NBA Playoff Previews + O's-Red Sox Preview

IT’S DAY ONE OF THE NBA PLAYOFFS —

AND WE HAVE SATURDAY’S FOUR MONSTER MATCHUPS … PLUS OUR BASEBALL NOTEBOOK LOOKS AT THE O’S VERSUS RED SOX WRAP-A-ROUND FOUR-GAME SET IN BEANTOWN THIS WEEKEND

By Jim Hurley

Let’s get the show on the road already!

The NBA Playoffs — that two-month grind that separates the men from the boys in the pro hoops world — will tip off North of the Border on Saturday afternoon and where it ends nobody right now knows but you can be sure that there will be thrills galore.

Right?

Much is being made of the fact that the NBA Eastern Conference sported just two teams that played better-than-.600 ball in regular-season play (that’s Indiana and Miami, of course) while seven-of-eight NBA Western Conference squads played .600-plus ball and only eighth-seeded Dallas (.598) fell beneath that elite winning percentage.

So, make sure your fridge is stocked, have fresh batteries in your TV remote control and maybe even let those phone calls go to “voice mail” and enjoy what’s gonna be a great NBA Playoffs.

It all starts here…

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EASTERN CONFERENCE—

#6 BROOKLYN (44-38) vs. #3 TORONTO (48-34) — 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Go ahead and say what you will about the Brooklyn Nets “tanking” their final two regular-season games just so they could/would have a better shot at avoiding the rough-and-tumble Chicago Bulls in Round One of these NBA Playoffs but sure hope first-year boss Jason Kidd and Company don’t believe this is gonna be a walk in the park.

The Raptors — who do own the extra home game here and have the most dynamic offensive player on the floor in young G DeMar DeRozan (22.7 ppg) and the better playmaker at point guard in Kyle Lowry (his 7.4 assists a game are better than Deron Williams and his 6.1 apg rate) — have been leaps-and-bounds better than anyone thought this year and so kudos to our "Jim Sez" Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and his underrated staff.

Now, let’s see if Casey and Company can figure out a way to get in the grill of Nets’ scoring stars Joe Johnson (15.8 ppg) and Paul Pierce (13.5 ppg), and let’s see if the Nets can do something about their rotten rebounding — if Toronto gets a slew of second-chance points in this series than it’s curtains for the guys from New York.

One X-factor to note here:

The Nets have gotten some big-time scoring nights off the bench from trade import G Marcus Thornton, and his energy/scoring could be a major factor here.

As you see, these clubs split the four regular-season affairs — each winning once on the other’s home floor — with the pointspread breakdown going two games apiece.

(Note all home teams below in charts are in CAPS):

DATE WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
11-26 Brooklyn +7 TORONTO 102-100
1-11 TORONTO -9 Brooklyn 96-80
1-27 Toronto +4 BROOKLYN 104-103
3-10  BROOKLYN - 3 Toronto 101-97

#8 ATLANTA (38-44) at #1 INDIANA (56-26) — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Hey, you got the feeling during the latter stages of this 2013-14 regular season that the Indiana Pacers needed major therapy and still Frank Vogel’s squad climbed its way to the tippy-top of the Eastern Conference standings … so go figure!

The truth of the matter is this Pacers team — one that was beaten in an epic seven-game series last year against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals — is loaded with scorers, playmakers and high-quality defenders but we believe much of the team’s spring-time success (or lack thereof) will come about depending on C Roy Hibbert, who has been benched on more than one occasion by Vogel and then voiced his general displeasure.

Let’s see if Hibbert can get back to his old stat-sheet stuffing days — the Pacers would love a per-game average of 15 or 16 points, 11 or 12 boards and a couple of blocked shots on a nightly basis — plus keep an eye on the dynamics between Paul George, Lance Stephenson and the rest of the Pacers who sometimes “debate” who should be taking more shots than the next guy.

Note that Atlanta, meanwhile, did manage a series split with Indiana this past regular season (while going 2-1-1 versus the vig) and the Hawks desperately need star F Paul Millsap (17.9 ppg and 8.5 rpg) to turn up his motor here.

DATE WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
1-8 ATLANTA +4 Indiana 97-87
2-4 Indiana -3½ ATLANTA 89-85
2-18 INDIANA -10 Atlanta 108-98
4-6 Atlanta +8 INDIANA 107-88

Now hear this …

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers/Bloggers are all geared up for the NBA Playoffs that tip off Saturday afternoon — just go online right here at www.jimhurley.com or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 each/every day during these NBA Playoffs and we’ll send you straight into the winner’s circle or sign up now for the entire NBA Playoffs.

Plus, remember there’s Major-League Baseball on tap every day and so the time is just right to cash in big this spring as the NBA Playoffs and Baseball pounds out major profits!

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#6 GOLDEN STATE (51-31) at #3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (57-25) — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Here’s a quickie memo to all the ESPN, ABC, TNT and other “talking heads” that have been weighing in on this playoff series:

Yes, we know that the Warriors and Clippers totally despise each other, but is that the one-and-only storyline before we get started here?

Hardly.

The third-seeded Clippers — who covered three of the four regular-season head-to-head battles with the Warriors while the teams split the series SU (straight-up) — are deeper, more athletic and wound up the Western Conference’s highest-scoring team (107.9 ppg) while sporting four players that average 15 points (or better) a game.

Naturally, then, the key for the underdog Warriors is to “take away” one or two of these scorers here, and the best bet for Mark Jackson’s G-State squad is to force F Blake Griffin (a Clippers-best 24.1 ppg average) to hurl up more wing jump shots than he’d ordinarily like, and make sure they never allow smooth-stroking J.J. Redick (15.2 ppg) to get into any real rhythm here.

If you happen to wish the Clippers’ Chris Paul (19.1 ppg and 10.7 apg) versus Warriors Steph Curry (24 ppg and 8.5 apg) matchup as a virtual “wash”, then you know Golden State’s gonna have to steal important minutes here or there from the likes of Harrison Barnes and Jermaine O’Neal now that C/F Andrew Bogut (10 rpg) is hurting and likely to miss a game or two here in this series.  

DATE WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
10-31 LA CLIPPERS   - 6  Golden State 126-115
12-25 GOLDEN STATE - 3 LA Clippers 105-103
1-30 GOLDEN STATE  -6 LA Clippers 111-92
3-12 LA CLIPPERS -7 Golden State 111-98

#7 MEMPHIS (50-32) at #2 OKLAHOMA CITY (59-23) — 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let us be the first to tell you that NBA MVP-to-be Kevin Durant of the Okie City Thunder scored a grand total of 123 points (or 30.8 ppg) in these tilts and so that shows you — duh! — the Memphis Grizzlies better have an upgraded/improved plan on slowing down this offensive machine or this series could have a real short-and-sweet feel to it … no matter that Memphis reeled off five straight regular-season-ending victories to snag that seventh playoff seed in the West.

No doubt the Grizz wants to make this game and this series a major taffy pull while milking the shot clock, making Oklahoma City’s players defend and keeping the ball out of Durant’s hands as physically much as possible and even if that means double-teaming him and leaving someone else open.

You don’t need us to tell you that Memphis wants post men Zach Randolph (17.4 ppg) and Marc Gasol (14.6 ppg) to bring the action to Okie City in the paint even if that means getting swatted away a few times by OKC’s Serge Ibaka, but we remain fixed on Memphis’ real key and that’s getting PG Mike Conley (17.2 ppg and 6.0 apg) to reach elite stat status in this series while the Thunder goes with the old standby of asking Durant and PG Russell Westbrook to score nearly 50 percent of the team’s points.

Keep an eye here on Okie City’s Jeremy Lamb — the pride of UConn hoops — who could be a major off-the-bench key to this series.

DATE WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
12-11 Oklahoma City -6 MEMPHIS 116-100
1-14 MEMPHIS PK Oklahoma City 90-87
2-3 OKLAHOMA CITY -8 Memphis 86-77
2-28 OKLAHOMA CITY -7 Memphis 113-107

THE BASEBALL WEEKEND NOTEBOOK

Lots of high-quality series on tap this holiday weekend but we’ll turn our attention up to Fenway Park where a key four-game series is just part of the New England landscape:

BALTIMORE (7-7) at BOSTON (6-9) — Fri, Sat, Sun & Mon

The backdrop to this four-game wrap-around series is that Monday’s the Boston Marathon — yes, maybe the most scrutinized race ever in this country after last year’s bombings — and thus that also means there’s morning baseball at “The Fens” and the really silly thing is ESPN has Orioles-Red Sox (albeit with a 7:05 p.m. ET start) as its Sunday Night Game and then these clubs will tangle at 11:05 a.m. ET the following morning … just brilliant!

The defending World Series champion Red Sox have not exactly been world-beaters at home so far with a 2-4 start in their first six games at Fenway Park and injuries have been decimating this Bosox lineup on an almost daily basis with 1B Mike Napoli (finger) and 2B Dustin Pedroia (wrist) just two of the key items missing at times and so more pressure’s getting heaped on DH David “Big Papi” Ortiz and we really want to see a game or two in this series on the line with Orioles’ hard-throwing closer RHP Tommy Hunter (four saves in five opportunities) facing Ortiz with the game on the line.

One note on the O’s:

Buck Showalter’s crew is hoping for a power-surge weekend by DH/OF Nelson Cruz who has whacked just two home runs — one of ‘em won an Opening Day game against Boston 2-1 at Camden Yards back on March 31st and the other came two nights later in a 6-2 home loss to Boston — through his first 48 at-bats

NOTE: Catch more NBA Playoff Series Previews in tomorrow’s edition of Jim Sez.

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