Eastern Conference Finals Preview + Baseball Report

THE NBA PLAYOFFS: WE PREVIEW HEAT VS. PACERS

AS THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS ZOOM INTO ACTION ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON …
PLUS IT’S OUR WEEKEND BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES: WE’RE KEEPING AN EYE ON TWO OF THE GAME’S SHINING STARS

Here’s what we can tell you regarding this year’s NBA Eastern Conference Finals series between the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and the top-seeded Indiana Pacers:

There’s gonna be some rough-and-tumble play and some “bad blood” at work too after the two teams tangled last year in a wild seven-game series that Miami won but not before both teams suffered through an array of bumps/bruises and skinned knees.

As you might already have known, this marks the first time since 2005 and 2006 that we’ve had an NBA Eastern Conference Finals “rematch” — back then it was the pre-LeBron James Heat and the Detroit Pistons banging heads with the Motowners winning in ’05 and then Miami flipping the script and getting to the NBA Finals in ’06.

Better believe that “familiarity breeds contempt” and so this figures to be a physical series and — more than likely — a long one even though the Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Heat as prohibitive betting favorites (as in - 370-to-$100).

As we’ve said before in this "Jim Sez" space, it’s always a good idea to take a step back before you take a giant leap forward, and so let’s get you a little recent NBA Playoff history from the first two rounds of this year’s post-season before we dive head-first into the Eastern and Western Conference Finals (we’ll preview Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio in the next edition of "Jim Sez").

Note that it took a whopping 50 games in all to complete Round I (eight series in all or an average of 6.25 games per series), but only 22 total games to finish off Round II (yes, no seven-game series there and an average of just 5½ games to complete) after five of the eight first-round series went the distance.
Here’s a line-by-line review of the opening two playoff rounds from a series price standpoint:

Eastern Conference
(All series prices below are based on $100 per-play wagers):

1st Round

WINNER SERIES PRICE LOSER # OF GAMES
Indiana - 600 Atlanta  7
Miami  - 2500  Charlotte 4
Brooklyn  - 130 Toronto 7
Washington + 165   Chicago 5

2nd Round

WINNER SERIES PRICE LOSER # OF GAMES
Indiana - 165  Washington  6
Miami   - 600 Brooklyn 5

Western Conference …

1st Round

WINNER SERIES PRICE LOSER # OF GAMES
San Antonio - 900  Dallas 7
Oklahoma City  - 500 Memphis 7
LA Clippers - 400  Golden State 7
Portland  + 175   Houston 6

2nd Round

WINNER SERIES PRICE LOSER # OF GAMES
San Antonio - 400 Portland  5
Oklahoma City   - 200 LA Clippers 6

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS —
#2 MIAMI at #1 INDIANA — Game 1 is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
It doesn’t take a hoops scientist to tell you that the heavy-duty underdog Indiana Pacers ain’t gonna win if they allow King James to score 38 and 36 points per game — that’s what James did in the final two regular-season tilts against the Heat this year (yes, Indy somehow won one of those games while the teams overall split their four head-to-head matchups … see below).

Still, the trick — as the Brooklyn Nets painfully discovered in that Eastern Conference Semifinal Round — is to keep James from getting into the paint area where he’s darn near impossible to stop, and so the presence of “rim protector” C Roy Hibbert makes Indiana more formidable in this regard than the aforementioned Nets, who had zero shot-blocking presence in the post, plus Indiana’s man defense can be sticky as evidenced by the 63-point yield to the Washington Wizards in Game 3 of that conference semi series.

As TNT’s Charles Barkley has been saying lately, no NBA superstar is asked to do more than James who — more often than not — is the team’s leading scorer/rebounder/assist-maker, plus he defends the other team’s best offensive threat, but the $64,000 question is does that mean James guards Paul George from the proverbial get-go or does he shift around and take the hot shooter?

In short, the Pacers need that all-important offensive balance to make a run at this series — just check out the box score from Thursday’s series-clinching win against the Wizards when all five starters registered double-digit scoring, and it sure won’t hurt Frank Vogel’s squad if it can shoot the way it did in that Game 6 win as Indiana canned 37-of-72 FG attempts (that’s 51.4 percent).

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Two other what-to-watch items here in these Eastern Conference Finals:

The Heat — no doubt counting on G Dwyane Wade (28 points in the Game 5 series-clinching win against Brooklyn) to stay refreshed with no back-to-back games on the horizon — absolutely have to get an energy source from either G Mario Chalmers (0-of-5 FG shooting in that final game against the Nets) and/or F/C Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who did contribute six rebounds (half of ‘em on the offensive end) in just 10 minutes of work in Game 5 against Brooklyn, but he’s gotta be able to convert some put-backs too because we believe the Heat’s going to need some “cheap” points in addition to the 55-or-so points scored per game by the James/Wade tandem.

Finally, keep particularly close tabs on how the Pacers defend Heat reserve G Ray Allen who — dare we say — has made a career of drilling monstrously important late-game shots in his career (right, San Antonio?) and so the Pacers must do everything in their collective power to keep Allen silenced and that means limiting his three-point looks and even overplaying him so that he must go to the hoop instead of firing up those standstill jumpers.

If you tell us right here and right now that Allen will score double digits per game in this series and that he’ll hit one or two gut-check shots late in games (or in overtimes) then we’ll clue you in that Miami will indeed be heading to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals berth. Got it?

Now, here’s the regular-season head-to-head matchups between the Heat and Pacers this year (note home teams in CAPS):

DATE WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
12-10 INDIANA - 3½ Miami  90-84
12-18 MIAMI  - 4 Indiana 97-94
3-26 INDIANA  - 2 Miami 84-83
4-11 MIAMI - 5½ Indiana 98-86

NBA PLAYOFFS POINTSPREAD CHART
Note that we’ve included only the four playoff teams that are still alive in these Eastern and Western Conference Finals:

TEAM  RECORD PCT.
Miami   6-3-0 .667
Indiana 7-6-0 .538
Okla City  7-6-0 .538
San Antonio 5-7-0 .417

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have been bashing the books right from the start of this year’s NBA Playoffs and nothing’s gonna change here as we head into the Conference Finals.

Just go online right here at www.jimhurley.com or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 each/every day and be sure that we’ll send you straight into the winner’s circle.

Plus, there’s Major-League Baseball on tap and so the time is just right to cash in big this spring!

THE BASEBALL WEEKEND UPDATE
If you happen to like uncovering the next “jewels” in Major-League Baseball, then here’s one pitcher and one everyday position player you may wish to keep your eye on this year and beyond:

DELLIN BETANCES, RHP, NEW YORK YANKEES — The final game of this year’s Subway Series wound up being a 1-0 win by the Yankees over the host Mets this past Thursday night but all anyone wanted to talk about following that tilt was the six-K performance of this reliever who pitched 2.1 innings.
Betances — who throws in the mid-to-upper 90s — completely silenced the Mets while striking out 2B Daniel Murphy, 3B David Wright and RF Curtis Granderson in a 1-2-3 Mets’ sixth inning and then he fanned CF Chris Young, 1B Lucas Duda and SS Ruben Tejada in a quickie home seventh inning and all that came after he replaced starter Chase Whitely with two on and two out in the home fifth — he got LF Eric Young, Jr. to bounce out harmlessly to third base.

It’s quite possible — maybe even likely — that Betances becomes the most important arm in manager Joe Girardi’s bullpen this summer. So far the numbers say Betances is 2-0 with a 1.61 ERA and dig a bit deeper and you’ll see that he’s allowed only 12 hits in 22.1 innings this year with 39 Ks and 9 BBs plus his WHIP is 0.94. Crazy good!

NOLAN ARENADO, 3B, COLORADO ROCKIES — Okay, so you’ve likely already heard about this slick-fielding third sacker who just last week had his MLB season-best 28-game hitting streak snapped.

The truth is Arenado — the National League Gold Glove winner last year who won out over the likes of the aforementioned Mets 3B Wright and Milwaukee 3B Aramis Ramirez — has been a key cog for the born-again Rockies, who entered their weekend series against San Diego with a spiffy 23-19 record (that’s the fourth-best won/loss mark in the NL this year).

Note that 23-year-old Arenado is hitting .315 with 6 HR and 26 RBI with a .515 slugging percentage but — get this — lots of “old timers” believe he fields his position like a more athletic Brooks Robinson, and the fact of the matter is the Rockies may win north of 90 games this year if Arenado can continue to save runs with his glove while his bat may be now a not-so-secret weapon to boot.

In other MLB Weekend Notes …

Don’t look now but all five teams in the AL East entered weekend play with better road records than home records … you can look it up.
The really strange thing here is the defending champion Boston Red Sox enter their three-game weekend set against Detroit just 10-11 at home, and there’s been no evidence of any “magic” at Fenway Park so far where the Bosox already have been swept by Milwaukee in a three-game set and don’t forget the Sox are just 6-6 at home against fellow AL East squads. Ugh! …

Stat of the week -- Los Angeles Dodgers righties Dan Haren and Zack Greinke are a combined 11-2 so far this year — and Don Mattingly’s team still is five games back of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West standings.

NOTE: It’s the NBA Western Conference Finals Preview and lots more in the next edition of Jim Sez.

18
Nov

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