Monday, October 17, 2011

2011 World Series Preview

2011 World Series...St Louis Cardinals vs Texas Rangers

How did we get here?!?!

For the Rangers this has been an unreal season...The dizzying highs of a return trip to the World Series, and the devastating lows of having Shannon Stone try to catch a throw into the stands from Texas LF Josh Hamilton only to lose his balance against the railing and plummet to his death (right in front of his 6 year old son...I do not want to just write a piece that is a downer, but the Shannon Stone story about what happened that night is unbelievable...I will spare you the details here, as you know we are together on blogspot, or Sports Talk because we want to have fun talking sports, but I would encourage you to look into the story of Stone's death...I personally have not looked at life the same way since that July 8 fateful day)

More lows were in-store for the 2011 Rangers as their leader and Team President Nolan Ryan was hospitalized for a recurring heart condition...This was all on the heels of losing 2010 star Cliff Lee out of nowhere to the Phillies...

The off-season did produce a big move though...The Rangers had a built-in upgrade at SS as stud-in-the-making SS Elvis Andrus was about to enter his 3rd season and big things were expected (big things produced too...career high Hits/Doubles/Runs/RBI's/SB's/Batting Avg) but the player to Andrus' right (3B) was going to be new as Texas added slugger Adrian Beltre...AB had a monster season (.296...32 HR's...105 RBI's) and the assumption was that Mike Young would be traded to make room for Beltre...Young was kept by Texas, and as a result the Rangers had the ol' "cake and eat it too" as Young (a career .300 hitter) had career highs in Batting Avg/RBI's, and career low for Strikeouts...The Rangers also made a trade with YOUR TORONTO BLUE JAYS to add another bat in Mike Napoli...Nap played 1B/C/DH and he hit like crazy (career highs in '11 for Batting Avg/Hits/Doubles/HR's/RBI's/Runs/BB's)...A fantastic line-up (that featured the defending MVP in Josh Hamilton) got even deeper...

The Starting Pitching lost Lee, but sure did its part to help the Rangers repeat as AL West Champs...73-39 record, plus a Bullpen already skilled with the likes of veteran LH Darren Oliver, plus stud-in-the-making Closer Neftali Perez added 'pen studs Mike Adams and Koji Uehara (only 2 hurlers on the Rangers with WHIP below 1.00)

The Rangers used all of the above to earn a 96 W campaign...In the Play-Offs it has sure been all of the above, plus Nelson Cruz has entered his name into Post-Season lore...Cruz has 2 HR's and 7 RBI's in the 11th Inning alone in the Post-Season!  How many players will not have that kind of production for an entire series/Play-Off run?!?! As twitter would say #impressive...Cruz is setting Play-Off records for HR's/RBI's/Drama...This Rangers line-up was shut down by San Fran in the 2010 World Series, but this 2011 line-up looks drought-proof (waaaay too much talent and depth)

For St Louis the path was different...Like on a historic level different...The only other team to make the sort of comeback to get into the Play-Offs as the 2011 Cards did was the...well ironically enough 2011 Rays...The difference is that the step-up Pitching (especially in the bullpen) and the timely (and volume) hitting for St Louis has continued in the Play-Offs, while the Rays were dispatched in 4 games by Texas...

Tony LaRussa is (again) in the World Series, and he (again) brings an impressive O (remember the Bash Brothers O's Tony had in the early 90's in Oakland)...Star Albert Pujols had career low's in Batting Avg (.299) and RBI's (99) but still we see those aren't exactly embarrassing #'s...Phat Albert was joined in St Louis by Matt Holliday a few months back, and in 2011 he was joined by Lance Berkman (NL 2011 Comeback Player Of The Year), and later at Trade Deadline the Cards made a move to get Rafael Furcal to be their SS...At the end of August St Louis was a DOA (as far as making the Play-Offs) 10.5 games back of Hotlanta...but...while the Braves had a September swoon for the ages the Cards continued to get better and better while bats like Jason Jay, David Freese, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, and guys like Pujols and Berkman were en fuego the last several weeks of the season...All of that even masked the fact that slugger Matt Holliday missed 35+ games with nagging hand injuries...This added up to put the Cardinals (despite playing in the NL where the #8 and #9 hitters are punchlines) as the #5 O in MLB (#1 O in NL...Only NL club in MLB Top 6)

St Louis' starting rotation features 4 SP's with era's in the 3's (Chris Carpenter, Jamie Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Edwin Jackson)...The club was roundly criticized outside of Missouri for their Trade Deadline move of sending CF Colby Rasmus to the Jays for RP's Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski, and the a fore mention Edwin Jackson, but those close to the club knew that was a trade of "good riddance" as Rasmus and his peeps had become an irritant with a bad attitude instead of the stud-in-the-making they thought he was...Hindsight being what it is we see now that the Cards made a mega-Don move with that trade...As good (actually great) as the Cards O has been, it is the pitching, in particular RP, that has guided the team back to the World Series for their first trip to the Fall Classic since they won it all in 2006 (eerily similar by the way as that 2006 team got hot at the right time and rode LaRussa's managerial brilliance to the Championship) 

What a match-up...2 Managers with now multiple World Series appearances...2 teams making return trips to the WS...

2 teams using O first, with a definite assist from the Pitchers each game...2 teams who used Aug trades to bolster their Pitching, and shore up a bat off the bench...

2 teams who each could have made a huge trade (Texas could have traded Mike Young after signing Beltre, and when St Lou failed in Spring Training to re-up long-term with Phat Albert they could have made a big deal too) but decided to make a run without trading a (big) bat...

2 teams who each solidified their O with Off-Season additions (Beltre for Texas, Berkman for St Louis)...

2 teams getting guys other than their stars to carry the O through the Championship Series (Rangers rode Cruz, while Freese led the Cardinals)...

Ironically it was All-Star MVP Prince Fielder (Brewers) who set up the fact that St Louis will have Home Field for the World Series (PLEASE do not get me started on how redonkulous it is to have an Exhibition game decided anything, much less Home Field for a Championship series) and further irony is the Cards Round 1 victim was the Phillies who swept the Braves on the final weekend of the Regular Season to allow St Louis to complete their historic comeback

Texas is the only team of the 2 that utilizes the Running Game...

St Louis is the team with the better eye at the plate (will Walk waaaay more that Texas)...

The only team in MLB that had batters strikeout at the plate less than St Louis was...Texas!

Both clubs are Extra-Base Hit machines...

0.05 is the amount that separates these 2 teams as far as Team ERA (wow, about as close as you can get)...

Despite using about 5 different Closers in 2011 the St Louis Cardinals had waaay more Saves than did the Rangers...

Starting Pitching - although St Louis' SP's have surely been hot for several weeks, on the whole it was Texas who had (by far) the most Quality Starts from their SP's...Waaaay more Shutouts for this Texas Staff too...

C-L-O-S-E series here folks...If you watch Sports Talk then A) thank you for watching...B) then you know I have handing out Game Balls to various Cardinals for over a month now as they have been wonderful for several weeks...you also know that C) I have been predicting that the 2011 World Series Champs would be the Texas Rangers for several months now so no sense in changing that now that we actually are at the World Series and Texas is playing!

I see the tiniest bit more in the O for Texas...I see the tiniest bit more RP for Texas...I see a lot more SP for Texas...Bottom line is I see the Rangers winning the 2011 World Series


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sports Talk Oct 6


Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)

1st Segment = Game Balls/Lame Ball
2nd Segment = NFL Week 5 picks/tidbits
3rd Segment = Final 2011 season Good/Bad/Ugly Jays talk


Sports Talk Sep 29


Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)

13:50 mark Sportsnet Hockey Central Producer Paul Bromby with some great NHL talk


Sports Talk Sep 22


Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)

1st Segment = Game Balls/Lame Balls
2nd Segment = NFL Week 3 picks/tidbits
3rd Segment = Jays talk


Sports Talk Sep 15


Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)

16:00 mark mlb.com Jays writer Gregor Chisolm (Jays talk at its finest!)


Sports Talk Sep 8


Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)

Segment #1 = Week that was
Segment #2 = NFL Week 1 picks/tidbits
Segment #3 = Jays talk 


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

3 NFL Win Total picks

Some quick-hitters here re NFL Team Win Totals OVER/UNDER for 2011

Chicago Bears OVER 8.5

A “Lovie” triangle was formed in Chicago in 2010 when Lovie Smith (Bears Head Coach desperate to get an Offense to go with his D...Bears had not won NFC North since 2006, and 3 straight single-digit win seasons – 2 of those losing seasons) plus QB Jay Cutler (2008 Pro Bowl QB, but poor 2009 had his relevance in the NFL dwindling) were joined by Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz (architect of The Greatest Show On Turf St Louis Rams teams, but 2 seasons in Detroit and 1 with SF had little success...Martz was not coaching anywhere in 2009)

The triangle of Bears all needed each other to help each other get back to being relevant in the National Football League...The results were a 11 win season, but the O #’s were poor (actually bad)...Bottom 1/3 in almost every Offensive category, and brutal on Yards Per Game

2011 Off-Season added WR Roy Williams and RB Marion Barber...Williams is re-united with Martz who was his O-Coordinator for 2 great season in 2006 and 2007...Training Camp/Pre-Season have been underwhelming as far as performance, but the games do not have meaning just yet...As for Marion the Barbarian he may be just what the Doctor ordered for ChiTown’s running game...Barber runs with purpose and intensity...The Bears O-Line is decent-at-best so the holes for the RB are not exactly gaping...Barber has been a great backfield-mate more often than not in his career and he gets teamed with 4th year RB Matt Forte to provide a legit ground game for Martz/Lovie...This is an 11 win 2010 team who should see upswings on O

4 of the Bears opening 6 games are in Chicago...There are teams like Hotlanta and Green Bay during that stretch, but also teams like Carolina and Minnesota...NFC North cross-over AFC Division in 2011 is AFC West...In the AFC West we would likely agree that the Division is top-heavy with SD and KC as the class of the Division, with Jokeland and Denver among the NFL’s worst team...The schedule really works in Bears favour as the games vs tough SD and KC are both in Chicago, while Denver and Jokeland should provide easy (at least easier) road games

A sensational D (#4 in NFL last season) coupled with an improving O, and a favourable schedule, have me believing this team will not regress by 3 wins this season (11 W’s in 2010, would have to dip by 3 games to give us a loss here...I don’t see it coming!)...I think the Bears are entering a 3-4 year window of relevance in the NFL

St Louis Rams UNDER 7.5

I feel like I am in the minority here when I predict an UNDER for the 2011 St Louis Rams...The 2010 Rams were led by (then) rookie QB Sam Bradford and they improved from winning 6 games total the past 3 seasons (YIKES) to a 2010 tally of 7...To think that this team is on the rise looks accurate enough, especially in the potentially brutal NFC West...So why the UNDER pick?!?!  Let’s take a look...
OUT is O-Coordinator Pat Shurmur (now Head Coach in Cleveland) and his replacement is disgraced Broncos ex-Head Coach Josh McDaniels...This guy was great under Bill Belichick as his O-C in New England, but McDaniels’ tenure in Denver, especially his player-personnel decisions, were laughable...so A) OUT goes O-C that sparked success with Bradford, so getting new O-C IN is likely going to have a built-in time to adjust/learn/progress...and B) have I mentioned that I have little faith in Josh McDaniels?!?!

The schedule makers have the UNDER I can tell you that!  They did not do this Rams team any favours...The 2011 Rams sched looks more like it should be the test for the defending Champs or something like that...This Rams team averages 3 wins over the past 4 seasons, yet they have Philly, NY Giants, and Baltimore right out of the gate...Coming out of a Week 5 BYE they are @ Green Bay, then @ Dallas, followed by a home game vs New Orleans...Things get easier Weeks 10 through 13, but a Christmas Eve date @ Pittsburgh could be enough to deflate any potential late-season spurt

The only chance I see for the Rams to get OVER the 7.5 is if they establish complete dominance in their Division in the 6 games they will play vs NFC West foes San Fran, Seattle, and Arizona...This team could do this one day, and could find a way through schemes etc to be a legit O under O-C McDaniels, but it does seem to me that the Rams climb to the Best in the West could take a bit of time still despite 2010 success

Tampa Bay Buccaneers OVER 8

Head Coach Raheem Morris enters season #3 of his rebuilding project in TB...a 3-13 debut season in 2009 was followed by a 7 win improvement (largest in team history) in 2010 as the Bucs went 10-6 and just missed qualifying for the Post-Season

Morris has a O, and a D on the rise...The running game was very solid in 2010, and Josh Freeman is on the rise big-time into status of legit starting NFL QB...2010 rookie RB LeGarrette Blount surpassed Cadillac Williams as the teams #1 guy (1,000+ yards, plus gaudy 5.0 Yards Per Carry for Blount as a rookie) and fellow rookie Mike Williams had a fantastic rookie season at WR (led team in Receiving Yards, and twice as many Receiving TD’s as any other Buc)...Of the skill-positions on O it is Freeman (26 games) who is the veteran as they are y-o-u-n-g on Morris’ O (but improving rapidly)

On D Morris had a very good Secondary in 2010, but a Front 7 that struggled to stop the run...The D-Line should receive major boosts from rookies Adrian Clayborn, and Da’Quan Bowers, plus this is now the third Training Camp for Morris to really continue to implement his strategies/schemes which should help TB continue to improve Team D (#27 ranked D in Morris’ 2009 debut season, then all the way up to #17 in 2010...#? for 2011?!?!)

The 2011 Bucs schedule opens with 3 of the first 4 games at Raymond James Stadium (Detroit, and a potentially Manning-less Colts team are part of that stretch)...Weeks 6 through 11 look daunting (New Orleans twice, Chicago, Houston, Green Bay, with a BYE in there) but the final 6 games of the season have 4 likely non-Playoff opponents (Carolina twice, Jacksonville, and Tennessee)...The Bucs went just 4-4 at home in 2010 (that # should improve IMO which would give the Bucs a great chance to get OVER the Total of 8)

A T-O-N of young, high-upside, talent on both sides of the ball in Tampa Bay...That talent is being coached up by Morris and as a result I am expecting a step forward from the 2011 Bucs, while the majority seems to be anticipating a step backwards from Morris’ squad

craig.ballard@hotmail.com ... follow me on twitter @CraigBallard77

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sep 1 Sports Talk

 All 32 NFL Team Win Total Over/Under picks

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk Aug 25

The week that was (NFL and NBA)...NCAA pay-for-play...Jays Talk

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk Aug 18

Top 10 under-the-radar NFL moves...Richard Garner...Jays talk

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk Aug 11

RANT & RAGE on espn "Man in white...Jays cheating" article, and Steve Williams...NFL schedule intricacies...Jim Day (www.GOAheadscore.com) talks NFL Fantasy Football Sleepers and Reapers...Jays talk

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk Aug 4

NBA/NFL week-that-was...Good, Bad, Ugly of MLB pennant races...a few NFL Team Win Total Over/Under picks, plus Jays talk

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk Jul 28

Good, Bad, Ugly of NFL free agent moves...Stevie Baggs jr...Jays talk & MLB Trade-Deadline

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk July 21

 MLB All-Value vs All-Bust team...NFL draft picks of note...Jays talk

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk July 14

 Roger Clemens trial...MLB Division race talk...NFL free-agents...MLB All-Star talk

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk July 7

 Historic look at NBA big-men...Paul Bromby (Sportsnet Producer) talks NHL and NBA...

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Sports Talk June 30

 NBA Lockout issues...MLB up-and-coming players...Top 10 by the #'s mid-way point of MLB season

Just copy and paste this address into your internet address bar, or highlight the address and use the "Open Link" option...Enjoy (I hope!!!)


Monday, August 1, 2011


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lawrence Frank

By many accounts YOUR TORONTO RAPTORS have narrowed their Head Coach search to either Mavs Assistant Dwane Casey, or Celtics Assistant Lawrence Frank...For many of you to have the final 2 not have a name like Adelman, Van Gundy, or perhaps even a Shaw or Budenholzer (I was very hopeful that a guy like Mike Budenholzer from Gregg Popovich's Spurs bench would get a look) is disappointing/underwhelming, but it does look to me like the list does include a winner...I really like the idea that Lawrence Frank will be the next Head Coach in the T-Dot...

If you are creating a wish list for things you want the next Raps Coach to bring to the table, it may look similar to mine...I am seeing an Organization in desperate need of a culture change...Losing is an every day scenario for Raptors, and the team (and at some times the city/fans) has grown (way too) accustom to it...Excuses and same mistakes day-in, day-out is what we see from the Raps these days...The Bryan Colangelo era has been heavy with explanations as to why the club fails on a regular basis, but very light with actual improved results...Much (way too much IMO) is being made about what a nice guy Jay Triano is, but I submit to you that is more to do with the timing of him being relieved of his Coaching duties (after the season was over and Raps fans were removed from the nightmare of these past seasons), more than Raps fans taking themselves back to the past 2 seasons and re-living the horror/frustration/unacceptable play and results from Triano-coached squads...Little development, same mistakes repeated, uninspired late-game play calls were all too present in the Triano era...I want a coach that does not care what the name on the back of your jersey is, doesn't care what your salary structure is, doesn't care if you have or have not brought it in the past, doesn't care where you were drafted...I want a coach that wants the 5 hardest working guys on the roster to be the 5 repping the Raps on the floor...I believe Lawrence Frank fits the bill...I believe Frank will be a coach that is committed to Team D, and will play the 5 guys willing to put forth the necessary effort on the D end to compete on a nightly basis in the Association...

I am also looking for a coach with a history in the NBA...Again we see that Lawrence Frank gets a check mark in this column too...Frank served as Nets Head Coach from 2004 - 2009, and led the team to the play-offs 4 times...In the BC-era the Raps have won 3 play-off games (3-8), while Frank has 18 play-off W's under his belt...A bonus mark IMO goes to Frank as he is one of the rare coaches out there who would understand what the potential is for the Raptors in this city, and in this country...4 of Frank's 18 play-off W's came in a 2007 4-2 series win over the Raps...I have maintained for a while now that the city of Toronto is all dressed up with nowhere to go when it comes to their sports teams...Torontonians are dying to explode with passion and fan-atical support for one of their teams, but the winning in this city just has not been there...If you have ever been to one of the (rare) Raps home play-off games then you know that the atmosphere is electric...I have been there for LOSSES and I could not hear myself think...Remember the rep that ARCO Arena had in the early 2000's for the Sacramento Kings?!?!  Toronto and the ACC is sure to be elevated to that elite level, but a MAJOR issue is of course that the play-offs games do not exist these days...Frank will surely have been struck with how special the Raps fan base is from that '07 experience...

The past 2 season the Raps gave up 105+ points per game each season...yikes...Significantly way too much...Frank's teams are in the top-half of the Association for Team D on a regular basis, even in the Top 6 multiple times...When the C's lost Tom Thibodeau from Doc Rivers' bench to become the Bulls Head Coach the task of becoming the new "D-Coordinator" in Boston went to Lawrence Frank whom the Celtics hired to fill the big shoes left vacant by Thibodeau...Frank actually helped the C's move to the very top of the best Team D list, and shaved points off of already impressive 2009, and 2010 season #'s

The late-game plays "executed" by the Raps under Triano were lame at best...Either Triano and his staff were clueless on how to draw up last-minute plays, or they were good at it but lacked the respect from the players to be sure that they executed the instructions from the boss...Either way the results were laughable...Lawrence Franks has been known for very astute and creative last-minute strategies which could add immediately to improving the Raps W vs L success

The past 3 coaches for the Raps have had the job with Toronto be their first ever Head Coaching job...All 3 (Kevin O'Neal, Sam Mitchell, and Jay Triano) will never be a Head Coach in the Association ever again, so clearly 3 swings-and-misses...Frank does not seem like a risk to me like trying to unearth the next NBA great coach that just needs a chance (The Warriors recently went that route with Mark Jackson...The T-Wolves may be regretting their choice of Kurt Rambis...The next "up-and-coming" coach thing rarely works in the NBA)...

If you are Bryan Colangelo then I think your sense of urgency to get a legit NBA Head Coach who brings a legit resume to the table is high...BC's extension is only for 2 years with a Club Option for the 3rd year...If the results of BC trying to fix the mess that he made are not swift and obvious then there is no way MLSE exercises the 3rd year Option, and perhaps cuts ties with BC even sooner than that...I would bet $$$ that when MLSE was meeting with BC to grant him his contract extension that they were clear there was no way they were about to re-up with the same Management team that was responsible for these past few brutal seasons ie "BC, you may stay...for now...but let's be crystal clear in our expectations for the next Raps Head Coach...We INSIST that you make a significantly more inspired hire than you have in the past"

It may be perceived that me writing a blog entry about Lawrence Franks being the next Raps coach is me jumping the gun as he is not the coach at this point...Well consider me Bart Simpson and the "gun" is Springfield Gorge because I am jumping the hell out of it!  I believe this hiring will be the best piece (only piece arguably) of good news for Raps fans in a long time...Lawrence Franks would be an inspired hire who has the skill set to be a legit answer to many of the woes for us long-suffering Raps fans...


craig.ballard@hotmail.com ...follow me on Twitter @craigballard77

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 NBA Finals

2006 NBA Championship rematch Miami Heat vs Dallas Mavericks...D-Wade vs Disco Dirk II...Pat Riley vs Mark Cuban II...Of course round II also features brand new names to the big stage as the only other returners are Jason Terry for the Mavs, and Udonis Haslem for the Heat...LeBron James has been to the Finals once before, but guys like Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler make their Finals debut...Even the Coach match-up is different - go from Riley vs Avery Johnson to Erik Spoelstra vs Rick Carlisle

The story is well known of how this Heat team was built in the 2010 summer-o-fun in the Association...This Mavs team had been bounced in Round 1 in 3 of the last 4 seasons, they added Tyson Chandler to be their last line of defence, and re-signed Brendan Haywood

These are 2 teams that were very similar in how they won games in the regular season...Both teams put D-first...Both teams defended the 3-point shot very well...Neither team created a ton of turnovers, but both teams forced tough shots (that part really continued in the playoffs for both teams)...Similar rebounding squads too

On O again we have similarities...Both teams had great regular season FG %...Both teams struggled to be effective on the offensive glass...Both teams averaged over 100 points per game

The Mavs beat the Heat both times they played this season...Normally looking at 2 games in a 82 game schedule is short-sighted, but it is interesting to note that the only 2 losses the Heat had in a 22-2 run from the end of November '10 through the beginning of 2011 were to Dallas...Actually the Mavs have won the last 14 times these 2 teams have played in the regular season...What really stood out in the 2 meetings this season was the crazy level of the back-and-fourth runs...NBA is normally a game of runs, but these two teams were colliding and trading mega runs...14-2, 13-0, 17-0, 10-0, 12-0 kind of runs...One thing that will be significantly different in the Finals is the Mavs will be without Caron Butler, who was great in both W's this season vs Miami...D-Wade was very good for Miami in both games

Miami won exactly 1 more game than Dallas in the regular season so Games 1,2,6,7 will be in South Florida, with Games 3,4,5 in the Lone Star State (NBA Finals only series in sports that switches from 2,2,1,1,1 format to 2,3,2)...In the 2006 series the Mavs cruised at home to W's in Game 1 and 2, but the Heat took full advantage of the format change that had them with Game 3,4,5 at home (all Miami W's)...This season it will be Dallas with the opportunity to host the middle 3 and potentially take control of the series

Miami has played teams in this playoff run that can defend as well (perhaps better) as Dallas, but they have not played a team that can shoot as well...The Mavs have buried the Blazers, Lakers, Thunder with long range bombs and the Heat will need to have an emphasis on perimeter D...Of the 3 opponents the Heat have dispatched it is likely the Celtics that best resemble Dallas on the perimeter as far as ability/potential and Miami was bad in their D attack vs the shooters in that series...The thing is Miami was so much better in every other area that the D issues on the shooters was not exposed...That would be dangerous against Dallas...The Mavs have so many more weapons, and those weapons are h-o-t...Sure Disco Dirk has been outstanding, but The Jet, Peja, J-Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Juan Barea, and The Matrix have all been major contributors for the Western Conference Champs...

For Dallas the concern is that the only 3 games they have lost in these playoffs were similar in that it took an amazing effort and huge game from an individual player to beat them...Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews, and James Harden all stepped up their game and filled the basket and led the team to a W...The Miami Heat offer D-Wade and Bron Bron, plus perhaps Chris Bosh, as guys who can put up even bigger/better games than those prev players, and the Heat Big 3 certainly has the talent to do it every game...Scary...If Miami can get a contribution from either Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem, plus get a contribution from Mike Miller and/or Mario Chalmers on the perimeter then they may be the only team capable of beating this red-hot Mavs team...The challenge for Dallas will be how do they keep ALL of LBJ, D-Wade, CB4 at livable #'s while continuing to shoot at a level high enough where they won't miss a dynamic scorer like Caron Butler...

We see challenges here for both coaches...Coaching will be huge in this series...The NBA playoffs are all about game-to-game adjustments...Kobe Bryant says the team that lost the previous game in the playoffs has the advantage next game as they know what adjustments need to be made, and they are perhaps hungrier and more focused (sense of urgency)...In 2008 I was impressed and amazed as the in-game, and game-to-game adjustments that Doc Rivers made were better than legend Phil Jackson...In this series I would anticipate Rick Carlsile being the better coach and being able to make the better adjustments...

Miami will need their Big 3 to be superb...For me I think Dallas is shooting at a Championship level, and defending well too...Mavs have so many X-factors that can add to what you can already expect daily from Nowitzki, Kidd, and Terry (even a guy we haven't yet mentioned like DeShawn Stevenson can be streaky and get hot)...Dallas too deep...Dallas too well coached...Dallas in 5


Twitter @craigballard77

Sunday, May 15, 2011

ABC's of MLB at the 1/4 pole

We are at the 1/4 Pole in MLB and I thought we could take a look together at the ABC's of the first 1/4...

A is for Alvarez, Pedro...The Pirates 3B is hitting .200 with only 1 HR, and a measly 7 RBI's...He is K'ing 4 times for every BB

Arencibia, J.P....Jays rookie C is off to brutal .229 start, but his 6 HR's are a bright spot

B is for Buck, John...ex-Jays C is hitting a brutal .226, but his 5 HR's does project to 20 for the season

Beltran, Carlos...Mets are getting a good start from Beltran as he looks to be healthy for the first time in ages... .294 avg, 8 HR's, and 24 RBI projects to 30+ HR's with 100 RBI's which is where you would expect a healthy Beltran to be

Bautista, Jose...What can you say about this guy...Since Sep 2009 Jose has been an absolute beast...His 16 HR's at the 1/4 pole put him on-pace for a 2nd straight 50+ HR season...Only 2 batters in all of MLB (Matt Joyce and Matt Holliday) have better batting average than J-Bau...Amazing stat (IMO) - Bautista has an On Base Percentage at least 40 points higher than any player in MLB...His eye and discipline at the plate have been spot on all season

C is for Cano, Robinson...Yanks 2B is one of my faves...Off to a good start at .279, 9 HR's, 25 RBI's

Chen, Bruce...Veteran lefty is winning twice as many games as he is losing for the KC Royals the past 2 seasons...Chen is off to a 4-1 start in 2011 with an impressive 3.59 era, which is 1 full run below his career average

Castro, Starling...Cubs 2nd year stud-in-the-making SS is a hitting machine and projects to get 200+ hits with his .338, 1 HR, 18 RBI start to 2011

D is for Dunn, Adam...Big fella has been a HR machine in recent years, but has struggled mightily of late...Returning from a recent Appendectomy Dunn is at just 4 HR's (It practically seemed like he hit 3 HR's in his first 3 AB's) and his batting average is a brutal .216, while he K's twice as many times as he gets a hit (and he K's more than once every game on average)...Not the #'s the White Sox are looking for from their #3 hitter

D is also for our old friend Scotty Downs...A wonderful lefty reliever who took his talents to Anaheim in the off-season and just recently came off the DL (toe then virus) and began his season...So far he is the Scotty D that we knew here in the T-Dot...10 appearances, 9 IP, 0 runs...Plus he has more K's (5) than hits allowed (4)...Guy is good

E is for Encarnacion, Edwin...Jose Bautista finished September of 2009 with a flurry of HR's that launched his success...In Sep 2010 Encarnacion was belting bombs (even in Minny where no one belts bombs) so I was excited to see if he had found his swing and we were in for a breakout 2011 from EE just like J-Bau's 2010 breakout...1/4 way through the season and EE's 0 HR's tells us the story that this guy isn't on the verge of something big, and is in fact not a MLB talent at all...

Ethier, Andre...He of the recent 30 game hitting streak...Off to a .355, 4 HR, 21 RBI start for the 3rd place Dodgers...Only 3 players in all of MLB have higher BA than Ethier

F is for Feliz, Neftali...Rangers closer is 7 for 7 in Save opportunities with a minuscule 0.79 ERA

Fielder, Prince...Big man off to nice start for the Brew Crew .288, 9, 31

Figgins, Chone...One of the all-time worst hitters in post-season history, Figgins has been miserable in the regular season since signing with Seattle...This season the #2 hitter has a .221 BA, with a horrid .267 On Base Percentage...yikes

Freeman, Freddie...Pedestrian start to his rookie season for Hotlanta's 1B ( .229, 4 HR, 12 RBI's) but he does have a swing that could be MLB caliber with seasoning

G is for Gonzalez, Adrian...I predicted video game #'s for A-Gon as a member of the BoSox...For one thing he will be playing home games at Fenway which is a significantly friendlier ballpark for hitters than Petco Park in San Diego...For another thing A-Gon would have legit MLB hitters in front, and behind him in the Boston lineup so he is going to see pitches to hit...So far so good, although the power #'s are just recently getting to where they should be (as I write this A-Gon has homered in 4 straight games)... .325 BA, 9 HR's with 34 RBI's...

Gonzalez, Carlos...The Rockies LF had a monster season, a breakthrough season, in 2010...The 1/4 pole #'s of 2011 do not look good for a repeat performance...Carlos is hitting a poor .237 with just 4 HR's and 20 RBI's...This projects to be about 1/2 as good as last season...The 2nd place Rockies need more from Carlos

H is for Halladay, Roy...Doc is off to another strong start...5-2 with a great 2.05 era and a WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) under 1 at 0.96...He has K'd more batters than he has allowed hits...Amazing stat (IMO) is Hallady has as many, or more, Complete Games than any team in MLB...wow

Hart, Corey...Career highs in 2010 have given way to injury and struggle in 2011...Hart is hitting just .234 with 0 HR's and 1 RBI in his initial 50 AB's of 2011

Hughes, Phil...Disastrous start to 2011 for Hughes...He was projected to be a great #2 behind CC Sabathia in New York, but a dead arm has forced him to the rest and rehab route...In his first start he through 55 fastballs, and none resulted in a swing and miss...When he does return from DL he will try to chip away at his horrific 13.94 era

I is for Ibanez, Raul...2010 saw a dip in production from Ibanez, and 2011 has seen that downward slide continue...A poor start has Raul at .237, 3 HR's, 16 RBI's

Inge, Brandon...Somehow the Tigers have trotted this career .236 hitter out there as an everyday player for years now...The 1/4 pole in 2011 has Inge at .198 with 1 HR and 12 RBI's despite 126 AB's...yikes

J is for Joyce, Matt...AL leader in BA (.360) and projects to 20 HR's and 70 RBI's...Not bad for a 3rd year player looking to show his value as an everyday OF (likely helped that Man-Ram was gone so soon into start of season...helped to give Joyce an opportunity for AB's early and often)

Johnson, Josh...Cy Young candidate at the 1/4 pole...3-1 with a teeny tiny 1.63 era, and an amazing WHIP of 0.90...WAY more IP than hits allowed...WAY more K's than hits allowed...

K is for Kimbrel, Craig...22 year old Braves closer is 9 for 12 in Save opportunities, and has a whopping 30 K's in his 18.2 IP

L is for Latos, Mat...The Padres would-be ace has begun his 3rd MLB campaign in miserable form...0-5 with a 4.86 era...Latos giving up about 1.5 more runs per game than the standard he set last 2 seasons...23 year old was hoping to take next step this season and establish himself as perennial Cy Young candidate, but so far things have been tough for Latos...His K's are still there, but he is yielding way more hits than usual

Lind, Adam...Jays 1B is banged up currently, but at the 1/4 pole he has impressive #'s with a .313 BA, 7 HR's, and 27 RBI's

M is for Marcum, Shaun...ex-Jay is at 4-1 with an impressive 2.72 era, plus an impressive 1.09 WHIP for the Brew Crew

Martinez, Victor...No matter what team V-Mart is the C for, he produces...Detroit is getting a strong start from V-Mart  with a .330 BA, 4 HR's, and 23 RBI's

McCutheon, Andrew...Pirates still waiting for this 24 year old to get his level of play up to where his potential is...Decent power #'s at 1/4 pole with 7 HR's and 7 doubles, but just 19 RBI's and a bad .234 BA have the jury still out on this kids career potential

N is for Napoli, Mike...Napoli was an Angel, then a Jay, then a Ranger in a matter of days this past off-season...His 6 HR's are decent, but his 16 RBI's leaves a lot to be desired, and his .197 BA is downright bad

Nolasco, Ricky...The Marlins pitchers will always take a backseat to Josh Johnson, but Nolasco has had a terrific first 25% of 2011...3-0 with an ERA that is impressive at 3.02, and a WHIP that is impressive at 1.08

Nova, Ivan...Yanks rookie has not produced very well in first 1/4 of season...3-3 with a bad 4.70 ERA...Nova is giving up a ton of hits in his rookie campaign...

O is for Ogando, Alexi...This 2nd year Rangers hurler (starting pitcher this season, 2010 he was relief pitcher) is 4-0 with a great ERA of 2.06 and a great WHIP of 0.89...WAY less hits allowed than IP, and more K's than hits allowed too...Impressive first 25% of 2011 for Ogando

Ordonez, Magglio...Horrid start to the season for the 37 year old Tigers vet...Currently on DL after a .172 BA, 1 HR, 5 RBI start to 2011 (yikes)

P is for Pena, Carlos...The former slugger is off to a brutal start for the Cubs...At the 1/4 pole Pena is on pace to hit just 12 HR's this season (yikes), while his BA is at .208 (yikes again)

Pence, Hunter...Astros OF is off to a really nice start to 2011... .296 BA, 5 HR's with 31 RBI's

Perez, Chris...The surprise team of 2011 at the 1/4 pole is likely the 1st place Cleveland Indians...Perez has successfully closed out 10 of the 11 Save opportunities he has had, which projects to 40 saves and a monster season

Q is for Qualls, Chad...Reliever for the Padres is doing a remarkable job so far in 2011...Already a whopping 20 appearances...His WHIP currently is at 1.01 - lowest in his career

R is for Ramirez, Hanley...Marlins SS has perennial MVP candidate kind of game, but 2011 has been a struggle so far...25% of the way in and to see Hanley at just .216, 2 HR, 14 RBI is really surprising/disappointing

Reynolds, Mark...A HR machine in the NL, but only 4 HR's for the Orioles so far in 2011...He was always a K machine too...One of the all-time worst for striking out, but this season he does have that down to 1 K per game (he usually K's 1.5 times per game on average)...His .179 BA is pretty much the definition of yikes

S is for Saltalamacchia, Jarrod...The BoSox are getting things together as a team lately, but the C spot has yet to produce in 2011...At the 1/4 pole Salty has appeared in 26 games and has just 16 hits (.208 BA) and has just 8 RBI's with as many HR's as you or I have (which is to say none, zero, zilch, nada)

Santos, Sergio...27 year old 2nd year reliever is now getting the chance to close games for Ozzie Guilen and the White Sox...So far so good...4 for 4 in Save opportunities, 18 IP with only 10 hits allowed while K'ing 22

Suzuki, Ichiro...By the way, Ichiro is on pace to have his 11th straight season of 200+ hits...Say word Ichiro?!?!  Soooooo damn great...Born to hit

T is for Tulowitzki, Troy...This Rockies SS has been great for a few years now...At the 1/4 pole his BA (.261) is lower than it should be, but the power #'s are sure there with 10 HR's

Tomlin, Josh...A huge part of the Tribe's early success has been Tomlin and his 4-1 record...This starter has an amazing WHIP of just 0.86, with an ERA of just 2.70

Tejada, Miguel...Career over?!?!  Brutal first 25% of 2011 for Tejada...Just 1 HR...Just 10 RBI's...Just .195 BA...yikes, yikes, and more yikes...Considering he has had 133 AB's these #'s are clearly putrid...NOT what San Fran had hoped for when it brought in Tejada this season

U is for the Upton's - Justin and BJ...Justin (Arizona) continues to struggle to play to his potential with any sort of consistency... .247 BA, 7 HR's, 19 RBI's are below his potential...As for older brother B.J. (Tampa Bay), well actually same story...Top draft pick just like Justin, but has always struggled to play to his potential...2011 is off to another poor start for B.J. hitting just .267 with 5 HR's and 24 RBI's...Both Upton's project to 20+ HR's, but neither is hitting to their potential (as usual) and neither is carrying any load of the O like they are capable of

Utley, Chase...2011 still has yet to see Chase Utley...His right knee has not allowed for any MLB action so far this season

V is for Varitek, Jason...We saw earlier the brutal #'s from fellow BoSox C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but Tek's are even worse... .164 BA, 0 HR's (so BoSox got 0 HR's from C's in first 1/4 of 2011 season...yikes) and just 3 RBI's...Those brutal #'s come in nearly 60 AB's...Honestly, if I gave you 60 AB's could you do better than .164, 0, 3?!?!  I bet you could...

Victorino, Shane...The Flyin' Hawaiian is off to a very good start in 2011... .285 BA, 6 HR, 19 RBI for the 1st place Phillies

Vizquel, Omar...The 44 year old White Sox vet is hitting .324 with 5 RBI's (including 2 RBI in a recent 4-3 W)...The 22 year veteran is still finding ways to contribute to a MLB team...Impressive

W is for Weaver, Jered...Angels ace has lost 3 straight starts, but he still sports a nice 6-3 record, with a nice 2.26 ERA, and a nice 0.94 WHIP

Wells, Vernon...V-Dub is currently down with a groin issue, but his start to the Anaheim portion of his career has been a nightmare...How about a .183 BA with just 4 HR's and a measly 13 RBI's...yikes...Wells' 2011 contract pays him $26+ million, 2nd only to A-Rod...wow

Weeks, Ritchie...Brewers 2B found his power stroke in 2010, and that has continued for the first 25% of 2011 as he has gone deep 7 times, has 9 Doubles, plus his BA is an impressive .292 (that is about 40 points higher than career average)

X is for X-factors...Guys who you do not know what you will get...Feast or famine kind of guys like...

Carlos Zambrano 4-1, 4.35 ERA (Cubs)...

A.J. Burnett 4-2, 3.38 ERA (Yanks)...

Jack Cust gets time as the #4 hitter for Seattle, yet check his 1/4 pole #'s - .222 BA, 0 HR's with 11 RBI's...yikes

Hideki Matsui not doing much in his initail season with the A's... 236 BA, 3 HR's, 15 RBI's...

White Sox OF Alex Rios is hitting a brutal .200 with just 3 HR's, and a measly 10 RBI's

Red Sox DH David Ortiz usually has a terrible first 25% of any season, but so far so good in 2011... .284 BA with 6 HR's and 18 RBI's

Albert Pujols...Phat Albert is likely the games #1 hitter (perhaps these days it might be Jose Bautista with Pujols a close 2nd) but early on in 2011 Pujols is putting up very average #'s(for his standards)... .266, 7 HR's, 24 RBI's

Y is for Youkilis, Kevin...Like most BoSox the #'s haven't been so great for Youk in the first 25% of 2011...6 HR's and 22 RBI's are decent, but his .240 BA is well below his standard

Young, Chris...Arizona's CF is much like Arizona's RF (Justin Upton) as far as both guys have a ton of talent, and both have struggled to play to their potential with any sort of consistency...In the first 25% of 2011 Young's power stroke is good (8 HR's, 10 Doubles, 2 Triples) but his BA is terrible at .223...

Z is for Zobrist, Ben...Rays 2B had a monster 2009, but came back to earth in 2010...Thankfully for TB fans the first 25% of 2011 resembles the monster 2009... .294 BA, 8 HR's with 27 RBI's

Zaun, Gregg...Although I certainly disagree with a lot of what Zaunie has to say in his new role as MLB Analyst I have seen people like Peter King give great praise to Zaun on Twitter for his abilities as an analyst...I know King is more of an NFL guy, but I respect the hell out of his sports knowledge and to see him him giving props to Gregg was a major plus for Zaun in my books

craig.ballard@hotmail.com ... follow me on twitter @craigballard77

Thursday, May 12, 2011

End of Lakers?!?!

The Dallas Mavericks used sensational shooting to expose the Lakers weakness in transition D, and pick-and-roll D...Disco Dirk, Peja Stojakovic, The Jet Jason Terry et al were left wide open time and time again...They made the Lakers pay the price time and time again...The end result was the ultimate slaying of the dragon - a sweep...In the aftermath redonkulous stories (like rifts between Pau and Kobe through Kobe's wife) have been assumed, invented, blown out of proportion...The seemingly wide-spread notion that fans are finally rid of Kobe and the gang is significantly premature IMO...

For one thing the Lakers (under the leadership and ownership of Dr Jerry Buss) tend to re-load, as apposed to re-build...We can expect the team to spare no expense and spend to the max of the Salary Cap...

Pau Gasol was bad in these play-offs, but he is just 30 and he has produced way more often than not...As a Laker Pau has 128 regular-season double-doubles...He always gives the Lakers 18+ points per game...Double-digit rebounds per game...Major contributor to 3-time West Champs, and 2-time NBA Champs...Historically speaking now is not the time to cut bait on Pau Gasol...Check this previous entry regarding the best big-men ever in the NBA, and the path they took (ie what ages did they do their historic damage/create their legend)    http://craigballard77.blogspot.com/2010/08/kobe-bryant-is-running-things-in-nba.html

Andrew Bynum had his usual injury-slowed season, and had a horrible ending to his season with his ridiculous actions towards J.J. Barea...AB just completed his 6th season as a Laker and he averages missing 27 games per season...I am a believer that this 23 year old does have a huge future...Again I would point to prev blog entry from above where we see the path that the great big-men normally take...I would submit that Bynum is on that path and will be a great back-to-the-basket C in the Association for another decade...At around $14 million/year with his upside he is one of LA's more desirable assets...I would not trade Bynum, but I do see his value in the trade market...BIG future for Andrew Bynum

Both big-men had good upswings with their assist-to-turnover rate this season...Both getting more and more familiar/comfortable in the triangle...The issue for the Lakers this season was not the interior

The backcourt and small forward is surely in need of an injection of youth and athleticism...Looks like Ron Artest is already in beast mode for the off-season training and prep for next season so I would say Artest at the SF, and Kobe at the SG, leaves the upgrade to come at PG...If you are a Lakers fan then you heart Derek Fisher, but he will enter next season at the age of 37...I am underwhelmed with having Steve Blake as the answer to the back-up PG spot...In the current Association you have to have athletes capable of getting quick/easy scores...Lakers run the triangle very well, but completely rely on running half-court sets to score...They do not get easy points nearly as often as is required in this day and age...Too slow currently...

What will surely help the Lakers get back to relevance immediately is this will be the first off-season in ages where Kobe Bryant can get proper and actual training/health...No surgeries that will eliminate training...no Team USA...Lakers did not go deep into June for first time in 4 years...KB already seems to have a major handle on what he can accomplish this off-season...It has been years since Kobe scored as "poorly" as he did this season...25 points per game is KB's lowest since the turn of the century (in a season that he was not injured)...Just the time that Kobe now has makes me certain he will be "Doin' Work" in the off-season and will be stronger than he has been in ages for next season...He was clear in his exit interview that there is a difference between feeling healthy enough to play vs feeling as strong as he knows he can be...Several Lakers pointed to the lack of intensity in their practises contributing to their (sweep) exit...Injuries forced Kobe to miss most practises, and he is already warning that next season will be a healthy season and no excuses in practise/preparation for his teammates...This summer will allow for the time required for KB which should be exciting for Lakers fans...Kobe Bryant does not seem to have a sense of humor regarding the wide-spread/growing "Lakers are done",  "Kobe is done" talk...

Lamar Odom comes off the bench to provide size/length/skill...If LA really is getting a re-focused and re-vamped Ron Artest then I like the idea of bringing in an athletic SF/SG to come off the bench and inject energy in the game while giving KB or Artest a breather (Tayshaun Prince?  Rodney Stuckey?  Wilson Chandler?  All are Free Agents)...I absolutely think LA needs an athletic PG, likely a starter (I mentioned earlier that Lakers will re-load, not re-build...Could that mean the PG of the future will be a Chris Paul, or a Deron Williams?!?!)...Aaron Brooks could be an idea, although he is a Restricted Free Agent...

Ultimately this team does need to get more athletic and faster, but it does not need an overhaul...It does not need to trade assets to get Dwight Howard (D12 can go to LA after next season as a Free Agent)...Howard, D-Will, CP3 will all be on Lakers 2012 radar, but for this next season I think LA will be major players in the West, again/as usual...

Question like "Who will coach this team going forward?" and "What will they do with the upcoming 2011 roster knowing that they will actively pursue guys like Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul in 2012?" seem very legit and interesting to me...Question like "Are Lakers done?" and/or "Is Kobe done?" seem inaccurate and premature to me...

Of course Bryant and the Lakers could end up having a ton of time to train etc if the looming work-stoppage comes to fruition...Check the previous blog entry (NBA vs NBPA) to see the details of the NBA labour dispute that threatens the 2011-2012 season...

craig.ballard@hotmail.com ... follow me on twitter @craigballard77

Thursday, May 5, 2011


The 2011 NBA playoffs have been awesome...Underdogs gettin' it done...It is not all fun and games these days though...The business of sports is in discussion for all of us as NBA fans...The looming lock-out is worrisome...The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in just over 1 month, sadly the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are at odds with each other...

NBA Commissioner David Stern has been clear that the owners will lock-out the players if a new CBA cannot be agreed on, one that provides the financial swing Owners are seeking...That swing is in the $800 million per year range...NBA is projecting $300 mill in losses for this season and already put a proposal before the NBPA which called for a Hard-Cap, and a $750-$800 million swing in Owners favor...The NBPA rejected that offer taking major issue to the idea of a Hard-Cap, and with having their share of Basketball Related Income plummet from 57% currently to a proposed 41%

Also at issue is the whole idea of what gets included in Basketball Related Income...Currently broadcast rights, gate receipts, sponsorships, % of arena naming rights, proceeds from NBA properties, suites, concessions, and merchandise all add up to give a big ol' pot of $$$ called Basketball Related Income...The clash here is the NBPA wants their % of B.R.I. to remain in 57% area, and wants more revenue streams included in what makes up Basketball Related Income...The NBA wants their percentage of B.R.I. to jump to 59%, and they want a reduction in what revenue streams get included in the B.R.I. pot...

Forbes reports that 17 of the 30 NBA teams lost money...The NBA itself had to buy the New Orleans Hornets...The Sacramento Kings are very possibly, if not probably, entering their final season in SacTown...Charlotte, Indiana, New Jersey, Sac, and even a team like Orlando struggle mightily to survive under the current system, losing millions annually...From NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver "We need a system that provides all 30 teams, regardless of market size, an opportunity to compete for a championship and be profitable,"

The NBPA will point to the $100 million in increased Season Ticket sales this past year...Also the fact that ESPN, TNT and their Network partners have seen huge tv #'s, while major markets like LA, Boston, ChiTown, and Miami are all booming...They warn that a Lock-out will thwart all of that great momentum...Problem is David Stern answers with a warning of his own that the deal the NBPA rejected will be way better than the deal they come back to after a Lock-out

In the NHL vs NHLPA a few years ago we saw the NHL achieve a 24% salary roll-back when the NHLPA insisted there would be zero roll-back...In this labour dispute we see the NBA looking for around a 40% roll-back...We know this will be a major, drawn out, issue

Another major issue is the Hard Cap...Currently the NBA has a Salary-Cap, but with several Exceptions...Bi-Annual, Mid-Level Salary, and Bird Rights (amongst others) are all current examples of Exceptions, and are used frequently to help NBPA members get more $$$, and get contracts on teams that were already at the max of the Salary Cap...The NBA wants a Hard-Cap meaning once a team has spent to the Cap max then you are done in the FA market, and cannot add salary in a potential trade...This will affect so many veteran members of the NBPA that it will surely prove to be a major bone of contention

Other issues are in play too...NBA wants to eliminate Guaranteed Contracts as a way to help teams get out from under bad contracts...Of course the NBPA is screaming bloody murder on this one...Certain things like Revenue Sharing will muddy up things too...Even though it pertains to how Owners divvy up their Revenue, it still has to be approved in Collective Bargaining with the NBPA...Likely not earth-shattering, but with so many issues that will take a long time (potentially) to resolve we do not need extra things like this (and Rookie Salary Cap etc) adding to an already lengthy process...

Check the words from Billy Hunter (NBPA Executive Director) as he feels the NBA is aggressively seeking "a hard cap, a 40 percent rollback in player salaries, unlimited expense deductions and the elimination of guaranteed contracts" which Hunter says would "inevitably result in a lockout and the cancellation of part or all of the 2011-2012 season."... Hunter and the NBPA have disputed the NBA's accounting methods, and figures...The kind of rhetoric common from Union Execs in sports labor disputes 

Contraction is likely an issue owners can give in on...Stern has referenced a few times that Contraction is on the table as an option  to strengthen the on-court product, plus a reduction in teams would help with the bottom-line for the Association...The Owners though could find viable relocation options to revive certain Franchises, rather than cut them (we could see a 3rd team in LA after next season)

A side-storyline I will be watching is how will the prominent NBPA members view a work-stoppage?!?!  Guys like Kobe Bryant, KG, Jesus Shuttleworth aka Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobli are already on the other side of 30 years old and cannot afford to just have 1 season taken away at this point...How about the guys that are on fire, the current IT-guys like Zach Randolph, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant etc...How will they react to having a season stripped from them when they are so hot?  I could see a guy like Dwight Howard, perhaps even a Deron Williams not being overly-concerned as they are likely looking to bolt their current teams after next season anyway...If the Big 3 in Miami cannot produce a Title this season then they will be on pins and needles watching the bargaining play out (if they do not win  a Title this year then worst-case-scenario is Owners get a major W in the new CBA which could include Hard-Cap which would make any upgrades to their supporting cast extremely difficult)

If there was a sign (IMO) that points to players/agents being scared shitless of how the new CBA will finally look it was the Melo trade...Melo wanted to play for the Knicks, and he wanted the 3 year, $60 million Extension on the table...Melo knows for a player to make $60 mill in new CBA it will take 5+ years, and he knows new CBA may have a Franchise Tag (similar to that of NFL) which would allow the Nuggets to keep him in Denver...Why else get the Knicks to trade several potential teammates as you could just sign with the Knicks in the off-season, and why depart the West to go to the top-heavy East now?!?!  Melo knew this was his only way to guarantee he could be a Knick

For me, the rhetoric and the issues are consistent with that of a Lock-out, so I (sadly) think we are in for a work-stoppage...

As per usual it is us, the fans, that will truly suffer through this labour dispute...Multi-billionaires arguing with Multi-millionaires over how to divvy the spoils of an industry that brings in billions annually...Good luck to us all

craig.ballard@hotmail.com follow me on twitter @craigballard77

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Heat vs Celtics

NBA fans rejoice...The b-ball Gods have smiled on us again...Twice in the last 3 seasons we have been treated to Celtics-Lakers rivalry renewed in the Finals...This year we get a 2nd Round match-up that has the hype and potential worthy of a NBA Finals

On June 28, 2007 the Boston Celtics traded Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and #5 overall pick (Jeff Green) to the Seattle Super Sonics (remember them?!) for Ray Allen (Big Baby Glen Davis also came to Boston in that deal so damn fine deal for ex-Jays player Danny Ainge)...July 31, 2007 the C's traded a record 7 players to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett...Jesus Shuttleworth aka Ray Allen and KG became teammates with resident Celtic Paul Pierce and the original Big 3 was created...

July 7, 2010 Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade go on espn to announce they will be signing and re-signing with the Miami Heat...July 8, 2010 LeBron James has his ill-conceived "Decision" show to announce he is taking his talents to South Beach...The backlash creates the Miami Hate...New Big 3 is created

As fans we all hoped the playoff seeding would allow for a meeting of Heat/Celtics and here we go!

Boston was the better team in winning the first 3 regular season match-ups, then Miami laid a beat-down in the 4th and final reg season meeting...That lone Heat win was vs a C's team that was in their usual boredom-mode as the season was winding down...C's are built for the playoffs...Heat are being tested for the first time

Question #1 for the Celtics will be what level can they get to on the defensive end...The C's are down Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen from previous playoff runs...Those guys were really great fits to the Team D that the C's used to win 2 Eastern Conference Titles, and 1 NBA Title in the past 3 years...This could really sting vs a talent like Dwayne Wade...Ray Allen will need a ton of help with Wade...One thing that the C's do so well on O is run defenders like Wade through multiple physical screens which could help slow him on O...To replace Perkins the Celtics will need Shaq and Nenad Krstic to go with (a hopefully healthy and rejuvenated) Jermaine O'Neal to give depth and consequences in the paint...

On the offensive end the Celtics provide a rare scoring answer to all of Miami's Big 3...Allen can score with Wade...Pierce can score with Bron Bron...KG can score with Bosh...Scoring with any of Miami's Big 3 is a tough task of course, but PP/KG/Jesus Shuttleworth have been putting the ball in the net for ages...The C's eliminated Wade's Heat and LBJ's Cavs in 2010 largely on the strength of the Rajon Rondo coming out party...Rondo was able to dribble anywhere he wanted, and able to create any passing or shooting angle he wanted...That is one of the main reasons I have been confused as to why would Wade and LBJ sign with Miami?Mario Chalmers is the answer to Rajon Rondo?!?!  I am underwhelmed by the addition of Mike Bibby too...The key player will be Rondo (ironically not one of the Big 3) and his ability to get Allen, Pierce, and KG the ball in scoring positions, plus his ability to drive past defenders and create in the paint...If Rondo ever adds a jumper to his game he will be unreal

For the Heat you can expect Wade and James to be great every game...A key will be Chris Bosh...The individual CB4 vs KG match-up was won by KG in the 4 regular season games...17 points per game with 9 rebounds per game for KG vs 15 ppg and 8 rpg for Bosh...Miami is getting contributions these days from Canadian Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but Bosh has to be better than KG and give the Heat a "win" in that match-up...Bosh's +/- in the losses to Boston this season were brutal...A major wild-card for the Heat frontcourt is the potential return of co-captain Udonis Haslem...In November 2010 Haslem ruptured a ligament in his foot and expects to return for Round 3 (he hopes as early as Round 2)...Haslem is a rare asset on this roster that can hang with the physicality that the C's play with

We will mention the obvious that Wade and James need to be amazing in this series...We will mention the obvious that both are capable of being amazing...It does need to be mentioned that this Heat team got a ton of W's this season by blowing teams out...Their record in close games is a pathetic 6-15 (close game is game decided by 5 or fewer points)...Heat's late game shooting has been bru-tal...We can analyze this series forever, but if the late-game shooting continues on its retched path the Heat will be bounced...The majority of the games in Round 2 going forward will be decided by 5 points or less...The Heat's chance to blow out the C's is if they can get Mario Chalmers to stay hot...Chalmers, and guys like James Jones and Mike Miller, will have to significantly contribute from 3-ball land to give the Heat enough spread to open a lead that would knock out the Celtics...The playoff/let's dominate switch seems to have been flicked ON again for Doc Rivers and his crew so the Heat need to understand that a complete team effort will be required to win 4 games before Boston can

On the defensive end the Heat will likely see a lot of guys playing out of position...This is because they will not be able to survive to even a Game 6 if they just have Chalmers and Bibby to deal with Rondo...Multiple looks will be required using multiple players to try to slow Rondo...The actual defender on RR is only the beginning, the 4 other defenders better accorder une attention aussi...Especially the big men as RR is able to beat any defender off the dribble and penetrate into the lane for passes and kick-outs to open shooters so guys like Bosh, Anthony, Big Z (and perhaps Haslem) need to be alert and ready/able to close on that shooter to contest the open shots that RR creates...The other reason that Heat players will play out of position is that this team will surely need Mike Miller to score and contribute to win this series...Miller plays both the SF and SG positions which of course are spoken for by D-Wade and LeBron James so when the Heat want or require all 3 on the floor adjustments have to made on the D end

These 2 teams both have brutal benches...I would say that when Jeff Green comes off the Boston bench he is the only sub that has a chance to significantly impact any game...Each team has specialists off the bench like Dampier (interior D and 6 fouls to give) Miller/Jones/Eddie House (3-balls) for the Heat and O'Neal/Krstic (size) plus Glen Davis (scoring and effort) for Boston, but only Green has the potential to contribute on both ends of the floor

Nothing to compare with the coaches...Doc Rivers has been amazing these past 3 years and will be in heavy demand after he retires from the C's, while Erik Spoelstra will not be in South Beach for much longer and when he is dismissed he will not be in demand at all...Complete opposites here...

Ultimately the C's may need their Big 3, plus Rondo, plus maybe even one or both of the O'Neal's to win this series, but I do them getting this done...Celtics in 6


follow me on twitter @craigballard77

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Raps summer 2011

We have looked in previous blog entries at the miserable job Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has done with this roster...Mistake after mistake for BC and his staff...The result is a roster going forward that has too much youth, and too little up-side...The core is Bargnani (25), DeMar DeRozan (22), Ed Davis (21), Amir Johnson (23), James Johnson (24), and Jerryd Bayless (22)...Linas Kleiza (26) could perhaps also be a Raptors player/contributor going forward...I see a lot of potential pieces to the puzzle there, but do we see a Superstar capable of leading this franchise to the play-offs annually?!?  Likely not...

Sonny Weems and Reggie Evans will likely seek employment elsewhere this summer (Weems is a Restricted FA...Evans is an Unrestricted FA), while Leandro Barbosa will surely exercise his Player Option to remain a Rap for at least 1 more season due to the uncertainty of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (will there be a season next year?!?!  Barbosa cannot chance passing up the $7+ million Players Option for 2011-2012 season as who knows if he can get a # like that in the new CBA)...

Things get even scarier for the Raps Salary Cap in 2012-2013 as they already have $30+ mill in guaranteed salaries for that season with Jose Calderon set to make 10+ mill that season, so is Bargnani...Kleiza and Amir will combine for $10+ mill that season too...That is a lot of guaranteed cash for a lot of question mark players...Even if Bargs improves, and Kleiza and Amir are worthy NBA contributors, the $10+ mill for Calderon is clearly a blunder...That means Jose makes Rajon Rondo/D-Rose $$$ while playing at about 16% of the level those guys play at...blunder...

MLSE has seen Raptors attendance drop every year for several years in a row now so they cannot count on getting extra $$$ from us, they need to work on ways to move some of these contracts as the way to add talent to the roster...

The miserable season we just endured may have a sequel if the Raps are not able to trade either of Bargnani or Calderon...The plan is likely to try and deal both, and have Weems and Evans leave via FA...Lofty goals, but at that point you will have $$$ to spend on FA, or enough wiggle room to involve yourself in a trade(s)...

Here are some FA's that will be available this summer...Do any of them catch your eye for the T-Dot?!?!

Potential Raptors if they cannot clear any further Salary Cap space to what they have now (after paying for the upcoming Draft picks the Raps are likely somewhere in the 5-8 mill range for FA $$$) include -

Glen Davis...A big-man with heart and hustle...Almost like a Reggie Evans, but Davis
can score the ball too

Tyson Chandler...Raps went hard after Chandler in the trade market last summer, and he can surely be a major upgrade to the Raps interior D...

DeAndre Jordan...Jordan is a Restricted FA so the Clippers would have a chance to retain him regardless of any other teams interest...This guy would be a great fit going forward...stud-in-the-making so why not head to Canada and rep an entire Country...

Shane Battier...Could be great veteran fit for this young core, and unlike any current Raps player Battier is a terrific defender...

Marc Gasol...legit NBA C...double-double player

Samuel Dalembert...A Canadian shot-blocker would be a quick fan-fav around here...(side note...speaking of Canadians if Colangelo is still the GM after June 30/11 then expect him to go after Steve Nash via trade, or Nash becomes a FA after next season...Makes way too much sense to have Nash end his career in Canada)

Has Kris Humphries done enough to impress you with the Nets that you would welcome him getting starter minutes in Toronto?  It would mean the Kardashian's would be in Toronto much much more which sounds good...

The 76ers have 2 wonderful young big-men set to be Restricted FA's this summer in Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes...

Greg Oden...At the right price I would take a chance on Oden...He is a legit 7-footer whose injury issue has been major so we would of course be looking hard at medical reports...Most have written off his career, but 7-foot height cannot be taught so I am not yet willing to write-off this 23 year old

DeShawn Stevenson...He has contributed to Dallas off the bench, and recently getting starter minutes

Nick Young is a wonderful scorer, but is Restricted

If the Raps are successful in trading Calderon or Bargnani (or perhaps both) then that puts these guys on the radar as potential FA signings...

Tayshaun Prince...very consistent scorer

Zach Randolph...Appears to be a major doofus, but he can really score and rebound in the post

Andrei Kirilenko...I am a fan of AK47...I feel he brings a lot to the table...Many dimensions to his game

Aaron Brooks...Restricted FA...With Nash almost done his career it is extremely likely that the Suns made the Dragic-for-Brooks swap with Houston to have Brooks be there PG going forward, but a man can dream can't he?!?!

Rodney Stuckey...One of the more under-the-radar guys in the Association...Horrible 3-point shooter, but he brings just about everything else to the table

Kenyon Martin...K-Mart addresses the need for intensity and effort in the paint

Jamal Crawford...What I love about Jamal is he scores regardless of if he starts, or comes off the bench...Rare to have someone score/produce in any scenario

Wilson Chandler...23 year old scorer who will only get better

Caron Butler...dynamic scorer...I have been a fan of Butler for a while now

Jeff Green...Restricted FA is a scorer

We see a lot of talent here, and I would suggest every name listed would be an upgrade for the Raps...Step one has to be the trade market to see if you can free any additional Cap Space as currently the room to add FA's is not much...Step two is to get your head out of your ass BC and stop giving FA dough to the likes of Jason Kapono, Linas Kleiza, Jamario Moon, Maceo Baston, Will Soloman, and Hassan Adams...

As Raps fans we are left (as usual) to play the wait-and-see game...Let's hope for a great summer of clear roster improvements...Go Raptors Go

craig.ballard@hotmail.com ...follow me on twitter @craigballard77

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NBA Playoff Preview


#1 Chicago Bulls vs #8 Indiana Pacers

The Bulls flourished in their inaugural season of the Tom Thibodeau era...Longtime readers of the blog will remember last year when we talked about the idea that the Raps should try to hire Thibodeau as he was the next up-an-coming guru...We know they did not try to get Thibodeau (the 2011 result was Raps win 22 games while Chicago won their 22nd game on Jan 1) but ChiTown did and they are reaping the rewards...

62 Bulls W's...9 straight to finish the season...Top seed in the East...Michael Jordan telling Chicago fans they may win another 6 Titles with this current group...It all adds up to wow...A TON of press/attention for the MVP likelihood for Derrick Rose...Marvelous season by Rose...We mentioned a few months ago that we would follow Rose very closely after Kobe made the comments of how impressed he gets with young talent that are advance enough to recognize the areas of improvements needed in their game, and then put in the work in the off-season to improve...Kobe said Rose clearly is worthy of that praise...Now let's understand that Chicago is hardily a one-man show...DEEP squad...The big 3 of Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng give the Bulls 50 points per game...Joakim Noah was injured for half of the season, but when healthy he averages a double-double...The role players after those 4 like Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Omer Asik, and Kurt Thomas all provide skill and depth for the Bulls...This team was wonderful on D under Thibodeau...#2 points allowed...#2 point differential...#1 Field Goal % D... #1 3-point FG% D

The Pacers also enter the playoffs with a first-time Head Coach...Frank Vogel took over for the fired Jim O'Brien on Jan 30/11 and led the team to a 20-18 record to end the season...Danny Granger (who the Raps should have drafted instead of Joey Graham) is a scorer, and the Pacers get 10+ ppg from Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Tyler Hansbrough, and Roy Hibbert...Hibbert also gives the D a boost as a defender at the rim (1.8 blocks per game for the former Raptors draft pick)...Brandon Rush, Paul George, Josh McRoberts, and A.J. Price also provide depth

There are some nice pieces in place going forward for Indiana, but they will surely be overwhelmed by this Bulls team that is deep, and firing on all cylinders...Bulls in 4

#2 Miami Heat vs #7 Philadelphia 76ers

Coming into the 2010-2011 season many wondered if the Heat would surpass the 1995-1996 Bulls record of 72-10...The Heat won 58 games...You know me, I never understood why if you want to win a Championship then how was Miami the team to join for the Big 3?!?!  How is Mario Chalmers a Champ PG?!?!  How can you get a frontcourt in Miami that will be better than Boston, Chicago, or Orlando?!?!  Those questions may not come into play in Round 1, but that doesn't mean we should just sleep on this Sixers squad...

Philly is led by Elton Brand who gave the team a full season for the first time since joining them 3 years ago...Brand leads the O at 15 ppg...After Brand there are an impressive 5 players that average 10+ points per game for Philly...Brand, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday (emerging 2nd year PG), and Jody Meeks (also a good 2nd year Guard) all score for the starting unit, while Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams are fantastic off the bench combining for 25 ppg...Add young C Spencer Hawes, and rookie Evan Turner and we see a lot of young, high-upside talent for this organization going forward...Head Coach Doug Collins (who also should have been given a look by the Raps to run their team) has done a terrific job with Philly, and he gets a lot of help from a great staff with former NBAers like Michael Curry and Aaron McKie, as well as former Marquette and D-Wade coach Quin Snyder...Iguodala is a wonderful perimeter defender and should give Wade and LeBron fits in this series, but of course only one at a time...

That is the thing with the Heat - they will be poor at the PG and C positions, good at the PF spot, but amazing at the SG and SF thanks to Wade and Bron Bron...Of the Big 4 (Miami-Boston-Orlando-Chicago) the Heat may have the toughest test in Round 1 as this Sixers team may be young enough to not understand that they are supposed to lose this series handily...They may be able to provide the Heat with a test...For Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra this is an opportunity to show his players that this is a test right out of the gate and get his guys to embrace playoff basketball right away...That may provide a competitive edge for the Heat in Round 2 as they will have survived a battle, while their opponent is possibly dealing with fools gold having easily dispatched an inferior Round 1 opponent...

For the Heat to advance they need to get their last-second blunders figured out...This team was dreadful in the last 10 seconds of games with shots to tie or win a game...This team was also dreadful in games decided by 5 points or less (one the worst in the NBA)...For me the key in this series will be Bosh and the combined play of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, and (if he can play) Erick Dampier...The key to beat the Heat is to be great at defending the rim so that you turn them into a jump-shooting team...This 76ers team has a tremendous future, but they are not equipped right now to turn Miami into a one-dimensional jump-shooting team which will ultimately be the difference in this series...Miami in 5

#3 Boston Celtics vs #6 New York Knicks

Wow...Do we see some intrigue folks?!?!  Great D vs great O...Boston with original Big 3 in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce vs the latest Big 3 in Amar'e, Melo, and Chauncey...2 storied franchises...

For the second straight season the Celtics are sleep-walking into the playoffs...The difference to me is the 2010 C's were uninterested until playoff time, while the 2011 C's seem tired and somewhat worn down...Boston was able to turn the switch on last post-season, but that is a dangerous game...The organization brought back Doc Rivers and re-upped with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all in the name of making another Championship run in '11...The D is still good, but perhaps not great since the trade of Kendrick Perkins...That trade left the C's with a different look, and perhaps to this day they are trying to figure out their identity now...The veterans on the team were devastated by the trade as they understood that Perk was a major contributor to the toughness in the paint their D had become great at...That now falls to Shaq...The big fella has been injured most of the season, but he and Jermaine O'Neal (also injured much of 2011) will need to combine with Nenad Kristic to provide the last line of D for the Celtics...Looks like the best chance is if Shaq can get healthy and give them 25-30 mins per game

For New York the story is on the other end of the floor...The Knicks have to win games by outscoring you in a shoot-out...This team plays zero D...Since their Feb 21/11 trade for Melo the Knicks are a pedestrian 14-14, including 0-2 vs Boston...Head Coach Mike D'Antoni's squad went 3-7 in games with Melo where they did not score 100+ points...That started at 2-0, so they lost 7 of their last 8 games where they did not score at least 100...The Celtics need the game to be 80-something to 80-something, while the Knicks need the game to be played in the 100's to be successful...For the Knicks to be able to impose their will on this series and turn it into a shoot-out they will need much more than their Big 3...Laundry Fields will need to be a scorer in this series , as will guys like Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, and Shawne Williams (all will have to be on fire from 3-point range to have the Knicks be competitive in this series)

Ultimately I will have faith in Celtics ability to get it on the right track for the playoffs...We have seen it before...This is one series that an upset would not shock me to be honest, but I will predict C's in 6

#4 Orlando Magic vs #5 Atlanta Hawks

Many seem to have Orlando as a distant 4th best team in the East, I do not...I like this team a lot...Dwight Howard is the true MVP in the NBA...No other player is as dominant on both ends of the floor as Howard (and the amazing thing is he will get even better)...His activity inside the paint is fantastic...He blocks shots on the regular, but he changes/alters sooo many opponents shots too...The Magic added pieces around D12 on the fly this season with the additions of Jason Richardson, Hedon't Turkoglu, and Gilbert Arenas...A real nice emergence this season was Ryan Anderson who gives the squad 10+ points per game...Anderson, Turkoglu, and J-Rich combine with Jameer Nelson and JJ Redick to give the Magic a ton of shooting options to surround D12...At some point  (likely not this series) the likes of Brandon Bass and Earl Clark will have to provide depth for the frontcourt of Orlando vs teams like Boston, Chicago, and Miami...Despite the on-the-fly roster changes Head Coach Stan Van Gundy still had his team play at a high level defensively...Only Boston and ChiTown play better team D than Orlando of any team in the playoffs...

The chance for any team vs Orlando is to have a defender to occupy D12 so you can stay home on Orlando's shooters...The Celtics do that very well for example, but this Hawks team is hardily a similar roster to Boston...Hotlanta gets a lot of athletic scoring from guys like Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith...Hawks did take 3 of 4 games vs Orlando this season, but are struggling lately and for me I am disappointed in this team as they took a step back this season (IMO)...In this series Jason Collins will be they guy called on to slow down Dwight Howard, while Kirk Hinrich will be in his first playoffs with the Hawks...Those 2 will need to be huge, plus I think Horford will have to be huge too...1 of (if not both of) Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson is going to have to be on fire from downtown for the ATL to hang with Orlando...

Too much going for Orlando these days vs not enough going right for Hotlanta these days = Magic in 5


#1 San Antonio Spurs vs #8 Memphis Grizzles

How do you handicap these Spurs?!?!  The first 85% of the season was marvelous for this squad...They do however end the season on a bad 4-8 finish, and have stars like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli banged up...Spurs enter the playoffs as the #1 seed in the West despite the poor finish...When the Spurs are healthy they of course are led by their big 3 of Duncan, Manu, and Tony Parker...Those 3 are the veterans and leaders, but this Spurs team is sooo much more...Duncan averaged a lower ppg (13) than ever in his 14 year career, and still the Spurs stacked 61 W's...Guys like George Hill, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Antonio McDyess, and Raptor fan fav Matt Bonner all combine to provide a ton of talent and depth for Gregg Popovich...Truth is if you coach in a time where Phil Jackson coaches then you are going to be #2 at best as Jackson will get all the press...I am a huge admirer of Pop and the job he has done in San Antonio...He is the longest serving Coach in the Association currently, and a 4-time Champion...BIG UP POP...This current squad scores better than you may think, and defends poorer than you may think

On the other bench we have Lionel Hollins leading the Memphis Grizzles to a 46 win season...I would feel so much better about this team if they hadn't lost Rudy Gay recently (out for the season)...They were able to still have a strong season thanks to their depth...Zach Randolph had a fantastic season (averaged 20 ppg and 12 rebounds per game) and Marc Gasol is also a contributor to this team down low...Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Sam Young, and Darrell Arthur all contribute to this team, while Tony Allen and Shane Battier lead the D...Memphis went 2-2 vs the Spurs (won the 2 most recent) and scored 100+ points in 3 of those games so this team will have confidence...There are several in fact who believe that the Grizz were not at all displeased to lose their final 2 games thus "dropping" from #7 and a date with the Lakers to #8 vs a Spurs team they feel they can beat...

I cannot get away from wishing Memphis had the minutes and scoring that Gay gives them...without him I would say if we find out that Manu's elbow injury is bad then perhaps Spurs in 6, but other than that Spurs in 5

#2 LosAngeles Lakers vs #7 New Orleans Hornets

The Lakers are an un-inspired 3-5 in April...The 5 loses in fact coming in a row, with 3 of those being at home...Terrible finish...Inexcusable lack of effort, focus, and execution...What is stunning is this all came on the heels of a post-All-Star run that was brilliant...LA was winning game after game with dominant 3rd and 4th Q's as their Championship D was on display...I would have to say that despite the poor finish the board #1 through #8 couldn't look any better for LA...By finishing #2 they avoid any of Portland, Denver, or Oklahoma City in Round 1...They also have 2 rounds to have a team eliminate San Antonio which would give the Lakers Home Court in the Conference Finals...LA also draws the one team where a banged-up Bynum will not be needed/missed...New Orleans is terrible on O, and just lost leading scorer David West for the season so with Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Ron Artest, D-Fish et al the Lakers should have significantly more than enough fire power to outscore the Hornets with or without Bynum...On D we know the Lakers traditionally struggle with quick and talented PG's like Chris Paul...in the 2010 Finals we saw the Lakers put Kobe on the previously unstoppable Rajon Rondo and the result was a success, so perhaps if CP3 can create miracles for the Hornets we may see LA go to that strategy of Kobe guards the PG while D-Fish and Steve Blake guard the SG...Last years Round 1 was a 4-2 good series (especially last 4 games) vs OK City...The Lakers would love dearly to advance with more ease this season...The 3-time defending Western Conference Champs have played a lot of basketball games over the past 3 years and do not want to add unnecessary wear and tear by allowing this series to get lengthy

The Hornets have Paul, and can defend very well as a unit, but they are out manned in this series...Carl Landry is a guy that will have to be big for this team, especially with the loss of West...Paul and Marco Belinelli will have to be on fire from 3-point range to give the Hornets a shot at any game in this series...Trevor Ariza will surely need to score more than his season average of 11 points per game...Emeka Okafor has to be a beast down low...

We see a Lakers team that does not need to be at 100% to beat this Hornets team...And we have a Hornets team that needs their guys to all be at 120% due to already being outclassed plus losing David West...Tooooo much to like here for LA despite sloppy recent play...Lakers sweep

#3 Dallas Mavericks vs #6 Portland Trail Blazers

I was really surprised in this past off-season when the Mavs kept Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry...This team has been bounced in Round 1 of the playoffs 3 of the last 4 seasons and I figured Mark Cuban was not going to have a sense of humor about that, thus trades were coming...not so...The Mavs re-signed Brendan Haywood, and continued to build around Disco Dirk and The Jet by adding the likes of Tyson Chandler, and on-the-fly moves like Peja Stojakovic and Corey Brewer...Dallas gets contributions from Rodrigue Beaubois, Jose Juan Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson too...I would feel much better about the Mavs if they hadn't lost Caron Butler to injury...There are a lot of pieces here to like and if they had the creative/multi-dimensional scorer that Butler is to go with it all I would like this team much more than I do...If this team gets tossed in Round 1 for a 4th time in 5 years we will surely look for the Mavs to blow up the roster this summer...Head Coach Rick Carlisle has this team playing team D at a very high level, including The Matrix Shawn Marion

The Trail Blazers are a roster just coming together...Brandon Roy is just getting back to 100% health and game speed, while Gerald Wallace is getting more and more comfortable in his role with Portland...This was a breakout season for LaMarcus Aldridge as just about every stat increased for this 22 points per game scorer...As usual the team is asked to perform without Greg Oden as he was (again) lost for the season with an injury...The health of Marcus Camby will be big as he will need to provide a partner down low with Aldridge...Wesley Matthews can shoot, and Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum contribute too...Rudy Fernandez can certainly be a weapon off the bench for Coach Nate McMillan who does have depth to work with

This series is the toughest to call IMO...I will say Dallas takes Game 7 on home court

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #5 Denver Nuggets

OK City was a Top 5 O this season, but you have to wonder if that will take a step back as they traded a scorer like Jeff Green at the Trade Deadline for a defender like Kendrick Perkins...Perk only gives the Thunder about 5 points per game, while Green was more like 16 ppg...GM Sam Presti thought that in order for his team to get out of Round 1 and actually compete in a playoff run they were going to need to get tougher on the interior hence the Green for Perkins trade...OK City was always a good rebounding team, and that only improves with a guy like Perkins...The team is led of course by Kevin Durant...Last season Durant became the youngest scoring champ ever (21) and this season he won the scoring title again...PG Russell Westbrook continued his development this season with increased #'s across the board...James Harden provides a spark off the bench, as does Eric Maynor...Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison contribute to the Thunder too...Wonderful job being done for this organization by Coach Scott Brooks

Since the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony for a ton of Knicks players they have gone 19-7...stunning achievement for Coach George Karl and his squad...The roster is now better suited to play some good Team D, and be able to shoot the ball well too which has Karl all-smiles...Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Wilson Chandler have all provided skill and depth to the Nuggets...Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo, and J.R. Smith are major contributors too...Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson, Nene, and Al Harrington all provide skill and depth to the frontcourt...

Things are rolling for Denver since the Melo trade, and the Perkins trade may have the Thunder wondering about their identity...but...all that said I am taking OK City to win Game 7 at home

craig.ballard@hotmail.com ...follow me on twitter @craigballard77