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Bob Matthews' Column

The Best NBA First Round Playoffs Ever…Miami 29-TO-20 Favorite

 

 

THE BEST NBA FIRST ROUND PLAYOFFS EVER…MIAMI 29-TO-20 FAVORITE

 

The NBA first round was so terrific that the play on the court was not completely overshadowed by the Donald Sterling scandal.

 

The first round is over – by far the best first round in NBA history – and the rest of the playoffs have a tough act to follow.

 

Here’s the breakdown of the 50 first-round games:

 

Home teams were 26-24

 

Las Vegas favorites were 15-32-3 against the point spread

 

Five games were decided by 1 point…five games were decided by 2 points…five games were decided by 3 points.

 

23 games were decided by 5 points or fewer.

 

There were 7 overtime games.

 

Five of the eight series went to the maximum seven games.

 

Odds to win the championship (courtesy of VegasInsider.com):

 

Miami 29-to-20 (bet $20 to win $29)…San Antonio 4-to-1…Oklahoma City 4-to-1…Los Angeles Clippers 13-to-2…Indians 15-to-1…Portland 20-to-1…Washington 25-to-1…Brooklyn 30-to-1.

 

Why is Miami the big favorite? The Heat are the two-time defending champions and they have a relatively easy path to the Finals, with more rest time and less chance for injuries, playing in the much weaker Eastern Conference.

 

SPRAYING BASEBALL THOUGHTS TO ALL FIELDS

 

What is the most exciting young hitter + pitcher combination in Major League Baseball? My nod goes to Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins. No one hits longer home runs than Stanton, who leads the National League in HRs (10) and RBI (36). Fernandez has an amazing 1.09 ERA in his first 20 career home starts.

 

The American League leaders include former Red Wings and current Minnesota infielders Brian Dozier (31 runs and 11 stolen bases) and Trevor Plouffe (14 doubles).

 

The Yankees might dream of a trade with Colorado for infielder Troy Tulowitzki, but he is playing so well now that Rockies management can risk a fan revolt by even thinking about letting him go. He’s been the best player in the majors this season. He leads the National League in batting average (.400), runs (29), slugging percentage (.730 and OPS (1.230). He’s also an excellent shortstop.

 

It hurts to watch Yankees shortstop and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter of late. I don’t know if he’s merely in a slump or washed up and no one wants to admit it. He was hitting a respectable .294 on April 25 but is 3-for-28 since and his average is .240 and dropping fast. He isn’t driving the ball and most of the balls he hits go to the right side of the infield or to right field. He never had good range but it now is ridiculous. I don’t envy manager Joe Girardi in this situation. What can he do?

 

CC Sabathia is the Yankees pitching version of Jeter. He was great. He’s making a fortune. And he no longer is effective. If he has an arm problem. He’d have an excuse. But right now, it looks like years of overwork have caught up with him.

 

It isn’t too early to rethink the prospects for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. They were extraordinary hitting in the clutch last year. Not so this year. The lineup lacks power and speed. They looked like a cinch to win the NL Central when this season began. They’re still my pick, but they’re not likely to run away from Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.

 

Is there a stranger team than the Miami Marlins? They lead the best home record in the majors (13-5) and the worst road record in the majors (2-10).

 

I think Toronto is among the three best offensive teams in baseball. The lineup is loaded. But the Blue Jays have an awful pitching staff – particularly the bullpen. The Los Angeles Angels are in the same boat.

 

CALIFORNIA CRUISE: PREAKNESS LOOKS PROMISING…BELMONT NOT SO SURE

 

The last of the thoroughbred racing’s 11 Triple Crown winners was Affirmed – way back in 1978.

 

Obviously, winning three races in a little more than one month is a tough assignment for any three-year-old horse. Twelve horses since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes only to fail to win the Belmont Stakes.

 

California Chrome was an easy winner of the Kentucky Derby last Saturday at Churchill Downs. His victory margin was 1 ¾ lengths but jockey Victor Espinoza wasn’t pushing his colt at the finish.

 

Not everyone is sold on California Chrome, despite his five-race winning streak. The winning time of 2:03.66 was the second-slowest of the last 10 Derby winners. The competition wasn’t overly impressive. He doesn’t have great bloodlines and his stud fee was a mere $2,500.

 

Trainer Art Sherman doesn’t like to run horses off a two-week layoff. He prefers two months. But California Chrome appeared to be fit and happy after the Derby and there is no way his connections can pass up a shot at the Triple Crown. The Preakness will be Saturday, May 17, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The 1 3/16th mile distance is shorter than the Derby (1 ¼ mile).

 

The maximum field for the Preakness Stakes is 14. There were 19 starters in the Derby. There don’t appear to be any “mystery super horses” that skipped the Derby to zero in on the Preakness. Hoppertinuty, the likely second favorite in the Derby, was scratched a day before the race and is not expected to run in the Preakness. Bayern could pose a fresh threat but doesn’t appear to be imposing.

 

WilliamHillUS has posted these early odds on the Preakness Stakes: California Chrome even money…rest of the horses (the field) bet $120 to win $100.

 

That seems reasonable.

 

The Belmont Stakes on June 7 is another story. California Chrome’s ability to beat fresher horses running 1 ½ miles will be a much tougher challenge.

 

BATTLES OF NY STATE THRUWAY AND ALBERTA IN NLL SEMIFINALS

 

Rochester Knighthawks face two high hurdles in quest of the first threepeat in National Lacrosse League history – the Thruway rival Buffalo Bandits and the regular-season champion Edmonton Rush or the talented Calgary Roughnecks.

 

Buffalo ended an eight-game losing streak with a 15-13 victory at Toronto last Saturday night before a disappointing crowd of 7,867. Ryan Benesh had 7 goals and 3 assists for the Bandits.

 

Calgary outlasted the visiting Colorado Mammoth 16-15 last Saturday night before 12,375 fans. Former Knighthawks star Shawn Evans was game MVP with 4 goals and 5 assists. He scored the game-ending goal 1:23 into OT.

 

The schedule for the Division Finals:

 

East: In the “NY State Thruway Battle”, Game 1, Rochester at Buffalo, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. … Game 2, Buffalo at Rochester, Saturday, May 17, 7:30 p.m.

 

West: In the “Battle of Alberta”, Game 1, Edmonton at Calgary Saturday…Game 2, Calgary at Edmonton, Friday, May 16.

 

WHERE WILL RYAN MILLER BE PLAYING NEXT NHL SEASON?

 

Where will goaltender Ryan Miller be playing next NHL season?

 

The playofsf were a bitter disappointment to Miller and his new team – the St. Louis Blues.

 

When St. Louis acquired Miller at the trade deadline touted as the missing piece in the team’s Stanley Cup quest.

 

Miller started hot with the Blues. He was 7-0-1 in his first 8 games. But he was 3-8 in his next 11 games to close out the regular season.

 

St. Louis took a 2-0 lead over defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. Both were 4-3 overtime victories. But the  Blackhawks won the next four games – 2-0, 4-3 in overtime, 3-2 in overtime and 5-1.

 

Disappointed fans were critical of Miller and he admitted he could’ve played better.

 

Miller, who turns 34 on July 17, is an unrestricted free agent. So will be Brian Elliott, who had better stats for Chicago this regular season (18-6-2 record; 1.96 goals against average; .922 save percentage) than Miller did (10-8-2 record; 2.47 GAA; .903 save percentage). Elliott did not play in the playoffs.

 

Miller said he enjoyed playing in St . Louis and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong hasn’t said the team is interested. Chicago Wolves star Jake Allen, the AHL’s best goalie, will be one of the two goalies for the Blues next season. He’s 23 and Armstrong has said Allen will compete for the No. 1 job. Miller, who made $6 million-plus this season, would probably need to take a paycut and a relatively short-term contract to return to St. Louis.

 

Would Miller return to Buffalo? Extremely unlikely. Playing for a Stanley Cup contender is his priority and the Sabres are years away from that.

 

Miller’s off-season home is California and the Jose Sharks could be in the market for Miller after their first-round collapse against the Los Angeles Kings.

 

My odds: San Jose 40 percent…St. Louis 20 percent…Buffalo 1 percent…the field (all other teams) 39 percent.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

The Amerks gave the Chicago Wolves all they could handle before coming up short in Sunday’s Game 5 of the best-of-five series. Overall, I’m giving the Amerks a solid B for this season – an improvement over recent years. The Amerks last won the Calder Cup in 1996. With all the blue-chip draft picks and prospects the parent Buffalo Sabres have accumulated by being lousy lately, maybe Rochester is on the verge of becoming a legitimate Calder Cup champion again. Will the Sabres go the extra financial mile to make it happen for next season?

 

Cheers to the Rochester Rattlers for an 8-7 victory over the Boston Cannons in their Major League Lacrosse home opener last Friday night at Sahlen’s Stadium. The Rattlers don’t have many big-name players but Tim Soudan is a terrific coach and motivator. The team plays hard and deserves a look from this area’s large lacrosse community. The Rattlers host the New York Lizards Friday, 7:30 p.m., at Sahlen’s Stadium.

 

The Western New York Flash were up against miserable weather for last Saturday night’s home opener and a disappointing announced crowd of 3,674 watched the 1-1 draw against the defending NWSL  champion Portland Thorns. Hopefully the skies will be brighter for home games Wednesday, 7 p.m., against FC Kansas City, and Sunday. 3 p.m., against Sky Blue FC

 

I can’t recall a worse spring for weather for our local pro teams at Sahlen’s Stadium and Frontier Field. Attendance is sure to improve – when the weather does. But right now, the box office for every team is suffering.

 

NHL playoffs update: Home teams 35-20…17 overtime games…29 games decided by one goal.

 

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston was reinstated to Florida State’s baseball team on Monday after serving his community service time following a shoplifting incident. His pitching line for the Seminoles this season (the team’s record is 36-11): 16 games, all in relief; 1-0 record; team-most 5 saves; 24 innings; 14 hits allowed; 4 runs allowed;  4 earned runs; 4 walks; 25 strikeouts; .161 opposing batting average.

 

 

 

 

 

The “loser” in the main event at last Friday’s WWE live show at Blue Cross Arena at theW ar Memorial got loud cheers. Luke Harper (Jon Huber) of The Wyatt Family was pinned in his WWE debut in his hometown. He’s paid his dues and his fans and family enjoyed the show.

 

One month into the 2014 International League season, the team numbers for the Red Wings are mostly good: 16-12 record; .285 batting average No. 1 in the 14-team IL; 26 stolen bases (tied for 4th); 3.32 earned-run average 3rd; outscoring opponents by 22 runs (124-102). Rochester’s 11 home runs are tied for last. No one is complaining yet.

 

Minnesota Twins center-field prospect Byron Buxton, rated baseball’s No. 1 prospect when this season started, made his belated 2014 debut on Sunday. Recovered from a wrist injury, he was 0-for-4, with two strikeouts, with the Fort Myers Miracle of the Advanced Class A Florida State League.

 

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