Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

The following should provide you with a little insight for the upcoming semifinals in the Eastern and Western Conference, as we’re down to the NBA’s Elite Eight. I am giving you predictions in each series.
Hope you enjoy the write-ups!!!
Western Conference
No. 1 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (64-24 SU/4-2 playoffs, 54-34 ATS/3-3) vs.
No. 5 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (60-28 SU, 4-2 playoffs, 53-35 ATS/5-1)
Season series: Grizzlies, 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS. One of the few teams to win its season series against the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City, the Memphis Grizzlies took two of three thanks to a road win way back in November, a 107-97 victory on the Thunder’s home court. Oklahoma City got revenge in January in front of its home crowd, winning handsomely by 17. In March, the Grizzlies went to overtime to secure a 90-89 behind Marc Gasol’s tip-in at the overtime buzzer. These two have history, too, as they meet two seasons ago in the postseason, with the Thunder winning in seven. It’s no surprise referees called nine technical fouls in the three games this season.
Oklahoma City Backstory: Isn’t it clear what the storyline is with this team? All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is done for the season, as he was lost to a knee injury that will keep him out for the rest of the playoffs, and now that the Thunder survived a scare against the Houston Rockets, one has to wonder how the Thunder will respond against a chief rival out of the Western Conference. Sure, there is Kevin Durant to contend with, but the Rockets proved there are ways to shut him down and frustrate the Thunder by double-, triple- and maybe even quadruple-teaming him at times.
Memphis Backstory: I told you two weeks ago the Grizzlies were the best series value I could find, and they looked solid against the Los Angeles Clippers. Now they seemingly ride into this series with a big ol’ chip on their shoulders, as they should, and just might be catching the Thunder at the right time. I love what I see from Zach Randolph, who might come out looking to make a statement against Kendrick Perkins, establishing whose boss. Both were ejected for an on-court fight, then ran to the back to finish the altercation. Personally, I believe Randolph has the edge, as he comes in after averaging 24.8 points during a four-game win streak, and certainly feels his team can get to the ship next month.
Key Trends (heading into the series): The road team has won four of the last seven meetings on the wood, but it’s even better at the window having covered six of those games. Memphis comes into this one having covered five in a row, 4 of 5 with a suitcase in hand and 4-1 against Northwest division teams. On the flipside, the Thunder have covered 22 of 32 against Southwest teams, but are mired in a 1-5 ATS slide at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Over/Under numbers (heading into the series): In this series, the Over has cashed out 20 of 28 times now. Memphis has gone Over in four straight on the road, and in 5 of 6 in intra-conference play, but it is also on a 21-7 Under run against teams out of the Northwest. The Thunder have stayed Under in 10 of 11 against the Southwest division and in 13 of 16 at home. They’re also 18-4 on the low against Western Conference teams.
Prediction: I’m sticking with my longshot Grizzlies in the playoffs, and think they’re in the right spot at the right time. I love the confidence they play with, and think they would love nothing more than to be the team to knock off the Thunder. I’m thinking Memphis in 7.
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No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (62-24 SU/4-0 playoffs, 45-41 ATS/4-0) vs.
No. 6 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (51-37 SU/4-2 playoffs, 49-39 ATS/6-0)
Season series: Tied 2-2 SU and Warriors 3-1 ATS. While the teams split the regular-season series, the most notable stat in this series is the Spurs winning an astounding 29 straight over the Warriors in San Antonio since 1997. Perspective: Tim Duncan was still playing at Wake Forest when that streak began. Even more perspective: if the Warriors want to win this series, that streak will have to come to an end. Interestingly, the Spurs shot just 41.7 percent and scored 10 fewer points than their season-average (103.6) against the Warriors during the regular season. Of course, in this volatile series, Golden State also shot a rather bleak 42.1 percent and scored nearly seven points less than its season average (99.9) per game.
San Antonio Backstory: If there is one edge the Spurs bring into this series, it’s the fact they  will have plenty of rested legs in aging stars Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Duncan after sweeping the rather dismal Los Angeles Lakers. If there is a downside for the Spurs, they’ll be facing a much different team than the Lakes, and guys like Ginobili, Parker and Duncan may feel their age once sizing up against the youthful and exuberant Warriors. Ginobili missed nine of San Antonio’s last 10 games due to a strained right hamstring. He turned around and averaged 11.3 points and 4.8 assists in just fewer than 20 minutes per game against the Lakers, but now he’ll be dealing with a faster and younger team – specifically Jarrett Jack, who started four of the six games against Denver and averaged 18.8 points, seven assists and 5.2 rebounds in the series.
Golden State Backstory: Anyone else with me in thinking Stephen Curry was the MVP of the first round? His 3-point prowess and rise to franchise-player status might have single-handedly willed the Warriors past an agile and physical Denver Nuggets team in six games. His relationship with coach Mark Jackson – who has played in some of the most fierce playoff series in modern-day history – has helped this team forget about Andrew Bogut’s left ankle and All-Star forward David Lee’s hip injury. The Warriors are playing with plenty of momentum, and I’m very interested in seeing how Bogut responds against Duncan.
Key Trends (heading into the series): Golden State is on a 6-0 ATS run in the postseason, as it covered every game versus Denver to improve to 16-5 overall dating back to the regular season. The Warriors have also covered 10 of 11 in Western Conference play and are on a perfect 5-0 road run. Meanwhile, the Spurs have failed to cover 7 of their last 10 at home and are mired in a 4-10 betting slide after a straight-up win.
Over/Under numbers (heading into the series): These two have stayed low in four of five meetings in San Antonio and 4 of the last five overall. Golden State has stayed Under in 6 of 7 against Southwest division teams, and 4 of 5 against winning teams. With the Spurs, they’ve gone Over in 4 of 5 at home, but have stayed low in 5 of 7 after winning on the wood.
Prediction: Call me crazy, but I like the underdog in this series, as I continue to marvel at how well Jackson is coaching and Curry is playing. The sharp-shooting guard drained 272 treys in the regular season, three more than Ray Allen’s record set in 2005-06, when he was in Seattle. Curry’s offensive surges from beyond the arc can take the wind out of any opponent, as we saw against Denver in the first round and certainly make the Warriors dangerous. I’m taking a shot here, and like the Warriors in 6.
Eastern Conference
No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (70-16 SU/4-0 playoffs, 49-37 ATS/3-1) vs.
No. 5 CHICAGO BULLS (49-40 SU/4-3 playoffs, 39-50 ATS/3-4)
Season series: Tied 2-2 SU and ATS. Both teams went 1-1 on their home floor, as the road team won the first two meetings, and the home team both got revenge toward the latter part of the season. Chicago struck first blood, winning in Miami 96-89 on Jan. 4. Miami got revenge on Feb. 21, winning in Chi-town by 21. But undoubtedly the ‘game heard round the world’ was on March 27, when the Heat’s 27-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt in a 101-97 loss in Chicago. Miami finished the regular-season series with a 105-93 win on April 14.
Miami Backstory: I don’t care what anyone says about a month and a half after the fact, the Heat will have a chip on their shoulders the entire time during this series, because of that March 27 loss at the United Center. I know for a fact through my friends in the media, LeBron James wanted that single-season record, and now he’ll do everything to make the Bulls pay. He knows Chicago is physical, and knows what the Bulls are capable of, but I know how good the Heat are right now. Miami looked fantastic against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, turning it up when it needed to, and sticking to the gameplan throughout.
Chicago Backstory: Where are Hawkeye and Trapper when you need them? The Bulls look much like a MASH unit coming into this series, with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich’s status a question mark for Chicago, not to mention Derrick Rose still showing up in suit and tie. I can’t imagine who is going to have the task of covering King James… dare I say Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson? The Bulls got through a seven-game series with the Brooklyn Nets, I’ll give them that; but this is a step up in class, and I’m not so sure Joakim Noah can continue these heroic efforts, especially in dealing with plantar fasciitis.
Key Trends (heading into the series): While the Bulls have lost 4 of 5 to the books when facing Southeast Division teams and the Heat are in on a 19-7 ATS run in the Eastern Conference semis, the straight-up winner in this series has covered seven straight meetings. Make note, also, the home team is on a 5-2 ATS run in this showdown.
Over/Under numbers (heading into the series): The Bulls closed out their series with Brooklyn going over in four straight, and have gone high 7 of 8 times when playing on just one day’s rest. Miami is on a 4-0 Under run and has stayed low in five straight against Central division teams. On the other hand, the Heat are in on an 11-4 Over run in the conference semis.
Prediction: I can’t imagine what that seven-game series did to the Bulls, but I don’t see them being able to carry the momentum over that quick against a well-rested Heat team. Take the defending champs here, as I like the Heat to win this series in 5.
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No. 2 NEW YORK KNICKS (53-34 SU/4-2 playoffs, 51-37 ATS/3-3) vs.
No. 3 INDIANA PACERS (53-34 SU/4-2 playoffs, 46-41 ATS/4-2)
Season series: Tied 2-2 SU and Knicks 3-1 ATS. The home team went 4-0 this regular season, with the Knicks winning the first meeting, the Pacers taking the next two, and New York closing things out last month with the win. If there is one game that stands out, it has to be te Feb. 20 meeting in Indianapolis, where the Knicks suffered their worst loss of the season, 125-91, in Indianapolis. That was just before what I like to believe was the best in-season acquisition for any team, as the Knicks signed Kenyon Martin shortly after that. The Knicks covered three of the four meetings, the lone loss coming in that blowout on Feb. 20.
to split the series and wrap up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 90-80 home victory April 14.  but was only 4 of 17 on 3-pointers (23.5 percent), while Paul George scored 20 a game for the Pacers.
New York Backstory: The Knicks are far different team than the one that shot just 37 percent from the field and 26 percent against the Pacers in the regular season. Carmelo Anthony averaged 22 points against Indiana, but he too has improved down the stretch, and I think has the potential to emerge as the MVP of the conference semifinals (I say Steph Curry was the MVP of the opening round). But the X-factor for this team in this series is going to be Tyson Chandler, who looked fully recovered from a bulging disk that kept him sidelined for much of the end of the regular season. I think he needs to step up to double-double status, and will need to challenge the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, who averaged a mere 5.5 points and 6.3 rebounds against the Knicks.
Indiana Backstory: The Pacers finally found their road game in the opening round against Atlanta, as the home team was dominant over the first five games. Their Game 6 performance might have been what they needed, as they snapped a 13-game losing streak in Atlanta that dated back to December 2006, before heading to the Big Apple to open this series at Madison Square Garden. The biggest question mark will be to see how the team responds in the series-opener on Sunday, as the Pacers are looking at being on the road for six days.
Key Trends (heading into the series): While the home team has won five straight on the hardwood in this series, the Knicks come into this series having covered six of the last eight meetings. New York is also on ATS win streaks of 10-1 against winning teams, 5-1 against the Central Division, 17-6 in intra-conference play and 19-7 overall. On the flipside, the Pacers are mired in ATS slides of 8-21 against the Atlantic Division, 2-7 in the conference semis, 4-9 against intra-conference foes and 1-4 with a suitcase in hand.
Over/Under numbers (heading into the series): Beginning in this series, which begins in New York, the Under is on a 4-1 run when these two meet at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers have gone over in 8 of 11 and in 9 of 12 against Eastern Conference teams. On the other hand, the physical Knicks have stayed low in five straight at home and 6 of 7 overall.
Prediction: This is such an intriguing series, given the Pacers spent a good portion of the season being labeled as the team that could challenge the Miami Heat in the playoffs. But here we are in the conference semifinals, and for the past two months it’s been the Knicks who look like the biggest challenger. I like New York in 6.
The following should provide you with a little insight for the upcoming postseason, as we approach the two-month stretch to determine your NBA champion.
Hope you enjoy the write-ups!!!
No. 1 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (60-22 SU, 48-32-2 ATS) vs.
No. 8 HOUSTON ROCKETS (45-37 SU, 41-40-1 ATS)
Season series: Thunder 2-1 SU and ATS. Oklahoma City smoked the Rockets in the teams’ first two meetings, winning by 22 and 30 points before the turn of the calendar year. Houston responded at home in February with a three-point, 122-119 marathon win. The straight-up winner is on a five-game win streak at the window, while the Rockets have won and covered three of the last five meetings dating back to last season.
Oklahoma City Backstory: An intriguing first-round clash for the Thunder, as they end up with Houston, rather than the Los Angeles Lakers. That means they’ll face a key member of last year’s Western Conference championship team, James Harden, who was dealt to the Rockets during the offseason. Oklahoma City will obviously be driven to make its second straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Houston Backstory: I think it comes down to how well Harden and Jeremy Lin play. The Rockets will be trying to catch Oklahoma City with its guard down, while proving they’re much better than an 8-seed. Harden went from being the sixth man with the Thunder to a leader on the Rockets. Lin, meanwhile, has played a key role in his first full season as a starter. His play against point guard Russell Westbrook will be fun to watch.
ATS Notes: Houston comes into the postseason on a 6-15 slide against the Northwest division, 3-8 with a suitcase in hand and 1-5 in its last six games – all versus Western Conference teams. Meanwhile, the defending Western Conference champs are in on ATS streaks of 16-6 at home, 19-7 against the Southwest Division, 46-19 versus Western Conference teams, 5-1 against winning teams and 5-1 when hosting the Rockets.
Over/Under: The Rockets were dead even with their totals, going 41-41 this season. On the road they were 21-20, while they were 20-21 in H-town. Oklahoma City was 36-46 with its totals, going 20-21 at home and 16-25 while ordering room service.
Prediction: I don’t care how scrappy the Rockets are, and what they do with Harden and Lin, the Thunder have one goal in mind, and that’s to avenge last year’s loss to the Miami Heat. I like OKC to win this series in 5.
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No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24 SU, 39-41-2 ATS) vs.
No. 7 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (45-37 SU, 34-47-1 ATS)
Season series: Spurs 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS. While the Spurs won two of the three regular season meetings, the Lakers snatched the cash in the last two meetings of the season, including last week’s 91-86 victory. That was the first game for the Lakers after losing Kobe Bryant to a season-ending injury. In the Spurs’ two wins, make note they won by a total of five points. The road team is on winning runs of 5-4 SU and 6-3 ATS when these two get together. The straight-up winner has covered 9 of the last 10 meetings.
San Antonio Storyline: I’m not so sure how excited the Spurs are to play hungry Los Angeles team that just won the regular-season series finale last week. San Antonio comes in battling injuries and after losing three straight games and seven of its last 10. With Tony Parker nursing nagging injuries, I have to wonder how effective he will be. This is a team that does not look like a No. 2 seed, despite coming in with the Western Conference’s second-best mark.
Los Angeles Storyline: Amazingly, the Lakers not only made the playoffs, but they arrive on a five-game win streak that includes two straight wins without Bryant, who tore his Achilles’ tendon last week. And the Lakers not only managed to make the postseason, but by winning out, and topping Houston in the season finale, they nabbed the No. 7 seed and avoided having to play the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in this round.
ATS Notes: The Lakers check into the postseason on ATS streaks of 5-1 against the Southwest, 2-5 on the highway and 7-3 when playing in the Alamo. The Spurs, meanwhile, are mired in ATS slides of 3-13 against Western Conference foes, 1-7 at home, 0-4 versus Pacific Division teams and 5-16 overall.
Over/Under: The Lakers were 43-38-1 with their totals this season, going 19-21-1 at home and shading the over on the road with a 24-17 mark with a suitcase in hand. Defensive-minded San Antonio was 36-46 with its over/unders, going 17-24 at home and 19-22 on the highway.
Prediction: While everyone loves the Spurs in this series, but something tells me the future of the Lakers is about to shine through, and we’re going to see a much more cohesive team now that Kobe is on the shelf. In a shocker, Lakers in 7.
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No. 3 DENVER NUGGETS (57-25 SU, 49-33 ATS) vs.
No. 6 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (47-35 SU, 42-39-1 ATS)
Season series: Nuggets 3-1 SU and ATS. The third-seeded Denver Nuggets scored triple figs in each of the four meetings with Golden State this season, which should come as no surprise with as explosive an offense they had. Oddly enough, these two met thrice in November, with Denver winning the first two, and the Warriors stealing the third meeting. Their fourth and final clash came on Jan. 13, and the Nuggets scored their second 11-point win over Golden State of the season. The home team is on a 7-2 SU run, while the straight-up winner in this clash has covered eight in a row.
Denver Storyline: While the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers managed to monopolize the Western Conference headlines for most of the season, the Nuggets quietly did their part to ascend to No. 3 overall, and remain a serious threat as long as they’re hosting games in the Mile High City. The Nuggets have won 23 straight at home, and that’s a big deal as long as they’re hosting a series.
Golden State Storyline: I have to admire coach Mark Jackson and what he’s done with the Oaktown boys. This marks the second trip to the postseason for Golden State in 19 years, and something tells me it’s just the beginning of a something good for the Warriors. I don’t know if this is an all-out breakthrough year, but this will be a team to reckon with behind the talents of Stephen Curry, the new single-season 3-point record-holder.
ATS Notes: While the Warriors have covered four of five against Western Conference foes, they’re mired in ATS slides of 5-11 on the road and 5-14 against winning teams. Meanwhile, the third-seeded Nuggets are in on ATS sprees of 10-1 against Pacific Division teams, 15-5 in Denver, 18-8 overall and 4-1 when hosting the Warriors.
Over/Unders: Golden State was 47-35 with its totals all season, going 22-19 in Oakland and pushing the tempo by going 25-16 when traveling. Denver also favored high numbers, going an identical 47-35 with its totals (20-21 at home and 27-14 on the road).
Prediction: I expect to see some high-scoring, entertaining basketball games with these two, but as much as I like Jackson and what he’s done with the Warriors, I don’t think they’re mature enough to hang. Nuggets win the series of marathon games in 6.

Okay, so now that I’ve given all grace and glory to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, enough is enough.

I’ve never been a fan of the self-proclaimed King, and the only thing I’ve ever liked about the Heat, realistically is Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal raising the roof in 2006. Watching Wade do so with James after winning this year’s title didn’t bother me much, but what I can’t stand seeing now is all the articles about a rematch and how this is the next big rivalry of the NBA.

Uhm, excuse me. Did anyone forget about Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls?

Anyone else forget if his season painfully ended in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and it was a torn ACL-injury in Game 1 that ultimately played a significantly played a role in the Bulls losing in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers?

Just as Michael Jordan, albeit never forgotten, was seemingly becoming a distant memory, April 28 became a day Bulls fans had nothing about His Airness to ponder until next year.

Well, as I saw the 2013 NBA Championship Future Odds come out not too long after James proclaimed “It’s about damn time” on national television, and I saw the Thunder and Heat were both +250 to win next year’s championship, I see agrees with me that Chicago is going to be right back in the hunt.

The Bulls are next in line at +500, followed by: the Spurs (+700), Lakers (+1200), the Mavericks (+1500) and at +2000, the Celtics and Pacers.

So I’m not sure why there are so many columnists out there talking about the Thunder and Heat returning for another trip to the NBA Finals next June.

The Thunder? I can see it.

The Heat? I’m not so sure they have an easy path.

First order of business is to get Wade healthy, even if that means shipping him off to Germany to see the Kobe Bryant’s doctor to get that knee back in shape. I’m telling you now, if he doesn’t get that knee fixed NOW, the Heat won’t be around later. Next order of business, find a legitimate big man who can defend guys like Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard. Also, there has to be some sort of stipulation that Wade does not play in London, while James and Bosh get enough rest before and after the 2012 Olympics, cause it can be a tiring experience that cuts into needed rest. The Olympics begin in a month, with a full warm-up schedule preceding the games. Remember, Bosh was injured earlier in the playoffs, and we don’t know how he’s feeling now.

Now, as for the Bulls, this is what I read on their website:

“Derrick Rose is doing terrific. He’s been diligent in his rehab. He’s made tremendous progress to this point,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “The surgery obviously was a huge success. The biggest thing that has been encouraging about Derrick has been his mentality towards the rehab. He’s working each and every day, putting a lot of effort into it. We’re optimistic that if he continues to make the kind of progress that he has that we will see Derrick back on the floor at some point next season.”

That’s encouraging news for the Bulls, and the city of Chicago.

Again, I can see the Thunder returning, cause of the Western Conference contenders in line to make a run, I don’t trust the Spurs, Lakers or Mavericks. After the Thunder, the next viable number I see that might be worth an investment at its price: the Los Angeles Clippers at +3000. I mean, why not?

That organization has already started building for the future, while the Spurs, Lakers and Mavs have yet to clean house and start over. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the Clippers continue their ascension in the Western Conference to challenge for the title and move into the NBA Finals.

HOTTIE – If you read my Blog before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, you read about my note regarding Miami-based model/professional sports dancer Alexis Augusto. Well get used to reading about her here, cause I’m going to remind all my players, readers and followers to vote for her every chance I get. I promised her I’d do so, as she is in the running for Maxim Magazine’s Hometown Hotties. And the first step is to get her into the Finals, that way we can get a bit more intimate with her, as I told her Thursday we’d conduct a one-on-one interview so her fans could get to her know her better.

She’s all in! Now it’s up to you to go to her PAGE and vote for this sports fanatic hottie. And trust me, she knows her game.

She’s been on the Miami Dolphins cheerleading roster, she’s been on the Florida Panthers Ice Dancer roster. She was a cheerleader for Florida Atlantic University. She’s a fitness model for VPX Redline and loves her some Yankee pinstripes. The list goes on, but believe me, this lady is all about competition.

As a betting man, my money in the Maxim Magazine Hometown Hottie competition is on Italian-American bombshell from Brooklyn, New York.

Goto her PAGE and vote for her now.

Prior to this series, I told you the Miami Heat were the value play, at anywhere from +150 to +170.

Anyone out there questioning me now about my NBA Finals series pick on the Heat – which again, you got at no charge just before the series started? I tried to tell you the value was with the Heat, and that we’d see experience take over, and a bit frustration take hold of the young and inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder.

And no, I’m not counting my chickens before they’ve hatched, but now that I’m up 3 games to 1 in this series, I can tell you I’m in position to get back my initial investment by betting Oklahoma City on the moneyline in Game 5. The Thunder are +135 pretty much across the board. So if you bet the Heat to win this series on my recommendation, here’s how you need to figure on getting your initial investment back IF you want to hedge.

For every $100 you wagered on the Heat to win the series, you can wager $74 on the Thunder tomorrow night. So let’s say you $500 invested on Miami to win it all, a $370 wager on the Thunder at +135 tomorrow would get back $499.50 provided the Thunder win.

If the Heat wrap it up tomorrow night, you’d lose the $370, but you’d also win about $800 for your series bet. Subtract your hedge, and you’re still up a little more than $400. The hedge is entirely up to you though.

Personally speaking, I would probably be out to recover anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the initial investment if I were you. And then progressively grab some of your investment as the series moves forward.

KING – As one of his biggest critics, I have to admit, LeBron James is playing his ass off this postseason. If the self-proclaimed “King” James scores 29 more points in this series, he will join Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to have scored 700 points in one postseason.

Notably, only two players – but three times – in postseason history has a player averaged 30 points per game, 9 rebounds per game and 5 assists per game: Oscar Robertson in 1963 and James in 2009 and this postseason.

It’ll be long overdue if he can finally place a ring on his finger. I’m just wondering if I will finally be able to call him “King” after doing so.

TIGER – Haven’t had a chance to comment on last week’s collapse in San Francisco yet, but let it be known I am a big Tiger Woods fan. I will root for him until he retires, and already am watching the odds on next month’s British Open. According to, he is a 10/1 favorite to win the Major, which will be held at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes course in Lancashire, England, from July 19-22.

Strange enough fact I came across from last week, and prior to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win, the last time Junior won a race had been coincidentally the exact same weekend Tiger Woods captured his last major victory (U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, in San Diego, CA.) on June 15th, 2008. Since that day, Junior had been mired in an unlucky 114 race skid. And though Tiger had won eight tournament victories in 2009, none of them were majors.

HOTTIE – Last, but certainly not least, I have to mention Miami-based model/professional sports dancer Alexis Augusto. Caught up with her recently and promised I’d mention to all my readers/followers/players she is in the running for Maxim Magazine’s Hometown Hotties.

This girl is a sports fanatic, and trust me, she knows her game.

She’s been on the Miami Dolphins cheerleading roster, she’s been on the Florida Panthers Ice Dancer roster. She was a cheerleader for Florida Atlantic University. She’s a fitness model for VPX Redline and loves her some Yankee pinstripes. The list goes on, but believe me, this lady is all about competition.

As a betting man, my money in the Maxim Magazine Hometown Hottie competition is on Italian-American bombshell from Brooklyn, New York.

Goto her PAGE and vote for her now.

So here we go, it’s time for the Miami Heat to put up or shut up.

Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena now becomes the most pivotal game of the championship series for the two-time Eastern Conference champs. And even though they’re just 4-5 on the Playoff road, let’s keep in mind two of those wins were pivotal.

Sure, if they lose tonight, then win three straight at home, they will face another big Game 6. But the Heat don’t want to worry about that scenario. I’m sure they’d much rather try to steal this one.

Bad news for Heat fans, since moving to Oklahoma City entering the 2008-09 season, the Thunder are 3-0 in series when they win Game 1.

And how important is winning Game 1? Well, teams winning Game 1 of the NBA Finals have won the title 47 of 65 times (.723).

How do the Heat contend with the Thunder tonight?

Simple… put LeBron James on Kevin Durant, who scored 36 points in Oklahoma City’s Game 1 victory of the NBA Finals. Durant is the ninth player in NBA history to score at least 36 points in his NBA Finals debut. James is going to have to step up in this one, and not only put together an offensive show, but will have to stop Durant.

Durant exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his game-high tally in the final 12 minutes. Durant’s 17 points in the final quarter are tied for the most fourth-quarter points in an NBA Finals game over the last 15 postseasons.

The Thunder outscored the Heat 58-40 in the final 24 minutes, as Durant and Russell Westbrook took over the game. Thus, I think the Heat are going to have to spread themselves out much more efficiently in this one, saving some of that oomph for the fourth quarter.

On offense, James scored 17 of his 30 points on 58 percent shooting against Kevin Durant, but was held to seven points on 29 percent versus Thabo Sefolosha. He’s going to make some adjustments on both ends of the court.

Especially knowing Game 2 might be even more critical than Game 1. Only three teams in NBA history have overcome a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals: the 1968 Boston Celtics, 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and, looky here, the 2006 Heat.

The Heat are mired in ATS slides of 3-8 versus the Northwest Division, 0-4 in NBA Finals games and 0-8 as the underdog. On the flipside, the Thunder are on ATS streaks of 6-0 as the chalk, 5-0 at home and 22-7 against Eastern Conference teams.