MIAMI HEAT BIG FAVORITE TO THREE PEAT…I LIKE THUNDER OVER SPURS
The wizards of odds in Las Vegas have made the Miami Heat the heavy favorite to win a third straight NBA championship.
Bovada Sportsbook lists Miami at even odds to win the title, followed by San Antonio at 2.3-to-1, Oklahoma City at 3.5-to-1, and Indiana at 10-to-1.
Odds on the potential NBA Finals matchup: Miami vs. San Antonio pick…Miami vs. Oklahoma City 100 to win $175…Indiana vs. San Antonio bet $100 to win $500…Indiana vs. Oklahoma City bet $100 to win $700.
The Eastern Conference finals start Sunday with Miami at Indiana. The Western Conference finals start Monday with Oklahoma City at San Antonio.
I think a Miami vs. Oklahoma City Finals matchup at odds of 3.5-to-1 is a bargain.
Miami was tied for the fifth-best record in the NBA (54-28) but often appeared to be on cruise control. Keeping Dwyane Wade healthy was the top priority. He looks to be in good shape heading into the series against Indiana.
Indiana was the NBA’s best team for the first three quarters of the regular season. They were 46-13 after a 94-91 win over Utah March 2. But they’re a modest 18-18 since, including 8-5 in the playoffs. They been brutally inconsistent for almost two months. Center Roy Hibbert has been mostly awful and doesn’t figure to return to top form against Miami’s far more athletic Chris Bosh.
Miami and Indiana split their four meetings in the regular season. The home team won every game. The Pacers (56-26 record) have the homecourt advantage in this series and were 35-6 at home in the regular season -- but I don’t think it will matter. My pick: Miami in six games.
San Antonio had the best record in the NBA this regular season (62-20: 32-9 at home and a league-best 30-11 on the road). Oklahoma City had the NBA’s second-best record (59-23) and road record (25-16).
The Thunder swept the Spurs 4-0 in the regular season, by 6, 13, 6 and 12 points. I don’t think that was a fluke (like the Brooklyn Nets sweeping Miami 4-0 before losing to the Heat in five games in the playoffs).
Oklahoma City is a tough matchup-- even without Serge Ibaka (out for the playoffs with a calf injury) for San Antonio. The Thunder have a big edge in team speed, particularly with Spurs star point guard Tony Parker bothered by a sore hamstring. San Antonio is a terrific team but I think Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be too much for the Spurs to handle. My pick: Oklahoma City in six games.
ARE WE OVERRATING THE BUFFALO BILLS?
I believe most of us genuinely believe the Buffalo Bills are on the upgrade and on the cusp of making the playoffs after a painful and really ridiculous 14-year drought.
If we’re right, most of the national NFL “experts” are going to be wrong. Here are the Post-Draft NFL Power Rankings from NFL.com and (ESPN.com ):
Seattle Seahawks 1 (1)
San Francisco 49ers 2 (3)
Denver Broncos 3 (2)
New England Patriots 4 (4)
New Orleans Saints 5 (5)
Green Bay Packers 6 (6)
Indianapolis Colts 7 (7)
Kansas City Chiefs 8 (15)
Philadelphia Eagles 9 (9)
Arizona Cardinals 10 (8)
Carolina Panthers 11 (11)
Cincinnati Bengals 12 (10)
San Diego Chargers 13 (16)
Chicago Bears 14 (12)
Baltimore Ravens 15 (13)
Pittsburgh Steelers 16 (17)
New York Jets 17 (21)
Miami Dolphins 18 (24)
New York Giants 19 (19)
Atlanta Falcons 20 (14)
St. Louis Rams 21 (18)…I really like the Rams. Am I wrong?
Dallas Cowboys 22 (22)
Tampa Bay 23 (23)
Detroit Lions 24 (20)
Buffalo Bills 25 (27)…Come on Bills, prove these guys wrong!
Washington Redskins 26 (28)
Minnesota Vikings 27 (29)
Jacksonville Jaguars 28 (30)
Tennessee Titans 29 (25)
Cleveland Browns 30 (32)
Oakland Raiders 31 (31)
Houston Texans 32 (26)…I’d rate them at least 20 (even with Fitz at QB).
IS CALIFORNIA CHROME UNBEATABLE IN THE PREAKNESS STAKES?
Kentucky Derby champion California Chrome was made the 3-to-5 morning line favorite to win Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. He figures to go off at even lower odds at post time.
California Chrome, an easy winner of the Derby at generous odds of 5-to-2, looks like a cinch to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. A few reasons why:
1—He ran a relatively slow winning time in the Derby but that doesn’t mean he’s a slow horse or that his victory was a fluke. The pace in the Derby was slow and he was asked to run only as fast as was necessary to set up his winning move. He pulled away from the field and jockey Victor Espinoza eased up in the deep stretch to preserve some energy for the Preakness.
2—There were 19 starters in the Derby. Only three return for the Preakness : California Chrome, Ride On Curlin (7th in the Derby; beaten by more than 7 lengths at odds of 17-to-1) and General a Rod (11th in the Derby). The other owners and trainers opted not to test California Chrome again in the Preakness. They got the message. The connections for Ride On Curlin and General a Rod figure they have a shot in a smaller field (10 horses) and with better racing luck (they figure to need plenty of it).
3—The wrong filly is in the race. Ria Antonia will be the first filly to start in the Preakness since Rachel Alexandra won in 2009. Four other fillies won the Preakness – a while ago (Flocarline in 1903, Whimsical in 1906, Rhine Maiden in 1915 and Nellie Morse in 1924). Ria Antonia’s main claim to fame was winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 2. Then trained by Finger Lakes-based Jermiah Englehart, she finished second by a nose to She’s A Tiger but was made the winner via disqualification. But she is 0-for-3 and running for her third trainer this year. In her most recent start, she finished sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks May 2 at Churchill Downs, the day before California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby. The winner of the Oaks, Untapable, won on cruise control by 4 ½ lengths and beat a fading Ria Antonia by more than 15 lengths. Untapable’s connections resisted the temptation to tackle California Chrome in the Preakness in favor of softer spots this summer. She might have been the horse for California Chrome to beat Saturday. But she won’t be there.
4—The rest of the Preakness field pales in comparison to California Chrome – at least so far. The other horses would have to run better than they have to date to upset California Chrome, or he would need to run much than he has in his five-race winning streak against tough competition.
Is California Chrome a cinch to win? Of course not. Anything can happen in a horse race. Post-time favorites won 70 of the 138 previous runnings of the Preakness Stakes. That’s a much higher winning percentage (.507) than thoroughbred racing in general. Two short-priced horses failed to win the Preakness at odds of 3-to-10: Riva Ridge finished fourth in 1972 and Fusuichi Pegasus finished second in 2000. The ill-fated Barbaro broke down in his right hind leg early in the 2006 Preakness (and later had to be put down because of complications from that injury). He was the 1-to-2 favorite. Bernandini won at odds of 12-to-1.
Here’s my worst-to-first forecast for the Saturday’s 139th Preakness Stakes:
10—Ria Antonia – This will be the first time a filly, female trainer and female jockey will be in the same Preakness. Linda Rice (trains Kid Cruz) and Rosie Napravnik (jockey for Bayern) have earned their assignments. Ria Antonia has not…She’ll be the 54th filly to run in the Preakness. She is extremely unlikely to be the fifth filly to win….A well-beaten sixth in her most recent start, the Kentucky Oaks for fillies May 2.
9—Pablo Del Morte – Had a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby after Hoppertunity was a late scratch but his connections decided to pass on the No. 20 post position and point to the Preakness. His best effort was a pace-setting third in the Blue Grass Stakes… Figures to guarantee an honest early pace in the Preakness but unlikely to last for the 1 3/16-mile distance.
8—Kid Cruz – This will be his graded stakes debut. Coming off an easy win as the favorite in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico April 19. The last winner of that race to follow up with a win in the Preakness was Deputed Testimony in 1983…Named for New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. Kid Cruz is faster but Victor has better hands.
7—Ring Weekend – This gelding’s major claim to fame was winning the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby at odds of 14-to-1 on March 8. Has since finished a distant second after a rough trip in the Calder Derby. Was ready to run in the Kentucky Derby but spiked a fever a week before the race… Trainer H. Graham Motion is a grass specialist. Jockey Alan Garcia rode Funny Cide to victory in the final race of his career at Finger Lakes Race Track in 2007.
6—Dynamic Impact – Has two wins in six career starts. Won the Grade III Illinois Derby April 19 by a nose over favored Midnight Hawk. Broke his maiden seven weeks earlier on his fifth attempt....Drew the No. 1 post position. The only Preakness winner to break from the rail since 1961 was Tabasco Cat in 1994.
5-General a Rod – Had a troubled trip to finish 11th in the Kentucky Derby, his only timr out of the money in six career starts. Won the Gulfstream Park Deby Jan. 1, second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes six weeks later, then third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby…Jockey Javier Castellano won the 2006 Preakness aboard long shot Bernardini…Named after original owner J. Armando Rodriguez.
4- Ride on Curlin -- Seventh in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 6 3/4 lengths with a troubled trip. Switching jockeys from Calvin Borel to Joel Rosario. Won't mind the 10 post. Should be running late.
SHOW – Social Inclusion – Talented but lightly-raced son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneer of The Nile. Only three career starts...Has terrific speed…Pointed to the Preakness since a 7 ½-length romp at odds of 9-to-1 in his debut Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park. His time was 1:09.35 for six furlongs. In his next start, he won by 10 lengths in a track record 1:40.97 for 1 1/16th miles at Gulfsteam…Took a 1 ½-length lead into the stretch in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial ( 1 1/8 miles) and finished a game third, beaten by less than four lengths…Manny Azpurua would become the oldest trainer to win the Preakness. He’s 85.
PLACE – Bayern – Unraced as a two-year-old. In four starts this year, this colt has two wins, one second and one third…Won his first two races, then finished a disappointing third after setting a moderate pace as the favorite in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Two weeks later, he wired the field in the Derby Trial Stakes April 26 but was disqualified to second…Trainer Bob Baffert has won five Preakness Stakes. Jockey Rosie Napravnik was third aboard Mylute in the 2013 Preakness. She’s probably the best female rider in North America…Will be tempting at relatively generous odds because we don’t know how good he is.
WIN – California Chrome – We have a pretty good idea how good this colt is. He has the most experience (11 races; 7 wins, 1 second) and by far the highest earnings ($2,552,650 and counting)…First California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby since Decidedly in 1962. Trying to become the fourth California-bred to win the Preakness (most recently Snow Chief in 1986)…Jockey Victor Espinoza has been a perfect fit.
I don’t like this Preakness as a betting race because California Chrome appears to be much the best horse and he’ll go off at ridiculously low odds (warning: remember Riva Ridge, Fusuichi Pegasus and Barbaro). If I bet at all, I’ll be taking a $20 exacta box on 3-5 (California Chrome and Bayern) and hope Bayern can upset the favorite.
MEETING IL SLUGGERS HESSMAN AND CARNEGIE
Veteran International League slugger Mike Hessman and the rest of the Toledo Mud Hens will be playing the Rochester Red Wings at Frontier Field Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Entering Thursday night, the 36-year-old Hessman had 254 career home runs in the IL, only 4 behind all-time IL leader Ollie Carnegie’s 258 HRs, all hit for the Buffalo Bisons from 1931 through 1945.
Hessman has played for four IL teams (Richmond, Toledo, Buffalo and Toledo). He’s enjoying a fine 2014 season: .301 batting average (37-for-123), 10 HRs (tied for the league lead), 18 RBI.
Hessman, who spent the 2011 season in Japan as an Orix Buffalo, has played in 1,121 IL games. In portions of five major leagues seasons, he played in 109 games, with a .188 batting average (42-for-223), 14 HRs and 33 RBI.
Unlike Hessman’s cups of coffee, Carnegie never played in the majors. He was born in 1899. His parents were from Italy and the family settled in Pittsburgh. As a young man, he worked in steel mills and played semipro baseball. A brief fling in the lower minors in 1922 ended when he a bad case of appendicitis. It was nine years before he gave pro ball another try.
Ollie was known as “the sandlot Babe Ruth” and attracted the interest of several major league teams in subsequent years. But he didn’t want to leave the Pittsburgh area and the security of working in the steel mills, so he passed on playing pro baseball at any level.
When Carnegie lost his job in a steel mill during the Great Depression, he finally decided to play pro ball again to pay the bills. He joined the Hazleton Mountaineers of the New York-Pennsylania League in 1932. He was 32 years old.
He got off to a great start with Hazleton (.354, 18 HRs, 71 RBI in 58 games) and was sold to the Buffalo Bisons of the International League for $500. He was a bargain. In portions of 13 seasons with Buffalo, the slugging outfielder batted .308, with 258 HRs and 1,044 RBI. He’s the IL’s all-time leader in both categories.
He had seasons of 45, 37, 36 HRs and 153, 140, 136 (twice) RBIs for the Bisons. His best seasons included 1932 (.333, 36 HRs, 140 RBI) and 1938 (he hit .330 with 45 HRs and 136 RBI). In 1945, at age 46, he played in 39 games for Buffalo and hit .301 with his last 4 HRs.
Carnegie was chosen IL MVP in 1938. By then he was considered too old to break into the bigs. He is the only IL MVP since not to appear in a major league game.
Carnegie was a charter member of the International League Hall of Fame in 1947. Hessman will join him in the IL Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible.
Carnegie died in Oct. 4, 1976, in Buffalo, his adopted hometown.
“ROC JOCKS” CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE
The Democrat and Chronicle on Thursday unveiled “RocJocks”, a database to recognize memorable names in Rochester sports history.
Sean Lahman, a columnist and database specialist for the media group, introduced the 25 pioneer members of “RocJocks”.
The feature obviously was intended to inspire controversy and feedback. You can’t please everyone. It was billed as a “cross section” and “not a definitive ranking of the 25-all-time greats.” That was a fortunate disclaimer because – like most of you – I thought there were glaring omissions.
The D&C’s list:
Baseball – Joe Altobelli, Johnny Antonelli, Luke Easter, Heinie Groh, Bill Klem, Morrie Silver, Billy Southworth
Basketball – Les Harrison, Trent Jackson, Arnie Risen
Boxing – Carmen Basilio, Charles Murray
Football – Don Holleder, Leo Lyons
Golf – Walter Hagen, Jeff Sluman
Hockey – Ryan Callahan, Jody Gage
Olympics – Ryan Lochte, Diann Roffe, Cathy Turner
Soccer – Pat Ercoli, Abby Wambach
Track and field – Kim Batten, Dick Buerkle.
Waiting their turn are potential “RocJocks” Red Armstrong, Jim Boeheim, Don Cherry, Tom Coughlin, Bobby Davies, Dick Gamble, Harold “Shifty” Gears, Brian Gionta, John Grant Jr., Millie Ignizio, Doug Miller, Eddie Nietopski, Jenn Suhr, Sam Urzetta and Bobby Wanzer. Please call my show or message me with your gripes and/or suggestions.