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Bob Matthews' Column

Heat Favored By 4 In Pivotal Game 3 Of NBA Finals

 
Posted June 9th, 2014 @ 1:08pm

 

HEAT FAVORED BY 4 IN PIVOTAL GAME 3 OF NBA FINALS

 

LeBron James again showed why he is the NBA’s best active player by far with a brilliant all-around performance Sunday night to lead his Miami Heat to a 98-96 road victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

 

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was the worthy choice for NBA Most Valuable Player for the regular season, but the performances of Durant and James in the playoffs are proof that James still is the better player.

 

The Finals are tied 1-1 and it now is a best-of-five series, with the home-court advantage in Miami’s favor.

 

Miami is favored by 4 points at home for Tuesday night’s Game 3. The over-under (total points for both teams) is 198.

 

The Heat now are the slight favorite to win the series: Bet $29 to win $20. San Antonio is 5-to-4 (bet $4 to win $5).

 

The lowlight for Miami in Sunday’s victory was Dwyane Wade’s phantom head flop while being closely guarded by Manu Ginoboli. Wade pretended Ginobili swatted him in the face – he clearly did not – and the zebra bought it.  Wade’s acting resulted in a foul on Ginobili but Wade’s reputation took a big hit. His wallet took a $5,000 hit. The NBA should've fined him more.

 

IS TOM BRADY SLIPPING? I’D TAKE HIM

 

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is not immune to criticism.

 

 Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus thinks Brady is slipping – and no longer a top-5 QB: “Brady still is extremely effective when he is in rhythm within the offense. But when things start to break down, he is no longer an efficient passer. When he had the ball in his hands for 2 .6 seconds or more in 2013, he completed just 45.1 percent of his passes, worst among 16-game starters.”

 

Also, in 2010, Brady led the NFL with an accuracy rating of 70 percent on passes under pressure. Last year, his 57.6 completion percentage under pressure was 28th in the NFL.

 

First of all, there weren’t that many 16-game starters in the NFL last season. And maybe Brady has slipped from great to very good. But I still believe Brady is by far the most significant player in the AFC East. The Patriots still are the team to beat in the division mainly because of him. I believe Buffalo or Miami or the New York Jets would be the best team in the AFC East if he were the starting QB for any of them.

 

TWINS ADD FUTURE SHORTSTOP AND MUCH-NEEDED DESIGNATED HITTER

 

The Minnesota Twins selected their probable shortstop of the future with the No. 5 overall pick in last week’s baseball entry draft and surprisingly signed a veteran designated hitter over the weekend.

 

Nick Gordon, 18, is a left-handed hitting shortstop out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla. He is the son of former big-league pitcher Tom Gordon and the brother of Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon. Nick lacks Dee’s blazing speed but has more power. Nick was rated the “best infield prospect in the draft” by Baseball America and is projected to be Minnesota’s starting shortstop by as soon as 2017.

 

One analyst called Gordon the best pick in the draft – a safe pick with an upside. He said center fielder Byron Buxton, slugging third baseman Miguel Sano should be a winning nucleus for Minnesota for a long time.

 

Sano was expected to start this season with Rochester. He predicted he’d hit at least 40 home runs no matter where he played this year. But he’ll miss the entire season after Tommy John elbow surgery. One reason the Red Wings are a bit short on power this season is the role the Twins expected Sano to play here.

 

Buxton has played in only five games so far this season because of wrist injuries. He’s still on the disabled list and it seems likely that Rochester fans won’t be seeing him until at least 2015.

 

Despite their injuries, ESPN’s Keith Law still ranks Buxton and Sano 1st and 13th respectively among top baseball prospects.

 

The Twins, a relatively frugal team that seldom signs expensive free agents, added Kendrys Morales last weekend. He signed a one-year deal for a pro-rated $12 million. The 30-year-old switch hitter batted .277 with 23 HRs and 80 RBI with Seattle in 156 games last season. In 2009, with the Anaheim Angels, he hit .306 with 34 HRs and 108 RBI in 152 games.

 

The Twins have played surprisingly well so far this season (29-32 record) and decided to add Morales as their much-needed full-time DH. Former Red Wings stars Chris Colabello and Jason Kubel fizzled after hot starts in Minnesota this season. Colabello is back with Rochester and Kubel was released with the arrival of Morales. He was International League MVP with the Red Wings in 2004 (.343, 28 doubles, 16 HRs, 71 RBI in 90 games).

 

STEVE COBURN WAS A FULL OF HORSE ------

 

California Chrome came up short on Saturday in his bid for thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown in 36 years, but he showed much more class in defeat than co-owner Steve Coburn.

 

Coburn’s sour-grapes post-race rant was pitiful. It was stupid. It was illogical. It was embarrassing. He proved his ignorance by continuing to wail Sunday morning on national TV interview shows.

 

Coburn thinks owners who nominate horses for the Triple Crown should run in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. All three.

 

He said owners and trainers who enter their horses in the Belmont Stakes after skipping the Kentucky Derby and/or the Preakness are “cheaters” and “cowards.” He thinks only horses that running in the Derby should be eligible to compete in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. If that were the rule, there would’ve been a lot more 11 Triple Crown champions.

 

I realize how disappointed Coburn was after Saturday’s race. California Chrome gave a decent effort but tired in the deep stretch to finish in a dead heat for fourth. Tonalist won and Commissioner was second. They both were fresh horses after sitting out both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Medal Count finished third. He skipped the Preakness after finishing eighth in the Derby.

 

Tonalist missed the Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby due to illness. After he romped in the Grade II Peter Pan at Belmont on May 14, his connections figured his exceptional stamina would be better suited for the Belmont Stakes -- over the surface he had just won on -- than the shorter Preakness.

 

That wasn’t being a cheat or a coward. That was being smart.

 

Asking good three-year-old horses to run in three Grade I races over a five-week span is not natural. It takes too much out of them too soon.

 

The Kentucky Derby has the most starters because it is America’s most glamorous horse race. The Derby winner always runs in the Preakness two weeks later in quest of the elusive Triple Crown, but most of the Derby also-rans are shut down. A few of those horses often are entered in the Belmont Stakes off the rest.

 

This year, only three hoses ran in all three Triple Crown races: California Chrome 1st, 1st and dead heat for 4th; General a Rod 11th, 4th and 7th; Ride On Curlin 7th, 2nd and 11th. General a Rod and Ride On Curlin clearly were running on fumes in the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome had more left in the tank than they did – but not enough to give his best.

 

It isn’t easy to win a Triple Crown. That’s why it hasn’t happened in 36 years. California Chrome became the 12th horse since to win the Derby and Preakness since 1978  but fail to win the Belmont Stakes. The trainers of those horses didn’t complain about how unfair it was to face fresher horses. But most of them realized the difficult challenge their horses were up against. If the Triple Crown were not at stake, most of them would’ve recommended that their horses not run in the “Test of the Champion” 1 1/2-mile marathon.

 

I hate to supply any ammunition for crybaby Coburn, but it is a fact that California Chrome faced 10 rivals on Saturday. The 11 Triple Crown champions faced fewer rivals in the Belmont Stakes (in order, 2, 3, 4, 6, 3, 2, 6, 7, 4, 7 and 4), but so what? California Chrome encountered no traffic problems in the race. He stalked and lacked the closing kick he displayed to charge to the lead and hold off the competition in the Derby and Preakness. He looked like a horse that had given his all in a  very tough campaign.

 

California Chrome has earned a long rest. Maybe we’ll see him at Saratoga late this summer. I hope so. He’s still a great story and a fan favorite in a sport that needs stars.

 

If we never hear again from Steve Coburn, it will be too soon.

 

NOTE: Coburn apologized Monday for his two-day rant. He said he was embarrassed and his comments were inappropriate. He also praised Tonalist’s winning effort.

 

BASEBALL’S HOT AND NOT SO HOT

 

The Yankees on Sunday failed to score more than four runs for the 10th straight game. Teams used to cringe when Derek Jeter came to the plate with runners in scoring position. Sadly, now he’s the guy they hope to see in those spots.

 

The Phillies were 6-14 in a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

 

Danny Santana, who was supposed to be Rochester’s shortstop this season, is doing a terrific job as Minnesota’s new primary center fielder: .361 (26-for-72) with 5 doubles, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 4-for-4 stolen bases and a strong arm.

 

Jose Bautista (Toronto) had his MLB-most 50th walk Sunday.

 

St. Louis has a MLB-most 12 shutouts pitched. The Cardinals passed Texas on Sunday.

 

Robinson Cano (Seattle) has a 17-game road hitting streak. I think the Yankees miss him more than he misses them.

 

Kansas City has won the last seven games started by ace James Shields.

 

San Diego was shut out for the MLB-most 10th time Sunday.

 

Elvis Andrus (Texas) had his 39-game hitting streak against against Cleveland on Sunday. I have no idea how STATS knows that was the second-longest hitting streak by any player vs. any team since at least 1914.

 

While Rochester’s starting pitcher are the talk of the International League, parent Minnesota’s starting pitchers are a combined 19-25 with a 4.97 ERA.

 

Pittsburgh is 3-10 in 13 games vs. Milwaukee this season.

 

Tampa Bay is 1-12 in its last 13 games.

 

Ryan Howard (Phillies) leads MLB with 80 strikeouts (in 232 official at-bats). Brothers Justin (73) and B.J. (72) Upton rank 2nd and 3rd. They’ve combined for 145 strikeouts in 426 at-bats.

 

The worst hitter so fat this MLB season is Jedd Gyorko (San Diego). He’s hitting .162 (33-for-204).

 

FIFA WORLD RANKINGS ENTERING THE WORLD CUP

 

The pre-World Cup FIFA World Rankings were released last Friday. Here they are, listed by groups:

 

Group A – Brazil (3), Croatia (18), Mexico (20), Cameroon (56)

 

Group B – Spain (1), Chile (14), Netherlands (15), Australia (62)

 

Group C – Colombia (8), Greece (12), Ivory Coast (23), Japan (46)

 

Group D – Uruguay (7), Italy (9), England (10), Costa Rica (28)…Why isn’t this the “Group of Death”?

 

Group E – Switzerland (6), France (17), Ecuador (26), Honduras (33)

 

Group F – Argentina (5), Bosnia-Herzegovina (21), Iran (43), Nigeria (44)

 

Group G – Germany (2), Portugal (4), USA (13; up one spot from May’s rankings), Ghana (37)

 

Group H – Belgium (11), Russia (19), Algeria (22), South Korea (57).

 

Highest-ranked teams not in the 32-nation World Cup – Ukraine (16), Denmark (23), Slovenia (25)

 

Lowest-ranked teams in the 32-nation World Cup field – Australia (62), Cameroon (56), South Korea (52).

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

Remember how much criticism Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman received immediately after his fiery post-game interview with a stunned Erin Andrews after the Super Bowl? It turns out that many more viewers were entertained and enlightened than turned off or disgusted. Being selected for the cover of Madden 15 capped Sherman’s meteoric rise from relative obscurity to super-high visibility.

 

The Rochester Red Wings are 20-7 since their season-high eight-game losing streak. The Wings are an International League-best 12-7 in one-run games. They were an IL-best 28-19 in one-run games last season.

 

Ben Crane’s victory Sunday in the St. Jude Classic was his first on the PGA Tour since 2011. No shock. The 27 stops on the North American PGA Tour have produced 24 different winners this season. Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson are the two-time winners. Zero combined wins by Tiger, Phil and Rory.

 

Inbee Park, defending LPGA Championship winner, couldn’t make it to Monroe Golf Club last week for the customary appearance by the defending champ. Maybe the day off helped her win Sunday’s Manulife Financial Classic in Waterloo, Ontario.

 

Date to circle for WNY lacrosse fans: Sunday, June 29, 1 p.m., the revitalized Rochester Rattlers will host the Denver Outlaws in Major League Lacrosse action at Sahlen’s Stadium. The Outlaws had a 25-game regular-season winning streak before an 18-15 road loss in Charlotte Saturday night. Denver and Rochester are ranked 1-2 in the eight-team MLL.

 

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