We Are All Witnesses… To This Nonsense

Camp
Camp
LeBron just held his basketball camp in Vegas and now heads to Brazil. The world awaits his decision.

There’s a good chance some of you had that t-shirt. Heck, some of you might still have it whether you’re willing to admit it or not is another subject. The t-shirt in question was Nike’s massive marketing attempt to make LeBron James into Michael Jordan as well as they possibly could. It wasn’t just on t-shirts though as it was also on billboards and banners that were several stories high.

That was five years ago and then some when LeBron James was leading his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.

What we all ultimately became witnesses of was ‘The Decision’ which led to James taking his talents to Miami. This left Cavalier fans in tears as they burned their number 23 James jerseys. Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert even penned a letter that went public which sounded a lot like the type of letter a scorned lover would write.

My how times can change…

LeBron James now has four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and two championships. Not three, not four, not five… He has two. Regardless of how many titles James has won, he now carries more power than any NBA superstar since Jordan and perhaps even more considering the age we live where social media and the 24/7 news cycle dominates our lives.

So powerful is James is that even Carmelo Anthony is waiting to see where he goes before he makes a decision on his own future. Same can be said for Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade as well. Basically, the big name free agents aren’t making any decisions until James does.

A lot of people want to lay blame at the feet of James for this waiting game and worse yet, this media and social media firestorm but that isn’t fair. We would all be doing the same thing in our careers if presented with similar options. It was reported last week that if the NBA’s salary cap didn’t exist, James would be worth as much as $50 million per season.

Cusack
I keep picturing Cavs' fans like this outside LeBron's house in Ohio.

James has every right to seek out the max contract he is entitled to and for us to whine about it is wrong. It shows a lack of understanding of the situation.

What we do have every right to be annoyed with is the attention paid to this entire situation. To say social media is enthralled with James’ ‘next decision’ would be like saying the Great Wall of China is a nice little divider. I would be willing to bet that you can’t go on your Twitter timeline and not see a tweet regarding the Lebron decision withing the first couple of swipes of your thumb.

Common sentiment among media members who follow this stuff is that James has narrowed his choice to either Cleveland or Miami. Cavaliers’ fans are so certain James is returning home that they’ve brought out their jerseys in droves. These are the jerseys that weren’t  burned I guess. Cavs’ fans have even gone so far as to surround James’ Cleveland Area home in an effort to… I guess I really don’t know what they’re doing.

According to the latest itinerary, James has been in Las Vegas attending his basketball camp and is scheduled to attend the World Cup Final on Sunday in Brazil. There are two groups of people who stand to be most affected by James’ choice; the bandwagon fans in Miami and the Cleveland fans who are so certain he is coming back that they are buying tickets like crazy.

The nonsense will end but only when James is ready for it to end. Let’s just keep the lighters away from the Cavaliers’ fans.

 

 

Heat Having an Opt-Out Party; Decline of US Tennis is Troubling

Riley
Riley
How will Pat Riley proceed with all the opt-outs in Miami?

Like many, I think I jumped to conclusions regarding the future of LeBron James. Following his decision to opt out, speculation ran rampant that James could be on the move once again. Would it be back to Cleveland? Chicago maybe? What about the Lakers?

It looks more and more like James isn’t going to go anywhere and I’m not so sure that this isn’t a mistake on his part.

Fellow Heat teammates Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade opted out of their contracts yesterday and it is being reported that Chris Bosh likely will will do the same on Monday. With this unfolding the way that it is, it appears that following a meeting between James, Bosh and Wade earlier this week, that the plan will be for them all to take less and stay in Miami.

This would allow them to go after another fairly big-time player, maybe, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and still add another role player or two. Windhorst also reported the team may be looking to trade guard Norris Cole in the wake of obtaining rookie Shabazz Napier.

So why do I think this isn’t such a great idea? First we have to ask the question of just how much does Dwyane Wade have left? He was clearly less than the player he used to be and will he accept being a role player? Wade has been the rock of the Miami Heat foundation for over a decade. Going to the bench isn’t the easiest thing in the world for a player to take. Some can do it while others struggle with it.

Bringing back Haslem doesn’t do much for James’ goal of getting another title either. His minutes have declined rapidly over the years and I don’t see him returning doing much for the team.

James knows he will always be judged by titles and that the standard is six which Michael Jordan earned in the 1990’s. James is now 2-3 in the NBA Finals and I don’t see the current roster in Miami doing much to better that record. Perhaps Pat Riley and the front office have bigger plans ahead so we shall see.

Williams
Serena was bounced early for the second straight major as US tennis continues to slide.

Tennis on the decline in America

While America continues to bask in the glory of soccer which many think will finally have long-lasting acceptance in this country, another sport which we once saw dominance in is fading fast.

There was once a time when Wimbledon was ‘must-see’ television because of the myriad of US players that were worth watching. From Jimmy Connors to Chris Evert to Pete Sampras and to the Williams’ sisters, tennis in the United States was once dominant.

Yesterday, Serena Williams bowed out in the third round of Wimbledon leaving both she and her sister watching rather than competing. An up and coming US player, Sloane Stephens, was bounced in the first round.

The men’s side is even worse for US players as only one American man is ranked in the ATP top 60. Because of the decline, tennis has lost popularity in this country and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better despite many young people continuing to play the game.The problem is that they don’t stick with it as they get older.

While some of the international players are nice draws and create attention here in the states, the fact that there is no worthy American to root for hurts the sport. I wish I had the answers but I don’t and chances are, I won’t be watching the Wimbledon finals if I don’t have a rooting interest.

Spurs Look to Close Out the Heat Tomorrow Night in Texas

LeBron and Wade
LeBron and Wade
Could tonight be the end of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or will they force a game six back home?

I can’t recall the last series I’ve been so wrong about. I’m pretty sure that every one of the first four games of the NBA Finals I’ve had completely wrong. Therefore, you should probably do the exact opposite of what I’m about to suggest for tomorrow night.

Miami at San Antonio (-6), Spurs lead series 3-1 – Of all the games I’ve been the most wrong about game four takes the cake. There was no way I saw the Miami Heat, who had lost game three on their home-court, losing again. Remember this was a team that just didn’t lose back-to-back games and especially in the playoffs.

The entered game four with the third-longest streak of not losing back-to-back playoff games in league history. They trailed only the Jordan-Era Bulls and the dynastic Celtics of the 1960’s.

We can throw those stats and numbers out the window now because LeBron James and company are now hanging on for dear life. Watching San Antonio dismantle the Miami defense the other night was a thing of beauty. It’s what basketball was supposed to be when Dr.James Naismith invented it. Passing and moving the ball among all five players on the court was like art work being performed by the Spurs.

In an era of “let the best player go one-on-one off a screen,” San Antonio displayed everything that was good about offensive basketball. So impressive was the Spurs’ game four win that every player on the team scored. Knowing that bench scoring had been issue, Miami actually scored 30 points in that department. Still, San Antonio was better scoring 41 off of the pine.

Miami had done a decent job of battling San Antonio in the paint as well but that stat was blown up too. The Spurs dominated 46-30 in the key and while playing solid defense at the other end as well.

Ginobili
Manu Ginobili has been a lightning rod for the Spurs despite not scoring a lot of points.

If you need any further demonstration of the ‘team aspect’ of the Spurs than look no further than Manu Ginobili. The Argentinian scored just seven points but he had a whopping +27 for the game which illustrates the energy and intensity he and his teammates brought to the floor.

Short of LeBron James going off for a 40-point night tomorrow, I just don’t see how this team survives the balanced Spurs in game five. Dwyane Wade has been accused of looking tired and perhaps he is, but I think it has more to do with his nagging knees. Chris Bosh has disappeared for the most part and the role players like Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers have been neutralized.

It would be incredibly easy to blame some of the on-court issues of the Heat on the off-court topics that are being discussed but I guarantee the players wouldn’t use that excuse. Still, it must be difficult knowing the media is more interested in where LeBron will play in the fall and whether Carmelo Anthony is joining the Big Three in Miami.

I really, really want to take Miami to win this because if they do I believe this goes to a game seven where anything can happen but I can’t.The Spurs have been too good and too balanced at both ends and there has only been one close game in this series and that was Miami’s two-point win in game two. Take the Spurs to cover tomorrow night and I like the OVER. The O/U is at 196 by the way.

Keep an eye on… Miami is 4-16 straight up in its last 20 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… The total has gone UNDER in four of San Antonio’s last six games at home… Miami is 6-13-1 against the spread in its last 20 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… San Antonio is 9-1 straight up in its last 10 games at home.

Sports Are Becoming a Real Flop

Wade
Wade
Dwyane Wade has become one of the NBA's finest "actors."

Flopping – “the act of pretending a foul has been committed in the hopes of fooling an official into blowing the whistle.”

The above is an actual definition that has suddenly become much more pertinent to the world of sports today than I ever dreamed it would. It has taken center stage because of the fact that the very sport where it originated is holding its’ premier event. But flopping has spread to other sports and it’s absolutely out of control.

One of the bigger issues of flopping is the discussion over whether or not it is an acceptable part of the game. There are those that define it as doing whatever it takes to win and if getting an official to blow the whistle on your opponent takes some acting then by all means do it. The other side is the more traditional side I suppose. Where is the honor? Where is the professionalism? Is this any way to play the game?

I honestly can see and understand the arguments from both sides but in my own personal opinion flopping has to stop. It has made its’ way into almost every sport we watch now and has gone from being a fairly unique circumstance to seeing it almost routinely.

The act of flopping has most of its’ origins in the game of soccer. With games that are typically highly competitive and usually very close in terms of score, players will do anything and everything in an effort to gain an advantage. Flopping has gone from a simple act of falling down or reacting as is if hit to a full-blown Oscar-worthy performance that would make Tom Hanks jealous.

Flop
This flop may have cost Croatia a shot at upsetting Brazil.

How appropriate and timely was yesterday’s World Cup opener? Host nation Brazil was tied 1-1 with Croatia in an extremely tight game. Knowing the host nation in the World Cup had never lost, the pressure was mounting on the Brazilians. That’s when a flop paid off…

Brazil was attacking in the Croatian end when a Brazilian player offered up his finest acting performance which drew a penalty resulting in a penalty shot which gave Brazil the 2-1 lead. It was a horrendous call and the kind of thing soccer is getting a bad rap for as Brazil went on to win 3-1.

Flopping has also become quite prevalent in the National Basketball Association as well. Miami’s Dwyane Wade was fined $5,000 for his top notch acting job in drawing a foul on Manu Ginobili. The sad part about what is happening in the NBA is that some of the game’s biggest stars are becoming the game’s biggest floppers.

Players like LeBron James and Blake Griffin have become notorious for their acting jobs. I can’t say they started the process because Bill Laimbeer was once a tremendous actor as well twenty-some years ago but today’s stars are perfecting it.

The National Hockey League has seen its’ share of flopping as well but it comes with a different set of rules. If you flop, there will be retaliation in almost each and every circumstance so that does limit it a bit but flopping still happens and the acting is pretty good if I may say so.

Even the National Football League sees flopping. Where you may ask? Ever seen a punter put on a Tony Award worthy performance as a defender comes within an arm’s reach? Ya, it happens there too.

Ultimately, the penalty for flopping must be enough to deter the action and so far it has not reached that level. As in the case with yesterday’s World Cup opener, flopping is affecting the game and sadly, it is affecting the outcome of games as well.

Miami Looks for Clincher at Home Tonight in South Beach

James and Wade
James and Wade
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are unbeaten in clinching games at home in Miami.

Here is what is going to give tonight in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals; Miami is 9-0 at home in series clinching games during the days of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Meanwhile the Pacers are 3-0 in road elimination games so far in this year’s playoffs.

Which way do I see this game going tonight? Read on…

Indiana at Miami (-7), Heat Leads Series 3-2 – If you noticed the somewhat laid-back attitude of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the postgame press conference it was likely due to the fact that James had his worst playoff game as a professional yet the Heat still had a chance to defeat the Pacers on their homecourt.

James scored just seven points and played only 22 minutes as he spent much of the in foul trouble. His Miami teams are 0-9 when he scores under 15 points so we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome.

It was obvious to me that the officiating changed drastically from game four to game five. Of James’ five fouls I would say only one was a legitimate foul. The rest were highly questionable. The “noise” among NBA fans in these situations always banks on conspiracy.

The league obviously wants the Heat in the finals for overwhelmingly logical reasons. This theory is blown out the window if Chris Bosh’s three-pointer connects or does it? Miami would have still gone to the Finals which make the television people happier than pig in slop.

George
Paul George has to keep shooting if his Pacers are to have a chance.

All the loss to Indiana does in the league’s eyes is delay the inevitable. If that’s the way one thinks anyway…Besides the struggles of James, the other story was Paul George who followed his coach’s advice and stayed “green.” George was 15 for 28 for 37 points in game five and essentially willed his team to victory with clutch shots. He has to continue doing this if they are to have any chance at making the comeback in this series.

Roy Hibbert is far too inconsistent to rely on and scoring from anyone else is not steady either. George just needs to keep shooting or in the words of George Costanza, “be a chucker.”

The Heat have to be confident coming home after playing as poorly as they possibly could have yet they nearly won the game. It’s almost the closest thing to a sure thing to pencil in 25 points, seven boards and five assists for James if not more. I expect Wade to be better and don’t be surprised if ‘Birdman’ Andersen returns following a two-game absence.

As you know, I’ve been pretty awful in this series. Each time I think one thing the other happens and yet I’m not giving up. The numbers just don’t add up to anything positive for Indiana. The Heat just don’t lose games in this situation and they aren’t going to this evening either. The trends point to the OVER and I really like Miami to cover as well.

The Heat will enjoy a little extra rest time as the Spurs and Thunder duke it out in the Western Conference.

Keep an eye on… Indiana is 8-17 against the spread in their last 25 games on the road… Miami is 5-0 straight up in its’ last five games at home… Indiana is 2-4 in its’ last six games against Miami… The total has gone OVER in six of Miami’s last seven games at home… The O/U tonight is 183.

Some Really Good Games on the Docket Tonight in the NBA

Durant
Durant
Kevin Durant and the Thunder welcome the lowly Sixers to OKC tonight in the NBA.

Tuesday night in the National Basketball Association there are three really good and exciting contests for your consideration as well as one that isn’t quite so tempting. That doesn’t mean that we can’t wager on it though now does it?

Philadelphia (+19.5) at Oklahoma City – The Philadelphia 76ers have lost 14 straight games. A nuclear physics degree you will not need to know this team is awful. At 15-45, only the Orlando Magic are worse.

Tonight, the 76ers will be in Oklahoma City where the Thunder have righted their ship after going 0-3 to open the post All-Star Break session. OKC has won two straight and six of their last ten and every win has been needed as the San Antonio Spurs are now within a game and a half of them for the top seed in the Western Conference.

I have a very hard time going with any team that is giving up almost 20 points to an opponent and as much as I’d like to tonight I can’t. I expect Philly to play hard in an effort to end this long losing streak. They’ll lose but they’ll keep it within 20.

Wade
Dwyane Wade's resurgence has been a key for the Heat's seven game winning streak.

Miami (+1) at Houston – I expect this to be a very good match-up tonight in what used to be called ‘Clutch City.’ The Heat are currently on a seven game win streak and have won nine of their last ten games while the Rockets have gone 8-2 over their last ten game stretch.

This is the point where Miami caught fire a year ago and was in the midst of their 27-game winning streak so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us they are playing well early in March.

The Rockets find themselves in the fifth spot right now in the West but just a game behind Portland for the third spot. Every game for them has huge meaning as the season winds down. The same can be said for Miami who sits just two and a half games behind Indiana in the Eastern Conference.

Both teams have good home and away records respectively but I like the Rockets tonight in their own building to put an end to the Heat’s streak.

LA Clippers (-3) at Phoenix – This is another really good game taking place in the Western Conference this evening. The Suns just keep doing the unexpected and find themselves in the seventh spot in the West. They have won two in a row and six of their last ten games.

The Los Angeles Clippers have won four in a row and seven of their last ten as they ride Blake Griffin’s exceptional play. Griffin has played so well that analyst Reggie Miller believes he trails only LeBron James and Kevin Durant in terms of the league’s best players.

I think you’ll see a game that goes down to the wire tonight in the desert and I like the Clippers to cover but just barely.

New Orleans at LA Lakers (Even) – While the above three games offer some great action from teams with very high expectations, this one isn’t exactly in the same realm as those are. New Orleans travels to La-La Land where the city is fresh off another big Oscar night. Priorities change I guess when the Lakers are the second worst team in the Western Conference.

The Lakers won their last outing but have won just three of their last ten games overall and now have players and coaches squawking at each other through the press. This is of course what happens when high expectations meet poor outcomes.

The Pelicans are 12 games under .500 on the road and the Lakers are eight games under .500 at home. In a match-up that is nothing more than a toss-up, I’ll take the home team Lakers in this one.

NBA is Back in Action Tonight

Vogel
Vogel
Frank Vogel's Pacers start the stretch run lookng to maintain the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

As I’ve said many times in this exact space, betting is most certainly not an exact science. Case in point; my decision to play the ‘under’ in Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game. Not only did I miss on that projection, but I missed badly. A-Rod swinging at curveball low and away badly… I really thought we’d see a tad more defense plus I thought the level of overall scorers was down too.

Such is the life of what I do however so back on the horse I go. Tonight the National Basketball Association comes back from the All-Star break with a bevy of games including several I’m going to take an extra hard look at. Let’s go!

Atlanta (+10) at Indiana – The Hawks enter the second half of the season on a five-game skid and have lost seven of their last ten games. They now take their 9-17 road record into Indiana where the Pacers have only lost three times in 28 games this season.

The double-digit number is a bit intimidating but I like the Pacers to cover at home as their quest for home court advantage in the East really gets going.

Wade
The health and availability of Dwyane Wade will be a key factor going forward for the Heat.

Miami (-2.5) at Dallas – The Mavericks have done an excellent job of getting themselves back into the playoff hunt after a less than stellar beginning of the season. Currently, Dallas is the sixth seed in the playoffs but is one loss and wins by Phoenix and Golden State from being the eighth spot.

Miami has really just two goals for the second half of the season. They need to find a way for Dwyane Wade to be healthy for the playoffs and perhaps more importantly now, they need to catch Indiana for the top seed in the East.

Take the Mavs and the points tonight as Miami is suffering from ‘All-Star Hangover.’

San Antonio (+5) at Los Angeles Clippers –  The Spurs sit in the second spot in the Western Conference four games behind the Thunder and two games up on Houston, Portland and tonight’s opposition the LA Clippers.

The Spurs are 20-7 on the road while the Clips are 23-4 at home in the Staples Center. The Clippers have won three straight and seven of ten while the Spurs are just 5-5 over the same period. I like the rested Spurs and the five points tonight.

Orlando (-2) at Milwaukee – Two of three worst teams in the NBA hook up in Wisconsin tonight but that doesn’t mean you can’t wager on them. Combined, the two teams have won just five of their last 20 games and neither team has done much to keep from being the team with the number one pick this summer.

The Magic are seven games better overall and for me that’s enough of a difference. Take the Magic and give the two points.

Toronto (+2.5) at Washington – As of right now, this is a potential first-round match-up with three-seed Toronto hosting the sixth seeded Washington Wizards. Chances are that things will move around quite a bit over the final 30 games but it’s never too early to think playoffs.

The Raptors are 6-4 over their last ten contests while the Wizards are 4-6. One thing that stands out to me is that Toronto is a very respectable 14-14 on the road this season. Washington is just 13-13 at home so I think that favors Toronto.

I’m guessing John Wall will have a little more spring in his step following his slam dunk contest win but I really like the Raptors getting the 2.5 on the road in the nation’s capitol.

Pivotal Game Three is at Hand

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan
I expect Duncan to be much better in game three than he was in a 3 for 13 effort in game two.

The Miami Heat rebounded from their game one loss with a 103-84 win in game two that included a 33-5 run and an epic NBA Finals moment when LeBron James blocked a Thiago Splitter dunk attempt. The win followed the Miami trend of wins after losses dating back to early January, eleven in all. Ironically, their average win margin in those instances was right around 19 points which is what they won by.

If you told San Antonio Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich he’d leave Miami with a split I guarantee you he would take it, but he has to be a little concerned about the Heat improving their outside shooting significantly from game one and his team’s inability to take care of the ball as they did in game one. That will no doubt be addressed.

LeBron James
James isn’t scoring a lot but he is doing many other things well.

Obviously every game in a seven-game NBA Finals series is crucial, but historically, no game is bigger than game three. A staggering 92% of teams that win game three of the NBA Finals go on to win the title. Don’t think for a second that both the Heat and Spurs aren’t aware of that fact. Let’s get to the preview of tonight’s big game three.

Miami at San Antonio (Series tied 1-1) – The Spurs enter tonight as two-point favorites at home despite the beat-down they suffered in game two. The over/under tonight is 188 is it was in game two and I really like the over in that one but missed by two points. This evening I really like the under. I expect both teams to clamp down defensively and force guys other than each team’s big three to make big buckets.

The first thing San Antonio has to do is get Tim Duncan going early. Duncan missed his first five shots in game one and then shot a miserable three for thirteen in game two. With Tony Parker working as hard as he has in the first two games, Duncan has to get involved sooner to open up things on the outside.

Another area I think you’ll see more balance in is in the fast break department where the Heat outscored the Spurs 13-3 on Sunday. San Antonio is often mistaken for being a very defensive team, but actually the Heat play better defense statistically. Both teams will get back on defense better in game three and will force the secondary portions of the break to come through.  That means waiting for trailers or being able to find an open shooter along the arc.

I mentioned turnovers earlier and that might be the biggest issue heading into this game tonight. The Spurs turned it over just four times in game one and then fumbled it away 17 times in game two while the Heat turned it over just six times. Miami was able to turn those Spurs’ mistakes into 19 points San Antonio could only convert Miami’s errors into two points. There’s your game right there.

Prediction: A lot of people are suddenly in love with the Heat after their strong performance in game two. What worries me though is that LeBron James is not scoring the points he usually does. Yes, he is distributing the ball well, but the Spurs have done a nice job of limiting his buckets.

With Dwyane Wade less than 100% and Chris Bosh probably in the same boat, that puts pressure on James and those perimeter shooters who were good in game two but not so much in game one. Both teams are experienced in these situations but the finality of things for the Spurs’ big three has to be setting in a bit. I like a big night from Parker and Duncan to lead the Spurs to a victory tonight.

Heat Reach 20; Kobe Out Indefinitely

Kobe Bryant

 

Kobe Bryant
Bryant will be doing his cheering from the bench with a sprained ankle.

It wasn’t easy, but the Miami Heat have now won 20 games in a row in the National Basketball Association with a 98-94 win over Philadelphia Wednesday night in Philly. The Heat are now just the fourth team in NBA history to have a winning streak of 20 or more games in a season.

 

Dwyane Wade
Wade has been excellent over the Heat’s 20-game winning streak.

LeBron James had 27 points but it was teammate Dwyane Wade who tipped in a James’ miss to preserve the lead and the victory. Wade had 21 for the Heat who actually trailed by 3 with less than four minutes to go.

The Heat have four straight road games before returning home. They’ll play at Milwaukee tonight, at Toronto at Boston and then at Cleveland before returning to South Beach. There, they will have winnable games against Detroit and Charlotte. While Milwaukee could pose a threat, I see only Boston as truly potential road block.

If you want to look far ahead, their record-tying 33rd straight win would ironically be against the Sixers in South Florida. There are a couple of very dangerous games between now and then however. On Easter Sunday, the Heat travel to San Antonio for a potential NBA Finals match-up. The only other game I’d be concerned about is a visit from the New York Knicks on April 2nd.

I have contended all along that Miami will stumble but it won’t be against a top team. They tend to play down to their competition at times as they did Wednesday evening and I think that’s where they get caught up.

Due South of the Keystone State, the Los Angeles Lakers were playing in Atlanta and not only did they lose the game but they may have lost Kobe Bryant for an extended period of time as well. On what Bryant has deemed a ‘dirty play,’ Atlanta’s Dahntay Jones got his feet underneath Bryant as he contended the jump shot along the baseline.

While it was clear Jones got up close and personal to Kobe, to call the play dirty is a bit of a stretch. I see this happen routinely in NBA games. Had Jones turned and put his rear end into Bryant before coming down in order to box him out it then that could have been called a foul so what would you have him do?

At this time, the Lakers are saying the Bryant is out indefinitely with a sprained left ankle. With less than 20 games remaining, what will this do to the fortunes of the Lakers who finally clawed back into the eight playoff spot? They lead Utah by a mere half game. Any way you spin it, this can’t be good for LA.

Games to Wager this Week

LA Lakers at Indiana – The Pacers bombed in their big match-up with the Heat last week and now have a chance for redemption against Kobe-less LA. The Pacers are very good at home so I love them in this one.

Memphis at Utah – The Jazz have slipped out of the playoff race and can make a huge statement in winning against the Grizzlies. Memphis has actually climbed in to the three-spot as of today and certainly has a shot at the two as well. Utah desperate and at home. Take the Jazz.

Golden State at Houston – The Warriors are currently 6th in the Western Conference while the Rockets are in 7th. With pressure off momentarily because of the Kobe injury behind them, I like Houston at home.

Detroit at Portland – The two teams I thought for sure would make runs at the last playoff spot in their respective conferences have disappointed greatly. The Pistons are a lost cause, but the Blazers still have a breath. Take Portland at home.

Knicks Look To Lift NYC

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Carmelo Anthony, Mike Woodson and the New York Knicks will look to give the Big Apple something to cheer for Friday night as they welcome the Miami Heat.

The New York Knicks open the 2012-13 regular season, and the revamped Madison Square Garden, Friday night (8 PM ET) with a visit from the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

Never a match-up that needs any additional storylines, Friday night’s contest – which will be broadcast on ESPN – is accompanied by a multitude of talking points, not least the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The super storm, which has decimated large regions of Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the East Coast, has left the city of New York in a state of emergency. The public transport system was brought to a halt this past weekend, and remains non-operational in many areas of the city. Subsequently, much of the Big Apple has been brought to a standstill.

That standstill was felt Thursday night as the Knicks’ visit to the Brooklyn Nets and their brand new Barclays Center – which should have been both sides’ season opener – was postponed at the request of New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The NBA has rescheduled the game to November 26.

In a bid to lift the city, the Knicks’ home-opener at MSG will be the first of a number of sporting events to take place in the city this weekend, including the Nets’ season opener against Toronto on Saturday and the New York Marathon on Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers will visit MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., for a showdown with the New York Giants on Sunday also.

While nobody can be certain what the atmosphere will be like in Madison Square Garden, the marquee matchup with the Heat is as good a game as any to entice a few in from the cold and carnage.

Bitter rivals for the better part of two decades now, the Knicks-Heat encounter has some new blood to it this season. Miami has added a number of names to its roster, most notably sharpshooter Ray Allen, as it bids to defend its title. The Knicks meanwhile have added half a roster of new names.

Friday will see the New York debuts of Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer and Rasheed Wallace. Although listed as day-to-day, it’s likely we’ll also see the return of Marcus Camby.

Camby is the first player to return to New York after a spell of 10 years away from the side. Arriving at the Knicks in 1998 in a trade that sent Charles Oakley to Toronto, the center played four seasons with the team before being traded to Denver for Antonio McDyess. He was also present for the infamous brawl at the Garden in December 2006 that saw Carmelo Anthony sucker-punch Mardy Collins. Following spells with the Clippers, Blazers and Rockets, Camby once again is wearing the blue and orange of New York.

At 38, Camby is adding years to an aging Knicks side. Likewise Kidd (39), who is entering his 19th year in the league, and Wallace (38), who has opted to come out of retirement this year. New York will hope that age brings both experience and success, particularly as the Nets look to steal some of that NYC thunder.

New York will start the season without Amare Stoudemire. The oft-injured forward underwent knee surgery last week and is expected to be absent for between six and eight weeks. Second-year guard Iman Shumpert (ACL) will also be missing from Friday night’s game. Like Camby, Tyson Chandler is listed as day-to-day but expected to play against Miami.

The early season contest against Miami will be a good chance for the Knicks to get some practice in as a team. Miami (1-0) looked like a well-oiled machine against Boston on Tuesday, and few expect the Knicks to come away with this one. The New York side is underdog (+4½) against the defending champs. The over/under is 192.

The Knicks will get a few passes early in the season. A loss to the Heat on Friday and some early losses are not likely to have a huge impact on the season, despite what people in Los Angeles might be thinking right now. The task early on is getting the team to work as a cohesive unit, and getting Anthony the basketball. More than ever, Anthony needs to have a big season this year if the Knicks are to have any kind of success.

Oddsmakers are wary of this Knicks side when it comes to the NBA Futures. New York opened the season at 40/1 to take the NBA trophy and 18/1 to win the Eastern Conference. Those numbers put the Knicks below the Nets in the bookies’ estimation, something New York will be less than happy with. Beating the Nets this season will be paramount. Beating Miami wouldn’t be frowned upon either.

 

Game Notes

  • Miami and New York will clash four times this season. After Friday night’s game, the sides will meet again on Dec. 6 (MIA), Mar. 3 (NY) and Apr. 2 (MIA).
  • Miami swept (3-0) the season series with New York last season.
  • New York has not lost its first game of the season when playing at home since 2003, an 85-83 OT loss to Orlando.
  • New York beat Miami (120-115) the last time the two sides met in New York for a Knicks season opener.
  • Miami beat New York (115-93) in the Knicks’ 2009 season opener, played in Miami.