As I watch the NBA Playoffs, I realize (1) how good the games are and (2) the series will not always be decided by the marquee players. Here are ten players to watch out for if their teams are going to advance to the Conference Finals.
- Pascal Siakam – If you saw my previous post, you know that Siakam was the MVP for the Raptors in the first round. Now he means even more to them. When the Raptors have won, Pascal has been amazing. Without him, Toronto is to easy to defend for the Sixers.
- Jimmy Butler – Jimmy Butler was exactly the guy that Philadelphia needed for the playoffs. While I thought he would have more of an impact on defense, Jimmy’s offense has been indispensable. The Sixers needed someone to take big shots and make his shots (sorry J.J. Redick). Jimmy grinded the Sixers to victory in Game 2. The team rode his grit in Game 3.
- Joel Embiid – Embiid is a force of nature. When he is aggressive and active on both ends of the floor, the Sixers are pretty much unbeatable. When he is injured or unengaged, the Sixers defensive flaws will destroy them.
- Kevin Durant – Durant, who arguably has been the best player in the playoffs the last three years, is the Warriors unstoppable force. Curry and Thompson are great shooters. Draymond is the heart of the team. Durant is what makes the Warriors the favorites for a third straight championship. He can do everything on offense and he is underrated on defense. He can line up in all five positions and he may be the guy who breaks Kareem’s scoring record.
- Al Horford – Boston has their work ahead of them. They are facing the team with the best record in the NBA and the this year’s MVP of the league. Horford has to be the guy to put some form of handcuffs on the Greek Freak and be the ultimate mismatch for his team to stretch the floor.
- Al-Farouq Aminu – The Blazers are powered by Dame and C.J.. The difference maker is Aminu. You can tell how well Portland is doing by how many point Aminu has. He also has an impact on defense that makes up for the two undersized guards.
- Kyrie Irving – Kyrie is the winningest player in playoffs history. He is the ultimate clutch shotmaker. He was unstoppable against the Pacers. He needs to be just as unstoppable to you against the league’s best defense. For all it’s talent, Boston
- Torrey Craig – Torrey Craig is the only real defensive stopper on the Nuggets. They need someone to do something to slow Damian Lillard down he can. Denver is not a defensive juggernaut and needs Craig to make some plays, both offensively and defensively, to get them past a very talented Portland offense.
- Kris Middleton – The Buck will go as far as Middleton will take them. Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to put up numbers. The Bucks are offensively limited. They need Giannis and Middleton to be great.
- Chris Paul – If the Rockets are going to have a chance against the Warriors, they need more than James Harden. They need the return of the point-god. Paul needs to make an impact on both sides of the ball.
Jamal Murray, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Eric Bledsoe, Marc Gasol, Andre Iguodala, Jaylen Brown, Fred Van Fleet and Tobias Harris.
Who Makes a Difference Part 2 (The X-Factors) – 10 Thoughts on the NBA Conference Finals
With the Conference Finals here, I thought I’d make another stab at ten players who have the ability to turn series for their team.
- Steph Curry – With Kevin Durant out for at least Game 1, the Warriors will go as far as Steph takes them. He needs to put up at least 30 for a win. He has a history of being streaky in the playoffs. Golden State cannot have a bad Steph Curry day.
- Kris Middleton – A remnant from my last list. Middleton is the key to their offense and I imagine he is going to spend some time guarding Kawhi Leonard. Middleton needs to provide the shooting that opens up the lane for Giannis. He also had to do the best he can to slow down the hottest player in the playoffs.
- Draymond Green – Guarding Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum is a daunting task. It cannot be done by one person. Steph and Klay are going to need the support that Draymond provides defensively and keeping Enis Kanter off the glass.
- Eric Bledsoe – When Bledsoe is hot, Milwaukee is unbeatable. He needs to be more than hot. He has to be smart. Kyle Lowry, who is not as athletic as Bledsoe, knows how to play intelligent defense. Bledsoe has to make smart plays and timely three-pointers.
- Kyle Lowry – The Raptors cannot be dragged to the Finals by Kawhi the way he dragged them to the Conference Finals. Lowry needs to take and make big shots. The rest of the team struggled through the second round and Lowry cannot be passing up shots if the Raptors are going to make it to the Finals.
- Andrew Bogut – The Warriors weakness is rebounding. Enis Kanter has dominated the glass in the playoffs. If the Blazers have any chance to dethrone the Warriors, they need Kanter to change the game by dominating the glass. Bogut is tougher than Nikola Jokic and he needs to physically dominate Kanter.
- Rodney Hood – Hood showed he can swing a game in playoff series. The Blazers probably need him to swing at least two. He has found his confidence and that makes him dangerous. His size and skill make him difficult to guard. If he commits to playing defense, he is a tenacious defender. Will his confidence wane when he is face to face with the defending champions?
- George Hill – Since he is healthy, Hill is the kind of point guard the Bucks need leading their bench. Hill was a surprise game-changer against the Celtics. I almost forgot that he was the point guard on those Indiana Pacer teams that made it to the conference finals. A healthy George Hill makes the Bucks such a deep team. They may be able to wear down the Raptors.
- Pascal Siakam – Siakam is not a second scorer on a championship team, but he is a third scorer and he can cause problems on defense with his length and athleticism. He needs to make his mark on the series or the Raptors are going home.
- Zach Collins – Collins showed in Game 7 against the Nuggets the effect he can have on a game. He is the type of player that could give the Warriors trouble. He could also spend a lot of time on the bench with foul trouble. We will see which Zach Collins comes to play.
With Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs getting started, I wanted to drop some thoughts on Round 1. The Eastern conference was the most interesting for Round 1(well to me maybe).
- Pound for pound – The Milwaukee Bucks look like the pound for pound best team in the East. Detroit had no answer for the Greek Freak. The Bucks as a team has so much depth and they look like they can play any style of basketball.
- Most Improved Player – Pascal Siakam should be the NBA’s Most Improved Player. He was the most valuable player of the round for his team. Orlando put up a good fight, but Siakim always made the momentum changing plays.
- Rocky 3 – Philadelphia needs the Eye of the Tiger. An undermatched Brooklyn team gave them all they wanted for four games. This team is hanging on by Joel Embiid’s bum knee. I think Jimmy Butler is the key to the next round.
- Kyrie Time – This is Kyrie Irving’s time of the year. He is the winningest player in playoff history and he showed it in this series. He played like a man no one could guard and he made the shots as well. Jaylen Brown also picked the right time to take his game to another level. As good as Kyrie and Jaylen played, the team did not look the same without Marcus Smart. They are going to need him if they expect to play with Milwaukee.
- No Victory Without Victor – Indiana battled and played as hard as they could with Darren Collison and Wes Matthews. In the end, they were not Victor Oladipo. Even with Tyreke Evans and Bojan Bogdanovic shooting their minds out, Indiana needed a closer. Myles Turner was a force on defense and will continue to be for the next couple of years.
- Kudos #1 – The Nets get a serious pat on the back. They are a bad call away from taking the Sixers to maybe seven games. D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert did some major damage to the Sixers defense. If they had any size, they would have given the Sixers fits.
- Kudos #2 – The Orlando Magic made it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. I was ready to see a young team that stumbled into the playoffs. However Steve Clifford coached these guys so that were efficient on offense and tenacious on defense. I know D.J. Augustin made the game winning shot in Game 1, but they are a point guard away from doing damage in the Eastern Conference. Hint – Kemba Walker is a free agent this summer.
- You Got In…Now What? – Well Detroit made it to the playoffs. It had been three years since the Pistons had been in the playoffs. The Pistons had not won a playoff series since 2008. I am glad they got something from last year’s Blake Griffin trade…but now what? It will be interesting to see what Dwayne Casey gets out of this roster next year.
- Boston v. Milwaukee – I am picking the Bucks in 6. While I think the Bucks can slow down Kyrie, I am not sure the Celtics can slow down Giannis.
- Philadelphia v. Toronto – I am picking Toronto in 5. The Sixers don’t have the firepower to overcome a Raptor defense that is just plain nasty. The Sixers could not stop the Nets. Now how are they going to stop the Raptors.
Boston dominated the first two games of the Series. Some of the things I discussed in preparation for the Series played themselves out. The games were personified by clutch hitting and a dominant bullpen. Here are 10 thoughts as we get ready for Game 3.
- My Correct Predictions – As I look back, I was right about quite a few things.
- Mookie Betts is playing like the AL MVP and maybe the World Series MVP. He was 3 for 4 in Game 2. Yasiel Puig had a clutch hit and one walk. He could explode in Games 3 thru 5.
- J.D. Martinez is a Dodger-killer. He is ridiculously successful against the boys in blue.
- My Wrong Predictions – There were also some predictions that did not play out so far in the Series.
- Kershaw v. Sale was not the pitcher’s duel I suspected it would be. Kershaw was tormented by his nemesis, J.D. Martinez and gave up two runs in the first inning. Sale got a lot of swings and misses; but a high pitch count was his undoing. I think there is still a chance for Game 5 for all the marbles being the pitcher’s duel we all dream of.
- The MVPs from League Championship Series have not made an impact on the Series yet. Maybe we can call this one a push.
- The Dodgers depth has not had the impact I thought it would. The Red Sox bullpen has been better than I expected.
- Andrew Benintendi May Be the MVP – All he has done is get hits and make amazing plays in the field. His four hits in Game 1 and his leaping catch in Game 2 were daggers to the hearts of Dodger fans.
- The All Right-Handed Batter Lineup – The Dodgers unveiled their all right-handed batting lineup for Games 1 & 2. A new lineup is not surprising, the Dodgers had 112 different lineups during the season. What is weird is all their power hitters are left-handed. I was not that concerned because of the Sale pitch count and the Dodgers’ ability to get into the Red Sox bullpen and bring the lefties off the bench. In Game 2, David Price kept his pitch count under control and went six innings, it took much time to get these guys off the bench.
- Game 2 Pitcher’s Duel – David Price and Hyun-Jin Ryu started the game off by keeping things under control for the first four innings. That is the closest we have gotten to a pitcher’s duel so far this series.
- RISP – The Red Sox have been amazing hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. Half of their runs in the playoffs have been driven in with two outs. The achilles heel for the Dodgers during the regular season was hitting with runners in scoring position. However, the Dodgers have been good, not great, with runners in scoring position. Their problem has been getting runners in scoring position late in the game.
- I Am Concerned About Chris Taylor – Taylor is 0 for 5 in the two games he has started in left field. He looks lost at the plate. He doesn’t look like he has a plan. He also misplayed a ball that resulted in a run. I would like to see Bellinger in center and Kike in left field.
- Both Bullpens Have Been Good – The Red Sox bullpen has been outstanding. Going into the Series, I thought the Dodger bullpen had the advantage. The Red Sox bullpen has been lights out so far. The Dodger bullpen has been good also; with the exception of an Alex Wood and Ryan Madson meltdowns.
- Urias Makes Me Smile – Julio Urias has looked great and makes me think he should get the Game 5 or 6 start. I am also excited for the starting rotation next year with Kershaw, Buehler, Urias and Hill.
- Dodgers in 6 is Still Possible – It would take the Dodgers being dominant for the next four games. They would need to gain some super momentum with their 3 home games.
As we approach the start of Game 1, I wanted to share 10 thoughts that are intriguing to me as the Series starts.
- 1916 – The last time these two historic franchises met in the World Series was in 1916. The Red Sox won the Series behind 16 scoreless innings posted by a player by the name of Babe Ruth. He was later traded and the Red Sox were cursed for more than 80 years.
- Unfinished Business – The Dodgers are back in the World Series for the second year in a row. They are the 28th team to return to lose the World Series and return the next year. 15 of the previous 27 teams won the Series.
- The Managers – Dave Roberts of the Dodgers and Alex Cora of the Red Sox were teammates with the Dodgers from 2001-2004. In 2004, Roberts was traded to the Red Sox and stole a crucial base that is part of the team history. These teams are so interwined it is not funny.
- The Rightfielders – Mookie Betts is probably the American League MVP. Yasiel Puig has the ability to put together an MVP like performance in any series. It would not surprise me if either of these guys were the difference makers for their teams.
- Kershaw v. Sale – The two left-handers square off in what should be an amazing pitching duel. Kershaw dominated the Brewers to put the Dodgers in the driver’s seat for NLCS. Sale was dominant and even came out of the bullpen to help the Red Soz dominate the Astros.
- Ryu v. Price – Game 2 features Ryu vs. David Price. We are not sure which one these pitchers will show up. They both have enigmatic personas on the mound. This could be a pitcher’s duel or it could be a 12-10 game.
- J.D. Martinez – J.D. Martinez killed the Dodgers last season. If he has any help in Arizona last year, he may be making his second appearance in a row in the series. He will have to play the outfield in LA; which will cause someone to be out of position. I have heard they have considered putting Mookie Betts at second base.
- The Center-Fielders and LCS MVP’s – The centerfielders for both teams happened to be the League Championship Series MVP as well. Both Cody Bellinger and Jackie Bradley, Jr struggled during the season and found their swings when it counted. Both made some amazing defensive plays as well.
- The Two Mannys – While Manny Ramirez is not playing, his connection to both teams cannot be forgotten. Neither can the persona of Manny Machado and his talent and questionable baseball etiquette.
- The Dodger Depth – Here is the list of the dudes for the Dodgers I have not talked about yet.
- Kike Hernandez
- Max Muncy
- Joc Pederson
- Matt Kemp
- Justin Turner
The Prediction – I think the Dodgers pitching, bullpen and depth will be too much for the Red Sox. Dodgers in 6.
This week, I had my share of events and I was glad to make it to my Sunday nap. The delay in the publishing of this post comes from working on a sports podcast with my son. Here are my 10 thoughts for this week:
- 24-Hour News Cycle Update – The last couple of weeks, I have used this blog to try to help me keep unforgettable things in my mind.
- Puerto Rico – There was professional baseball played in Puerto Rico. There were quite a few Puerto Ricans were there to represent their teams. There was also a power outage that left more than 50,000 people without electricity.
- Syria – We bombed Syria last week and then everything is quiet.
- Ryan Seacrest – All quiet on the Western Front.
- Sean Hannity is a Michael Cohen Client – Somehow it is not surprising that Cohen testified that he represented Michael Cohen. Hannity tried to make it sound like its not a big deal. Later it was discovered that Hannity is a mini-Trump who owns hundreds of property.
- Racial Bias Training at Starbucks – Bravo to Starbucks for closing all their stores on May 29 for a day of racial bias training. While it took a terrible incident to get there, maybe a fairly nationwide training session will go a long way.
- NBA Playoffs – Here are some thoughts from the 1st Round of the NBA Playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards are going to go seven games and there is a weird chance the Wizards will win.
- I am pulling for the Greek Freak even though it is cool to see the Young Celtics play some real ball. They are going to be a force for a long time.
- The Sixers are the new favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. The Heat are a good team, but they are a star short.
- Lebron James is playing the best basketball of his life and it is barely enough to beat the Pacers.
- James Harden is going to have to play like an MVP for the Rockets to put the Wolves down.
- The Warriors will have no problem beating the Spurs without Steph Curry. I appreciate Manu Ginobli balling out at his age. His passion for the game is an inspiration.
- The Pelicans demolished the Blazers. Playoff Rondo, the Brow and Jrue are playing like their own super team right now.
- The Jazz are a good team and the Thunder are a smorgasbord of talented parts. As I said in my preview of the 1st Round of NBA Playoffs, Melo is the key and he is a shell of his former self.
- NFL Mock Draft- Top 10 – Thursday’s draft is going to be interesting. They say more people watch the draft than watch the final round of the Masters. The Browns have the first pick and they are notorious at picking quarterbacks. Therefore with my latest mock draft, I take the choice out of the Browns hands.
- CLE – Saquan Barkley – The best athlete in the draft. A can’t miss prospect.
- NYG – Bradley Chubb – The Giants always build on their defensive line.
- NYJ – Josh Rosen – The Jets get their quarterback of the future.
- CLE – Sam Darnold – The Browns get the quarterback they wanted.
- BUF – Josh Allen – The Bills move up and get their quarterback.
- IND – Quenton Nelson – The can’t miss guy to protect Andrew Luck.
- ARI – Lamar Jackson – The Cardinals move up to get a quarterback.
- CHI – Derwin James – The Bears get an impact guy for their defense.
- SF – Tremaine Edmunds – Niners get a Rueben Foster replacement.
- OAK – Roquan Smith – The Raiders get another piece for their defense.
- Genesis 11:31 – In my bible study this week, Terah’s, Abraham’s father, gets a chance to take his family to the land of Canaan and he stops short. Then a verse later, one of the most epic verses in the bible, Abram gets his call to go to the land of Canaan. I was wondering if Terah got a similar call and didn’t see it through.
- Tennessee House Votes to Withhold Funds From Memphis – The Tennessee House votes to withhold funds from the city of Memphis because they tried to take down two Confederate statues, and when the House refused, the city sold the park to a non-profit that took down the Confederate statues.
- Gorsuch Votes With the Good Guys on Immigration – A Trump nominated Supreme Court Justice put a smack down to the administration’s immigration policy because the law was “too vague”.
- Trump May Pardon Jack Johnson – After a telephone call with Sylvester Stallone, President Trump is in favor of pardoning Jack Johnson. Knowing how Trump changes his mind, this will not happen. However, after seeing Unforgivable Blackness, I would love to see Jack Johnson pardoned.
- What Happened to Harriet Tubman on the $20? – I read an article about what is going on with the Harriet Tubman $20 bill. The bill is supposed to go into circulation in 2020. I doubt that Trump is going to let that happen. He is an Andrew Jackson man.