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.

Key Game Three Set for South Beach

George
George
Paul George has been cleared to play but how many minutes can we expect out of him in game three?

Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals is here so let’s get to it.

Indiana at Miami (-7), Series Tied 1-1 – The first bit of news we need to address from the Eastern Conference Finals is that as of last night, Indiana star Paul George has been cleared to play. If you’ll recall, George took a sot to the back of the head in game two and was diagnosed with a concussion following the Pacers’ loss.

For him to have been cleared, that means he passed all of his post-concussion protocols. Keep in mind that these are not nearly as strenuous as the those in the National Football League but he must have passed them nevertheless. What we must still concern ourselves with in the wagering community however is how much can we expect him to actually play?

I have every reason to believe he’ll be fine and play his normal minutes but unfortunately we won’t really know the answer to that until the game is underway. My advice is proceed as normal as Head Coach Frank Vogel gives an indication on way or another.

Andersen
'Birdman' Andersen was a huge factor in game two. Will that continue tonight?

On any team that has superstars like the Miami Heat do, there are always lesser players who do the dirty work necessary for the superstars and the team to survive. Both the 1990’s Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls had Dennis Rodman and the old showtime Lakers had Kurt Rambis. The Heat have several guys who we could possibly label in the same category but Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen fits better than all of the others.

The tattooed one played 29 minutes in game two off the bench and had just three points but that isn’t the story. He added 12 rebounds (10 defensive), an assist and a block to help LeBron James and Dwyane Wade take the game over late. Perhaps the most impressive number was his +25 while on the court. That number alone speaks volumes of just how important he is to the Heat’s success.

The +25 was a far cry from the +3 Andersen had in game one but even that ranked among the best for all the Heat players. Ultimately, will his play once again dictate whether the Heat win or lose? That’s for you to decide.

Indiana’s advantage going into this series was the size in the paint. Andersen certainly limited that with his rebounding in game two but if the Pacers are truly going to win this series they must have a greater advantage in the front-court. In game two, the Pacers defeated Miami 36-32 in points in the paint.

Shockingly, that was actually an improvement over game one where the Heat outscored the Pacers 54-38. Obviously Indiana still won but as I said, this trend cannot continue. David West has to be better than the 5 for 16 shooting he displayed in game two and Roy Hibbert has to be more of a scoring threat inside as well.

Game three is always a pivotal point in any series and most people love the Heat in this game as they return home with the split they wanted. My thinking is that Paul George will be fine and that, coinciding with the Pacers’ great road record in the playoffs this season has me taking them tonight getting seven huge points.

Take the UNDER tonight as well because I believe the two teams will start deploying tougher defense as the series goes on.

Keep an eye on…. Indiana is 1-7 straight up in its last eight games when playing on the road against Miami… Miami is 5-0 straight up in its last five games at home… Indiana is 8-16 against the spread in its last 24 games on the road… The total has gone OVER in four of Miami’s last five games and tonight’s O/U is 183.

Pacers Take Game One and Will We Have a Triple Crown Winner or Not?

George
George
Paul George and the Indiana Pacers took game one in Miami.

Allow me a moment to bask in the sunshine of a Pacers victory that I just couldn’t help but see coming. The last three months, the Indiana Pacers have looked like anything but a team that could defeat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

The Pacers struggled through the first and second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs leaving very few people to think they would have a chance in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat. I chose to see this differently however because the Pacers have been better on the road in these playoffs than they have at home. That isn’t the only reason I like them though.

It’s been abundantly evident to me that the Pacers have been waiting for this moment to get another shot at Miami and now it’s here. They did not let the opportunity get away from them with a 107-96 win at home.

Both teams shot 51% on the day but the game was won and lost at the free throw line. Indiana made far more than the Heat even attempted going 29 for 37 while the Heat hit on just 10 of 15 free throws for 66%. What that tells us is that Indiana was clearly the aggressor in this game taking the ball to the hoop on numerous occasions.

This game by no means indicates the Heat are done but they now know what they need to do at both ends of the floor. Besides the fact they already knew Indiana would have a rebounding advantage, Miami still must address it. The Heat must get bodies on the bigger Pacers’ front court guys.

Look for Miami to bounce back in game two but it won’t happen unless they rebound and take more balls to the hoop more often.

Chrome
Will California Chrome run in the Belmont or sit out because of a nasal strip?

My good fortune this weekend wasn’t relegated to just the NBA because I also liked California Chrome to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday and he did exactly that. Of course, I also had Bayern and Ria Antonia in the top three so I wasn’t exactly flawless.

Chrome’s 1 1/2 length victory sends him to the Belmont where he will be looking to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. As of yesterday however, this might not be the case.

During Chrome’s six-race winning streak, trainers have had the young horse wearing a nasal strip ala Jerry Rice back in the days with the San Francisco 49ers. The problem for the California Chrome team is that New York, where the Belmont is held, doesn’t allow nasal strips. This doesn’t mean that the CC team can’t ask for an exception as the horse has been wearing one for sometime, but it’s likely we won’t know the answer for some time.

Obviously, there will be tremendous pressure on the folks in New York to allow the horse to wear the nasal strip because of the money involved. Television networks, sponsors and even racing enthusiasts will want to see this horse have a legitimate shot at winning the crown but the final decision on whether Chrome runs or not will ultimately sit with the owners.

As the day wore on yesterday, it was up in the air as to whether the owners would still run California Chrome in the Belmont should the nasal strip not be allowed. The mile and a half race is the longest and most grueling of the three Triple Crown races and happens to be a length that Chrome has yet to race.

As of right now, I just can’t imagine this horse not running. With history and tremendous riches at stake, it will be awfully hard to turn down.

Was It Really That Simple For Roy Hibbert?

Hibbert-Gortat
Hibbert-Gortat
Roy Hibbert was his old self again in game two despite the efforts of Marcin Gortat.

I asked the question on Wednesday. “What’s wrong with Roy Hibbert?” This was a question that had been asked probably more than anything in the NBA other than “Just how racist is Donald Sterling?”

Hibbert is of course the all-star center for the Indiana Pacers who has been about as useful as a garden hose on a raging house fire in the playoffs. In his first eight playoff games he had a trio of games in which he scored as many points as I did. If you’re keeping track at home, that means “zero!”

The Pacers evened up their series with the Washington Wizards Wednesday night and their victory was due in great part to……… Roy Hibbert. No goose eggs on this night for the 7’2″ big man. Somehow, some way, Hibbert found his old self and poured in 28 points on 10 of 13 shooting and also collected nine rebounds.

So the question must be revisited but perhaps asked a little differently. “What was wrong with Roy Hibbert?” Well, the answers may be something we really don’t want to hear but not commenting on them would be wrong.

After Hibbert’s poor outing in game one, teammate Paul George took Hibbert and another teammate bass fishing. During the trip, an instagram post from George showed the three players holding a fish but the comment said nothing related to fishing. Instead, George told people to stop believing the rumors and that he and Hibbert were “brothers.”

Hibbert
Was a bass fishing trip with teammates just what the doctor ordered for Hibbert?

The rumors that were reported by balleralert.com centered around Paul George possibly being involved with Roy Hibbert’s significant other. I say “significant other” because Hibbert was supposed to marry the young woman back in August but they called it off. The website also reported that this was the cause of the altercation between Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson earlier in the playoffs.

If any of this is true it fits my assumption perfectly. I stated that Hibbert’s issues had to stem from something going on in his personal life. You just don’t see a guy play as well as he did and then look like a guy pulled off of the street. I’m in no position to know whether the allegations are true but one way or another, something changed between game one and game two.

Was it the fishing trip or was it perhaps the team sending Andrew Bynum packing which they did prior to game two? It was no secret that Hibbert was not crazy about the troubled center joining the team. When Frank Vogel started to call some plays for Bynum that he rarely called for Hibbert, anger and jealousy may have been afoot.

With Bynum jettisoned, was this all that Roy Hibbert needed to play like his old self again? Chances are good that this entire slump that Hibbert has gone through was a combination of factors all rolled into one. What is on the mind of most people, especially those who wager on these games, is whether this Roy Hibbert is the one that will show up again in game three in Washington.

What really struck me about Hibbert’s performance in game two was the overwhelmingly obvious plan by the Pacers to get the ball to Hibbert at will. Sometimes a running back needs several carries before he can really get going and perhaps this was the logic used by Frank Vogel heading into the game.

I doubt the Wizards will let that happen again so Hibbert may have to be creative. One way or another, Roy Hibbert was himself again and whether we know the reason that’s been missing or not is no longer the question.

Three Incredibly Pivotal Game Three Match-Ups on Tap Tonight in the NBA

George
George
Paul George had a monster game two and he'll need a similar performance in game three in Atlanta.

In a best of seven series, every game is pivotal. Game one is important because you want a good start. Game two is important for the team trying to even the series. Game four could be for a sweep or to simply stay alive. Games five, six and seven speak for themselves.

Tonight in the National Basketball Association there are three very important game three match-ups. In each, both teams have the opportunity to go up 2-1 in their respective series. While winning game three does not always guarantee success for the series, the winner does take the series more than 50% of the time.

With that in mind, here are your games for tonight in the NBA.

Indiana (-2) at Atlanta, Series Tied 1-1 – If the Indiana Pacers somehow get through this series, they may look back to game two.  As huge as Paul George’s performance was Tuesday night, the guy who really made the difference was Luis Scola.

Scola came off the bench to hit his first four shots on his way to a 20 point, seven rebound night. Had he not done this, we could be talking about a 2-0 deficit for the Pacers.

Many will ask how the switch was flipped for Indiana, but they did just that turning the tables on Atlanta in the third quarter. They outscored the Hawks 31-13 in the period. The Hawks split their games with Indiana in Atlanta this year and I believe need to win game three in order to win the series.

The question here is whether the Pacers we saw in the second half will return tonight. I have doubts… Take the Hawks getting the two points.

Durant
Kevin Durant leads the Thunder into Memphis for a big game three.

Oklahoma City (-1) at Memphis, Series Tied 1-1 – You have to wonder if the Memphis Grizzlies realize just how lucky they are to be tied in this series. Despite looking like the better team throughout game two, they nearly let it slip away behind a Kevin Durant four-point play before finally closing out the Thunder.

Thankfully, they have the split and now return home where they are 1-1 against the Thunder this season. Memphis limited OKC to just 16 fast break points and also outscored them by 20 in the paint. That formula is needed for success.

With that in mind, look for the Thunder to get back to running a bit more which means they’ll need to control the boards which isn’t going to be easy despite beating the Griz in this department by two in game two.

I like Memphis getting the point and winning tonight at home.

LA Clippers (-1.5) at Golden State, Series Tied 1-1 – What a turn-around performance from game one to game two for the Clippers who blew the doors off the Warriors to even the series. The biggest difference was clearly the play and presence of Blake Griffin.

If you recall, Griffin spent much of game one on the bench in foul trouble. In game two, he erupted 35 points and didn’t play a second of the fourth quarter. He hit a variety of shots which is what makes defending him so difficult.

The Warriors have to realize that life without Andrew Bogut is going to be tough and they found out the hard way as Griffin went through the lane without anyone in his way. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson must do better than their combined two of nine from three-point land in order to win.

I fully expect a much better performance all-around from the Warriors tonight but I expect the Clips to escape with a tough win so take them to cover.

Division Leaders and Playoff Hopefuls are Under My Spotlight Tonight

George
George
Paul George's Pacers need to keep winning in order to stay ahead of the surging Heat.

Some Division leaders like San Antonio and Indiana are in my sights today but so are teams fighting to remain in the race. Atlanta, Phoenix and Charlotte are examples of organizations fighting like crazy to get into the playoffs in the National Basketball Association.

Utah (+12.5) at Indiana – The Jazz will not be playing in the post-season this year but that doesn’t mean they won’t compete. Competing is not an issue for the Indiana Pacers who do battle every time they step on the court.

The Pacers have won three straight (and seven of their last ten) and that’s good because the Miami Heat are hot on their trail for the top spot in the Eastern Conference just two games behind. Miami has won six in a row.

Utah is just 5-5 over their last ten games are struggling to avoid going through the motions. They are 13.5 games behind the eighth place team in the West and their chances of making an epic run are slim and zero.

Because the Pacers can go in spurts without scoring, I like the Jazz to stay within 12.5 points tonight.

Dallas (+5.5) at San Antonio – The Mavericks stumbled two nights ago at home against Chicago and now hit the road due South for a game with rival San Antonio. Despite the loss, the Mavericks have still won seven of their last ten and sit in the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Spurs have also won seven of their last ten games but they’ve won two straight. San Antonio has been good at home, but not as good as in previous years as they stand at 20-8. Dallas meanwhile has been one of the better road teams in the NBA. They are 17-14 away from their own home which is very good overall and especially in the Western Conference.

Dragic
Goran Dragic has been a big reason for the Suns' resurgence this season.

Atlanta (+8.5) at Phoenix – At 9.5 games behind Western Conference leader Oklahoma City, the Suns find themselves in the eighth and final playoff spot. They trail Dallas by a game and Golden State by a game and a half. The Warriors are currently sixth.

Phoenix has won five of their last ten games while the Atlanta Hawks come to the desert having won just once in their last ten contests. Despite the brutal stretch, the Hawks still hold the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference by three games over surging Cleveland.

What you’ll want to take special notice of is that while both teams are in the eighth spot in their respective conferences; their records couldn’t be more different. Atlanta is five games under .500 at 26-31 while the Suns are a very good ten games over the .500 mark at 34-24.

That goes a long way towards explaining the big spread for this one. I love the Suns to cover at home.

Charlotte (+9.5) at Oklahoma City – The Bobcats hit the road and their next stop is Oklahoma City. Charlotte has gone 6-4 over their last ten games and continues to hang onto a playoff spot. They currently sit in the seventh spot one half games ahead of Atlanta and one game behind the Brooklyn Nets.

OKC finally got its’ first win of the Post All-Star Break variety and that could be the spring board they need to get going. They hold a one and half game lead over the Spurs and a three and a half games lead over the Portland Trail Blazers for the top spot in the West.

I think the Bobcats will hang tough but ultimately I see the Thunder covering in this game.

Three NBA Games I Like Tonight

George
George
Paul George and the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers head to Atlanta tonight.

College Football has come to a close and the National Football League is now well into the playoffs. While I prepare to make my NFL Divisional Round picks later this week, I’m turning my attention today to the National Basketball Association.

The news of the week has centered around trades and potential trades. The Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum and then immediately cut Bynum after the trade was completed. The move saves the Bulls about $15 million.

This trade happened while there are several others that are or were in the discussion phase. First, the Lakers were trying to trade Pau Gasol for Bynum in an effort to save $20 million but that has obviously fallen through. There has also been a rumor about the Clippers trading Blake Griffin to New York for Carmelo Anthony but that seems to be nothing more than a gossip.

Don’t forget too that Denver has made it known that guard Andre Miller is on the market. Basically, the wheeling and dealing in the NBA has just gotten underway and we aren’t even to the All-Star Break yet.

On to tonight’s games.

Indiana (-6) at Atlanta -The Eastern Conference’s best team heads South to Atlanta with a three-game winning streak and an 8-2 run over their last ten. The Pacers are tied with Miami at 11-5 for the conference’s best road record and have a 12.5 game lead over second place Chicago who just traded one of their best players.

The good news for the Hawks is they are in second place in the Southeast Division. The bad news however is immense. They trail Miami by nine games, have lost three straight and have lost Al Horford for the season due to injury. Despite giving seven points tonight, take the Pacers to cover.

Love
Kevin Love leads the T-Wolves against Phoenix tonight.

Phoenix (+7.5) at Minnesota – The surprising Suns head to the frigid Midwest trailing the Clippers and Warriors by just two games in the Pacific Division. They are coming off a five-point loss to Chicago last night so they’ll be playing on limited rest.

The Timberwolves find themselves 9.5 games back in the Northwest Division, but they rank second in the NBA in scoring with more than 107 points per game and they also rank in the top ten in rebounding and assists per game.

I expect a high-scoring affair tonight in Minneapolis which will be led by Kevin Love and his more than 26 points per game. I like Minnesota to win, but I like the Suns with the points.

Orlando (+12.5) at Portland – The Blazers dropped a 123-119 game to struggling Sacramento last night and I have no doubt that they’ll be re-focused this evening. They sit just a game behind Oklahoma City in the Northwest and got a bit of help as the Thunder lost last night as well. The secret to the Blazers’ success isn’t a secret. They rank first in scoring and third in both rebounding and assists per game. The Achilles’ heel however may be that they rank 27th in points allowed so they can be scored upon.

Orlando enters having lost four in a row and sits in the cellar of the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division. At 10-24, there isn’t a lot to feel magical about for Orlando as they continue a stretch on the West Coast. The combination of Portland losing to a lesser team in Sacramento last night and weak Magic team coming to Rip City spells trouble in my mind for Orlando.

Although 12.5 is a tall order for any NBA team, I think this is a situation where Portland can handle it. Take the Blazers to cover.

Who You Can Bank On for NBA Awards

James and Spoelstra

 

James and Spoelstra
Both James and Spoelstra earn season-ending awards from me.

The National Basketball Association ended another fine season last evening and now heads into the playoff season which in my most humble opinion is far too long but hey? What do I know (Coughs, TV Money, Coughs)?

With the playoffs ready to start, it’s high time we take a look at the players who are up for the major awards this season and of course I’ll be giving you my picks along with who I think will actually win each award.  Let’s start at the top.

NBA Most Valuable Player Award

Who Should Win? LeBron James

Who Will Win? LeBron James

James went above his career averages in both rebounds per game and assists per game while dropping about a point per game scoring-wise this season but that is just the tip of the iceberg. During the Heat’s incredible 27-game winning streak, James was the catalyst throughout and not just in scoring.

Arguments could be made for Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant but in terms of sheer consistency and the ability to make everyone around him better, James has to be the pick. One argument that does carry some weight is that Bryant and Durant play in the Western Conference which is overall a better conference top-to-bottom but that isn’t enough to take anything away from James who has clearly become the best player in the league now over the last couple of seasons.

 

Damian Lillard
Lillard had an outstanding rookie campaign for the Blazers.

NBA Rookie of the Year Award

Who Should Win? Damian Lillard

Who Will Win? Damian Lillard

The fact that Lillard comes from ‘basketball powerhouse’  Weber State is enough to make his ascencion to a great NBA player all the more impressive. While in his rookie campaign with the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard averaged 19 points and six and a half assists per game from his point guard position.

While Lillard’s season nearly got his team to the playoffs, fellow rookie Anthony Davis will make a run at the award despite playing for a lesser team in New Orleans. Davis, from Kentucky, averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 points per game and arguably had more on his shoulders but I can’t help but be impressed with the season of Lillard.

NBA Most Improved Player Award

Who Should Win? Paul George

Who Will Win? Paul George

Other players such as Jrue Holiday, Larry Sanders and Brook Lopez are also deserving, I find George’s season to be the most impressive. Consider the fact his Indiana Pacers played nearly the entire season without Danny Granger. The Pacers were still able to win the Central Division and a large part of that was due to George’s expanded role.

NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award

Who Should Win? J.R. Smith

Who Will Win? J.R. Smith

In his eighth year, Smith has become a valuable player for the New York Knicks and could arguably be the MVP of the team with only Carmelo ahead of him. Smith comes off the bench to average over 18 points and five rebounds per game in about 32 minutes of action. This one is pretty clear cut in my opinion.

NBA Coach of the Year

Who Should Win? Erik Spoelstra

Who Will Win? George Karl

Karl has had an excellent run this season with Denver and is very deserving of the award, but for me, the pressure on Spoelstra was immense last year and was just as huge this year. His Heat authored a 27-game winning streak and as any defending champion knows, you have to battle complacency as well.

NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award

Who Should Win? Joakim Noah

Who Will Win? Marc Gasol

Noah played in just 65 games this year compared to 79 for Gasol but what Noah brings to the table I find just a bit more impressive. Noah can defend in the post and can also handle power and small forwards when necessary. His rebounding and blocked shots are a product of his length which frustrates opponents.