The NHL is bringing some great ideas for the playoffs

Since the NHL went on suspension back on March 12 – which in case you were wondering, was along time ago – there have been numerous potential playoff formats thrown out. As, of course, the NHL paused its season, like the world did – with obvious concerns over the Coronavirus.
Which have brought out lots of responses on what was going to happen, well it looks as if the NHL playoffs are coming, albeit they will not be holding a normal postseason – and they have gotten some interesting changes and are very creative. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced a top 24 team playoff format – which will feature the top 12 teams in each conference based off each team’s record at the time the league was put on hold.

The NHL has created a modified playoff format in which 24 of the teams will return to the ice – playing for the Stanley Cup at 2 different “hub” cities. Each Conference will have their own “hub” city with their own arena for the teams to play. There is going to be a qualifying round with a round robin “play in” round – which will then roll into the 1st round for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Using this unique opportunity to get creative with their playoff format, and going forward with a season, that many thought could have been lost – opens the door for a lot of neat things happening, and getting a satisfying ending to get a Stanley Cup champion for the season.

The NHL had played roughly 85% of the regular season, that started back in early October, so the vast majority of the season was over – and they don’t want to go too deep into the summer or fall. I don’t think they would want to run against other sports trying to get themselves organized – they want eyes peeled for their sport. The biggest advantage teams like St. Louis and Boston will have – is that they were a top 4 team at the time of the pause, and they will not have to play in the play in rounds. But the teams that were looking at squeaking in and on the cusp essentially have to earn their spots, it might be a strange and weird look this season – but the situation we have been dealt this year has been more than weird, as well.

The seeding and playoffs will look like this;
The top 4 seeds in each conference automatically advance to the traditional 16 team playoff structure, so the top teams are in, no concerns for the best of the best.
The top 25% of the teams.
Giving them a bye from the qualifier round – but those teams will then play each other once to seed the order of the top 4 for the playoffs.
Ok, thats fun.

Then we have the other teams – seeds 5 through 12.
They will need to play their way in – through the qualifying round, which is a best of 5 format.
Having a qualifying round – is basically giving teams that were still trying to fight for a playoff spot – a chance to make up ground that they may have made up throughout the rest of the regular season.
The winners of those games, then advance to the 1st round of the playoffs.
This sounds great to me.
It brings toughness, grit, and excitement, all things I want from my hockey.

So let’s take an early look at what we are going to see when the NHL returns to the ice.

In HUB 1 –
In the Round Robin seeding in 1st round
1. Boston Bruins ( 100pts)
2. Tampa Bay Lightning ( 92pts)
3. Washington Capitals ( 90pts)
4. Philadelphia Flyers ( 89pts)

HUB 1 – The best of 5 Qualifying round
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins ( 86pts) vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens ( 71pts)
#6 Carolina Hurricanes ( 81pts) vs. #11 New York Rangers ( 79pts)
#7 New York Islanders ( 80pts) vs. #10 Florida Panthers ( 78pts)
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs ( 81pts) vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets ( 81pts)

In HUB 2 –
In the Round Robin seeding in 1st round
1. St. Louis Blues ( 94pts)
2. Colorado Avalanche ( 92pts)
3. Vegas Golden Knights ( 86pts)
4. Dallas Stars ( 82pts)

HUB 2 – The best of 5 Qualifying round
#5 Edmonton Oilers ( 83pts) vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks ( 72pts)
#6 Nashville Predators ( 78pts) vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes ( 74pts)
#7 Vancouver Canucks ( 78pts) vs. #10 Minnesota Wild ( 77pts)
#8 Calgary Flames ( 79pts) vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets ( 80pts)

In the return – a playoff series between the blazing centers of the Oilers vs an aging, tough, veteran goalie Corey Crawford, and a team that can make plays like Toronto vs a Columbus team, that has struggled to close games out, sounds pretty darn great to me.
Who chokes?
Who plays bigger than life and carries their teams?
Let’s get this show on the road!

Does Kyrie Irving fit in Boston

The numbers that Kyrie Irving has put up over 7 seasons in the NBA are great, Kyrie is obviously a great basketball talent, there is no question about that. But can Irving allow Brad Stevens to coach his game – instead of trying to be the main course? Given what Boston did last year in the playoffs – they have some experience, having a healthy Gordon Hayward and a superstar now, they should be much better. I just don’t feel like Kyrie loves the system. The successful system that got the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
Without him.
From how well the Celtics were playing at the end of last season and into the playoffs it just looks far different from what we have watched this season.
I don’t think he has fully bought into Brad Stevens’ system and the Celtics culture, Stevens has shown that he has a specific system and it has worked, for 6 seasons, and going 197- 116 (.629) since 2015. Getting to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, with a very average roster, which showcased talents like Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown.
Boston is set up as a team to keep games close – if Kyrie could play within the offense for the first 3 quarters – get others involved throughout, keep Tatum getting his shots, let Gordon Hayward have his looks, then he can begin his showcase for the final 6-7 minutes of the game, I feel it would be more effective. The C’s offense is free flowing where everyone has a part in their offense, for Irving though – it is all about taking over the game. He should know when and how, by now. He is great at the end of games, with accurate shooting and a wicked scoring touch, and Kyrie has a clutch gene, as he has shown with his several outbursts in his career. With his awesome performances in the 2015 finals – he was beyond dynamite when the lights were on. And the biggest issue will be in the postseason when Boston is going up against powerhouse teams, that can put up huge points and have several guys who can score 20 or 30 – they need him because he can take over and score buckets in close games.
He’s shown to be a great player, but when he stops and dribbles for 8-10 seconds it ruins the rhythm of the offense. Guys start milling around – looking at him, then back at the shot clock, waiting to see what he is going to do with the ball. Is he going to dribble until 2 seconds and shoot – or dribble, drive and kick out for a bad three point shot? Irving is then being a detriment to the functionality of Boston. It is those times, on the court, the other players seem bored and almost annoyed with him during the games. Gordon Hayward has played better when Kyrie isn’t playing. With more shots and more confidence – he shows his ability, the C’s seem to play much better, as a team, when Kyrie is not on the court. Boston shoots better, passes better, and they play team ball, the ball moves around, and gets all of the guys involved. Jaylen Brown and Al Horford also play better. It is quite possible they are better off without Kyrie Irving.
If we are being honest, though, at this time, the Boston Celtics are not winning a championship with Kyrie. The Celtics aren’t going to win it without him either. Not as long as Golden State is still running the West with their All-Star team. They bought a team that is so over the top and there is no team right now that I can see being able to handle their talent and firepower. It is extremely tough to compete for a championship in the NBA anymore without having a stacked team across the board. We live in the “players era” – where the top teams need 3-4 guys who can score close to 20/game.
The truth is, they may play better without Kyrie – but without Kyrie Irving they are not winning a title. He’s a big-time superstar and when playoff crunch time comes around – he shows up. Boston is a good team – but as we watched last year play out – when a superstar took it to the next level, they weren’t able to respond. So with that – the Celtics may as well keep Kyrie on the floor as that “just in case” player. Kyrie gives them a threat to have a punchers chance to punch back.

Would Le’Veon Bell have made a difference in the Steelers season

The Steelers ended the 2018 season out of the playoffs, for the 1st
time over 4 years.  Some feel if Le’Veon Bell was on the field this
year, the Steelers would have made the playoffs. Maybe they wouldn’t
have tied the Browns in week 1 with Bell – maybe they wouldn’t have
lost to the Raiders either. But realistically, we don’t know. Maybe
Ben would have tried to make a boneheaded throw into the endzone vs
the Browns and lost the game there. As he already was having a poor
game with a 56% completion rate and 3 picks. It is easy to speculate,
we all do, but Le’Veon Bell has also played poorly vs Oakland in the
past, maybe he would have done nothing again. Maybe Le’Veon runs for
his 30 yrds and coughs one up?

Many people think Bell could have taken Pittsburgh Steelers to the
Bowl, but it was not because they didn’t have Bell, they had so many
other serious issues rather than just not having Bell on the field.
James Conner did just fine, with a 4.5 YPC, 55 catches, and 12 TDs, at
times, he looked even better than Bell. He put the ball on the field 4
times in the season, and some screamed about that. Hate to break it to
you, Bell also fumbled, with 3 in 2017 and 7 over the last 27 games,
it happens. We cant expect a guy running through a line of 340lb
strong men, hitting, slapping, pulling, and shoving then more
aggressive, fast and skilled men hitting them and punching the ball to
not put the ball on the ground sometimes.

It all comes down to the money (as always) – and Le’Veon Bell thinks
he is worth essentially double pay, because of what he brings to the
field in running and receiving. Seriously? There are a multitude of
great RBs who are awesome players, like Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley,
and Alvin Kamara, who all churn out big numbers on the ground and in
the air. Le’Veon Bell you are just another talented RB, but nothing
out of the ordinary, he is a great RB, but to now expand and say that
you are a utility player so now should be paid like a mixture between
the 2 positions, I don’t think so. No one player is bigger than the
team, end of story.

James Conner was a great 3 down back all year with running the ball,
blocking and catching out of the backfield. He played hard, and
deserved all the accolades he got for what he put on the field.
Le’Veon Bell with his history, it isn’t all that unlikely he would
have gotten injured sometime through the season. He has missed an
average of 5 games/season since 2015 – either through injury or being
removed from playing. And now tack on another 16 games missed – simply
because he wanted more money. The question of love and his dedication
to the game has taken a firm hold of many.

Ben Roethlisberger led the league in picks, with 16 – tied for the 2nd
most in 15 seasons for Pittsburgh, and had a bunch of stupid and
mistimed horrendous red zone blunders. He seemed bored and lost at
times, which made him less dangerous and off with his chemistry with
his receivers as well. I think Ben and his bad play is just as much to
eat the blame for their letdown season, with 4 games of completing
less than 60% of his passes and 4 games with 2+ picks thrown. The
Steelers really needed to get some element of surprise this year. Most
teams knew they were passing the ball the vast majority of the time,
as they put the ball in the air around 66% of the time. As they ran 5
wide sets quite frequently.

The porous passing Steelers defense was a huge reason why they missed
the playoffs. Their 2 steps too slow secondary, with just 8 picks, and
giving up 27 TDs in the air could never hold things together.
Especially when facing playoff caliber teams like the Saints and the
Chiefs, where they gave up 313 and 322, and they gave up 31 and 42
points in each.

Truth is, Le’Veon Bell would not have gotten the Pittsburgh Steelers
to the playoffs. His skills on the field are great and his timey and
patient ability to run on the field is great to watch for a Pittsburgh
Steelers fan and as a football fan, but he wasn’t leading them to the
promised land. He would have been a tough threat to deal with on
offense, his extra catches out of the backfield would have been nice
to have, as he is a massive receiving threat, with 312 catches over 62
games, and a solid number of 8.5 YDs/catch, along with 7TDs in the
air. The Steelers didn’t have quite the same fear factor coming out
running routes this year with James Conner, but he did more than a
fine job in the backfield for Ben and company.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a whole lot more going on than just the
Le’Veon Bell situation. Between Ben Roethlisberger, terrible play
calling, Antonio Brown pouting on the sidelines, and who ever knew if
there DBs were going to show up. They have to figure some stuff out on
that team before thinking about SuperBowls anytime soon.

MLB World Series Pick

World Series Picks

October is in full swing and while some of the sports world is tuned into the NFL other fans are concentrating on the old classic of fall baseball. Since this is the case, it is important to realize the battle for the World Series berth is definitely going to be a great struggle and one that only one team from the AL and one from the NL will reach. So which two of the teams are going to be making it to the World Series and which ones are going to be left sitting to watch the rest of the series?

AL Winner – Cleveland Indians

The Indians are not a favorite team for a lot of expert handicappers or even the odds makers in Vegas. However, the scrappy way the Indians were playing in the games all season definitely will lend to some credence of the Indians being able to pick up a few wins and make it to the series. Not to mention, the Indians have a fairly well balanced offense that is not relying on a single hitter to get the winning runs in for them. With the way the Indians play small ball as well, it will really help the Indians out as the ball will not fly out of the part as often in October.

The Red Sox and Yankees  are good teams and could pose a serious threat for the Indians, but they are teams that really seem to have worn themselves out in the regular season. You just have to look at some of the Yankees starters to see they lost a lot of velocity on pitches in September to see the long season wore on the pitchers.

NL Winner – Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have been able to battle through a lot of teams this year and even had to win a one game championship win for the NL West title. Not to mention the Dodgers have a younger pitching staff that was not really overworked at all during the regular season. Not to mention the Dodgers have been consistent in hitting on the year so far it is easy to see the Dodgers coming out of the NL swinging.

When you look at the Brewers or the Rockies you will notice that the only team between them that could challenge the Dodgers would be the Rockies. However, the Rockies were dominated in the regular season by the Dodgers and the Brewers, they simple to not have a pitching staff that will be able to stand up to the rigors that are seen in the playoffs.

How far can the Milwaukee Bucks go in the NBA Playoffs

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks 6’11 guard/forward is leading the way for the team this year on both ends of the court.
He is averaging of 23 ppg and 8.6 rebounds while also adding 5 assists per game for the team.
They are currently tied for 5th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks have had many years with a long history of failure. 15 Ws in
2013 and 31 in 2011 were some of the more recent disasters for the
Bucks. But, the owners have been very aggressive and have shown some
very sharp skills in trying to build a winning atmosphere in
Milwaukee.

Head Coach Jason Kidd has been very good behind the bench. And I don’t
think that it will take him long to get this team back into the 45+
win column, like they were, when they were in their heyday of the 80s. They are currently on pace to win over 40 games this year.
They keep just getting more pieces for Kidd, which is a good thing.
Milwaukee had a terrible offensive in 2014, but, they did have some
players and a little something that resembled something good coming
together.
Jabari Parker is also giving them 20 ppg and Greg Monroe is a means of getting points, playing defense in the middle

They should finish the season being top 6 team in the East, without question. They first
need to build for their conference, bottom line. Keep in mind, the
East isn’t as weak as it had been for years, anymore.
Now, what Monroe brings to the Bucks is a toughness. A very solid
inside scoring threat, he’s a guy capable of dropping 20 and 12 and
hitting 50% of his shots for them. They have Matthew Dellavedova who is averaging 8 ppg and 5 assists.

Putting SG Khris Middleton and Antetokounmpo on the wings, and throw in Parker at PF.
That could cause some headaches. Monroe may not be lightening quick,
but he isn’t your typical slow footed big man. He’s not hurting the
Bucks by not running the floor in a streak, and with his boxing out,
he can get a break moving down court with a defensive rebound.
He is a good fit for the young Bucks, they had to get a big man who
can rebound. No question about it, Monroe is a major upgrade in the
scoring sheet.
The Bucks are making all the right moves this year and flying under the radar. I have a feeling this Bucks’
team will make some noise in the NBA Playoffs this year.

Written by Mike Anthony for VegasTopDogs.com

Why the Washington Wizards are a tougher out than might be expected

JohnWall
With so many people keeping their eyes on the big boys in the Eastern conference, there is a team that can be a surprise to watch. That team is going to be the Washington Wizards. After last year in the playoffs, where they finished 2nd in NBA Southeast division and lost in the NBA Eastern conference semifinals, 4-2, vs the Indiana Pacers. This year heading in, they will be looking to push that round even further.
Very importantly, they have a team that wins at home. They defend their home court, actually coming in better than the Toronto Raptors, the legendary Dallas Mavericks, and the hot Houston Rockets. All which are teams that are likely looked at with more promise than the Wizards.
They also sport a defense that keeps teams from scoring buckets. Giving up just 43% shooting to opposing teams, keeping them cold from the field. They statistically have a better opponents ppg than the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Portland Trail Blazers. And actually a much better defense than popular teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dwight Howard based in the middle Houston Rockets, and again the Dallas Mavericks. And their defense has gotten better than last years team as well.
They have a great strengths in their youthful backcourt. Between 4 year PG, John Wall and deep ball shooter, Bradley Beal and even getting some valuable pts off the bench in Ramon Sessions, they keep teams moving all over the court. Currently, in the East, their backcourt is the best in the conference. And their big man in the middle, Marcin Gortat is in the discussion as one of the better big man in the East as well. He quietly gets them 13 and 9 a night, and no one notices. Including 21 games with double doubles this season.
I fully expect Beal and Wall to definitely build off of their nice playoff performances of last year, where they played fantastic. Bottom line, no one in the East can stop this explosive backcourt. Beal can shoot, he’s got good handles, and Wall can also play in the post. Either one can both have their way vs other teams, they both create shots and driving lanes for everyone else on the team.
The major weaknesses they have though is the 3 spot. Including the bench spot with youngster Otto Porter Jr. who has shown signs of becoming a strong 3, but has been inconsistant, behind Paul Pierce. The 37 year old former Celtic captain, was one of the most important reasons why his Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs when he was there, and obviously he was the heart and soul in beantown for 15 years. But he is an aging star, and has a severe lack of speed guarding the opposing players off the dribble.
No one expected the Celtics to be making it in, but the fact is, Boston doesn’t have a lot of depth on that team anymore. And they can’t shoot the rock and their backcourt is nothing too great. So I think they definitely are a team that will be a tougher out than them. As well as Milwaukee, who will be good, but they also seriously lack scoring ability and Zaza Pachulia has been nothing to write home about to say the least.
They have fixed their team a lot with good player development, better coaching, with Randy Wittman and creating a system that has been successful. The Wizards will be looking this year, to use their combination of youth and explosiveness in the backcourt and veteran leadership in the frontcourt with veteran Paul Pierce. To handle the teams that will be stepping on the court vs them. They can beat the struggling defense of the Celtics and maybe even the streaky Raptors, and who knows, they have been very tough when playing the Bulls.
One thing for certain, it will be interesting to see how they stack up.
Written by Tony Karpinski for VegasTopDogs.com

What is holding the Detroit Lions from getting to the next level?

Megatron

 

It is time for the Detroit Lions to finally make that move forward. Arming themselves with a new play-toy for Matthew Stafford, and possibly a missing puzzle piece at WR with former Seahawk WR Golden Tate, who has shown all year, he has the ability to make big plays. And then picking up a very talented TE in the 1st rd with Eric Ebron, out of North Carolina. I feel that Matthew Stafford can eventually make Eric Ebron a star.
As long as he continues to find ways to successfully get the ball to sticky hands Golden Tate, taking some heat off of Calvin Johnson, they just keep adding the pieces around him. Now mind you, many had questioned the grab of Ebron, which threw a curve-ball to many fans early this year in the draft. In a draft full of great potential defensive talent, the Lions stayed true to who they are, a scoring machine, and picked him up 10th overall. I cannot help but feel some teams may look back in awe, asking how some of the guys fell so low. And the Lions, a team that was, at that time, in dire defensive need, especially in the secondary, went with Ebron. And thus far, he has been nothing better than acceptable ( 16 catches and 1 TD), he’s not a top 5 target guy on the team, but the team is stacked with talent offensively, so he needs some time to find his spot.

Although adding Ebron and the “mega-presence” of Megatron, signing of Golden Tate and the strong and possibly overlooked RB combo for the Lions, with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, The Lions seriously have as much talent at the skill positions as anyone of the top teams. At this point they have to be able to get to the next level.

They showed they could bounce back, and did just that in 2011 when they won 10 games and came in 2nd to the 15 win Packers in the NFC North. But they have struggled with playing up to how most expect them to play at. During a season, when they could have closed the door and won 11 games, they instead, folded like a lawn chair. After last season, when they had everything laid out before them, as they should have had a NFC North locked up with all of its divisional problems, they blew it, finishing at a lousy 7-9. Failing, with other divisional North teams, the Packers and Bears losing their starting QBs for a total of 12 games between them. This year things are looking better.

One problem has been Matthew Stafford and his confidence seemingly in anyone not named Calvin Johnson. Stafford needs to keep believing in the rest of his receiving corps. Stafford threw 19 INTs in 2013, which landed him 5th most in the league. His 29 TD passes were great, and his 291 YPG avg. But his forcing balls when he doesn’t need to, has to get under control. Something he seems to have had this year, finally.

Last year Calvin has had games where as the WR1 he was targeted 5-6 times more than the WR2, Kris Durham. I understand, that with Calvin as your WR1, you’re going to get him looks, but there is no reason to forget about other guys, keep the defense honest. Including once 83 ball catcher, TE Brandon Pettigrew, who was considered to be a potential next decent TE in the league, only averaged 3 targets a game in 2013, and finished with just 2 TDs. And less then 450 YDs receiving.

After 5 years, it’s now time for Matthew Stafford to bring it to the next level. Stop throwing the late game costly picks, stop forcing the ball when it doesn’t need to be forced into the tight triple coverages. Find the check down, use your whole team, there is a ton of talent on paper there, find out what they can do.

Predictable play calling was a crutch that the Lions had, seemingly, when all else failed, throw the ball to Calvin. Obviously Johnson did everything he could, because as their best weapon, he could get constant separation. Scoring was never a problem for Detroit, dropping 25 a game last year, and only 2 times scoring less than 16. Stopping the other team from scoring was, all year long. Now this year, offensively they are scoring just 18 /game but only giving up 17.

As well as the fact that the Lions were unable to ever get a strong consistent ground attack, only running the ball for 1792 YDs last year, and just 5 games with 120 or more on the ground. As bad as the defense as well, gets a rap on, during the last 7 games in 2013, the Lions only gave up 17 ppg, taking away pick 6’s and fumble returns for TDs, the on-field defense wasn’t terrible. They ended 1-6, during that stretch, where Stafford also was inconsistent during that time as well. They oddly enough stumbled down the home stretch in 2013 because of their offense. In the Lions’ last 3 losses the on-field defense allowed only 2 TDs.

Bottom line is, Stafford and his turnovers, 15 so far, this season. Once he gets that fixed, and the young defense continues to make improvements, they can win 10 games and make some possible noise in the playoffs. But if Stafford goes back to throwing bad picks and fumbling the ball, that’s not going to happen. Matthew Stafford has always had a straight forward plan of attack, his pass selection has gotten him in trouble his whole career, as it has this year as well. He can’t be costing them opportunities anymore to win games.

They have what it takes to make a run at the playoffs, without question. They are armed with unquestionably, when healthy, the best WR in the NFL, and an upgraded young defense that has played much better this year, by far, than their play in 2013. The defense seems to have learned how to control themselves, hopefully for Lions fans, Kris Kocurek, the defensive line coach, can keep the feisty group of Lions to stop with hot head, dumb penalties, and play football the right way.

The Lions had seemingly found ways to lose when the chips were down before. Matthew Stafford would throw 3 interceptions one game, Calvin Johnson would suddenly drop passes, and fumbles would be picked up and returned for a TD. Everyone’s always known how to beat the Lions, you score more points than they can.

This year they have been making that a bit more difficult, stuffing the run well, and even with their pass coverage. This could be a very nasty team for the rest of the year. The NFC North got a whole lot more interesting.

3 Best Western Conference NHL Hockey Events To Watch This Week

colorado-avalanche

 

The Western Conference playoffs in the NHL are notable for the fact that in each of them, the higher seed has won each of the first two games at home. That’s not very typical for the NHL playoffs.

 

NHL Western Conference Playoffs, First Round, Game 4:

St. Louis Blues @ Chicago Blackhawks (Wednesday)

 

The Blues lead the series, 2-0, but they will very likely be without David Backes, who was concussed when he absorbed a violent and illegal hit from Chicago’s Brent Seabrook in Game 2 of the series on Saturday. Seabrook won’t play this game because he has been suspended through Game 5 for the hit. It will be interesting to see which team suffers more without an important player. The Blues know that if they can win Game 4, they will be up 3-1 at worst and might even have a chance to sweep the defending champions out of the playoffs in the first round. That’s a big prize for St. Louis in this game on Wednesday.

 

NHL Western Conference Playoffs, First Round, Game 4:

Colorado Avalanche @ Minnesota Wild (Thursday)

 

The Avalanche lead the series 2-0, and they lead it because whenever they’ve fallen behind, they’ve immediately been able to respond with a tying goal. It gets to be very demoralizing when your own goals are promptly erased by an opponent’s quick-strike goal. Minnesota has to be more steadfast and resistant on defense. Otherwise, it won’t be able to extend this series against Colorado.

 

NHL Western Conference Playoffs, First Round, Game 4:

San Jose Sharks @ Los Angeles Kings (Thursday)

 

The Kings took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 on Sunday night, hoping to tie this series at 1-1 and send it back to Los Angeles in a good position. However, San Jose then scored seven unanswered goals to blow Los Angeles out of the water. It’s really hard to see how Los Angeles can engineer a turnaround in the series. The Kings have been so comprehensively outplayed, and when that happens, it’s hard to say that it’s a matter of one adjustment here or there. San Jose has firmly established itself as the favorite in the series.

Just how real of a threat are the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA title?

SA

In last years NBA Finals, it took 7 hard fought games for the Miami Heat to eek one out to win the back to back title they sought out for. The Spurs were 1 flip up game clock running down, 37 year old clutch shooter, Ray “buckets” Allen to bury the Spurs hopes. They played a great series, going further again than the majority of folks would have thought they were going to go, as usual. But is it possible that last year was their last hurrah? Was that their best chance at the 5th title? Especially because at one point they had their 5th ring won, until Ray drilled that shot from the corner.

This year, the Spurs seem again on another mission. Obviously with their game play as always, scoring 106 a game, up from last year, their defense has been awesome giving up only 97 a night, allowing opponents to shoot only 44% against them. They have had some amazing winning streaks, which we are all well aware of. They have been great at home, and just as great on the road, which is a very essential factor to make a real move come playoff time, you absolutely must win on the road.

One thing that does concern me for the Spurs is this, they are 4-10 vs the top 4 teams in the West. Which is apparently where they have to get out of 1st before they can even begin to think about getting to the finals again. In the East, they have been 2-2 going up vs the only teams worth mentioning, the Heat and the Pacers. Some could argue and say that until the Spurs are knocked out, they are still the Western Conference champs, so they get to hold that crown until someone rips it from them, and that is true. But they are better then last year. They’re also a very deep team who has gotten much better with their bench in particular. Adding knock down shooter, Marco Belinelli was, to me a great grab. he can score from anywhere on the court, and he can do things that other guys they had last year couldn’t.

Teams with speed have decidedly shown they can run the Spurs off the court, especially OKC. Also a healthy Clippers team is really good, and I still think will be the team heading to represent the West this year. I do worry about San Antonio’s health of the team, can they stay upright with the age factor? Also I felt that Kawhi Leonards game would have elevated a bit more since last year, when I felt he was seriously going to be a big time star in the league. After last year I thought this was going to be the year, in fact he’s playing less time than he did last year. He needs to be a guy who can bring it every game and that’s where he needs to step in and deliver. I think he has potential to be a 17-9 guy if given the opportunity.

I think the Spurs are a very good team, yet all the time, seemingly every year, no one truly takes the Spurs as a legit threat for the title, especially since they have the “old crew” of players, they have no blow your mind players who have been outstanding this season. Only 1 “All-star” on the team, and no one who is scoring 18 or more a night. Coach Gregg Popovich is doing what he does every year in the league, win 55+ games a season, and make people shake their heads in confusion and admiration. They will go down as one of the best franchises in NBA history, without a doubt. As they stay the team that plays great during the season, and no one pays attention to them, they will not surprise come playoff time, the faster, younger teams will take notice and not fall for the “old team” trick.

Written by TonyK of VegasTopDogs.com