Wednesday Night NBA Playoff Previews
HERE’S THE WEDNESDAY NITE NBA PLAYOFF MENU WITH KEY GAME 5 TILTS
IN TORONTO, SAN ANTONIO & HOUSTON … PLUS OUR BASEBALL NOTEBOOK: MORE BAD NEWS FOR THE NATS
By Jim Hurley
The beat goes on in the NBA Playoffs and — contrary to what you might think considering all the over-the-top coverage of loser owner Donald Sterling and his Los Angeles Clippers — there are real games being played!
Here’s the Wednesday night card with Game 5’s all around:
EASTERN CONFERENCE —
BROOKLYN at TORONTO — Series tied 2-2; 8:05 p.m. ET, NBA TV
As you can see from our accompanying chart below, home court has been no advantage — at all — in this high-spirited Eastern Conference best-of-seven set with road teams a super-sharp 3-0-1 ATS (against the spread) through the first four games, but who would have known that an “experienced” Brooklyn team would be so fragile late in games — could the Nets’ overall age be showing already in this year’s post-season?
No doubt the Raptors yanked away the critical Game 4 at Barclays Center last Sunday night with a 14-2 run to end things — the Nets didn’t record a single basket in the game’s final 6:13 and backcourters Joe Johnson and Deron Williams practically were invisible en route to their combined 6-of-19 FG shooting games for just 17 points … ugh!
If the Nets don’t free up Johnson for open looks here and if Williams — far from the league’s “top” point guard these days — doesn’t drive-and-dish with success against a hobbled Kyle Lowry, then the “We The North” crowd will finally get over the hump and gain its first-ever series lead here.
Expect the Raptors to turn loose G DeMar DeRozan (Game 4-high 24 points but just 7-of-19 FG shooting) in this clash as he’s likely to attempt 25-or-more shots as those early-series nerve problems have gone away.
Hey, if the visiting Nets hold their own on the boards here, then Jason Kidd’s club could steal it (note Toronto’s the 3 ½-point betting favorite at press time) but we need to see some glass work from old-man Kevin Garnett (just 4 boards in 22 minutes in Game 4).
Your attention please …
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DALLAS at SAN ANTONIO — Series tied 2-2; 7:05 p.m. ET, TNT
Now who would have thought that the Dallas Mavericks — a team that had to fight tooth-and-nail just to make it into the NBA Playoffs this season — would have a perfect 4-and-oh pointspread mark in this opening-round series against the mighty San Antonio Spurs?
Hey, maybe some Dallas backers “lucked out” with that extra half-point back in Monday’s electric Game 4 battle won by San Antonio 93-89, but the normally dependable Spurs are winless spreadwise this post-season, and now Gregg Popovich’s club is laying a heavy-duty price here (it was 7 points at last look, folks) and there’s still mucho question that San Ant’s gotta answer here:
First off, why can’t the West’s top-seeded squad “shake” Dallas? As evidenced in Game 4, there were the Spurs humming along with a 20-point lead in the third quarter before ex-Spurs bruiser DeJuan Blair went on a one-man crusade (12 points and 11 rebounds in just 16 minutes before getting ejected for a dopey kick to Tiago Splitter’s head when both players were down on the court).
San Antonio PG Tony Parker (10 points, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in Game 4) received more than a few cold stares from Popovich as he fumbled and bumbled his way through that outing and it says here that Dallas will have a serious shot at snagging this Game 5 upset if Parker remains in this mini-funk and if the Mavs can get some help for G Monta Ellis (20 points in Game 4 but on 6-of-20 shots) as Dirk Nowitzki is hurting Dallas on the defensive end, thus giving Dallas boss-man Rick Carlisle something else to think about here.
|4-23||Dallas||+ 7½||SAN ANTONIO||113-92|
PORTLAND at HOUSTON — Trail Blazers lead series 3-1; 9:35 p.m. ET, TNT
We headed into Tuesday night’s NBA Playoff action with seven — count ‘em, seven — games already having gone into overtime and this series has produced three bonus-session tilts already and would y’all really be surprised to get another one here?
Okay, so Portland’s won two of the three overtime games so far and own the three games-to-one series lead while heading back to Houston for this mid-week game but the Rockets know everything could have been so much different had G Jeremy Lin not gotten pick-pocketed late in Sunday’s 123-120 overtime win by the Trail Blazers as Mo Williams’ steal remains the single-biggest play in this series (unless you’re a Rockets fan and still is crying about that ball called off Dwight Howard that was not late in OT the other night).
Speaking of Howard, he was Houston’s only option down the stretch in Game 4 as he bulled his way to the hoop and — truth be told — we were a tad surprised he attempted only 14 shots in all (making half of ‘em) en route to a 25-point game but here Howard and lefty gunner G James Harden (9-of-21 FG tries for 28 points in Game 4) probably need to hoist up 55-to-60 shots between ‘em if the Rockets are gonna push this series to a Game 6 in Portland.
On the flip side, no mistaking the fact that Blazers F LaMarcus Aldridge has put his name on the hoops map with a fantastic series that’s included a pair of 40-point plus performances back in Games 1 and 2 and now he comes off a 29-point showing with 10 boards as the Blazers became the first home team to win a game in this best-of-seven set.
One X-factor here for Terry Stotts’ Blazers bunch:
Portland must not allow Houston to hit the offensive glass in waves as the Rockets registered 14 offensive caroms in Game 4 — if Howard gets 5 or 6 offensive boards with put-back points here, than this series indeed will be heading back to the left coast.
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THE BASEBALL NOTEBOOK
Are the Washington Nationals a “doomed” or “jinxed” franchise?
The latest bad news to come down the pike was the thumb injury to OF Bryce Harper, who underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair ligament damage in his left thumb and the early prognosis is Harper will miss at least two months of playing time.
Yes, another baseball player insisting on diving into bases headfirst — we’ve actually lost count of how many guys have injured fingers, thumbs, hands this year because they chose to dive head-first instead of the old-fashioned slide into a bag — and so Harper sits out till further notice with his Nats slogging along.
Note that Harper has not exactly been off to a glittering start with a .289 batting average (.352 on base percentage) with only one home run, 9 RBI and 8 runs scored and let’s not forget his brief benching from rookie manager Matt Williams, who didn’t care for the star outfielder’s loafing down the first-base line on a ground out a couple of weeks back.
It’s expected that veteran OF Nate McLouth (just 4 hits in 34 at-bats with his only home run hit this past Sunday in a 4-2 loss to San Diego) will man Harper’s vacant left field position but can the Nationals really count on steady production from a guy who seemingly peaked as a player more than a handful of years ago?
The bottom line is the Nationals were supposed to be a World Series threat last year and didn’t even make the playoffs en route to an 86-win season and entering their series in Houston this year there were the Nationals at a so-so 14-12 despite scoring the second-most runs scored in the National League.
The Nationals already have blown three save opportunities (two of them by supposed eighth-inning relief pitcher RHP Tyler Clippard) and ace Stephen Strasburg’s pitching to a bloated 4.24 ERA in a time when scoring is way down across the board.
If Williams can’t win in Year One, he won’t get a complete pass — but you wonder now with the expected prolonged absence from the everyday lineup for Harper and the various end-of-game pitching woes, is this just another .500-type season for a team that was expected top to win 90 games this year?
Stay tuned to the drama in D.C.
NOTE: More NBA Playoff Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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