Matthews: Maybe Golden State Isn't So Great?

posted by Bob Matthews - 

MAYBE GOLDEN STATE ISN’T SO GREAT?

Are the Golden State Warriors dead? Is the lastest NBA dynasty over?

The defending champion Warriors lost 98-94 in Houston Thursday night and trail the Rockets 3-2 in the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals.

But I’m not giving up on the only team I root for in pro sports. And the Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t either. The updated odds to win this series from Las Vegas SportsBook: Golden State -130 (bet $130 to win $100) and Houston +110 (bet $100 to win $110).

How can that be? The biggest reason is Houston star point guard Chris Paul’s right hamstring injury. If he plays at all in Game 6 on Saturday and/or a possible Game 7 on Monday night, how effective could he be?

Other reasons: Houston star James Harden has missed his last 20 shots from three-point range...Golden State’s Kevin Durant’s fourth-quarter disappearing act figures to end soon...Teammate Draymond Green isn’t likely to repeat his six-turnover Game 5 performance and Quinn Cook isn’t likely to shoot and miss another uncontested three-point shot with :44 left in the game the way he did Thursday night...and – most significantly – Golden State probably still is the better team.

Win or lose, these Warriors clearly aren’t as stacked as they were in recent seasons. They haven’t been passing the ball as frequently or as sharply, they have more nagging injuries and the bench isn’t nearly as strong. I was glad to see James McAdoo finally get dumped after a few weak seasons but Nick (Swaggy P) wasn’t exactly addition by subtraction.

I still believe they’ll win their third NBA championship in the last four seasons, but maybe I’m being more stubborn than smart.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS ARE MY STANLEY CUP PICK

The NHL Stanley Cup Finals begin on Memorial Day Monday in what figures to be a memorable series no matter which team wins.

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will be battling for their first Stanley Cup.

The Caps were founded in 1974 and reached the Stanley Cup Finals only once before. In their 24th season, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 (2-1, 5-4 in OT, 2-1 and 4-1).

Washington’s frustrations include winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the NFL’s best regular-season record three times (2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-18) but failing to seal the Cup deal each time:

2009-10 – 54-15-13 record, 121 points...lost in the first round 4-3 to Montreal

2015-16 – 56-18-8 record, 120 points...lost in the second round 4-2 to Pittsburgh

2016-17 – 55-19-8 record, 118 points...lost in the second round 4-3 to Pittsburgh. The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup both times.

The Golden Knights haven’t been around long enough to be frustrated. They weren’t even a team one year ago. George McPhee did a marvelous job building a roster consisting mainly of players deemed expendable by their former teams. They’ve been called the “Golden Misfits” and they’re proud of it.

Here’s how the teams measure up (stats include the regular season plus the playoffs):

Records – Vegas 63-27-7...Washington 61-33-7

Home/road records – Vegas 35-11-2/28-16-5...Washington 32-16-2/29-17-5

Goals for/against/DIFF – Vegas 318/255/+63...Washington 325/286/+39

Power play percentage – Vegas 19.1 (62-for-324)...Washington 23.8 (72-for-303)

Penalty killing percentage – Vegas .828 (240-for-290)...Washington .794 (262-for-330)

Worth noting – The Caps are 8-2 on the road in the playoffs and the Golden Knights are 6-1 at home...The Caps have the more dangerous power play. Vegas ranked 30th in penalty minutes in the regular season and would be wise to continue to avoid the penalty box against the potent Caps...Alexander Ovechkin has by far the most goals in the NHL (607) since he entered the NHL and the Caps will rally around him in his first Cup appearance...Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was a member of two-time defending Cup champion Pittsburgh and has been terrific in goal for Vegas in this postseason: 12-3 record; 1.68 AAA; .947 save percentage; 4 shutouts)...Caps goalie Braden Holtby didn’t start in the first two games of these playoffs but had shutouts in Games 6 and 7 against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals.

My prediction – Vegas in 7 games. The Golden Knights know they are on the verge of an unprecedented achievement – expansion teams aren’t supposed to be above .500 let alone contend for a championship. The Golden Knights would be tough to beat out for Associated Press Sports Story of the Year if they win the Stanley Cup, they’d be a more popular choice than the runaway 2017 AP Sports Story of the Year:  President Trump’s feud with NFL players and the NFL regarding kneeling during the National Anthem.

THE CELTICS ARE 10-0 AT HOME AND 1-6 ON THE ROAD

The Boston Celtics lead Cleveland 3-2 in the best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference finals and can polish off the Cavaliers on the road Friday night.

Don’t count on that happening.

The Celtics are 10-0 at home and 1-6 on the road in these playoffs. That’s tough to believe.

Boston has outscored opponents 1,087 to 972 (+115 points) at home and has been outscored 745 to 661 (-84) on the road

Game 7 would be Sunday night in Boston.

THE 100 “MOST FAMOUS ATHLETES IN THE WORLD”

ESPN loves lists and most of them are interesting and thought provoking.

The third annual rankings of The Biggest Names In Sports came out this week. Baseball and hockey didn’t fare well. In fact, they were blanked.

The athletes were judged in three categories: search scores; endorsement dollars; and social media followers.

The top 10: 1-Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer)...2-LeBron James (basketball)...3-Lionel Messi (soccer)...4-Neymar (soccer)...5-Roger Federer (tennis)...6-Tiger Woods (golf)...7-Kevin Durant (basketball)...8-Rafael Nadal (tennis)...9-Stephen Curry (basketball)...10-Phil Mickelson (golf).

The breakdown by sports – Soccer 33...basketball 13...tennis 12...cricket 10 (really; but no baseball players)...golf 8...NFL 7...boxing 6...swimming 3...table tennis 2...badminton 1...figure skating 1...skiing 1...snowboarding 1...auto racing 1...MMA 1.

There are 30 Americans on the list (including 5 of the top 10). Not bad. But many of the other athletes on the list I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard of – unless you’re a big cricket fan.

SANO, VARGAS AND CARTER WOULD’VE BEEN SOMETHING TO SEE

The Minnesota Twins recalled slugger Miguel Sano on Thursday after a brief but productive rehab stint (.375, 6-for-16, 2 HRs, 3 RBI in 6 games).

I was hopeful that Red Wings fans would get a chance to see big boppers Sano, Kennys Vargas and newcomer Chris Carter on Rochester’s roster at the same time. Few minor-league teams ever had a trio of players with such awesome power.

That possibility reminded me of the 1963 Red Wings, with veteran sluggers Luke Easter, Steve Bilko and Joe Altobelli.

Easter was near the end of his playing career. He turned 48 that season. He still could hit but he no longer could run. Bilko was a Red Wing in 1949 (34 HRs and 125 RBI) and had 148 HRs in three seasons (1955-56-57) with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League. But he also was at the end of the line as a player in his return trip to Rochester. Altobelli, a former International League home-run champion (31 HRs with Montreal in 1960), was in his mid-30s and still a solid Triple-A hitter.

Alto recalled the personnel problem Wings manager Darrell Johnson faced in 1963. There was no DH rule and he had three first basemen on his roster, including the immobile Easter and Bilko.

“Darrell didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I looked at Luke. Then I looked at Bilko. Then I grabbed two gloves – one for first base and one to help in the outfield.”

The Red Wings finished 75-76 that season. The pitchers included Billy Short, Dave Vineyard, Frank Bertaina and legendary fireballer Steve Dalkowski. The position players included Ozzie Virgil, Fred Valentine, Sam Bowens, Davey Johnson and Sam Bowens.

Naturally, my three favorite players were the three aging sluggers. They were fun to watch even though they didn’t have much left:

Altobelli -- .244 (77-for-315), 13 doubles, 15 HRs, 44 RBI in 97 games.

Steve Bilko -- .261 (68-for-261), 8 HRs, 37 RBI in 101 games, many of them as a pinch-hitter.

Luke Easter -- .271 (51-for-188), 6 HRs, 325 RBI in 77 games.

GOOD TIME TO PLAY SIX GAMES IN FOUR DATES VERSUS THE BISONS?

The Rochester Red Wings completed their road trip with a 2-0 win at Lehigh Valley Thursday night to boost their record to 23-18 and close within one-half game of the IronPigs in the International League North.

With their IL-best ERA down to 2.95 and the big bats of Nick Gordon and Chris Carter added to the lineup, Friday afternoon could a good time to start a stretch of six games in four days and nights against the Buffalo Bisons at Frontier Field.

The Wings are 9-10 at home but 14-8 on the road. The only other IL team with a winning road record is Toledo at 13-9.

SHORT SHOTS

Thank you to CWE Rochester (16 on my TV dial) for arranging to carry live the National Lacrosse League best-of-three Finals between the Rochester Knighthawks and the Saskatchewan Rush. Game 1 will be Saturday, 9:30 p.m., from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Cheers to Brighton High School (Class of 1996) product Peter Milliman, 40, for yesterday being named the 12th head coach in Cornell’s lacrosse history. He was a three-time Division III All-American at Gettysburg College (Pa.) and played portions of four seasons with the Major League Lacrosse Rochester Rattlers, including the 2008 championship team. He was Cornell’s interim head coach this season (13-5, lost in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals).

Updated odds to win the NBA championship (courtesy of BetOnline): Golden State even (bet $100 to win $100)...Houston +160 (bet $100 to win $160)...Boston $800...Cleveland $1,000.

Updating the home-run count for the New York Yankees: 79 through 47 games. On pace for 272 HRs. The Major League Baseball record is 264 by the 1997 Seattle Mariners.

Updating 19-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Double-A Eastern League 2-for-4 with a home run Thursday night; batting average up to a ridiculous .427 (70-for-164) with 9 HRs and 46 RBI in 42 games.

Reminder: The UEFA Champions League Final Saturday between Real Madrid (featuring Cristiano Ronaldo) and Liverpool FC (featuring Mohammed Salah) will be 2:45 p.m., on FOX Sports.

LeBron James on Thursday was named All-NBA First Team for a record 12th time. He passed 11-time All-NBA First Teamers Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone. Michael Jordan was a 10-time All-NBA First Team pick. He was Second Team his rookie season, sat out almost two seasons while pursuing a baseball career, later retired for three seasons and then returned to play two seasons with Washington at ages 38 and 39.

Long-time popular sportswriter/columnist Bucky Gleason has accepted a buyout and will be leaving The Buffalo News after 20 years.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, May 25

Matt Murray (24)...Aly Raisman (24)...Roman Reigns (33)...Eric Young (33)...Jason Kubel (36)...Shawne Merriman (34)...Brian Urlacher (40)...Alberto Delo Rio (41)...Tarik Glenn (42)...Miguel Tejada (44)...Shane Nelson (63)...Nick Fotiu (66)...Sgt. Slaughter (70)...K.C. Jones (86). Anne Heche (49), Mike Myers (55) and Allison Stern (64) are invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, May 26

Jimmy Vesey (25)...Ben Zobrist (37)...Travis Lee (43)...Zola Budd Pieterse (52)...Wesley Walker (63)...Dan Pastorini (69)...Darrell Evans (71). Lauryn Hill (43), Lenny Kravitz (54), Hank Williams Jr. (69) and Stevie Nicks (70) are invited to the birthday party.

Sunday, May 27

Jose Berrios (24)...Devontae Booker (26)...Vontae Davis (30)...Danell Dockett (37)...Mehmet Okur (39)...Richard Park (42)...Danny Wuerfefel (44)...Antonio Freeman (46)...Todd Hundley (49)...Jeff Bagwell (50)...Brank “Big Hurt” Thomas (50)...jockey Chin Yang (51)...George McCloud (51)...Ray Sheppard (52)...Pat Cash (53)...NFL RB Tony Collins of Penn Yann (59)...Nick LOowery (62)...Eric Bishoff (63)...Jackie Slater (64)...Dan Roundfield (65)...Mike Kadish (68)...Terry Collins (69)...Gary Nolan (70). Joseph Fiennes (48) and Todd Bridges (53) are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

May 25

99 years ago (1919), Casey Stengel released a sparrow from under his baseball cap...83 years ago (1935), Babe Ruth hit his last three HRs for the Boston Braves versus Pittsburgh...83 years ago (1935), Jesse Owens tied or broke four world records within 45 minutes during a Big Ten track and field meet in Ann Arbor, Mich. ....70 years ago (1948), Ben Hogan won the 30th PGA Championship....67 years ago (1951), Willie Mays went 0-for-5 in his first game with the New York Giants...53 years ago (1965), Muhammad Ali KOd Sonny Liston in their heavyweight title rematch...40 years ago (1978), the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins 4 games to 2 for the Stanley Cup...37 years ago (1981), Carl Yastrzemski became the fourth Major League Baseball player with 3,000 hits.

May 26

93 years ago (1925), Ty Cobb became the first MLB player to collect 1,000 extra-base hits...25 years ago (1993), Carlos Martinez hit a home run off Jose Canseco’s head...22 years ago (1996), Rosie Jones won the LPGA Corning Classic.

May 27

50 years ago (1968), George Halas retired as coach of the Chicago Bears with 318 regular-season wins and six NFL titles...43 years ago (1975), the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Buffalo Sabres 4 games to 2 for the Stanley Cup.

 

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