Heat and Pacers Crank Up Another Crucial Series

LeBron George
LeBron George
Paul George and LeBron James hook up in the Eastern Conference Finals

The Eastern Conference Finals get underway today so let’s skip the small talk and get to it.

Miami (-3.5) at Indiana – The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers hook up for the third straight year in the Eastern Conference Playoffs yet this meeting seems so odd compared to the previous two. While the Heat are favored once again, this particular match-up was anticipated all season long following last season’s epic seven game series won by Miami.

All of the luster that was supposed to be on this series now that it is here seems to have disappeared. The Pacers have survived to this point despite a disappearing act by their all-star center Roy Hibbert. Paul George has had some great moments in these playoffs but I don’t think anyone is ready to call him an NBA superstar yet.

The Pacers needed seven games to defeat an under .500 Atlanta Hawks team and then were pushed to six games by the Washington Wizards. While I like David West a lot, and I mean ‘a lot,’ he can’t be the guy that carries you game in and game out. Hibbert cannot disappear against the Heat who will no doubt watch hours of video to see what Atlanta was doing to keep Hibbert a non-factor.

Spoelstra
Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra knows the Pacers will no go as easily as some think.

For Miami, the road back to the Eastern Conference Finals has pretty much gone as predicted. No expected much of a challenge from the Charlotte Bobcats who were limited because of star Al Jefferson’s injury issues. Therefore the sweep was not a shocker in any way.

Then came Brooklyn… The Heat entered the second round against the Nets knowing they hadn’t beaten them all year going 0-4. The Heat also knew the history that was against them too. No team in their situation has ever beaten a team that swept them in the regular season. Obviously, Miami could have cared less about history as they beat the Nets in five games.

So what will this series come down to? The rebounding advantage will be with the Pacers, but this isn’t going to be news to the Heat. They will rely on shooting ad high percentage shots to limit that advantage but don’t dismiss the Heat guards crashing the boards a bit to help out.

What Indiana can ill-afford is poor shooting on a regular basis. They are hitting on just 44% of their shots right now and falling below that will be extremely detrimental to their success. The Pacers also need to limit the Heat’s fast break opportunities. That means maintaining the rebound advantage and getting back on defense.

Miami will need the usual performances from LeBron James but he will be challenged on both ends of the court. Dwyane Wade appears to be healthy which is saying quite a bit for this time of year. Chris Bosh could be the real x-factor in this series if he can extend Roy Hibbert out of the paint. That means he needs to hit outside shots with consistency.

There’s a lot of people that expect this series to go Miami’s way because of the struggles Indiana has had through the playoffs but I’m thinking differently. This is where the Pacers have wanted to be for the last 12 months and I think the Indiana team we’ve expected shows up. I like them to steal game one especially getting the points.

Keep an eye on… Miami is 1-6 straight up in its last seven games when playing on the road against Indiana… Indiana is 17-8 straight up in its last 25 games at home… Indiana is 1-4 against the spread in its last 5 games at home… Miami is 2-5 against the spread in its last seven games when playing on the road against Indiana.

Prediction: Pacers in seven

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.

So What’s Wrong With Roy Hibbert?

Hibbert
Hibbert
I'm convinced that Roy Hibbert's struggles have off-court influences.

We all have times that we want to scream at the television. Whether it’s during our favorite team’s game or when a favorite character is killed off of a show, we all do it. Yesterday morning I was watching Mike and Mike in the Morning as I always do and they led off with the horrendous performance by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

As the two talking heads bounced all over the spectrum talking about Hibbert’s poor play in the playoffs I found myself again ready to scream at my television.

As bright as both Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic are, I was astonished that they didn’t hit on a question that I have been thinking about this entire playoffs. “Is Roy Hibbert dealing with an off-court situation?”

Perhaps it isn’t as obvious to others as it is to me but there is without question something wrong with Hibbert. He has now gone three of eight playoff games in 2014 without scoring a single point. He had more fouls Monday night than he did points and rebounds combined.

What I’ve been waiting to happen finally did according to the Pacers and ESPN. Veteran Pacer David West apparently had seen enough and become very loud and angry and directed every bit of his energy at Hibbert. This was bound to happen and it comes as no surprise that West was the guy to do it because without him, the Pacers are already home planning their summer vacations.

Vogel
Frank Vogel is at a total loss over the poor play of Roy Hibbert and who can blame him?

Indiana Head Coach Frank Vogel has tried his best to treat Hibbert with kid gloves and remain firmly in his big man’s corner but even he had to admit that Monday night’s performance may have been the breaking point. With his job clearly on the line, will Vogel continue to stay with Roy Hibbert? If he is smart, he won’t.

Back to my main point though. Has anyone else considered that what is ailing Hibbert could be 100% non-basketball related? Is he in a relationship that has gone wrong? Is his family healthy? Did something occur in his life that most of us just aren’t aware of?

We view our professional athletes as almost inhuman. We expect them to be at the very best each and every time they enter into their respective fields of battle but we often forget they are human like we are.

Roy Hibbert looks completely disinterested in playing basketball to me. Would it be so wrong if he just wasn’t into playing the game anymore? No, it sure wouldn’t but his timing couldn’t be a worse if that is the case. This is a man who has won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award and finished second this season.

He most certainly knows what he is capable of doing yet he seemingly cannot do it. We can credit the Atlanta Hawks for having a masterful game plan that limited Hibbert’s effectiveness because they spread out the Pacers so well, but it’s significantly more than that and we all know it.

We thought the Pacers would be unable to survive the Hawks without Hibbert being a factor but they did. After Monday’s loss to the Washington Wizards, it’s evident that Indiana will not make the conference finals without the real Roy Hibbert. Wizards’ big men Nene and Marcin Gortat dominated the boards collecting 21 rebounds between them.

At this point, I don’t see Roy Hibbert suddenly waking from his trance. Something isn’t right in this man’s head and I know plenty who would pay good money to know what it is but we may never know. Frank Vogel doesn’t and neither do Hibbert’s teammates.

Something just isn’t right and I think it has far more to do with than just basketball.

Three Different Scenarios Tonight in the NBA

James
James
I expect LeBron and D-Wade to sweep the Bobcats tonight in Charlotte.

When you look at odds and lines on a daily basis like I do there are bound to be times when things just don’t go well. Saturday night’s games were a prime example of that as I went just 1-3. Oh sure, I could quit, hang up the keyboard and walk away but the challenge of actually being right is too much to pass up.

Tonight’s games feature three different situations; the Miami Heat are looking to close out the Bobcats, the Pacers and Hawks look for a game five win and in Dallas, the top seeded Spurs are looking to avoid a 3-1 hole.

Let’s get to the games.

Miami (-6.5) at Charlotte, Heat Lead Series 3-0 – Whether LeBron James stared down Michael Jordan during Saturday’s game three win is a topic for another day, but what was clear was that the Heat made a statement to the Bobcats; we are by no means going to let you in this series.

Playoff experience the Bobcats do not have and it was evident towards the end of the half on Saturday when they just couldn’t take care of the ball during a sequence when Miami was turning it on. I have to think that the Heat are taking some solace in the fact that the Pacers and Bulls are struggling right now to advance to the next round.

With that in mind, the Heat would like to finish off Charlotte as soon as possible in order to get the rest they need. I anticipate a strong early effort from Charlotte but I love Miami to cover and get the sweep.

Hibbert
The Pacers pulled out game four despite another poor showing from Roy Hibbert.

Atlanta (+7) at Indiana, Series Tied 2-2 – The back and forth continued this past weekend as the teams split in Atlanta leaving the series tied at two games apiece. Many wondered if Frank Vogel would sit all-star Roy Hibbert but he did not. In a little less than 25 minutes of action, Hibbert finished with six points and three rebounds.

While Indiana proved that they could win without much of an effort from their big man, the question remains as whether they can win the series in the same manner. The Hawks continue to spread the floor to limit Hibbert’s defensive presence but Atlanta really didn’t do themselves any favors down the stretch in game four either.

The Hawks turned the ball over and suffered from poor shot selection before the Pacers’ David West ultimately put the dagger in. Whether the pattern of wins and losses continues in game five I cannot say but I feel very confident taking the Hawks and seven points.

San Antonio (-4) at Dallas, Mavericks Lead 2-1 – If you ask most casual NBA fans about Vince Carter they’d probably say something like, “he had a nice career.” The reminder that Carter sent about his current status resonate like a bomb going off as he hit an off-balance three-pointer to beat the San Antonio Spurs.

The eighth seed Mavericks now hold a surprising 2-1 lead over the Spurs and this lead has been accomplished in large part without a dominant Dirk Nowitzki. Carter and Monta Ellis have been the key players so far in the series for Dallas.

If you asked most experts they’d tell you that Rick Carlisle has outcoached Gregg Popovich to this point in the series. Everything Carlisle does seems to work while Pop’s moves haven’t panned out quite as well.

Tony Parker knocked down 17 points in the first half of game three and then scored nothing in the second half. That cannot and will not happen in game four in my opinion. While I expect another close game, I like the Spurs to cover and even the series.

 

Pro, College Basketball in My Sights Today

Hibbert
Hibbert
Roy Hibbert's face says it all. The Pacers are struggling right now.

Basketball as we know can be a funny game. It can go in favor of one team for the longest of times and then with just one shot the fortunes can turn on a dime. It isn’t that way for just a game though because over the course of a long season fortunes can change drastically as well. Just ask the Indiana Pacers.

It wasn’t long ago that the Pacers were ahead of the Miami Heat by two or three games and now they are looking up at the Heat in Eastern Conference standings. Losers of seven of their last ten and two straight, the Pacers are facing the prospect of once again having to go to Miami in a potential game seven should the two teams meet.

The bigger problem right now is that who knows if Indiana will even make it to a potential conference finals’ match-up with Miami? Big man Roy Hibbert was benched during yesterday’s game and he’s been one of the more outspoken players during this recent slump.

Defense has never been an issue for the Pacers but now they are suddenly showing some serious dents in that part of their armor. Combine that with a severely slumping offense and you’ve got yourself a pretty bad stretch.

Right now, I have doubts that the Pacers’ team as it exists right now will be able to get past Chicago or Brooklyn let alone Miami. To say Head Coach Frank Vogel has his work cut out for him would be an understatement right now.

Auriemma
I expect to see Geno Auriemma doing this again tomorrow night.

Battle of the Unbeatens in Women’s’ Basketball

The game that anyone associated with women’s’ college basketball anticipated is finally here. 39-0 UConn takes on 37-0 Notre Dame for the national championship tomorrow night.

In an era when many people hate all of the conference realignments, this is a situation where we can thank the realignment people. It wasn’t long ago at all when both of these teams were members of the Big East and would have played each other during the regular season and probably in the conference tournament as well.

Now, UConn is in the American Athletic Conference while the Irish are in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Both teams obviously went through their respective conference schedules without a blemish and did the same in the NCAA Tournament so here we are.

Notre Dame scores about four more points per game than does UConn but the real story is on defense. UConn is the top-ranked team in women’s’ basketball. They give up just 47 points per game while the Irish surrender just shy of 61 points per game.

We can perhaps point to level of competition in that stat because Notre Dame does play a little bit tougher conference schedule but that is a huge discrepancy. I think you’ll see a close game early but I expect the Lady Huskies to pull away late and win yet another title.

The Men’s game takes center stage tonight

If you saw my piece yesterday then you know I like the UConn men to get the points and win the national title. My thinking hasn’t changed much over the last 24 hours. Kevin Ollie may have only coached in five NCAA Tournament games but he has total control of this Huskies’ team. They took punches against Michigan State and Florida and yet survived by nailing their free throws and forcing the offenses to do things they just didn’t want to do.

Kentucky is loaded with NBA talent and if they won I wouldn’t be surprised one bit but this UConn team just seems to have all of the right cards to play and Ollie seems to know when exactly to play them.

So You Want to Bet the NBA All-Star Game Huh?

Bryant
Bryant
Kobe Bryant was selected to his 16th All-Star Game but will sit this one out with an injury.

The NBA All-Star Game tips off tonight in New Orleans and features a lot of new, young players. Kobe Bryant was selected as a starter, but will won’t play and we can’t be sure just how much Dwyane Wade can contribute either. Regardless, the All-Star Game always features great individual performances and big-time plays as well.

Eastern Conference All-Stars (+4) vs. Western Conference All-Stars – The fact that this spread is not larger considering the overwhelming dominance of the Western Conference this year is a bit surprising. What this speaks to are a couple of things. First, the individual talent in the Eastern Conference is pretty good relative to the talent in the West and secondly; this game features absolutely no defense so that evens the playing field considerably.

The Western Conference has won three straight All-Star Games and four of the last five. This year, the West is again the favorite and rightfully so. The West is loaded with scorers from Kevin Durant, James Harden and Steph Curry to Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The East isn’t exactly without guys who can score the basketball. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving all can pump in 30 points in a game where defense will be little if at all.

Hibbert
Can an eye on Hibbert who could dominate the game with blocks and rebounding tonight.

The over/under tonight is 293 (over -105/under -115). I find this number very intriguing because only once in the last ten years has this total gone the way of the over. There was once where it hit 291, but most totals still came in far under the 293.

What you’ll need to decide is whether this game will meet all the hype in terms of the scoring that’s expected. Here’s why I think you need to think about the under tonight; Dwyane Wade may start and play but he’ll be limited by the knee that’s hampered him all year. Don’t expect anything out of him.

The East will also feature seven players in their first or second All-Star Game and of that group, I’d really only expect big scoring out of Irving and maybe John Wall.

The West’s issue with scoring is less but still an issue. Kobe Bryant was voted as a starter but will not play because of his leg injury. The guards that will see more action in his absence are James Harden, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard and Chris Paul. Those guys could certainly pick up any slack left by Bryant but to what extent?

I really believe you’ll see 293 threatened but I don’t believe you’ll see it surpassed. Take the under tonight.

As for as the game tonight in terms of the spread, I really like the West despite big scoring games from both Anthony and James from the East. There’s just too much firepower on the Western Conference squad so I like them to cover.

MVP Odds

Your two favorites are Kevin Durant (5/2) and LeBron James (15/4) and there is absolutely no way we should discount either of them. In the case of Durant you might just want to take him and run the way he is scoring but where is the fun in taking the favorite?

Middle of the road favorites include Anthony Davis (13/1), James Harden (15/1) and Chris Paul (18/1). Of that three-pack I really like Harden because he can go off quickly and do it from downtown or by driving to the hoop.

If you’re looking for a real long-shot to lay some money on then consider Joe Johnson, Paul Millsap or Roy Hibbert at 75/1. Of this trio I really like Hibbert because he will be the only guy who will play consistent defense. If he collects a double-double and threatens a triple-double, he’ll have a great shot.

Eastern Conference Finals Has Reached Game Seven

Paul George
Paul George
George came up huge in helping the Pacers force a game seven in Miami.

This is one of those rare occasions where yours truly gets to toot his own horn so rather than just tap the horn and I’m going to lay on it like an impatient senior citizen at the Wal-Mart Pharmacy Drive-Thru. I told you when this series started that it was going to go seven games and after Indiana’s 91-77 win in game six last night that is exactly where we are headed. What I won’t be in any hurry to mention of course is the fact I had Memphis beating San Antonio in six games so let’s move on shall we?

If the Miami Heat are going to advance to the NBA Finals for the third straight season then it will be on the back of LeBron James. It has become crystal clear that Dwyane Wade is not 100% and Chris Bosh really isn’t either and they are both struggling as a result. There is certainly an argument to be made that no one is “100%” at this point in the season but Wade and Bosh are both far from it.

LeBron James
Quite frankly, if the Heat advance, it will be on James' back.

James went for his typical 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists but he had absolutely no help from his teammates. Wade, Bosh and Mario Chalmers combined to score 25 points on seven of 27 shooting from the floor. That just isn’t going to get it done period whether it’s the playoffs or a regular season game in Charlotte. Well, OK, maybe in Charlotte, but you know what I mean.

The Pacers meanwhile went into the contest with a less than 100% David West who was struggling with a respiratory infection. It showed in the first half as he was zero for seven but rebounded nicely to make five of seven in the second half. That was the perfect compliment to Roy Hibbert (24 and 11) and Paul George who had 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

George benefited from having Wade on him at some rather interesting points in the game rather than James who went down low to battle the bigs more often than usual.

So what can we expect in game seven? For starters, I’m not jumping off the Heat’s bandwagon simply because of the Pacers’ beat-down of them last night. Miami has often proved resilient in their time with LeBron on the floor and I’m confident the proper adjustments will be made to limit both George and Hibbert offensively.

James cannot do it by himself however. Someone will have to step it up whether it be Bosh or Wade or Norris Cole or Udonis Haslem. Someone has to chip in with an 18-22 point game or the Heat will struggle to break 80.

For those of you believing David Stern would never let Miami lose a game seven because of the TV ratings bonanza that would collapse with a San Antonio-Indiana Finals I tend to agree. I’m not suggesting I have a tin-foil hat on but let’s be real too. The NBA is a business so look for the calls to mostly go Miami’s way.

A Comment on Roy Hibbert’s Comments…. Last night in his post game press conference, Roy Hibbert used a gay slur and then called the media a bunch of MF’ers because they don’t really know anything about this team. Shame on Hibbert for using the gay slur. It was wrong and he knew it and he also didn’t need to swear at the media because everything he said was accurate. His team isn’t on national TV every week and they are paid little attention all season long and he cited sp