Sunday NBA Previews and NFL Draft: LBs

MORE NBA PLAYOFFS FIRST-ROUND SERIES PREVIEWS AS SUNDAY'S SHOWDOWNS TAKE CENTER STAGE

PLUS OUR NFL DRAFT REPORTS ROLL ON WITH A LOOK AT THE TOP LINEBACKERS

Let's get right to it with a look at the NBA Playoffs first-round series that begin on Sunday afternoon:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#7 BOSTON (40-42) vs. #2 CLEVELAND (53-29) - 3 p.m. ET, ABC
Is this gonna be the start of a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals for LeBron James? The King won a pair of titles with the Miami Heat in four separate trips to the Finals these past four years but now his "coming home" year in Cleveland has been marked by petty arguments, silly tweets and the like but gotta feeling this series will be all business for the Cavs and James (averaged 25.3 points per game this year).

True, the Celtics roared down the stretch to cop the Eastern Conference's seventh playoff seed even though they exiled both leading scorer Jeff Green to Memphis and PG Rajon Rondo to Dallas - now if the uber-underdog Celtics are gonna stand any sort of chance here than Brad Stevens' club needs G Isaiah Thomas to drill a batch of trifectas and James needs to hit a mini-slump.
Gonna bet on that happening?

Series Price: Cleveland - 3500; Boston + 1500

 

#8 BROOKLYN (38-44) vs. #1 ATLANTA (60-22) - 5:30 p.m. ET, TNT
You better believe that the East's top-seeded Atlanta Hawks are glad the post-season is here - 'cause now Mike Budenholzer's club is dead-set on proving to one-and-all that this rollicking regular season was no fluke ... plus the Hawks have grown very weary of all this talk that they lack a "superstar" but can you please tell us what's wrong with a team that sports six different double-digit scorers?
The leader of the pack is PF Paul Millsap (16.7 ppg) but this team's truly at its very best when G Jeff Teague 15.9 ppg and 7.0 assists per game) is dishin'-and-swishin' and when three-ball shooter Kyle Korver (an amazing 49.2 percent shooter from downtown) is measuring his oft wide-open bombs - the $64,000 question now is can a Nets team that raggedly fought their way through the 2014-15 season be any type of threat in this round (note that Atlanta's a healthy 10-point betting favorite right here in Game 1).

Brooklyn's spent the better part of the past week fending off the criticisms/barbs from one-time teammate Paul Pierce and Hall of Fame shooter Reggie Miller who've verbally "double-teamed" Nets' PG Deron Williams who absolutely must be a stat-sheet stuffer here ... or else!

Series Price: Atlanta - 1500; Brooklyn + 800

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers/Bloggers are all geared up for the NBA Playoffs that tip off this 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. You'll be glad you did! 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 moo-la-dee profits!

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#4 PORTLAND (51-31) vs. #5 MEMPHIS (55-27) - 8 p.m. ET, TNT
Okay, so you already know the deal here as the Memphis Grizziles have the home-court advantage for this best-of-seven series even though the Portland Trail Blazers sport the higher seed (simply because they won the Northwest Division) but based on the Grizz's season sweep of the Blazers will it matter where these games are played?
Strange but true that Memphis won all four of the regular-season affairs - including a pair of double-digit victories - and now Memphis gets the added boost of knowing PG Mike Conley will play here in Game 1 after sitting out the past four games with a foot injury and he remains the heart-beat of this team while Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (combined for 33.5 ppg this year) have a real ying-and-yang to their games.

Okay, so it's not as if the T-Blazers have no shot despite the absence of scorer Wesley Matthews - but is youngster Allen Crabbe gonna be able to fill the shoes of injured two-guard Arron Afflalo who remains out with a shoulder injury and can LaMarcus Aldridge (23.4 ppg and 10.2 rebounds per game) draw enough fouls on Gasol/Randolph to screw up the Memphis front-court rotation?

One key: Portland finished a better-than-you-think 8th in the NBA in team defense this year (allowed 98.6 points a game) - and you can expect head coach Terry Stotts' crew to get up in Conley's grill here and make him work for every point/assist he gets in this series ... sorry, no predictions here except to say we really don't expect a clean sweep, alright?

Series Price: - 155; Portland + 130


#6 SAN ANTONIO (55-27) vs. #3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (56-26) - 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
The defending champion Spurs might be blamed for "playing with fire" if indeed the rumor mill is true that head coach Gregg Popovich wanted to help save New Orleans head coach Monty Williams' job ... hmm. The regular-season finale loss to the Pelicans dropped San Ant all the way to the sixth seed (although, interestingly enough, the Spurs are still a pretty heavy fav here against the Clips) and so the five-time champs are gonna have to win one and very likely two road games in this best-of-seven series and there's plenty of talk that PG Tony Parker is just not right while Clips' PG Chris Paul (10.2 apg) is in a "something-to-prove" mode.

Gotta believe that we'll - unfortunately - see plenty of Hack-a-(DeAndre) Jordan here as was the case in these regular-season meetings and so the best thing the Clippers' defensive-minded center can do is drill 70 percent of his free throws and thereby put an end to all this madness. If the Clippers wind up losing this series because Jordan's shooting 5-of-18 from the foul line (or something like that!) and high-jumper Blake Griffin's not showing up at crunch time, than maybe it's time to dissemble this whole team.

San Antonio's threesome of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the aforementioned Parker actually combined to score 40 ppg this year but mark this down: The Spurs don't win this series unless real team MVP Kawhi Leonard (squad-leading 16.5 ppg) locks down either Paul or gunslinger Jamaal Crawford here.

Series Price: San Antonio - 175; Los Angeles Clippers + 150

 

THE NFL DRAFT REPORT

Our extensive Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage rolls on with a look at the top incoming Inside and Outside Linebackers:

DANTE FOWLER, OLB, Florida - This 6-foot-3, 262-pounder is on everyone's top five draft boards thanks to his great versatility and speed (see a swift 4.60 in the 30-yard dash). Fowler has been favorably compared to Baltimore Ravens' long-time star Terrell Suggs and the former Gators star plays with a similar passion for the game. Fowler could get scooped up at #3 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

VIC BEASLEY, OLB, Clemson - Considered the best pure pass-rusher on this man's draft, this 6-foot-3, 247-pounder doesn't figure to slide out of the top 10 picks. Beasley ran a 4.53 time in the 40 for NFL scouts and he was a workout warrior this past spring but his rush defense remains a major question mark. Look for 'em to go at #5 to Washington or - if he falls - to Atlanta with the eighth overall pick.

ELI HAROLD, OLB, Virginia - Here's a borderline first-round pick that must bulk up his 6-foot-3, 247-pound frame but scouts love his quick burst and his motor which has this former Wahoo playing hard on each/every down. Could see Harold going late Round I to New Orleans at pick #31 or else he'll slide to early Round II.

ERIC KENDRICKS, ILB, UCLA - The combination of his height (just six feet) and a hurtin' hamstring at the NFL Combine could drop this explosive hitter to the middle of Round II but he plays with great enthusiasm (similar to his big brother Mychal who plays with the Philadelphia Eagles). Could be a nice fit in Round II with the St. Louis Rams.

SHAQ THOMPSON, OLB, Washington - This Sacramento native stands just 6-feet, 227 pounds but insiders claim his great foot speed (remember he also played some RB for the UW Huskies) will be a major plus at this next level and best thing you can say about him is he's a sure tackler in a league where tackling can get pretty flimsy at times. Might wind up in the middle of Round II with Minnesota, Cleveland or Miami intrigued by his services.

BENARDRICK McKINNEY, ILB, Miss State - Likely mid-to-late second-rounder who packs a punch at 6-feet-4, 247 pounds but there's questions about his technique and inability at times to "read" plays. Expect a spot late in Round II.

NOTE: More NBA Playoff News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez ... have a great sports weekend!

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