Matthews: Bob's NBA Playoffs Preview...

BOB’S NBA PLAYOFFS PREVIEW...

LAST CALL FOR GOLDEN STATE’S DYNASTY

LeBron James won’t be playing for in the NBA postseason the first time since 2006, but the NBA playoffs show will go on and a team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers will represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals.

The NBA playoffs start Saturday and I believe the Golden State Warriors – barring a major injury – will breeze to their third straight championship.

If not for an untimely one-game suspension to Draymond Green in the 2016 Finals loss to Cleveland, I think Golden State would be going for five straight league title and be in line for even more respect as a great dynasty.

These Warriors probably aren’t as strong as they were in their recent past championships. The addition of DeMarcus Cousins is a plus but the roster is lacking in quality depth.

I believe the Warriors coasted this season. They paced themselves and managed a relatively modest (by their standards) 57-25 record because they were focusing on being healthy and energized for the postseason.

The Warriors know the team will have a different look next season. Kevin Durant to the Knicks is the hottest rumor. Cousins, Green and Klay Thompson might also be on the move. This could be the last roundup for arguably the most entertaining team in NBA history. (NOTE: that’s “the most entertaining” team, not the “best” team).

Here’s how I see this 16-team tournament playing out:

First round

Golden State over Los Angeles Clippers in 5.

Houston over Utah in 6. Assuming Chris Paul stays healthy.

Oklahoma City over Portland in 7. Center Jusuf Nurkic’s season-ending broken leg March 25 probably erased any title hopes for the Trail Blazers.

Denver over San Antonio in 6.

Milwaukee over Detroit in 5.

Boston over Indiana in 7. The Celtics will miss Marcus Smart but improved team chemistry should help them prevail over the resourceful Pacers minus injured star Victor Oladipo.

Philadelphia over Brooklyn in 6.

Toronto in 5 over Orlando.

Second Round

Golden State over Houston in 6. James Harden is my pick to repeat as league MVP but he’d need a spectacular series for the Rockets to upset the Warriors.

Denver over Oklahoma City in 7.

Milwaukee over Boston in 6.Assuming Malcolm Brogdon and Giannis Antetokuonmpo are healthy.

Toronto over Philadelphia in 6. The 76ers have one of the NBA’s very best starting fives but the Raptors have more depth and Kawhi Leonard.

Western Conference Finals

Golden State over Denver in 5. The young Nuggets could be the team to beat in the West next season.

Toronto over Milwaukee in 6. The Greek Freak is the best player in this series but Kawhi Leonard has a slightly better supporting cast, including probable NBA Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam.

NBA Finals

Golden State over Toronto in 6. A great team goes out in convincing style before it begins to break up.

Bovada odds to win the NBA playoffs: Golden State bet $225 to win $100...Milwaukee 6.5-to-1...Toronto 9.5-to-1...Houston 11-to-1...Boston 16-to-1...Philadelphia 16-to-1...Denver 18-to-1...Denver 18-to-1...Oklahoma City 35-to-1...Portland 40-to-1...Utah 60-to-1...Indiana 80-to-1...San Antonio 80-to-1...Orlando 100-to-1...Brooklyn 125-to-1...Detroit 150-to-1...Los Angeles Clippers 150-to-1.

HERE’S A CALDER CUP EDGE FOR THE AMERKS

American Hockey League teams entering the Calder Cup playoffs always have a slight advantage if their National Hockey League affiliates don’t qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Those AHL playoff contenders usually get reinforcements after their parent clubs fail to make the 16-team NHL tournament. The fortunate AHL teams with unfortunate NHL affiliates also don’t need to worry about injury recalls.

Here are the top 10 AHL teams in points in the standings and the status of their parent teams for the Stanley Cup playoffs:

Charlotte 106 points – Carolina Panthers made the Stanley Cup playoffs

Syracuse 97 points – Tampa Bay Lightning are the team to beat in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Rochester 96 points – Buffalo Sabres failed to qualify

Chicago 95 points– St. Louis Blues made the Stanley Cup playoffs

Bridgeport 91 points– NY Islanders made the Stanley Cup playoffs

Toronto 88 points– Toronto Maple Leafs made the Stanley Cup playoffs

Hershey 88 points – Washington Capitals made the Stanley Cup playoffs

Grand Rapids 87 points – Detroit Red Wings failed to qualify

Providence 85 points – Boston Bruins made the Stanley Cup playoffs

Milwaukee 84 points – Nashville Predators made the Stanley Cup playoffs.

ARE THESE SEATTLE MARINERS FOR REAL?

The Seattle Mariners have been baseball’s best team this early season. They’re 13-2 and pulverizing baseballs. They lead the majors in batting average (.295), runs (117), home runs (36 – on pace for 449), slugging percentage (.935) and OPS (.935).

Third baseman Kyle Seager hasn’t played yet this season and is recovering from tendon surgery on his left hand, but nearly ever other Mariner has been hitting has been hitting up a storm – Domingo Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Dee Gordon, Tim Beckham, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Jay Bruce, Daniel Vogelbach, Mallex Smith and Omar Navarez.

So far, departedNelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Jean Segura have not been missed. They probably will be.The new-look Mariners simply have to cool off offensively. Maybe by a lot and maybe pretty soon.

The pitching staff’s 3.98 ERA ranks eighth in the American League. Mario Gonzales, Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc and a fading Felix Hernandez is not a top-shelf starting rotation. The bullpen has been surprisingly deep- and effective – so far.

What are reasonable expectations for Seattle? The Mariners aren’t likely to top the Houston Astros in the AL West, but they could be a wild-card threat be teams like Boston and the Yankees continue to perform below their talent levels.

My hunch is that by early September, sports fans in Seattle will be itching for the Seahawks to begin the NFL season.

IF YOU LIKE THE BILLS TO WIN SUPER BOWL 54, BOOK A FLIGHT TO LAS VEGAS

Here are the latest odds from Bovada to win Super Bowl LIV (54):

Kansas City, New England each 7-to-1

LA Rams, New Orleans each 9-to-1

Chicago, Cleveland each 12-to-1

Philadelphia 14-to-1

LA Chargers 16-to-1

Indianapolis 18-to-1

Dallas 20-to-1

Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh 22-to-1

San Francisco 25-to-1

Houston, Seattle each 28-to-1

Atlanta, Baltimore each 30-to-1

Jacksonville 33-to-1

Carolina 55-to-1

Denver 60-to-1

Oakland 66-to-1

New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Tennessee each 70-to-1

Detroit, NY Jets 80-to-1

Arizona, Buffalo, Washington 100-to-1

Cincinnati, Miami each 125-to-1.

I don’t see a better bargain at the odds than Buffalo. I don’t think the Bills will win Super Bowl 54, but I prefer their chances over San Francisco, Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay, NY Giants, Arizona, Washington, Cincinnati and Miami.

As the Super Bowl 54 odds continue to be updated and revised, I expect Buffalo’s odds will be dropping.

REDMOND FIRST AMERK FIRST-TEAM AHL ALL-STAR DEFENSEMAN SINCE 1997

Zach Redmond on Thursday became the first Rochester Americans defenseman to be chosen American Hockey League First-Team defenseman since 1997. That drought was pretty amazing.

Here are Rochester’s honor roll of AHL All-Star defensemen:

First Team – Tom William 1956-57...Steve Kraftcheck 1958-59 and 1959-60...Al Arbour 1962-63, 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66...Larry Hillman 1964-65...Bob Hess 1980-81...Bob Hess 1980-81...Richie Dunn 1987-87...Don McSween 1989-90...Bill Houlder 1990-91...Terry Hollinger 1996-97...Zach Redmond 2018-19.

Second Team – Tom Williams 1957-58...Steve Kraftcheck 1960-61...Duane Rupp 1965-66, 1966-67...Marc Reaume 1967-68...Rick Pagnutti 1972-73, 1974-75...Al Simmons 1976-76...Al Sims 1976-77...Dave Fenyves 1986-87...Jack Brownschidle 1986-87...Richie Dunn 1987-88...Terry Hollinger 1995-96...Clay Wilson 2009-10...Zach Redmond 2017-18.

TREVOR SLUMAN POSTS HIS FIRST PRO WIN – IN CHINA

Trevor Sluman, son of Brad and nephew of PGA Tour player Jeff, won his first pro tournament last week in China. He had a two-stroke lead after three rounds after shooting 67-65-66 (18-under par) in the Sanya Championship.

Fellow pro Arie Irawan died in his hotel room from “apparent natural causes” before the fourth round and the tournament was cancelled “out of respect for his family.”

Sluman, 25, is a graduate of McQuaid, won three straight RDGA titles and the 2015 New York State Amateur Championship.

The Sanya Championship was Trevor’s first four-round PGA victory and he won $44,000. He currently is playing in the Haikou Championship, the third stop on this season’s PGA Tour Series China.

SHORT SHOTS

Peter King’s Football Morning In America projects that the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft will be Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams by Buffalo.

NFL Films draft analyst Greg Cosell thinks the Bills need to get bigger at wide receiver and is high on N’Keal Harry (Arizona State as a possible pick for the Bills.

xxxIf Arizona selects Kyler Murray No. 1 it would be the second time in the common draft era (1967) that a team picked a quarterback in the first round in two straight drafts (the Cardinals selected Josh Rosen No. 10 overall in 2018). The Baltimore Colts picked Art Schlicter fourth overall in 1982 and John Elway No. 1 in 1983.

xxxNext to Tiger Woods, the person most excited about Tiger’s strong first round in the Masters on Thursday was the bettor who on Tuesday wagered $85,000 on Woods at odds of 14-to-1 at the William Hills sportsbook in Las Vegas. The bettor would win $1.19 million if Tiger wins the tournament. The winning purse is expected to be around $2 million.

xxxNHL Stanley Cup playoffs update: The five opening games Wednesday night saw three home teams lose (including runaway regular-season champion Tampa Bay) and four games decided by one goal.

xxxSign of things to come? The top line for the Buffalo Sabres last Saturday night in Detroit was Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Victor Oloffson.

xxxUpdating Baltimore’s Chris Davis: 0-for-3 with one walk and one strikeout in Thursday’s 8-5 loss to Oakland. He extended his MLB-record hitless streak for a position player to 0-for-53 since last season. A’s slugger Khris Davis hit two HRs for the second consecutive game.

xxxxxxTwo former Rochester Red Wings players are managing in Minnesota’s farm system this season: Toby Gardenhire at Single-A Ft. Myers Miracle and Brian Dinkelman at Single-A Single-A Cedar Rapids. Ray Smith is in his 26th season as manager of the Elizabethton in the Rookie Appalachian League.

xxxAttendance for the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals Thursday night in Buffalo’s KeyBank Center was poor. A few factors cited: the four teams (winners Minnesota Duluth and Massachusetts and losers Denver and Providence) Providencewere not huge draws....officials overrated the interest of Canadian fans...Buffalo’s hockey fans are weary after the disappointing season by their Sabres...and the ticket prices were way too high for the market.

xxxVasily Lomachenko is a huge favorite with his WBA, WBO and The Ring lightweight title belts on the line against Anthony Crolla, Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Lomachenko, is 31 and often described as “the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world”, Is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and has a 12-1 pro record with 9 knockouts. His only loss was a split decision in his second fight in 2014. Crolla, 32, is 34-6-3. He has only 13 knockouts and is described as a gritty fighter who can absorb punishment. He was the WBO lighthweight champion in 2015-16. Nothing is certain in boxing, but one betting site has Lomachenko bet $5,151 to win $100 and Crolla bet $100 to win $1,600. The fight is on ESPN+, 11 p.m.

xxxA possible starter in the Kentucky Derby May 4 is named Win Win Win. It would be appropriate if he were to capture the Triple Crown.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, April 12

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 26...Nate Solder 31...Ted Ginn Jr. 34...Brad Miller 43...Roman Hamrlik 45...Paul Lo Duca 47...Brad Brach 33..Adam Graves 51....Lorenzo White 53...Elaine Zayak 54...Ron Fisher 60..Dave Hanson 65....Reuben Gant 67...Mike Garrett 75...Johnny Antonelli 89. Saoirse Roan 25, Brooklyn Decker 32, Andy Garcia 63 and David Letterman 72 are invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, April 13

Rasmus Dahlin 19...Josh Gordon 28..Lorenzo Cain 33....Hunter Pence 36...Steve Pearce 36...Bryan Scott 38...Baron Davis 40...Patrick Elias 43...Sergei Gonchar 45...Dave Wohlabaugh 47...Bo Outlaw 48...Ted Washington 51...Dana Barros 52....Quinn Early 54...Jose Rijo 55...Gary Kasporov 56...Mark Leiter 56. Ron Perlman 69 and Al Green 73 are invited to the birthday party.

Sunday, April 14

Baker Mayfield 24...Joe Haden 30...Max Unger 33...Greg Zaun 48...Steve Avery 49...Brad Ausmus 50...Steve Chiasson 52...Greg Maddux 53...David Justice 53...Stan Humphries 54...Meg Allon 56...Cynthia Cooper 56...Paul McDermid 56...Pete Rose 78. Sarah Michelle Gellar 42, Adrein Brody 46, Julie Christie 78 and Loretta Lynn 84 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

81 years ago (1938), the Chicago Blackhawks became the only team to win the Stanley Cup after posting a losing record in the NHL regular season...66 years ago (1953), Ben Hogan won the Masters by five strokes over Ed Oliver...65 years ago (1954), the Minneapolis Lakers beat the Syracuse Nationals 4 games to 3 for the NBA Championship...38 years ago (1981), Tom Watson won his second Masters by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller.

Saturday, April 13

93 years ago (1926), Walter Johnson pitched his seventh Opening Day shutout for the Washington Senators...79 years ago (1940), Cornelius Warmerdam became the first pole vaulter to clear 15 feet...77 years ago (1942), Byron Nelson won the Masters by one stroke I an 180hole playoff against Ben Hogan...75 years ago (1944), the Montreal Canadiens beat the Chicago Blackhawks in a four-game sweep for their first Stanley Cup triumph since 1931...and the Baltimore Orioles lost 3-0 in Detroit in their first game...62 years ago (1957), the Boston Celtics beat the St. Louis Hawks 4 games to 3 in the 11th NBA Finals...56 years ago (1963), Pete Rose tripled for his first MLB hit...44 years ago (1975), Jack Nicklaus won his fifth Masters by one stroke over Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf...41 years ago (1978), the New York Yankees beat the White Sox in their home opener on Reggie Jackson Candy Bar Day...39 years ago (1980), US and its allies boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan...33 years ago (1986), the Boston Celtics ended their home regular season with a 40-1 record...22 years ago (1997), Tiger Woods won his first major, defeating Tom Kite by a record 12 strokes in the Masters.

Sunday, April 14

78 years ago (1941), Leslie Dawson won his third Boston Marathon on 2:30:38...59 years ago (1960), the Montreal Canadiens swept Toronto 4-0 for their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup...51 years ago (1968), the Knicks beat the San Diego Clippers in the first NBA game at Madison Square Garden...45 years ago (1974), Gary Player won the second of his three Masters titles...23 years ago (1996), Nick Faldo won his third Masters by five strokes over Greg Norman.

Bob Matthews' Column

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