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

New York Yankees: May in Review

IMGP3381What is this 2013?

It feels like another Yankee is placed on the disabled list every day. New additions this month included Shawn Kelley, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. These are names this team can go very long without.  Kelley hit the shelf with a strained lumbar spine (back tightness).  Just when he was looking ready to come back, the tightness resurfaced to make it more than a 15-day loss.  Sabathia hasn’t looked good all year, and has been diagnosed with degenerative knees. He’ll be out until at least July because of it.  Beltran was given 2 weeks to work out discomfort from a bone spur on his elbow.  At the end of those 2 weeks, season ending surgery could be necessary.

After the injuries to key players, there is real concern with the lack of power in this offense.  Tex, Beltran and Alfonso Soriano are the only real power threats, but Soriano has been in a season long slump and of course Tex and Beltran have missed significant time.  And without the power, you need guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to get on base and make things happen. When they get on, they usually steal.  But after the final week of the month, Ellsbury’s hot April had turned into a big time slump.  A nice surprise has been the hitting of Yangervis Solarte, but even he has hit a skid, something we all saw coming for the 26-year-old rookie.  Brian McCann needs to start hitting for this team.  His adjustment time is over.  Two months are enough for the all-star catcher.  Interestingly enough, Ichiro Suzuki is hitting at the clip of how his career has gone, over .300.  This is a guy that was supposed to be a 4th outfielder, pinch runner.  But injuries have created situations for the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and he’s doing his best to help in the field, at the plate and on the base paths.

It was a very up-and-down month for the bombers.  They showed something winning 2-0f-3 on the road against the great pitching staff of the St. Louis Cardinals.  But they were also held to less than 2 runs 8 times (1 win).  To be fair, they only lost 2 of the 9 series (3 splits).

Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – He takes the award again, and not by default.  The MLB rookie continues to dominate.  He dropped his first game (and it wasn’t a horrible start) and bounced back with two huge performances to move his record to a stellar 8-1 before June.  His ability to go deep on top of his great pitching has helped stopped long losing streaks, and solidified a less than perfect rotation.

Best Reliever: Dellin BetancesSo this guy has found it big time.  All he does is come in and shut people down for 1-2 innings a la Mariano Rivera in 1996.  He’s struck out a ridiculous 56 batters to just 9 walks in nearly 33 innings of work.  And he’s also electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd much like Joba Chamberlain did when he first made it with the big club.  If the 26-year-old is on the mound, you’re not leaving your seat.

Best Hitter: Mark Teixeira – Early in the month we were all thinking that the wrist was healed and Tex was primed.   The power was back.  He was playing basically everyday. But unfortunately as the month ran down, the wrist became an issue.  Inflammation meant missing a few games at the end of the month, and a trip to the surgeon.  He was told it was okay, and returned after missing 3 straight games.  But in the 6th inning of the game, Teixeira left and is now back to “square one” with the injury. (UPDATE: Teix did make his return on June 3rd against the Athletics.  He drove in 2 runs, including a go-ahead solo homer batting right-handed.  The issue has been when batting left-handed.)

Biggest Surprise: Chase Whitley.  Who? The rookie is a huge reason why the Yankees are still hanging around the top of the American League Division.  The 25-year-old righty doesn’t have a win in 4 starts, but he should.  His last two performances were worthy of the W, but the pen and offense didn’t help him, leaving him with an 0-0 record and a 2.37 ERA. (Honorable Mention: John Ryan Murphy – the young backstop made us all expand on the J.R. and he started hitting.  He doesn’t play often backing up the All-Star McCann, but when he does, boy oh boy is he hitting!  In limited action, Murphy is hitting a scorching .348.)

Record vs AL East: 11-9

Overall Record: 29-26 (2nd in the East)

It took a big month from the Toronto Blue Jays and Edwin Encarnacion (16 homers last month), and .500 record to bump the Yankees from 1st to 2nd after May, but considering all the injuries and inconsistency, you’ve gotta be happy to be over .500 for the season.

 

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!

 

NBA: Nets Find A Way to Finally Go 2-2

It wasn’t easy, but the Nets finally had an okay week.  They went 2-2 for the first time all season, bringing their season record to 5-12.  They got their all-star center back, and saw growth from two 2nd year players.  The best part though could be that the 2 wins came on the road.

Game 14: @ Toronto

They don’t make it easy on themselves, but they picked up a much-needed win to snap their 5-game skid.  Brook Lopez missed his 7th straight, Deron Williams was also out for his 6th out of the last 7.  They came out with energy, something that doesn’t always happen, and they kept it.  Another thing that doesn’t always happen.  They found a way, thanks in part to Joe Johnson, to win the 3rd quarter.  They’re now 4-0 when they win the dreaded 3rd.

It was a close game throughout, though Brooklyn held a 13 point lead late, giving the impression they;d pick up an easy win.  Wrong. Leading 101-86 with 3:13 left Steve Novak was fouled on a 3-point attempt, sparking a 14-1 Raptors run to end the game.  Toronto ran out of time, and Brooklyn snuck out of Air Canada Centre with the 2-point win.

4 starters finished in double figures for the 6th time this season.  They got a lot of big minutes from guys like Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic off the bench as they shortened their rotation just a bit.

  • For the 3rd game out of the last 4, Andray Blatche led the team with 24-points, 6 boards from Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston, who added 7 assists.

W Nets 102 – Raptors 100

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Game 15: vs Los Angeles

The Lakers shot Brooklyn out of their house in the 1st quarter, but then the Nets responded in the 2nd to make a once 25 point lead manageable at the half.  A key reason for Los Angeles taking a quick 27-point lead was the shooting of back up point guard Jordan Farmar.  The former New Jersey Net went 5-7 from 3 in his first game against his old team since 2010.  But the law of averages came into play in the 2nd half, because the Lakers hot shooting came to a halt, and the Nets took advantage, tying up the Lakers late in the 4th.  But that’s when it all changed.

For the 2nd straight day, the offense went ice-cold in the final 3 minutes of the game, and t he sloppy play took over.  Tied 92-92 with under 2 to play, after a number of missed bunnies down low by Brooklyn, Paul pierce decided to run the offense through himself, made a lazy pass that was taken back by Wesley Johnson for the go-ahead score.  To make matters worse, Jason Kidd showed he was willing to do anything to win, and by anything, I mean telling Tyshawn Taylor to “hit me.”  Listening to his head coach, Taylor knocked into him, causing Kidd to spill his drink, and essentially get an extra time out, down 2, with a Laker at the line looking to make it a 3 point lead with 8.3 seconds left to play.  Add to that the fact that no one on the Brooklyn Bench seemed to notice two LA players in their final huddle, and it all turned into a 5-point loss.

Mirza Teletovic had by far his best game of his NBA career, a much welcome sight for fans and management alike.  The 2nd year pro went 4-7 from the 3-point line, added 5-5 from the charity stripe as well as 5 rebounds.  His spark off the bench was key in the huge comeback the Nets put together.  Mason Plumlee continues to impress, blocking four shots in just under 21 minutes of action.

  • Joe Johnson led 5 double-figure scorers with 18, Kevin Garnett led the way with 9 boards and Paul Pierce dished out a team high 5 assists.

L Lakers 99 – Nets 94

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Game 16: @ Houston

Brook Lopez made his return, as Kevin Garnett sat in a 114-95 drubbing by the Houston Rockets.  Lopez looked like he didn’t miss a beat after missing 8 games, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes of action.  Garnett was just given the front half of a back-to-back off, no injury there.  But getting their big man back didn’t help.  This team’s inability to start the 2nd half well has now found its way to the 1st quarter.  The defense out of the locker room is starting to really hurt, and it’s not just out of half anymore.  You can’t be down double digits after 12 minutes every game and expect to go on a run.

The Rockets high-scoring ability, coupled with Brooklyn’s poor defense to start the season, this one got ugly early.  They are having real trouble defending the three-point line of late, proved true by a 6-6 performance behind the arc from Houston’s Chandler Parsons.  The Rockets as a team shot near 60% as a team from 3, something that can’t happen, especially when you yourselves hit just 27% of your three-point attempts.  This game really was all about the difference in the two teams ability to shoot the basketball.  The Nets did a good job limiting turnovers, and free-throw attempts, as well as rebounding the basketball, but it didn’t matter.

  • Aside from the return of a healthy Brook Lopez, Mirza Teletovic’s 1st career double-double of 18 point and 13 rebounds to go with 2nd year point guard Tyshawn Taylor’s 1st.  Taylor finished with 16 points and a team high 12 assists.

L Nets 95 – Rockets 114

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Game 17: @ Memphis

For the first time this week, the Nets got off to a pretty good start.  And guess what, in picking up their 5th victory, they also got their first win when losing the 3rd quarter.  I’d call that progress.  Brook Lopez made his 2nd straight start back from injury, and after a quiet first half, he helped put the game away in the 4th.  The Nets now have more wins on the road than they do at home, though they’ve played more games on the road than home early on.  That will change in December.

It was a rare bad night for bench player Alan Anderson, who started in place of the injured Paul Pierce, who sat with a right hand.  Anderson has provided good defense and an ability to hit the 3 early on off the bench, but went 0-6 as a starter.  The scoring mainly came from 3 guys, with Blatche, Lopez and Johnson combining 67 of Brooklyn’s 97 points.  But the offense did well despite that, with nearly everyone registering an assist and a rebound, and they took a lot of free throw attempts.  The Grizzlies are a good defensive team, and the Nets found different ways to score.  Not to mention that Blatche went 3-3 from behind the arc, a career high.  That’s not the game you want him playing, but they went down, so the Nets will take it.  The Grizzlies were led by Quincy Pondexter’s career-high 22 off the bench.

  • Joe Johnson continues to shine in 2013, leading the team in points with 26, as well as 6 assists while Brook Lopez pulled down 9 boards.

W Nets 97 – Grizzlies 89

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 So they’re still not where they want to be, but this week was a step in the right direction.  Now they have a chance to make up some ground with a majority of their games in this month at home in Brooklyn.  December play starts  Tuesday against Denver.  Then their first of four with the Knicks on Thursday, a match-up that isn’t as anticipated as it would be with both teams sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic.  But with these two teams, throw away the records.   The week wraps Saturday on the road against Milwaukee.

Make or Break Homestand Awaits the Yankees

A 2-4 road-trip was the last thing the Yankees needed as they make a late season playoff push.  But that’s exactly what they got this past week from stops in Tampa Bay and Toronto.  New York entered the series 12-1 on the year against the Blue Jays, but floundered as teams ahead of them continued to win.

The series loss to Toronto was particularly hard, as the bombers saw a 3rd straight rough outing from Hiroki Kuroda.  Kuroda, who has been the Yankees most consistent starter all year, is now just 1-4, with an 8.10 ERA in the month of August.   This after a dominant July (3-0, 0.55 ERA).

After being as close as 3.5 games in the Wildcard, the 2-4 trip put them 5.5 back heading into a crucial 10-game homestand against the Orioles, White Sox and 4 against the Red Sox.  The O’s and Boston are teams they’re chasing in the division and Wildcard, while the White Sox swept the Yanks last month in Chicago.

New York got some help on their off-day, with losses by Boston, Oakland and Cleveland.  Baltimore is the closest foe in the standings that they play (none left with the Indians, though the Yankees hold the tiebreaker should it come to that), so a big series for the bombers would leapfrog them past the birds.  And by big series, I mean sweep.   2 out of 3 obviously helps but as the calendar flips to September, games are at a premium.  If you’re the Yankees, a 9-1, 8-2 record would go a long way to keeping them in the hunt.  Going anything less than 7-3 might just put a nail in the injury plagued, inconsistent 2013 season.

So the Yankees turn to CC Sabathia in the first game of the series.  The lefty has been anything but ace-like this season (11-11, 4.81 ERA), and the bombers desperately need him to get back to his former self this weekend against the Orioles.  Especially with Yankee killer Miguel Gonzalez on the hill for game one.  Gonzalez is 0-1 against New York this season but he has posted a 2.25 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium.

Probables for Saturday: BAL Scott Feldman (4-3, 4.56 ERA) vs NYY Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.14 ERA)

Probables for Sunday: BAL TBA vs NYY Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA)

Baltimore is of course fighting for a place in October, and hold a 7-5 edge in the season series.

*** Injury Notes:

Eduardo Nunez, who suffered a knee sprain in Tuesdays win, had an MRI, and they came back negative.

Robinson Cano, who also suffered a left hand contusion Tuesday is expected to play Friday night after missing Wednesdays finale in Toronto.

The Yankees Leave The Jays Feeling Blue

Four games, four wins.  Just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees, who are now on a 5-game win streak, and have won 11 of their last 15.

It’s a streak which has them just 3.5 games out in the wildcard as they head to Tampa for weekend series.  The Rays one of the two wildcard spots New York is chasing.

The bombers finished off the sweep of with a 5-3 win behind 6 solid innings from Andy Pettitte.   The bombers have three games left with Toronto, and are now 12-1 this year against them.  Something of a surprise as they were a popular pick to make it to the World Series after a big off-season.

Curtis Granderson hit his 4th homer of the season, a solo shot off Toronto starter J.A. Happ.  It was a revenge swing for Granderson, who suffered his first injury of the year against Happ.  Happ hit Granderson and broke his forearm in the very first at-bat of spring training, causing the lefty outfielder to miss the first month and a half of the season.  After a slow start in his second return from the DL, Granderson is starting to get on base with growing regularity, and he tends to hit homers in bunches, something he did a lot the past two seasons, hitting 84 combined between 2011-2012.  And something the Yankees greatly missed during the first half.

David Robertson gave Yankees fans a possible glimpse into the future by throwing a clean 9th inning, recording his second save of the year.  Mariano Rivera wasn’t available after pitching both halves of Tuesday’s doubleheader, as well as closing out Wednesday’s game.

In tonight’s series opener, Hiroki Kuroda (2-1 with a 6.11 ERA against Tampa in his career) looks to shake a rare bad outing against the Red Sox.  Tampa counters with youngster Chris Archer.

*** Another lands on the DL.  New York lost utility infielder Jayson Nix for the season to a fractured left hand suffered Wednesday.  Reliever Preston Claiborne was recalled in his place to help bolster the bullpen, which was used a lot on Wednesday.  But expect Derek Jeter to be back soon, as he started in his first rehab game last night, going 2-3, with one RBI and a run scored for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.