NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS
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NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS

NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Recap

And then there were 2.

It’s a rematch of the 2012-13 NBA Finals, with the only difference being the team holding home-court resides in the West.

Before I breakdown what I see happening, let’s look back to what went down in the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • For a team that worked very hard to get home-court advantage, the Pacers looked like they forgot the goal is to WIN in the playoffs.  After making things tough on themselves in the 1st two rounds, Indiana was out of this before it started.  Sure they forced it to 6 games, but even in wins they didn’t look impressive.  Lance Stephenson became a distraction unable to back up his words.  Roy Hibbert finished the playoffs with 4 games where he didn’t score.  The defense wasn’t up to their normal standards and turnovers continued to plague them.  Oh and the Miami Heat have LeBron James. And Dwyane Wade.  And Chris Bosh.  And they know how to win, at home AND on the road.  It’s pretty simple.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • This was the story of holding home-court. Blowouts for the home teams is how the first 5 games went.  You can argue Serge Ibaka going down for games 1 and 2 turned the series in San Antonio’s favor, and it sure helped, but he did return to get it back to a place where OKC had home-court again, and a chance to advance tied 2-2.  But the Thunder defense was not good, Kevin Durant was exposed and they didn’t get help off the bench.  The Spurs bench can hurt you in so many ways, and they proved it in the clincher when Tony Parker went down and a guy like Boris Diaw helped close out Oklahoma City in overtime. Oh and Tim Duncan thinks he’s 30 again.  That helps.

NBA Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • Here we are.  A rematch of last seasons NBA Finals.  The Spurs looked to have the championship in the bag late in game 6.  Then everything went right for the Heat, including a game winning Ray Allen 3.  A game 7 win sealed Miami’s 2nd straight championship.  And now it’s the question of dynasty or revenge: which will be the ultimate headline? On the one hand, with how easy it was for the Heat to get out of a very down Eastern Conference, you’d think it’s got to be then.  And on the other, you’ve got the Spurs who finished with the best record in the league, making their way out of a stacked West.  They’ve proven themselves against the top teams this year, while Miami has bested the West’s best the past two years.  So which do I think comes to pass?  Revenge is a dish best served on the games biggest stage.  Give me the Spurs.  I said all along that the Thunder would win it all, but if OKC didn’t make it to the finals, that I’d take the West representative. San Antonio has been consistently great for nearly 2 decades.  Yes, Tony Parker is questionable with an ankle injury (boy do ankles HATE point guards huh?), but knowing him and the Spurs way, if he can put any kind of pressure on it, he’s on that court.  That heart, plus the depth of San Antonio vs the Heat depth, is the advantage I give the Spurs.  I know, I know. LeBron James is the best basketball on the planet.  I’m still going with the Spurs in 7. Final answer.

Now tell me if you agree with the team I think is hanging another banner!

7 games again.  We deserve it as fans.  Stretches of this season were dull and after a great 1st round of the playoffs, the best game was Spurs/Thunder game 6.  This fairly predictable finals match-up dictates high drama every game.  We want, and I believe we will get, at least 6 hotly contested games.  No more of this home team blowout non-sense.  Big 3s, defense and two of the best to ever play the game (James and Tim Duncan), trying to add another ring to their legacies.  These are two fantastic organizations, and I cannot wait til Thursday in San Antonio, the site of game 1.

Enjoy it NBA fans. Enjoy it sports fans.  Just enjoy.

NBA Playoffs: Round 2 Recap

After a fun first two rounds of the playoffs and here are, down to 4 teams.  Out West you’ve for last years runner-up San Antonio Spurs, and MVP Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.  And of course in the East you have a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.  The top-seeded Indiana Pacers, and the 2-time reigning World Champion Miami heat.  After a 5 1st round series going 7, the top 2 seeds in each conference have advanced, show just how hard it is for low seeds to make it through all 3 rounds of the playoffs leading up til the finals.

So here’s what I see happening we march one step closer to determining this years champion.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • It’s the match-up we all predicted back when they were the only two East teams over .500.  It’s the rematch the Pacers worked so hard to ensure would happen with home-court advantage after losing game 7 in Miami a year ago.  Despite a bad 2nd half to the season, and a strange post-season, Indiana is here.  Miami had a fairly easy road here in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and you know they don’t care if they have to go into Indy and win.  They did show some stretches that could be concerning in their match-up against the Brooklyn Nets, but showed they still know how to execute late game situations better than most teams. So what happens?  The Pacers biggest advantage comes in the front-court, if and only if, Roy Hibbert plays closer to his 28 point performance, and not his 0 point playoff performance. But LeBron James is the biggest advantage of them all, and to that how well Ray Allen has looked, and how healthy Dwyane Wade has looked, I’m not sure home-court comes into play here. So give me the Heat in 6.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • In a super talented, hotly contested West, the top 2 seeds found a way to get it done and advance again.  OKC’s defense has been spotty at times this postseason, but they’ve come up big when needed.  The same can be said for San Antonio, though I think the Spurs look like the best team of the 4 left standing after shutting down the up-and-coming Portland Trailblazers squad.   I’m most looking forward to the point-guard match-up in this one.  Tony Parker has carried this team throughout the playoffs, and Russell Westbrook has been dominant offensively.  It’ll be interesting to see which bench provides the most consistent spark.  I picked the Thunder to win it all before the playoffs began, and I think OKC wins it in 7.

So that it, I think we’ve got a 2012 NBA Finals rematch on top, pitting the two best players on the planet and their deep teams against each other.

 

NBA Playoffs: Round 1 Recap

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You get a game 7! And you get a game 7! Everyone gets a game 7. (And apparently 4-point plays are a common thing now.)

I’ve never enjoyed the first round of the playoffs before.  They say any team can beat any other team on any given night.  And in the NBA Playoffs, that was true.  The only series that ended quickly was the World Champion Miami Heat knocking out the Charlotte Bobcats in a 4-game sweep.  But even 3 of those 4 games could have gone either way.

Let’s start in the West, where all season the competition was at a high level, and man-oh-man, was every series fun and hotly contested! You’re going to really earn representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Dallas Mavericks

  • Vince Carter’s game winning 3 gave them a 2-1 series lead, but San Antonio answered to make it 3-2.  The Mavs would not go quietly, forcing a decisive game 7.  But the Spurs said enough was enough, and easily eliminated Dallas at home.  Manu Ginobili resurfaced in the clincher, while Tony Park continues to do what he does best, help his team win.  The troubling part of the Spurs showing in this series was their defense, though that turned itself back on in game 7 as well.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies

  • Memphis was maybe the best number 7 seed in the history of basketball.  After digging themselves in a hole early when Marc Gasol went down, they got hot in the second half, and earned the last spot in the playoffs.  The Thunder had to compete with a top defense and they had their issues. It was an even series throughout, with the Grizzlies unable to close some games out late, leading to a rare 4-straight overtime games.  But they were able to close out enough to put OKC on the brink of elimination in big part because of the defense played on MVP-favorite Kevin Durant.  But in game 6, Durant woke up big time, and stayed awake to lead them to into the 2nd round. And don’t forget his sidekick Russell Westbrook, who finished with two triple-doubles in the series.

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) Golden State Warriors

  • Both teams blew the other out at home.  But after LA owner Donald Sterling said some things (you know what things), and was subsequently banned for life, the Clippers played with renewed vigor and took care of GSW on the road.  They were pushed to a game 7 (who wasn’t?) and in a thoroughly enjoyable, they pulled it out, thanks in big part to the play of DeAndre Jordan and clutch free-throw shooting. Doc Rivers after said he’d remember this game 7 because of everything that happened and how his team responded.  The Warriors played well, despite losing their best post presence before the series started, but it wasn’t enough as the Clips nearly doubled them up in the paint.

(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Portland Trailblazers

  • So much offense!  Not a lot of defense.  I picked the Rockets to win this one because they were playing better heading in and have a better bench.  But the Blazers reverted back to the team they were early in the year, and stole two on the road to open up, and won the series 4-2. A big reason for the advancement? The outstanding play of LaMarcus Aldridge the entire series, as well as the cold-blooded clutchness (that’s a word right) of one Damian Lillard.

Now let’s break down the Eastern Conference.

(1) Indiana Pacers vs (8) Atlanta Hawks

  • The Pacers were so focused on getting the number 1 overall seed all season, in case they faced the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals again, that they forgot they need to make it that far in the playoffs first.  They won’t. Atlanta grabbed home court in game 1, and again in game 5.  Roy Hibbert, who many thought coming into this season was the best big man in the NBA, didn’t play like it.  Rebounding and offense was an issue for the All-Star.  But don’t worry, we found Roy, at least kind of, in game 7.  But the reason they won the game, and the series, Paul George stepped up big time.  And they’ll need more of that on both ends of court going forward.

(2) Miami Heat vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats

  • No one really saw Charlotte getting into the playoffs, but in what was a weak Eastern Conference for much of the year, they did. Their defense carried them, while Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker did the rest on offense.  They played well, with the exception of a blowout in game 3.  But the reigning champs were just too much for them.  Charlotte goes back to being the Hornets, so the Bobcats finish their tenure with this lone playoff appearance, and no wins on their resume.  But look for this team to be back and even better next year.  They head into the next round the most rested, and most experience team left.

(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Brooklyn Nets

  • Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were brought in for the playoffs.  Yet they sat the entire 4th quarter of game 5 as the Nets made a furious comeback from down 26 to tie late.  Brooklyn lost.  I said before the series that the play of the back-court would be the difference, and it sure was.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan outplayed Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston in every facet of the game.  Fast-forward to the waning seconds of game 7.  A reoccurring issue between these two teams was the Nets inability to get a ball in late.  The Ratpors were all over their in-bounds plays, and stole one with 6.2 to go.  So the season came down to defense, and who made the final play?  Paul Pierce blocked a Lowry drive, after KG and Williams swarmed.  But it was Joe Johnson, the Nets best player all season, that put this team on his back and played the most consistent ball of them all in black and white.  So now, the lowest seed left, and only team to win on the road during game 7, the Nets move on to face the reigning world champs, and a team they beat 4 times in the regular season.

(4) Chicago Bulls vs (5) Washington Wizards

  • Losing Derrick Rose for the entire season, again, and trading away such a big piece in Luol Deng could have left the Bulls with a good excuse to fall in the East.  But did this team fights for 48 minutes, and were lifted by Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah to home-court.  And it took awhile for the Wizards to find themselves this season, but when they did… boy oh boy they find a good team. John Wall and Bradley Beal have quickly established themselves as one of the best back-courts in the league.  Washington enters well-rested, which could be important for a young squad.

Here are the second round match-ups and what I see happening:

Eastern Conference

(1) Indiana Pacers vs (5) Washington Wizards

  • Can the Pacers build off their game 7 performance?  Or can the Wizards continue their run?  It’s going to come down to the play of the front-court.  NeNe outplayed the Defensive Player of the Year in Noah, while former DOY Roy Hibbert looked terrible on both sides of the ball.  Not to mention the Wizards biggest advantage is Wall over George Hill at point guard. It’s going to be a tougher series than Washington had in round 1, but honestly, give me the Wizards in 6. (Had Bulls beating them in 7)

(2) Miami Heat vs (6) Brooklyn Nets

  1. I’m sticking with my original pick of Heat in 6 of Brooklyn in round 2.  I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d had an easier time with the inexperienced Raptors, maybe I’d give them more of a chance.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t in the regular season down the stretch, especially with a healthy and rested Wade on the floor.   The best chance Brooklyn has lies on the glass, in the hands of Joe Johnson, and whoever is tasked with defending LeBron James. That will probably be a team effort led by Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson.  The King will get his, but if they make it hard on him, that will be huge.

Western Conference

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (3) Los Angeles Clippers

  • The Thunder played very good defense against Memphis, while the Clippers thrived on offense against the Warriors. Neither had the series was crisp, but here they are.  I picked OKC before the playoffs in six, and I’ll stick with that.  It’s going to be a close, hard-fought series, and while I think the scores will be high, in crunch time, I think the Thunder will dig deeper and get the stops needed.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (5) Portland Trailblazers

  • (Originally I had Spurs in 6 over Houston), but here are the Blazers after they won in 6.  I’m still taking the Spurs in 6 because of experience and if they an defend the way they did in-game 7, they should be okay.  But man did Portland show us something.  Or rather remind us of something . The Blazers were so hot to start the season, and they got back to doing those things that got them off to the quick start.  Aldridge was the best player on the court, and Lillard showed in just year two he’s not afraid to take the biggest shot. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the regular season’s best team falls to the upstart team from the north-west.

So there you go, that’s what I saw from the magical 1st round, and how I think round 2 goes. Here’s to another fun and nail-biting round of the NBA Playoffs.

Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!

 

Brooklyn’s Championship Hopes Take a Big Blow

528288_10151661322365555_824596039_nWell, just when you thought this team was getting healthy, they get hit with a huge loss.  All-Star Center Brook Lopez has suffered another broken left foot.  It’s the 2nd time he’s broken it in 3 years, and will have his 3rd surgery on it in that span.  It’s a big blow, as the 25-year-old Lopez was averaging career-highs in points, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage.  He also ranked seventh in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating. The Nets are just 2-7 this season with   their big man out of the lineup.  Now this means the depth will be tested, with guys like Reggie Evans, who’d been out of rotation, to get minutes.  Thoughts are Brooklyn could go out and   make a trade for Houston Rockets back-up Omer Asik, but with no first round picks for the  next 6 years, that’s not likely.  So now it’s time for guys like Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche to step up, and Deron Wiliams to play with pride and lead this team to the playoffs without their security blanket down low.  It’s still very possible in the weak Eastern Conference, but their dreams of a Championship are most likely over.

So with all that being said, let’s look at the week that was for the Nets, before the Lopez injury.

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Game 24: vs Philadelphia 

The week started off very well for the Nets, easily handling the Philadelphia 76ers at home 130-94, and without Brook Lopez, who was out then with a sprained ankle.  It was a wire-to-wire win, that was sparked by a 20-7 run to start the game.  It was just a 10 point lead at the half for Brooklyn.

But the story of the game, was the ridiculous 3rd quarter Joe Johnson put up.  29 points is a lot for this team to score int he 3rd quarter, their Achilles heel, so when Johnson scored 29 himself, it was a sight to see.  Brooklyn’s shooting-guard finished with a season high 37, hitting on 10-14 from 3.  He would’ve challenged the NBA record of 12, but there was no need for him to play at all in the 4th quarter.

6 Nets finished in double figures, a season high 35 assists in a game they shot 60% from the field and from 3.  The team hit a franchise record 21 shots from behind the arc, with Shaun Livingston hitting the record breaker, and he’s not known for his shot behind the arc.

  • Joe Johnson easily led all scorers with 37, Mason Plumlee pulled down 8 boards off the bench and Deron Williams with a season high 13 assists in a double-double performance.

W Sixers 94 – Nets 130

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Game 25: vs Washington

They were outplayed by a younger, quicker team. Plain and simple.

3 Nets scored 20+ including a season high 27 from Paul Pierce.  But 7 Wizards finished in double figures, and they out-rebounded Brooklyn 51-31.  Deeper into that number was the 23 second-chance points the Wizards scored to the Nets 3.

They couldn’t stop them, especially from 3 and when they did stop Washington, they weren’t fighting off the glass, and you can’t do that. Not at home and not when you’re many games under .500 in a season that had Championship aspirations. You can’t do it ever.

  • Paul Pierce led all scorers with 27, Joe Johnson had a team high 7 rebounds and Deron Williams with his 2nd 13 assist game.

L Wizards 113 – Nets 107

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Game 26: @ Philadelphia

There was revenge on the minds of the Sixers, and the Nets let them go through with it.  It was close throughout, though Brooklyn looked like they were going to pull away late.   The game featured 31 lead changes and 21 ties. Both teams made a number of big shots, especially in overtime.

The Nets had no answer in the paint, with Philly outscoring them 66-30.  It’s believed Brook Lopez suffered his injury in the 3rd quarter and kept playing, but he wasn’t his usual self in the first half of the game.  Brooklyn had their chances to score in the paint, but missed a lot of open looks.  The Sixers didn’t, and Evan Turner ‘s game winner came in the paint, as time expired in the overtime.

Paul Pierce had another good game, his first double-double of the year, but Brooklyn missed Joe Johnson, who was away from the team for personal reasons, and Kevin Garnett was resting.

  • Alan Anderson had a big game, leading the way with 26 points, Pierce pulled down 10 boards and the point guards were just that, on point. Deron Williams 3rd straight double figure assist total at 14, a new season high, and Shaun Livingston added another 11.

L Nets 120 – Sixers 121

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So it’s time to move on without Brook Lopez, who is officially out for the season.  And it comes before a tough Holiday week of games.  It starts tonight at home against the Pacers.  Then it’s a rematch of the playoffs when the Bulls come to Brooklyn on Christmas Day.  Then it’s a back-to-back on the road against Milwaukee on Friday and they finish it up Saturday night in Indiana.