Archive for April, 2008

NBA Playoffs: Boston at Atlanta, Game 3

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Boston Celtics are going to sweep the Atlanta Hawks out of the first round of the NBA playoffs. Boston took the first two games of their best-of-seven series at the Garden, easily covering the 15-point spread in both cases. Odds had yet to be posted at press time for Saturday’s Game 3, but the C’s should remain overwhelming favorites in Atlanta.

The Garden was electric Wednesday night following some disparaging comments Hawks point guard Mike Bibby made toward Boston’s supposedly fair-weather fans. Adding to the atmosphere, Kevin Garnett received both a standing ovation and his Defensive Player of the Year award during the pre-game. Hawks fans have waited since 1999 for the playoffs; if they can match Wednesday night’s fan support, there is a real possibility that Atlanta will steal an emotional Game 3.

Beating the spread would be considerably more reasonable. Bibby has been outmatched during this series by Rajon Rondo; after two games, Bibby has two assists. Rondo has 17. With Bibby underperforming, Acie Law was given 21 minutes in Game 2 and responded with 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting – but also turned the ball over four times.

Both games in Boston went under the posted total, which dipped from 190.5 points in Game 1 to 189 in Game 2. Garnett and his teammates (whom he thanked for the Defensive POY award) were the best defenders in the league this year. Atlanta’s offense was ranked No. 16 out of the 30 NBA clubs.

Tip-off is Saturday night at 8 pm ET, with ESPN handling the coverage.

NBA Playoffs: L.A. Lakers at Denver, Game 3

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Being the top seed in the Western Conference isn’t nearly as much of an advantage this year. But the No. 8 Denver Nuggets are still down two games to none going back to Mile High for Saturday’s Game 3. Kobe Bryant had 49 points and 10 assists for the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night in a 122-107 victory. L.A. covered as an 8.5-point chalk for the second game in a row.

Nuggets coach George Karl pulled out all the stops Wednesday, taking point guard Anthony Carter out of the starting lineup and putting in small forward Linas Kleiza. The experiment was a success. Carter was limited to nine scoreless minutes off the bench; Kleiza shot 5-for-10 and added eight rebounds with Allen Iverson (31 points, six assists) running the show. Denver also got a better game out of center Marcus Camby, who was embarrassed in the opener. Camby grabbed 17 boards with four blocks and cut his turnovers from four to two.

With Nene (groin) coming back for Denver and Ronny Turiaf (tonsillitis) missing the game for Los Angeles, the Nuggets had reason to think their strong frontline could prevail. And it did for a while. The Nuggets withstood Bryant’s offense, got Lamar Odom in foul trouble and went up 68-67 in the third before the game got away from them.

Turiaf is expected in Denver for Game 3, although he’s been sick all week and might not put up much resistance Saturday. Taking his defensive effort out of the equation wasn’t enough to push the final score over the posted total of 230, up from 224.5 in Game 1.

Game 3 goes Saturday at 5:30 pm ET, with TNT on hand for the action.

NASCAR: Aaron’s 499, Talladega Superspeedway

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is having a much better year on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit now that he’s with Hendrick Motorsport. But he still hasn’t taken the checkered flag after eight Cup races. That could all end this Sunday afternoon at Talladega, where Earnhardt is the +400 favorite to take the Aaron’s 499.

Talladega used to be Earnhardt’s second home. He won four consecutive races there between 2001 and 2003, and then he won again in 2004. Everything went downhill from there for Earnhardt and DEI, prompting his move to last year’s top team.

Earnhardt’s toughest competition should come from teammate Jeff Gordon, who swept both races at Talladega last year. Gordon is the second favorite for Sunday’s event at +450. Jimmie Johnson, another Hendrick driver and the reigning two-time Cup champion, is tied with Tony Stewart at +600.

Gordon, like Earnhardt, has yet to win this year. But Gordon is also struggling to earn points. He’s in 13th place in the drivers’ standings, while Earnhardt is third after five Top-7 results in his last six races. Both drivers have excellent reputations in restrictor-plate races on superspeedways like Talladega. Johnson is better known for his success on 1.5-mile tracks like Charlotte; however, he won the Aaron’s 499 three years ago and finished second to Gordon in both 2007 events.

Johnson has Hendrick’s only win of the season thus far, two weeks ago at Phoenix. Carl Edwards has three victories under his belt for Roush Fenway Racing; he’s winless at Talladega in seven tries and a +2000 shot on Sunday.

The green flag will drop on Sunday at 1 pm ET, with FOX providing the coverage.

NBA East Championship Futures

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

The Eastern Conference still plays second fiddle to the West, but the exodus of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics has tipped the balance a little closer to the East. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 66-16, and they’re the heavy favorites to win the conference at –350. The 8-seed Atlanta Hawks (37-45) are little competition in the first round at +6500.

The second-best team in the East also happens to be better than anyone in the West. The 59-23 Detroit Pistons are +200 to go back to the Finals; they had some success against Boston earlier this season, beating the C’s as part of an 11-game winning streak. But the Celtics won their next two meetings. The Pistons will warm up by playing the 40-42 Philadelphia 76ers (+3000) in the opening round.

The 52-30 Orlando Magic have cooled off a bit since starting the season 14-3, but the No. 3 seed in the East is still a viable contender at 52-30 and a bargain at +1000. There is the matter of getting past the 41-41 Toronto Raptors in the first round. The Raptors (+2500) are healthy after a long string of injuries and figure to be a better team on paper than last year’s 47-win club.

The futures market is showing more love for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the No. 4 seed at 45-37. They’re +600 to win the East, but Cleveland is stumbling into the playoffs at 5-6 in the past 11 games. Their first-round series with the 43-39 Washington Wizards (+1500) ought to be interesting.

NBA West Championship Futures

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

The NBA’s Western Conference has delivered eight 50-win teams, each with a legitimate chance to make it to the Finals. But the race doesn’t look quite as close on the futures market.

The Los Angeles Lakers are the top seed in the conference at 57-25; they’re also the even-money favorites to win the West. This has been the team to beat ever since the Pau Gasol trade, which triggered a series of monster deals as other teams tried to catch up in talent level.

The defending champion San Antonio Spurs (56-26) are the second favorites at +250. Brent Barry has returned from an extended injury layoff to give the Spurs a 3-point shooter, something they need very badly with Robert Horry apparently nearing the end of his NBA shelf life at age 37. The New Orleans Hornets are tied with the Spurs at 56-26, and they have the No. 2 seed in the West, but at +500 are a bargain by comparison.

The Phoenix Suns (+300) hope they’ve found the right mix of players to finally win the NBA title. Their path starts in San Antonio; the Suns earned the No. 6 seed at 55-27 and a series with the Spurs, who have lost twice to Phoenix since Shaquille O’Neal’s arrival.

Los Angeles will face the 50-32 Denver Nuggets (+1500) in the first round, while the Hornets are paired with the 51-31 Dallas Mavericks (+1000). The 54-28 Utah Jazz (+500) and the 55-27 Houston Rockets (+1000) round out the Western playoff picture.

Saturday MLB: Mets vs. Phillies, 3:55 p.m. ET

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

In 2007, the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies went down to the wire before the Phillies clinched the National League East crown by a single game. Neither team is doing too well in 2008; New York is 7-6, and Philadelphia is 7-8. They’ll take turns beating on each other starting Friday at Citizens Bank Park.

Saturday’s matinee is expected to feature Oliver Perez on the mound for the Mets against 45-year-old southpaw Jamie Moyer. Perez was flawless in his first two starts before getting shelled for six runs by the Brewers. He hasn’t made it into the seventh inning yet, so the Mets’ bullpen (two blown saves in three chances) should get a workout.

Moyer also hasn’t pitched more than six innings this year, but he’s only had one good game out of his first three starts. And while the Mets are third in the majors in on-base percentage at .358, the Phillies as a team have a mediocre .332 OBP, No. 15 out of 30.

Philly has the advantage in the bullpen with closer Brad Lidge (one hit in five innings) resurrecting his career. But shortstop Jimmy Rollins has a sprained left ankle and outfielder Shane Victorino has strained right calf. Rollins is getting a couple days off and may not be ready to play by Saturday.

The Mets’ main injury concerns are in the starting rotation. Although outfielder Moises Alou has a hernia, former Cub Angel Pagan has been brilliant in his absence with a .429 OBP. That kind of support makes Perez and the Mets the better team.

NBA Sunday: San Antonio at L.A. Lakers, 3:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The NBA playoffs are only a few games away. These are anxious times for handicappers; teams who have clinched their playoff seeds or are missing the postseason altogether are more likely to rest their starters, while other clubs are giving it all they have.

It’s difficult to tell what position either the San Antonio Spurs (53-24 straight up, 35-40-2 against the spread) or the Los Angeles Lakers (53-25 SU, 44-32-1 ATS) will be come Sunday. But as two of the top six seeds in the Western Conference, chances are both teams will be fighting for playoff seeding and a division title – L.A. in the Pacific and San Antonio in the Southwest.

Assuming an honest effort from both teams, the Spurs have the advantage as the hottest team in the NBA at 9-1 in their past 10 games. Late-season surges are nothing new for San Antonio. The Lakers, meanwhile, are 4-3 SU and 1-6 ATS in their last seven outings.

Los Angeles supporters are hoping to see Andrew Bynum make his return Sunday from a dislocated kneecap. Coach Phil Jackson suggested it would be a “long shot” for Bynum to face the Spurs; Jackson and his staff will reportedly evaluate Bynum on Saturday before making a decision. Bynum is the key to L.A.’s title hopes at 18.2 points and 14.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. The Lakers are also still missing Trevor Ariza with a broken foot, while Luke Walton has been day-to-day with a strained right hamstring.

MLB Saturday: Yankees at Red Sox, 3:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The best rivalry in the majors continues this weekend when the New York Yankees (4-5) and Boston Red Sox (4-5) renew acquaintances at historic Fenway Park. The first two weeks of the 2008 season have been iffy for both clubs: Boston was swept by the Blue Jays, while the Yankees have had trouble with both Tampa Bay and Kansas City.

New York has already been hit over the head with the injury hammer. Shortstop Derek Jeter is day-to-day with a strained left quad and is expected to miss the series against Boston. Catcher Jorge Posada is also day-to-day with a strained shoulder; Wilson Betemit and Jose Molina are pulling replacement duty for the two perennial All-Stars.

The Red Sox got a scare Wednesday night when third baseman Mike Lowell strained his left thumb against Detroit. Although he was listed as day-to-day, he may not miss any time for Boston; if he does, this is the kind of occasion Sean Casey was brought in for. He’ll play at first while Kevin Youkilis shifts to third, as they did against the Tigers.

The probable pitchers for this matchup at press time were Mike Mussina (four earned runs in 11.2 innings) for the Yankees and Josh Beckett (five runs in 4.2 innings) for the Red Sox. But New York may shuffle its rotation after skipping Ian Kennedy’s spot Wednesday night versus the Royals. With rain in the forecast, the Yanks went with Brian Bruney in case the game didn’t go the requisite innings. It did: Kansas City 4, New York 0.

NASCAR Saturday: Subway Fresh Fit 500, 8 p.m. ET

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup is certainly a lot more competitive than last year’s Hendrick Motorsports parade to the finish line. But the former Car of Tomorrow is not winning very many fans today. Carl Edwards won a very bland race last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, his third checkered flag in three events on intermediate ovals.

Things will be different in the desert. Saturday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 takes place at Phoenix International Raceway, a one-mile track with a few quirks, including a “dogleg” between Turn 2 and Turn 3. It’s one of the favorite tracks on the Cup circuit – especially for defending champion Jimmie Johnson. He placed fourth at last year’s race (won by teammate Jeff Gordon) and was first in November’s race at Phoenix.

Edwards was nonetheless the favorite at press time to win Saturday’s race at +500. Johnson was next at +600, followed by Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch at +700. Gordon was +800. This may be a rare opportunity to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. at a value price of +1000; he has two victories in 11 appearances at Phoenix, and is currently fourth in the drivers’ standings after joining forces with Hendrick.

If Johnson (who finished second in Texas) is stuck taking a back seat to Edwards for Saturday’s race, it’s nothing new. Gordon remains the star of the team, and he’s the –130 favorite to outperform Johnson (even money) during qualifying action. Hamlin is –150 to qualify ahead of Busch (+120).

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Memphis Tigers (-1, 145)

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Playing at the top of their respective games, Kansas (36-3, 22-15 ATS) and Memphis (38-1, 18-19-2 ATS) will go head to head for the national championship on Monday night in San Antonio.

OddsMaker.com have opened the Tigers as slim 1-point favorites for the contest, while setting the total at 145 points. Sharp money is on the Jayhawks, who are 4-1 ATS in the Tournament and 7-3 against the number over their last ten games.

Kansas is coming off a 84-66 payday over North Carolina as 2 ½-point underdogs, as the Jayhawks pulled away from the Tar Heels after leading by 28 points late in the first half. Brandon Rush led the way for Kansas with 25 points and seven rebounds, shooting 11-of-17 from the floor in the upset.

Memphis rolls into the matchup after a 78-63 victory over UCLA on Saturday night, as Tigers backers cashed as 2-point favorites. 3-2 ATS in the Big Dance, Memphis was paced by the backcourt duo of Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose against the Bruins. Roberts dropped 28 points, while Rose went for 25 points and nine boards for the first team in NCAA history to win 38 games in a season.

The Tigers will be without the services of backup point guard Andre Allen, who was suspended for a violation of team rules prior to Saturday night’s action.

Tip-off is at 9:20 pm ET on Monday, with CBS handling the coverage.