Network Bulletin - NBA Final Week Plus NFL Draft
What To Look For In The NBA This Final Weekend
On Saturday, it’s …
On Sunday, it’s …
OKLAHOMA CITY (57-21) at INDIANA (54-25) – 6:05 p.m. ET, NBA TV
MEMPHIS (46-32) at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (25-53) – 9:35 p.m. ET, NBA TV
This Team Still Cares! One NBA Team is NOT coasting to the Playoffs.
MLB NEWS & NOTES FROM THE FIRST TWO WEEKS
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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 NOT-SO-BIG RED MACHINE
Okay, so it’s exactly as if any media folks described the modern-day version of the Cincinnati Reds as this era’s “Big Red Machine”, but did you happen to notice that heading into this weekend’s Interleague series against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays that Cincy’s averaging a meager three runs a game?
Cincinnati’s rotten 3-6 start has first-year manager Bryan Price’s club right there in the basement of the National League Central, and optimists out there will be quick to tell you that things automatically will get better in a few weeks when flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman returns from his scary spring training head injury but it’s all not on the current bullpen.
The aforementioned bats have been deadly silent — note that in Cincy’s first nine games it’s scored 0, 1, 6, 3, 3, 2, 3, 5 and 4 runs while losing two-of-three against St. Louis, losing two-of-three at the New York Mets and then dropping two-of-three in St. Looie — not a real good pattern so far, right?
The Reds rank 26th in the bigs in runs scored with 27 overall runs, 21st in batting average at .234 and 23rd in on-base percentage at .298 — worse yet, 1B Joey Votto is hitting just .250 (8-of-32) with one RBI thus far and really looking lost, and our Jim Sez preseason MVP choice RF Jay Bruce is hitting a tepid .188 (that’s 6-of-32) and he’s already struck out nine times.
The stats on the back of the respective baseball cards of both Votto and Bruce suggest things will turn in their favor sooner than later, but might the free-agent departure of Shin-Soo Choo to Texas had a damning effect on the rest of this Reds’ lineup? We keep hearing about base-stealing threat Billy Hamilton, but so far he has only a .250 on-base percentage.
Maybe the Reds won’t get healthy this weekend against a standout Tampa Bay pitching staff but you have to wonder if — perhaps — the NL Central club will be quick to deal in another month or so for an extra bat (and preferably one that lead off with some pop). Hey, wonder what Dusty Baker is thinking about these days?
THE NFL DRAFT REPORT: The Secondary and Running Backs
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.
HASEAN CLINTON-DIX, FS, Alabama — Better known as “Ha-Ha” during his stellar career with the Crimson Tide, this 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has great ball skills, keen awareness and a general sense of how to play the game right but he’s not without faults as his numbers dropped last year and he was suspended for two late-season games. Still, odds are he’s a top 15 pick in this May 8th NFL Draft, and could zoom up even higher on some boards with Detroit or Tennessee (at picks 10 and 11) maybe looking a spot or two down for someone that really wants Clinton-Dix and thereby snag an extra pick … St. Louis could be that team but may think it won’t get ‘em at #13.
CALVIN PRYOR, FS, Louisville — This 5-foot-11, 208-pounder is right there in the mix of top 15 picks according to all the draftniks out there, and why not? Pryor sports great closing speed and he loves contact and if there’s any fear about the way this former U of L Cardinals star played it’s that he may be flagged in NFL-land for some excessively-violent hits. If you scan the first-round draft board you could make a nice match with Pryor and the Chicago Bears at pick #14. Just sayin’!
JIMMIE WARD, SS, Northern Illinois — The NFL folks love his ability to cover the slot receivers and he was among college football’s most elite cover guys in this role last year while he vied for the Jim Thorpe Award. Note that the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Ward is great at taking the proper angle to pass-catchers and he doesn’t back down from bigger/stronger foes. Look for him to go somewhere late in Round II or very early in Round III.
TERRENCE BROOKS, FS, Florida State — Here’s another likely late second-rounder/early third-rounder who sports nearly the identical height/weight as Ward even though they play different safety positions. Brooks has long arms/good balance but he’s shown bad hands in college while dropping a slew of potential INTs. It doesn’t hurt that he comes off a national championship season, you know.
Looking at the other side of the ball, here are the top Running Backs:
TRE MASON, Auburn – By all accounts, this Heisman Trophy finalist will be the one-and-only running back chosen within the top 50 picks of this year’s NFL Draft as most boards have ‘em going in the 40-to-45 pick range. Mason – who stands just 5-feet-9, 207 pounds but still rushed for 1,816 yards a year ago – is a physical back with quick feet and a penchant for busting through the gaps in a nanosecond and many folks have compared him with an in-his-prime RB Ray Rice. Note that Mason is not considered a good pass-catcher coming out of the backfield and that’s hurting his draft status a bit. Gut feeling is he gets tabbed right at the top of Round II with Houston or St. Louis looking to snap ‘em up.
BISHOP SANKEY, Washington – Lots to like about this 5-foot-10, 210-pounder from Spokane who sports good vision and a quick burst and keep in mind this former Husky last year broke the school’s single-season rushing mark with 1,870 yards and 20 TDs in 13 games. Sankey probably will get picked somewhere ‘round the 55th-to-65th pick and you could see San Francisco trade up a few spots to make him a second-round choice.
CARLOS HYDE, Ohio State –Many draftniks rate this six-foot, 230-plus pounder as the second-best back behind Mason but we’ll slot him down to #3 behind Sankey mainly because he does have some past baggage and isn’t always overpowering just when you think he’ll run over a defensive back. Hyde’s likely gonna get nabbed somewhere in the draft’s top 60-to-65 picks and you might see the Cleveland Browns make a move for him. Hey, Hyde did rush for 1,527 yards last year even though he was suspended for the Buckeyes’ first three games.
JEREMY HILL, LSU – There’s a handful of running backs that will be vying to be second-round draftees including Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Boston College’s Andre Williams and even little-known Towson RB Terrance West but expect this former Bayou Bengals’ star to land up in someone’s lap late in Round II (maybe Denver?). Hill is a real bruiser at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds and he averaged nearly 108 rushing yards per game a year ago despite being part of the “rotation” utilized by head coach Les Miles.
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