BOB’S NBA FINALS PICK: GOLDEN STATE IN FIVE GAMES MAX OVER CLEVELAND
Golden State and the Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season and the Warriors figure to easily prevail for the third time.
The Cavaliers won the title in 2016, helped mightily by the suspension of Warriors star Draymond Green for Game 5. Golden State led the series 3-1 but lost the momentum and didn’t win another game. LeBron James was the Finals MVP as Cleveland became only the fourth team to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road.
The current Warriors aren’t as strong as they were in the previous three seasons. They don’t have nearly as much quality depth, with or without Andre Iguodala, who sat out the last four games of the Western Conference finals with a sore knee. The bench is very weak and includes four seldom-used and not-very-good centers.
But Cleveland also has slipped since 2016. LeBron James has been spectacular in these playoffs but even he is no hardwood miracle man.
King James has proved in these playoffs that he still is the best player is the NBA today (if MVP balloting included the postseason – and I believe it should – James would likely be the winner instead of Houston’s James Harden, who once again came up short in the playoffs) but Golden State is a much better team than Cleveland.
The Warriors are 12-point favorites in Game 1 at home Thursday night and -1000 to win the series (bet $1,000 to win $100). The Cavs are +650 (bet $100 to win $650).
Golden State has too much firepower for Cleveland or any other team in the NBA. Even King James can’t overcome three of the greatest shooters in NBA history – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
The three-point shot is the best weapon in basketball today and no team does it as well as the Warriors. When two of the three elite gunners are shooting well, Golden State is nearly impossible to beat. When all three are hitting, forget it!
The two Game 7s of the conference finals were strong examples of living and dying by with the three-point shot:
Eastern Conference – Cleveland 87, Boston 79. The visiting Cavaliers were a modest 25.7 percent (9-for-35) from 3-point range but the Celtics were a brutal 17.9 percent (7-for-39).
Western Conference – Golden State 101, Houston 92 – Durant, Curry and Thompson were a combined 15-for-33 from three-point range. The host Rockets were 15.9 percent (7-for-44) and at one point missed 27 consecutive three-point attempts.
If the Cavaliers win more than one game in the Finals starting Thursday night I’ll be surprised. But LeBron James already has convinced me to elevate him alongside Michael Jordan as co-captains of my All-Time All-NBA Top Five Players. I’ll continue to listen and respond to any and all debates regarding the 3, 4 and 5 spots.
SUGGESTION: LEGAL SPORTS GAMBLING $$$ TO BUILD NEW STADIUM FOR THE BILLS
How’s this for a wild idea: a 65,000-seat, multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof somewhere between Buffalo and Rochester.
The main tenant would be the Buffalo Bills.
The NFL is pressuring the Pegulas to come up with a new stadium and Kim suggested last week that she and Terry aren’t quite rich enough to build it themselves.
Might the combined political clout of all of Western New York be enough to sell Albany on this ambitious project. A logical chunk of the money to build it – it seems to me – would be a healthy slice of the state’s revenues from legal sports gambling.
Non-sports fans might like that idea.
I wonder if the Pegulas might be interested in a significant investment in this proposed stadium. They’d probably do a great job operating it.
One argument against a lavish new stadium for the Bills is that the NFL team would use it for less than a dozen dates per year (including a playoff game or two every now and then).
Could the facility be used for at least 100 dates per year? Football and maybe soccer (a Western New York MLS team?), an upgraded University of Buffalo football product and major concerts. Maybe a Syracuse basketball game or two.
Sure, this is a long shot, but is it worth some discussion and consideration?
THE KNIGHTHAWKS ARE IN VERY DEEP AGAINST THE RUSH
The Rochester Knighthawks did three important things very well last Saturday night against the mighty host Saskatchewan Rush in Game 1 of the best-of-three National Lacrosse League Finals.
They wanted to contain NLL scoring champion Mark Matthews. They wanted to stymie the NLL’s most potent power play. They wanted to win the battle of the faceoffs.
Matthews finished with one goal and two assists. The Rush were 1-for-7 on the power play. Rookie Jake Withers customarily won 20 of his 28 faceoffs.
But Saskatchewan still won 16-9 and it was it was not a fluke. The Hawks led 4-3 but the Rush ran off seven straight goals and weren’t seriously threatened thereafter.
The Rush were 14-4 in the regular season -- 0-2 against Rochester and 14-2 versus the rest of the league.
But the Hawks weren’t overconfident last Saturday night. Goalie Matt Vinc for one was very wary of Saskatchewan. During a radio interview last week, he noted that Rochester after starting the season 2-6 was desperate to win those two regular-season games against the Rush. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan was cruising to the league’s best record and had all but clinched a spot in the playoffs.
Rochester needs to win Saturday, 8 p.m., at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial to tie the series and force a deciding Game 3 in Saskatchewan Saturday, June 9.
A large and enthusiastic home crowd couldn’t hurt but it might not be enough against one of the NLL’s all-time best teams. Thus Rush are loaded with talent, experience and confidence.
SPRAYING BASEBALL HITS TO ALL FIELDS
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees were on the cover of most of the 2018 Baseball Preview magazines and touted as baseball’s most lethal 1-2 punch.
They’ve been OK but by far the best 1-2 punch in the majors so far this season is Boston’s Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez:
Betts -- .359 batting average (66-for-184)...52 runs...19 doubles...1 triple...17 HRs...37 RBI...138 total bases...24 walks...25 strikeouts...OPS 1.187 (on-base percentage + slugging percentage)
Martinez -- .320 (63-for-197)...34 runs...12 doubles...1 triple...17 HRs...44 RBI...128 total bases...19 walks...54 strikeouts...OPS 1.029.
Judge -- .283 (53-for-187)...39 runs...11 doubles...14 HRs...39 RBI...106 total bases...42 walks...68 strikeouts...OPS .985
Stanton -- .246 (48-for-195)...34 runs...10 doubles...1 triple...11 HRs...28 RBI...93 total bases...19 walks...69 strikeouts...OPS .800.
--Justin Verlander is making a strong bid for his second Cy Young Award and padding his credentials for the Hall of Fame. After beating the host New York Yankees on Memorial Day, Verlander is 12-2 since being traded by Detroit to Houston late last season. In 17 starts with the Astros, he has a 12-2 record and a 1.08 ERA. In 115 1/3 innings, he has allowed only 60 hits and struck out 141. His career record is 195-116 with a 3.37 ERA. He won the AL Cy Young Award with the Tigers in 2011: 24-5 record; 2.40 ERA.
--Vladimir Guerrero Jr., update: The 19-year-old future Toronto Blue Jays star was 2-for-4 Monday to boost his ridiculous batting average to .433 with the Double-A Eastern League New Hampshire Fisher Cats. He’s 77-for-178, with 18 doubles, 10 HRs, 50 RBI and only 20 strikeouts.
AUDIBLE OUT OF THE BELMONT STAKES IS VERY FISHY
Will Justify be crowned as thoroughbred horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion on June 9 or become the 24th thoroughbred since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown in 1919 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but fail to seal the deal in the Belmont Stakes?
Justify’s Triple Crown hopes improved significantly last week when Audible, after closing for third in the Derby and skipping the Preakness to freshen up, was declared out of the Belmont Stakes.
I get it but I don’t like it.
The group that owns Justify also owns Audible. Why would they risk having Audible spoil Justify’s bid for the Triple Crown? Justify’s stud fees would be much higher as a Triple Crown champion than as a near miss.
Audible’s trainer, Todd Pletcher said he wants to concentrate on the Haskell or Travers later this summer. Sounds fishy to me. He’d ordinarily like to foil the Triple Crown hopes of Justify and Bob Baffert, his arch-rival trainer. Pletcher probably doesn’t want to tick off the connections of Justify, who own a lot of top-notch horses and might want Pletcher to train them in the future.
But I’m sure genuine and casual horse racing fans would consider Justify a watered-down Triple Crown winner if he beats a field minus Audible.
In the early odds for the Belmont Stakes, Justify was even money and Audible was second choice at 9-to-2.
I still give a big shot in the Belmont Stakes to Bravazo, an impressive second in the Preakness and not owned by the Justify/Audible connections.
SABRES LOADING UP ON SWEDES
When the Buffalo Sabres pick defenseman Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall in the 2018 NHL entry draft June 22 in Dallas, he’ll add to the Swedish flavor on the team’s roster.
The Sabres signed 20-year-old Swedish forward Rasmus Asplund last week. He was the No. 33 overall pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft by Buffalo and spent the last four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (20 goals and 42 assists in 170 games).
Other Swedes on Buffalo’s roster include left wing Alex Nylander, defenseman Lawrence Pilut, right wing Victor Oloffson, center Johan Larrson and goalies Robin Lehner (for now) and Linus Ullmark.
Center Jacob Josefson won’t be back. After scoring 2 goals and 2 assists between injuries in 39 games with last season’s Sabres, he returned to Sweden with a new contract through 2022.
OUR DEPARTED PRO TEAMS ARE DOING VERY WELL
The former United Soccer League Rochester Rhinos, National Women’s Professional Soccer League WNY Flash and Major League Lacrosse Rochester Rattlers are enjoying fine 2018 seasons in their new homes.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds, with former Rhinos coach Bob Lilley and seven former Rhinos players on his roster, are the only undefeated team in the USL, with 4 wins, 0 losses and 6 draws. They tied visiting Penn FC last Saturday, 0-0 for the second time this season. Penfield product Dan Lynd was “Man of the Match” for making three saves in his fourth “clean sheet” (shutout) of the season. The Hounds have outscored opponents 12-5 in the regular season. They host Nashville SC Wednesday night. They played to a 0-0 draw earlier this season.
The WNY Flash-turned-North Carolina Courage lead NWSL with an 8-0-2 record, outscoring opponents 19-9 (+10). They play at Portland Wednesday night. The Courage are averaging 4,199 for six home games. Not great, but if they averaged that much at Sahlen’s Stadium, they’d still be here.
The Rochester Rattlers-turned-Dallas Rattlers are 5-2 after a 19-13 road win over the Florida Launch last Saturday. They drew 4,732 to their second home game, a 15-14 overtime victory over the Atlanta Blaze.
MARLIES LOOK LIKE A LOCK FOR FIRST CALDER CUPThe Amerks played the Toronto Marlies tough throughout this American Hockey League season. Considering how the Marlies are performing in the Calder Cup playoffs, that was quite an achievement.
Including a 4-0 victory over the Utica Comets in the deciding Game 5 of the first round, the Marlies are on a 9-0 roll and outscoring g opponents 36-13. They’ll open the Calder Cup Finals Saturday against the Texas Star, who eliminated the Rockford Ice Hogs, 2-1 in overtime Monday night, to win their Westeren Conference final 4 games to 2.
The Marlies haven’t won a Calder Cup since the franchise moved to Toronto from New Brunswick-to-St. Catharines-to Newmarket-to-St. John’s in 2005. The parent NHL Map-le Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. How long ago was that? Amerks Hall of Famer Jim Pappin was credited with the Cup-winning goal in Game 6 of Toronto’s 4 games to 2 win over Montreal. Pappin, who scored 30 goals in 37 Calder Cup games for Rochester, is 78 years old.
The Red Wings had a disappointing 1-5 record for their rare six games-in-four dates series against the Buffalo Bisons at Frontier Field last Friday through Monday. They were 23-18 when the homestand started and 24-23 when it ended with a 4-2 loss before 10,213 fans on Memorial Day. The highlight was 11,162 consumed by the crowd. The Wings began a six-game trip Tuesday to Indianapolis and Durham with a 10-15 home record and an International League-best 14-8 on the road.
I find it interesting that the planned $118 million renovations for Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome include air conditioning but opens the door for more lucrative naming rights from a sponsor other than the Carrier company.
The Pain Clinic crew at FOX Sports 1280 says there is speculation that Ronda Rousey will make her debut as a solo WWE pro wrestler at the RAW show in Buffalo, Monday July 16. Subject to change, of course.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Wednesday, May 30
Jeremy Lamb (26)...Harrison Barnes (26)...Zack Wheeler (28)...Kamar Aiken (29)...Je’Rod Cherry (45)...Manny Ramirez (46)...Sam Rogers (48)...Wes Jarvis (60)...Jake “The Snake” Roberts (63)...Greg Joly (64)...P.J. Carlesimo (69)...Lydell Mitchell (69)...Gale Sayers (75).
Thursday, May 31
Bryce Petty (27)...Eric Karlsson (28)...Marcus Reus (29)...Nate Robinson (32)...Leger Douzable (32)...Jordy Nelson (33)...Lorenzo Alexander (35)...Jake Peavy (37)...Jim Carey (44)...Dave Roberts (46)...Kenny Lofton (51)...Norm Johnson (58)...Jim Craig (61)...Laura Baugh (63)...Gordie Clark (66)...Tippy Martinez (68)...Joe Namath (75).
ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...
117 years ago (1911), Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 with an average speed of 74.59 MPH...91 years ago (1927), Walter Johnson pitched the 113th and final shutout of his Washington Senators career...81 years ago (1937), Carl Hubbell won his 24th consecutive decision with the New York Giants...78 years ago (1940), Wilbur Shaw won his second straight Indianapolis 500...70 years ago (1948), Tommy Lasorda of the Schenectady Blue Jays struck out 25 in a 15-inning game...62 years ago (1956), Mickey Mantle missed hitting the first home run out of Yankee Stadium by 18 inches...50 years ago (1968), Bobby Unser won the Indianapolis 500 at an average speed of 246.040 MPH. Ray Harroun would’ve been impressed.
76 years ago (1942), Sam Snead won the 25th PGA Championship...53 years ago (1965), Scotland’s Jim Clark became the first foreigner to win the Indianapolis 500...35 years ago (1983), the Philadelphia 76ers swept the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA Championship...19 years ago (1999), the Buffalo Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4 games to 1 in the NHL Eastern Conference Final...3 years ago (2005), Harriette Thompson, aged 92 years and 65 days, became the oldest woman to complete a marathon.