Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs

The 2014 NBA Playoffs are underway! Many of the same teams return, eyeing a shot at ending the Heat's bid for a 3-peat. The Heat and Pacers appeared to be on a collision course to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals all season. That doesn't seem like such a sure bet anymore. Both teams stumbled down the stretch, but managed to finish as the rope seeds in the East. With that said, Miami is still the favorite to win the East for a fourth consecutive season. The West is much more competitive, with all eight teams winning at least 49 games. The Spurs are favored to come out of the West for the second straight year. The Thunder, Clippers, and Rockets should be the biggest challengers to San Antonio. Let's take a look at how I expect the NBA Playoffs to unfold.

For the opening round, I have listed all of the individual matchups in each series with the player I give the advantage to listed in bold.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

1 Indiana (-625) vs. 8 Atlanta (+460)

PG - George Hill vs. Jeff Teague
SG - Lance Stephenson vs. Kyle Korver
SF - Paul George vs. Cartier Martin
PF - David West vs. Paul Millsap
C - Roy Hibbert vs. Pero Antic
Bench - Indiana vs. Atlanta
Coach - Frank Vogel vs. Mike Budenholzer

The Pacers were dominant in the first half of the season, but the wheels fell off the wagon heading down the stretch. Despite their poor play of late, they managed to secure home court advantage. Atlanta played Indiana tough in the regular season. The Pavers are fragile right now, so expect the Hawks to be competitive. At the end of the day, Indiana should be able to advance.

Prediction - Indiana over Atlanta 4-2

4 Chicago (-200) vs. 5 Washington (+170)

PG - Kirk Hinrich vs. John Wall
SG - Jimmy Butler vs. Bradley Beal
SF - Mike Dunleavy vs. Trevor Ariza
PF - Carlos Boozer vs. Michael Booker
C - Joakim Noah vs. Marcin Gortat
Bench - Chicago vs. Washington
Coach - Tom Thibodeau vs. Randy Wittman

The Chicago Bulls have overachieved more than any team in the NBA over the last couple seasons. The Bulls simply out work teams. The Wizards probably have more individual talent than the Bulls, but do they have the spirit needed to win a 7-game series against a team as hard-nosed as Chicago? There is very little playoff experience for Washington, so his could be a tough draw for the.

Prediction - Chicago over Washington 4-3

3 Toronto (-105) vs. 6 Brooklyn (-115)

PG - Kyle Lowry vs. Derron Williams
SG - Terrance Ross vs. Shaun Livingston
SF - DeMar DeRozan vs. Joe Johnson
PF - Amir Johnson vs. Paul Pierce
C - Jonas Valenciunas vs. Kevin Garnett
Bench - Toronto vs. Brooklyn
Coach - Dwayne Casey vs. Jason Kidd

This isn't a sexy series. Primarily because of the Raptors. The average basketball fan has no idea how good Toronto is this season. They have a number of players having career years, and play very well
together. Since a 7-12 start, the Raptors have the best record in the East. The Nets underachieved all season long, but this team was built to win the playoffs. They will have a tough go of it.

Prediction - Toronto vs Brooklyn 4-3

2 Miami (-3400) vs. 7 Charlotte (+1600)

PG - Mario Chalmers vs. Kemba Walker
SG - Dwayne Wade vs. Gerald Henderson
SF - LeBron James vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF - Shane Battier vs. Josh McRoberts
C - Chris Bosh vs. Al Jefferson
Bench - Miami vs. Charlotte
Coach - Erik Spoelstra vs. Steve Clifford

There is always a lot of attention drawn to the Heat regardless of who their opponent is. The Bobcats don't come with a lot of fan fare, but that doesn't mean that this series will not get attention. This is a battle of two teams heading in opposite directions. Miami did not play at a a championship level for much of the year. Charlotte was one of the most improved teams in the league. The Bobcats will learn from the playoff experience, but they have no chance to advance.

Prediction - Miami over Charlotte 4-1

Western Conference Quarterfinals

1 San Antonio (-1000) vs. 8 Dallas (+650)

PG - Tony Parker vs. Jose Calderon
SG - Danny Green vs. Monta Ellis
SF - Kawhi Leonard vs. Shawn Marion
PF - Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki
C - Tiago Splitter vs. Samuel Dalembert
Bench - San Antonio vs. Dallas
Coach - Gregg Popovich vs. Randy Carlisle

San Antonio and Dallas have been battling it out for Texan supremacy for over a decade now. Even as their core players get long in the tooth, they find themselves in the postseason year after year. After the Spurs lost the NBA Finals in heartbreaking fashion last season, meny questioned whether they had had their last run. But here they are with the best record in the NBA. The Mavs are a talented team, unfortunately for them, the Spurs have that pep in their step again.

Prediction - San Antonio over Dallas 4-1

4 Houston (-220) vs. 5 Portland (+185)

PG - Patrick Beverley vs. Damian Lillard
SG - James Harden vs. Wesley Matthews
SF - Chandler Parsons vs. Nicolas Batum
PF - Terrence Jones vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
C - Dwight Howard vs. Robin Lopez
Bench - Houston vs. Portland
Coach - Kevin McHale vs. Terry Stotts

This could be the most entertaining series of the opening round. It has the potential to be first team to score 120 wins. The Rockets are one of those teams that are capable of beating anyone, but could also lose to just about anyone. The Blazers came of age this year as Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge blossomed into stars. This will be their first playoff experience though. That gives Houston the advantage.

Prediction - Houston over Portland 4-2

3 LA Clippers (-360) vs. 6 Golden State (+280)

PG - Chris Paul vs. Stephen Curry
SG - JJ Redick vs. Klay Thompson
SF - Matt Barnes vs. Andre Iguodala
PF - Blake Griffin vs. David Lee
C - DeAndre Jordan vs. Jermaine O'Neal
Bench - LA Clippers vs. Golden State
Coach - Doc Rivers vs. Mark Jackson

The Clippers and Warriors have enveloped a dislike for one another and have a budding rivalry. Now that both teams are relevant and meeting in the postseason, the drama will be at an all time high. Klay Thompson and Blake Griffin have already began to jaw. The play on the court is what really matters though. The Clippes have more talent and should March on.

Prediction - LA Clippers over Golden State 4-2

2 Oklahoma City (-460) vs. 7 Memphis (+360)

PG - Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley
SG - Thabo Sefolosha vs. Courtney Lee
SF - Kevin Durant vs. Tayshaun Prince
PF - Serge Ibaka vs. Zach Randolph
C - Steven Adams vs. Marc Gasol
Bench - Oklahoma City vs. Memphis
Coach - Scott Brooks vs. David Joerger

The West is just brutal. You win 59 games and get the 2 seed and your reward is playing a 50-win team that made it to the Conference Finals last year. That is what faces the Oklahoma City Thunder as they prepare to face the Memphis Grizzlies. This seems a bit unfair, but at least it provides a compelling matchup for the fans. In the end, Durant has had way too good of a year for him to go home early.

Prediction - Oklahoma City over Memphis 4-3

And here are my picks for the rest of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

Eastern Conference Semifinals
1 Indiana over 4 Chicago 4-2
2 Miami over 3 Toronto 4-1

Western Conference Semifinals
1 San Antonio over 4 Houston 4-3
3 LA Clippers over 2 Oklahoma City 4-2

Eastern Conference Finals
2 Miami over 1 Indiana 4-3

Western Conference Finals
1 San Antonio over 3 LA Clippers 4-3

NBA Finals
2 Miami over 1 San Antonio 4-2

For the third straight year the Miami Heat will win the Larry O'Brien trophy, and for the second straight year it will be against the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron and D-Wade will join the likes of Jordan and Pippen, and Shaq and Kobe, as terrific tandems that accomplished a 3-peat.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

It's time for playoff hockey. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are as grueling and intense as any playoffs you can find.the action officially gets going tonight. The Boston Bruins are the favorite to hoist the Cup this season. The Bruins were dominant in the second half of the regular season, and look to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive season. The Bruins edged out the Anaheim Ducks to claim the President's Trophy. The best team in the NHL for much of the season was the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were my preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup, but a recent streak of injuries and poor play has them skidding into the playoffs. The Blues will need to regain some of their health and have Ryan Miller elevate his game for that pick to come to fruition. Here is how I expect the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs to play out.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Boston (-320) vs. Detroit (+260)

The Boston Bruins had the best record in the NHL this season. Their reward? Drawing the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round. The Red Wings defeated the Bruins three out of four times they played this season. Boston has the talent and experience to withstand their regular season woes against Detroit. I expect the Bruins to advance.

Prediction - Boston over Detroit 4-2

Tampa Bay (-105) vs. Montreal (-115)

The Tampa Bay Lightning played great hockey at the beginning of the season. They faded late, but were able to hang on to 2nd place in the Atlantic Division and earn home ice for this series. That could be crucial in such an even matchup. Carey Price will need to come up big against the offensive firepower of Tampa. I think he will.

Prediction - Montreal over Tampa Bay 4-3

Pittsburgh (-295) vs. Columbus (+245)

Pittsburgh has been the most disappointing playoff team of the last few seasons. They will play the up and coming Columbus Blue Jackets in the Quarterfinals. Many will view this as an easy matchup for the Penguins, but the Blue Jackets are a young and hungry bunch. Pittsburgh needs to win now or face major changes to the team that it is currently constructed.

Prediction - Pittsburgh over Columbus 4-1

NY Rangers (-150) vs. Philadelphia (+130)

This has the potential to be an outstanding series. The Rangers and Flyers both played their best hockey in the second half of the season, and have the confidence to make a playoff run. Steve Mason is battling injury for Philly. If he misses any games in net, as it appears he will, that will swing the momentum in the Rangers' favor in a big way.

Prediction - NY Rangers over Philadelphia 4-3

Western Conference Quarterfinals

Anaheim (-185) vs. Dallas (+160)

The Anaheim Ducks were consistently good all season long. They wound up clinching home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs. They have been great throughout the last couple regular seasons, but they have had a history of underachieving in the postseason. Dallas is capable of winning this series. But it all begins with the goaltending. They must win that battle to have a fighting chance.

Prediction - Anaheim over Dallas 4-1

San Jose (-145) vs. Los Angeles (+125)

San Jose and Los Angeles are making it a habit of playing playoff hockey against one another. This will be the third time in four years that they meet when it matters most. The Kings won the Stanley Cup as recently as 2012. The Sharks are still chasing that elusive Cup. They are making their 10th consecutive playoff appearance and expect it to end differently from the previous nine. Will this be the year? I'm taking the Kings.

Prediction - Los Angeles over San Jose 4-3

Colorado (-140) vs. Minnesota (+120)

Patrick Roy has completely changed this Colorado team around. The Avs have not been relevant in years. They were expected to be that way this year as well. Enter Patrick Roy as head coach, and they win the Central Division. Will that translate into postseason success? Minnesota may very well have a more talented roster than Colorado, despite the way the standings look.

Prediction - Minnesota over Colorado 4-2

St. Louis (-105) vs. Chicago (-115)

This is as good as you will see for a Quarterfinal matchup. Unfortunately, the matchup has lost some of its luster because of the mounting injuries on both sides. I picked the Blackhawks to win the Cup last season and they didn't disappoint. I picked the Blues to win it this year. I'm not feeling nearly as confident. I need the Blues to right themselves if I want to correctly pick the Cup winner for a fourth consecutive year.

Prediction - St. Louis over Chicago 4-3

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Boston over Montreal 4-1
Pittsburgh over NY Rangers 4-2

Western Conference Semifinals
Los Angeles over Anaheim 4-2
St. Louis over Minnesota 4-1

Eastern Conference Finals
Boston over Pittsburgh 4-2

Western Conference Finals
St. Louis over Los Angeles 4-2

Stanley Cup Finals
St. Louis over Boston

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Masters Preview

There is not a more symbolic sign of spring than The Masters being played in Augusta, Georgia. Augusta National will host a tradition unlike any other over the next four days. And this Masters will be unlike any other in the last 20 years, because Tiger Woods will not be playing. The perennial favorite conceded to back surgery, meaning Vegas had to peg someone else as the favorite. Two men received that title, as defending champion, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy have been deemed co-favorites at 10/1. Here are my top 10 favorites to walk away from Augusta as the 2014 Masters champion.

1. Adam Scott (10/1)
World Golf Ranking: 2nd
Top Masters Finish: 2013 Champion
2014 Scoring Average: 69.70

2. Lee Westwood (50/1)
World Golf Ranking: 37th
Top Masters Finish: 2nd (2010)
2014 Scoring Average: 71.19

3. Matt Kuchar (20/1)
World Golf Ranking: 7th
Top Masters Finish: T3 (2012)
2014 Scoring Average: 69.74

4. Phil Mickleson (15/1)
World Golf Ranking: 5th
Top Masters Finish: 2004, 2006, 2010 Champion
2014 Scoring Average: 70.57

5. Jason Day (15/1)
World Golf Ranking: 4th
Top Masters Finish: T2 (2011)
2014 Scoring Average: 70.86

6. Ian Poulter (60/1)
World Golf Ranking: 20th
Top Masters Finish: 7th (2012)
2014 Scoring Average: 71.22

7. Zach Johnson (20/1)
World Golf Ranking: 10th
Top Masters Finish: 2007 Champion
2014 Scoring Average: 69.73

8. Henrik Stenson (25/1)
World Golf Ranking: 3rd
Top Masters Finish: T17 (2007, 2008)
2014 Scoring Average: 72.07

9. Justin Rose (30/1)
World Golf Ranking: 8th
Top Masters Finish: T5 (2007)
2014 Scoring Average: 72.07

10. Hunter Mahan (40/1)
World Golf Ranking: 32nd
Top Masters Finish: T8 (2010)
2014 Scoring Average: 70.41

Prediction - Adam Scott is my pick to win consecutive Green Jackets. He has been playing better than anyone in the world for over a year, and this course fits his game very well. He was able to overcome the agony of blowing the 2012 Open Championship, by breaking down the barrier and winning the 2013 Masters. This would put Scott in the company of Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, and Jack Nicklaus as the only men to win back to back Masters.

NCAA Basketball - Pre-Preseason Top 25

We are just 48 hours removed from the UConn Huskies winning the 2014 National Championship Game. Therefore, it is way too early to be figuring out the Top 25 for the 2014-2015 season. But it is still fun to guess. Things are certain to change as the final recruiting dominoes fall into place, coaches make their moves, and trouble finds a player or two. If you force us to project the Top 25 when the next season tips in November, here is what it might look like.

Top 25
1. Arizona (33-5)
2. Kentucky (29-11)
3. Florida (36-3)
4. Wisconsin (30-8)
5. Duke (26-9)
6. UConn (32-8)
7. Louisville (31-6)
8. Virginia (30-7)
9. Kansas (25-10)
10. Wichita State (35-1)
11. North Carolina (24-10)
12. Michigan (28-9)
13. Michigan State (29-9)
14. Iowa State (28-8)
15. San Diego State (31-5)
16. Villanova (29-5)
17. UCLA (28-9)
18. SMU (27-10)
19. Syracuse (28-6)
20. VCU (26-9)
21. Gonzaga (29-7)
22. Stanford (23-13)
23. Dayton (26-11)
24. Texas (24-11)
25. Oklahoma (23-10)

Next Up
Baylor (26-12)
Ohio State (25-10)
Maryland (17-15)
Oregon (24-10)
Seton Hall (17-17)
Kansas State (20-13)
Georgetown (18-15)
Iowa (20-13)
UNLV (21-13)
Xavier (21-13)