KYLE FULLER, Virginia Tech - Expect this former Hokies star to wind up getting drafted late in Round I behind both Gilbert and Dennard but keep in mind this six-foot, 190-pound Baltimore native plays "bigger" than his listed size and could zoom into the top 20 should either Miami at #19 or Arizona at #20 feel that's their biggest need on the board. Fuller plays with great energy and awareness but he's not the greatest open-field tackler.

JASON VERRETT, TCU - This California native battled through a series of injuries last year with the Horned Frogs but still earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and now the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder figures to be a late first-round or early second-round choice with rumors building that Super Bowl runner-up Denver could be hot for his services with that #31 overall pick.

BRADLEY ROBY, Ohio State - This former Buckeyes star sports 4.39 speed in the 40 but he's a bit of a wild card considering he is generously listed at 5-feet-11 and he was suspended for the 2013 opener and so he does come with some potential baggage. Odds are he'll drop into the early portion of Round II with Jacksonville a likely destination.

Note: More NFL Draft coverage goodies in the next few editions of Jim Sez.

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