2014 NBA Playoffs Predictions – Round 1

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This is always a fun time of year for an all around sports fan with baseball season underway, the NHL playoffs starting up, and now the NBA playoffs starting on Saturday. As always, I made my predictions for the NBA season division by division in my posting on October 29th, 2013. For a quick recap of what my predictions were back in October and how the divisions finished up, keep on reading for the Eastern Conference recap and first round predictions:

Atlantic Division (October 2013)
1) Brooklyn Nets
2) New York Knicks
3) Toronto Raptors
4) Boston Celtics
5) Philadelphia 76ers
Atlantic Division (April 2014)
1) Toronto Raptors
2) Brooklyn Nets
3) New York Knicks
4) Boston Celtics
5) Philadelphia 76ers

Recap: I did have a feeling that Toronto may squeak into the playoffs and they did that and more by actually taking the division. Regardless, the division as a whole was pretty weak as Toronto and Brooklyn are the only teams that finished above .500, though the Knicks competed for the last playoff spot into the last week of the regular season. 

Central Division (October 2013)
1) Chicago Bulls
2) Detroit Pistons
3) Indiana Pacers
4) Milwaukee Bucks
5) Cleveland Cavs
Central Division (April 2014)

1) Indiana Pacers
2) Chicago Bulls
3) Cleveland Cavs
4) Detroit Pistons
5) Milwaukee Bucks

Recap: This division was a bit messy for me. I didn’t feel that Indiana would win their division, nor did I see them grabbing the #1 seed in the East. Detroit was my surprise team and maybe I was a little too confident with that. Chicago still finished second even without Derrick Rose for most of the season again.

Southeast Division (October 2013)
1) Miami Heat
2) Washington Wizards
3) Charlotte Bobcats
4) Atlanta Hawks
5) Orlando Magic
Southeast Division (April 2014)
1) Miami Heat
2) Washington Wizards
3) Charlotte Bobcats
4) Atlanta Hawks
5) Orlando Magic

Recap: As you can see, for every bad prediction there is a good one. I struggled with the Central, but went perfect for this division. I also picked the Wizards to reach the post season they did. Picking Miami for #1 was an obvious no brainer and I don’t need to receive credit for that!

Eastern Conference Top 8 (October 2013)
1) Miami Heat
2) Chicago Bulls
3) Brooklyn Nets
4) New York Knicks
5) Toronto Raptors
6) Detroit Pistons
7) Indiana Pacers
8) Washington Wizards
Eastern Conference Top 8 (April 2014)
1) Indiana Pacers
2) Miami Heat
3) Toronto Raptors
4) Chicago Bulls
5) Washington Wizards
6) Brooklyn Nets
7) Charlotte Bobcats
8) Atlanta Hawks

Lets get to those Eastern Conference first round predictions:

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1) Indiana Pacers vs 8) Atlanta Hawks

Analysis: Indiana finished the season 30 games over .500 and the Hawks finished 6 games under .500. Indiana won the first 2 games during the regular season and the Hawks won the last 2 games. Indiana struggled a bit down the stretch, but still captured the #1 seed in the East. I don’t see Atlanta competing very much with Indiana even after splitting the regular season series.
Pick: Pacers in 4

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2) Miami Heat vs 7) Charlotte Bobcats
Analysis: The Heat are known to pretty much put the brakes on during the regular season to rest guys like Wade, James, and Bosh for when the post season rolls around. Even by maybe doing that (though, grabbing the #2 seed in the East), they still beat Charlotte all four times they squared off this season. I like Charlotte and their young roster and it’s good for the game that they made the playoffs, but it’s a tough matchup for them and I may see them winning a game, but that’s not how I’m picking it.
Pick: Heat in 4

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3) Toronto Raptors vs 6) Brooklyn Nets

Analysis: There is no secret that the Nets started off extremely slow and fans were calling for Kidd’s head. The Nets inevitably figured things out with veterans on the team. I think the experience the Nets have with guys like Williams, Garnett, and Pierce is enough to at least get them past the Raptors. Toronto had themselves a good season and I think they can make the series a little interesting, but I don’t see them advancing in a seven game set.
Pick: Nets in 6

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4) Chicago Bulls vs 5) Washington Wizards
Analysis: This may be the more entertaining game of the Eastern Conference first round. It would be even more exciting if Rose was healthy, but we haven’t seen that in some time. These teams only played three times during the regular season and the Wizards won 2 of 3. I foresee a lower scoring type of series, built on defense and good guard play. John Wall and Joakim Noah will be the players to watch and this series can go either way depending on either of their production level.
Pick: Wizards in 7

That’s all for the Eastern Conference, now for the Western Conference starting with the season divisional recaps:

Northwest Division (October 2013)
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
2) Portland Trailblazers
3) Minnesota Timberwolves
4) Denver Nuggets
5) Utah Jazz
Northwest Division (April 2014)
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
2) Portland Trailblazers
3) Minnesota Timberwolves
4) Denver Nuggets
5) Utah Jazz

Recap: As you can see, I started off strong with my predictions with this division. I didn’t take a lot of risks with my picks on this one, but some would say Portland was a risk and so was Minnesota based on what they did in the previous season. OkC was the obvious pick for winning the division.

Pacific Division (October 2013)

1) Los Angeles Clippers
2) Golden State Warriors
3) Los Angeles Lakers
4) Phoenix Suns
5) Sacramento Kings
Pacific Division (April 2014)
1) Los Angeles Clippers
2) Golden State Warriors
3) Phoenix Suns
4) Sacramento Kings
5) Los Angeles Lakers

Recap: I thought the growing divisional rivals between the Warriors and the Clippers finishing 1 and 2 was the obvious pick, especially with stacked teams by both. The rest of the division was more of a guessing game. Phoenix proved they can win games with their young talent, but just missed the playoffs. The Lakers were far worse than anyone could have seen, even without Kobe Bryant.

Southwest Division (October 2013)

1) San Antonio Spurs
2) Houston Rockets
3) Dallas Mavericks
4) New Orleans Pelicans
5) Memphis Grizzlies
Southwest Division (April 2014)
1) San Antonio Spurs
2) Houston Rockets
3) Memphis Grizzlies
4) Dallas Mavericks
5) New Orleans Pelicans

Recap: The popular pick going into the season was the Rockets by having guys like Howard, Harden, and Lin. I stuck with my gut and went with the Spurs, who continue to age and continue to be one of the best, winning 62 this season. I thought the Pelicans would be a surprise team for this division and make the playoffs. Can’t always be right.

Western Conference Top 8 (October 2013)
1) Los Angeles Clippers
2) Oklahoma City Thunder
3) San Antonio Spurs
4) Golden State Warriors
5) Houston Rockets
6) Dallas Mavericks
7) New Orleans Pelicans
8) Portland Trailblazers
Western Conference Top 8 (April 2014)
1) San Antonio Spurs
2) Oklahoma City Thunder
3) Los Angeles Clippers
4) Houston Rockets
5) Portland Trailblazers
6) Golden State Warriors
7) Memphis Grizzlies
8) Dallas Mavericks

Jumping right into the predictions for the Western Conference first round:

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1) San Antonio Spurs vs 8) Dallas Mavericks
Analysis: Like I said previously, the Spurs won 62 games this season and out of those 62, they won all four meetings against Dallas this season. Additionally, in all four wins, the Spurs scored over 100 points and averaged 112 points in those games. Dallas may win a game or two in a long series, but I don’t see them coming out victorious unless some major injury for the Spurs occurs.
Pick: Spurs in 5

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2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs 7) Memphis Grizzlies
Analysis: The Thunder lead the season series 3 games to 1 against Memphis and the Grizz had a better season this year than I was expecting. Memphis has been inconsistent throughout the year in scoring, which may not be great for them in this series. The only way they win this series is if they can stop Kevin Durant and I don’t think they still have enough firepower to beat the supporting athletes like Westbrook and Ibaka.
Pick: Thunder in 5

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3) Los Angeles Clippers vs 6) Golden State Warriors
Analysis: It’s a shame that these two teams have to play in the first round of the playoffs because both are very good and have the potential of making it to the finals. Other than that, it’s great for NBA fans because these teams hate each other and a long series will only solidify that. The amount of talent on each of these teams are insane and the rivalry will only continue to grow. The key players in this series are the normal ones: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for LA and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for Golden State. The injury to Andrew Bogut may hurt their presence in the paint. The Warriors are tough to beat at home, but will it be enough? This series can go either way, like it did during the season as they split the season series 2-2, but I’m going with my gut.
Pick: Clippers in 7

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4) Houston Rockets vs 5) Portland Trailblazers
Analysis: This is yet another shame of a matchup for the first round of games, but not for the typical NBA fan who may enjoy this series going deep. In the pre-season, I picked the Rockets to make the finals and I still believe they can do it, even in a very tough Western Conference. I have no doubt Portland can pull the “upset”, if you want to call it that. They have young talent and they have shown they can put up points against Houston. The Rockets took 3 of 4 during the regular season as they averaged 116 points against Portland, but on the contrary, Portland averaged 110 against Houston. It will be a high scoring, up-tempo type of series and this is another one that can go either way. The difference in this series is on Dwight Howard. In my mind, he is still the x-factor on whether the Rockets fail or succeed.
Pick: Rockets in 7

 

2014 NHL Playoffs Predictions – Round 1

The NHL playoffs ramp up on Wednesday night and it’s the first year with the new format. Going into this season I was unsure if I was going to like the new division formats and even with the Red Wings going from the Western to the Eastern conference. The new format led into an exciting last few weeks of hockey, making gaining every point that much more important. 

This years playoffs features some new teams, intriguing match-ups, teams that streaked their way in, and teams that backed in. Here are my thoughts and predictions for the first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs:

Eastern Conference

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1) Boston Bruins vs 4) Detroit Red Wings

Analysis: The Boston Bruins fell last year in the Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks and they came back this season with getting home ice throughout the playoffs as they won the Presidents Trophy. The Red Wings finished the season on a strong note and captured one of the wild card spots in their first year in the Eastern conference. Detroit battled through some injuries throughout this season, so it’s somewhat remarkable they ended up in the post season. I’m not sure if even a healthy Red Wings team could beat the Bruins. The Bruins are hungry after the way they finished last year and they have proved they can win big games on the road. The Red Wings are 3-1 against Boston this season, but not gutsy enough to take them to beat the Presidents Trophy winners this year.
Pick: Bruins in 5

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2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs 3) Montreal Canadians

Analysis: This has been a strange season for Tampa as they traded Martin St. Louis this season to the New York Rangers. On top of that, they were without Stamkos for a few months due to injury, but still figured to get the #2 seed in their division. The success for both teams rides on the goaltending play. These two teams have been close all season, even to the point where Tampa grabbed home ice on the last day of the regular season. Tampa leads the season series 3-0-1, but 3 of the 4 went into OT and 2 of the 4 were decided in a shoot out. If Ben Bishop isn’t healthy, it really puts a fork in the Bolts chances. Regardless, I think it will be a fun series to watch and I’m going with a minor “upset”.
Pick: Canadians in 6

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1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs 4) Columbus Blue Jackets

Analysis: I think its great that the Blue Jackets made their way into the playoffs for only their second time in their franchise history, but got a bad draw to play the Pens first. We all know the Penguins can be an offensive juggernaut, but can Fleury be consistent enough to get through the series? Well, these teams have played five times during the regular season and Pittsburgh is 5-0-0 and only two of those games were decided by a goal. With Horton out with an injury it may be unlikely that they can keep the series close, however, Columbus’ star goaltender, Bobrovsky is having a great season with a 2.38 GAA and may be their only chance for success. Possibly the only good thing out of this for “Bob” is that he only played in one of the five games this season.
Pick: Penguins in 5

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2) New York Rangers vs 3) Philadelphia Flyers

Analysis: Who is excited for this series? These teams hate each other and that will play out for a fun series to experience for a fan. On top of these bitter rivals going at it in the first round, they played each other 4 times during the regular season and they split it 2-2-0 and the Rangers took the 2 seed in their division by only 2 points to win home ice. Strangely enough this is the first time they are facing off in the playoffs since 1997. This is sure to be a physical matchup, so both teams will need to be solid in net. It’s almost guaranteed that Lundqvist will be solid in net and he will need to be as Philly is 8th in the NHL in goals per game. I’m going with another minor “upset”, but it really can go either way.
Pick: Flyers in 7

Western Conference

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1) Anaheim Ducks vs 4) Dallas Stars

Analysis: Anaheim is the overall #1 in the Western conference and will have home ice throughout the West. The Dallas Stars make their way back into the post season as they finish the season on a high note and beat out the struggling Coyotes down the stretch. These teams only faced off 3 times over the course of the season and the Stars won the series 2-1-0. The Ducks are stacked and they are ranked 1st in the NHL in goals per game with 3.2. They also rank 9th in the NHL in goals against, which will make it extremely difficult to beat. Dallas needs to continue to have a strong presence from Tyler Seguin who scored 37 goals this season to have any chance to win this series and just like any other series, strong goaltender play. I’m going with the favorite, but it will be harder than they expected.
Pick: Ducks in 6

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2) San Jose Sharks vs 3) Los Angeles Kings

Analysis: This is going to be a great series to watch for a fan. Both teams have bruisers, excellent scorers, great goaltenders, and little holes weakness. The Sharks have 11 more points than the Kings, but from the course of the season the Kings lead the series 3-1-1, however only one of those games was decided by more than one goal difference.  In the past San Jose has flamed out early in the post season and the Kings have proven time and time again they can make it far in the post season. The Kings have had stretches this season where they struggled to score goals and it shows in their ranking as they are 26th in the NHL in goals per game. On the contrary, they are 1st in the NHL in goals against, which happens when you have a guy named Jonathan Quick. The Sharks should get Raffi Torres back for this series and led by Pavelski and Thornton, this may be the year where they go far in the post season. I’m going with my gut for this series.
Pick: Sharks in 7

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1) Colorado Avalanche vs 4) Minnesota Wild

Analysis: I’ll start off by saying I hope I’m not overly bias since I’m an Avalanche fan. But being worst in the Western conference last season and winning their division this season is truly remarkable and Patrick Roy as coach as a lot to do with that. They have a young team… scratch that… very young team with little to no experience in the post season. They have been led by their goaltender, Varlamov, all season long and getting incredible production from O’Reilly, Landeskog, and MacKinnon. Their strengths are with their goals per game (4th in the NHL) and their power play percentage (5th in the NHL). Not too sure if not having Matt Duchene for the first round will hurt them too much. Minnesota has a decent team, but they play one of the hotter teams in the Western conference. I actually liked Minnesota to beat St. Louis if that was their first round match-up, but they didn’t fare well against the Avs during the season either (Avs took the series 4-0-1). 
Pick: Avalanche in 5

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2) St. Louis Blues vs 3) Chicago Blackhawks

Analysis: The St. Louis Blues skid into the playoffs in the worst kind of way. They almost had their division all but wrapped up going into the last week of the season, however they went on a miraculous streak of unable to score goals, Ryan Miller struggling in net, and looking completely weak on defense. Chicago also somewhat limped into the playoffs, though they finished with 107 points. They will get Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews back for the first round which helps immensely. The Blues lead the season series 3-2-0, but it is important to note that the first 3 games the Blues won were all decided by one goal and two of them were decided in a shootout and all were in 2013 when the Blues were red hot. The last two games the Blackhawks won 4-0 and 4-2 when Chicago was not only hurting with injuries, but the Blues started to fall apart. St. Louis lost their last 6 games of the season, not being able to score more than 2 goals in any of the 6 games and being shut out three times. If they win this series, they have to win game 1 or at the very least split at home to open the series, if not, it may get messy fast.
Pick: Blackhawks in 4

 

MLB Predictions – 2014

It’s that time of year again and I obviously waited until the last possible moment to do my predictions. Some people would even say I’m a little late.. 2 games late.. if you count the 2 game series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers which was played in Australia last weekend. Those two games won’t affect my predictions so I think I’m okay there. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series last year and the good thing there is a new season is on the brink and everyone has a chance. Lets get to it!

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AL East

1) Tampa Bay Rays
2) Boston Red Sox
3) Baltimore Orioles
4) New York Yankees
5) Toronto Blue Jays
Analysis: For years this division has been the toughest in baseball, but not this season. I picked Tampa last year to get to the World Series, but they battled a lot of injuries and didn’t have such a great offensive season. I think they will be a little different this year and they are always surrounded by young stars in the pitching rotation. Boston still has a strong team, but will their bullpen be as sharp as last year? Will they stay away from injuries and will their young stars be consistent all season? Baltimore may make a run for the wild card, but it’s their pitching that concerns me more than their hitting.

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AL Central
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Kansas City Royals
3) Minnesota Twins
4) Cleveland Indians
5) Chicago White Sox
Analysis: I still believe the Tigers will finish in first in their division even without Jim Leyland and first year manager, Brad Ausmus. They still have the best team, hitting wise and pitching wise in their division and maybe possibly the whole American League. The teams that follow them are still wide open to me and I think two surprises will be the Royals and the Twins. The Indians can still put together a good year and compete for 2nd place but I think the Royals and Twins have more depth to last through the season.

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AL West
1) Oakland Athletics
2) Seattle Mariners
3) Texas Rangers
4) Los Angeles Angels
5) Houston Astros
Analysis: This is a tough division to predict, but my gut tells me that Oakland will be the team to break out so that’s what I’m going with. I hate to also buy onto all the offseason moves that Seattle made, but aside from their young offensive players and the signing of Robinson Cano, their pitching staff doesn’t look too bad and they have a reliable closer to string together wins. The Rangers always have the ability to finish in first, but I have them in third since they got off to a rough start with injuries. With the Angels, this may be the year where Scioscia gets canned and I still don’t think it’s all his fault. They are offensively stacked, but also aging with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols if they ever return to form. They don’t have the depth in pitching to hang on all season and Mike Trout won’t be able to carry them 162 games this year.

AL Playoffs
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Oakland Athletics
3) Tampa Bay Rays
Wild Card
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Baltimore Orioles

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AL Champions
Oakland Athletics

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NL East
1) Washington Nationals
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Philadelphia Phillies
4) Miami Marlins
5) New York Mets
Analysis: This was a competitive division a few years ago and it’s getting less and less. I liked Atlanta in the offseason and even last season, but they have taken big hits with injuries in their starting rotation. They also have a lot of inconsistencies in hitting with Uggla and BJ Upton who never really came around last season. The Nationals are really building a beast for Matt Williams and I think they have the ability to win well over 100 games this year if they stay healthy for the most part. The Phillies will be competitive and may be just on the outside of the Wild Card race. I think they’ll have a better year than most “experts” expect. I also took the Marlins out of the cellar. I think they have pieces to grow and to be… eh, decent?

NL Central
1) Pittsburgh Pirates
2) St. Louis Cardinals
3) Cincinnati Reds
4) Milwaukee Brewers
5) Chicago Cubs
Analysis: This is undoubtedly one of the best divisions in all of baseball. The race of the top 3 will be an exciting one once again and maybe add a fourth with the Brewers who have a, not-so-bad starting rotation and the return of their MVP, Ryan Braun. The Pirates and Cardinals will fight it out for most of the year, but I think the potential is that the top 3 (as I have it) will all be playing at least a game in the post-season. It’s hard to pick the Cubs to break the mold with the lack of offensive firepower. They will have to make some moves to show they can compete with these teams.

NL West
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
2) San Francisco Giants
3) San Diego Padres
4) Colorado Rockies
5) Arizona Diamondbacks
Analysis: Are the Dodgers the team to beat in the National League? Living in LA I would say most people would think so, but I’m not too sure. They are starting the season with attitude issues with Puig, Kershaw and Kemp on the DL. I think the Giants can give them fits for first place, at least for the first half of the season. The Giants went through injuries last year that caused a down year, but they have a good core offensively and they always have their strong pitching to lean on (watch for Lincecum to have a bounce back season).

NL Playoffs
1) Washington Nationals
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
3) Pittsburgh Pirates
Wild Card
4) St. Louis Cardinals
5) San Francisco Giants

NL Champions
Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series Champions
Los Angeles Dodgers
over Oakland Athletics

If all goes into my predictions this team will become victorious. It won’t be an easy season for them and I know they are the favorites going into this season (based on Vegas odds), the favorites are the Dodgers and the Tigers to go to the World Series in their respective Leagues. The Dodgers will have to fight through the pressure and the expectations of a huge salary cap, lots of star players, and lots of egos and competing with the National League which is stronger than the American League (in my opinion). If they get there, they will have to be solid in the bullpen, fight through injuries, possibly make some trades mid year, to figure out the outfield situation of having Kemp, Ethier, Crawford, and Puig and also fight through stability in their rotation. Let the season begin!

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2013-14 NBA Predictions

In light of the new NBA season that starts tomorrow night, I will jump right into my predictions for divisional rankings, as well as the top 8 teams I think will be making the playoffs for each conference. As an Orlando Magic fan, I am hopeful that the Magic can put together a solid season and make it into the playoffs. But in a league where the great teams are clearly dominant, would it be worth my team making the playoffs when they will most likely fall in the first round? As much as I would love to see Orlando make their way into the post season again, a part of me wants them to lose and attempt to win the biggest lottery and win the rights of selecting Andrew Wiggins in next years draft. We will all see what happens starting tomorrow!

Eastern Conference

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Atlantic Division
1) Brooklyn Nets
2) New York Knicks
3) Toronto Raptors
4) Boston Celtics
5) Philadelphia 76ers
Analysis: The Nets made the most moves in the offseason which may impact with the most veterans that can get them the division win. The Knicks are attempting to get younger, but as long as Amar’e can stay healthy, they will have a good season and may compete with Brooklyn for 1st in division. Toronto will be my surprise team for this division and may squeak into the playoffs. Boston and Philly will compete with last as they are both re-building. Philly may want to tank to also win the Andrew Wiggins lottery, but I think Boston will pass them only because they’ll probably “steal” a few wins when Rondo is back in the lineup.

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Central Division
1) Chicago Bulls
2) Detroit Pistons
3) Indiana Pacers
4) Milwaukee Bucks
5) Cleveland Cavs
Analysis: I think this division has the potential to be the strongest in the Eastern Conference. With Derrick Rose coming back and looking strong in the pre-season, I think the obvious favorites are the Bulls. My surprise team is the Pistons. I really like the offseason moves they made and I think it makes them slightly better than the Pacers. I only pick the Pacers for third because I can’t believe they would fall so far, but wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucks or Cavs finished above them. The reason I didn’t pick that is because the Bucks and Cavs have way too many question marks or too many players that may or may not be beasts. The Cavs have a ton of young talent, but they may be a year or two away and they have a lot of injury question marks as well.

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Southeast Division
1) Miami Heat
2) Washington Wizards
3) Charlotte Bobcats
4) Atlanta Hawks
5) Orlando Magic
Analysis: This is going to be a runaway. Will this be the year Miami takes the best record ever? After Miami winning division, there should be no other team even close to them. Washington has a lot of upside with the trade they just made and a lot of young talent, but the key for them to make their way back to the post season is the health of John Wall. Charlotte is another young team on the rise and they have the right pieces to have a mediocre season. An Atlanta team without Josh Smith and not a lot of big playmakers means a big drop off. Orlando will have a few games where they look really good, but they have way too many young players with not a lot of experience to make a splash this season.

Eastern Conference
1) Miami Heat
2) Chicago Bulls
3) Brooklyn Nets
4) New York Knicks
5) Toronto Raptors
6) Detroit Pistons
7) Indiana Pacers
8) Washington Wizards

Eastern Conference Champions
Miami Heat

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Western Conference

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Northwest Division
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
2) Portland Trail Blazers
3) Minnesota Timberwolves
4) Denver Nuggets
5) Utah Jazz
Analysis: Even without Russell Westbrook, the OkC team should win this division somewhat easily. I have Portland and Minnesota flipping positions with Denver and Utah. I think Portland was very young last year and was rebuilding and this year they should have a very solid team. Minnesota is more of a gamble for me even though they also have a solid team with a lot of talent. They are injury prone with players like Rubio and Love, and if the team is struggling, Kevin Love may get traded and my prediction will come crashing down with it. I am a fan of Brian Shaw and I think he’s going to make for a good NBA coach, but the fall of Denver this year will show what type of impact not having George Karl makes. Utah doesn’t have a lot of talent, or enough to keep up with the other teams in this division.

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Pacific Division
1) Los Angeles Clippers
2) Golden State Warriors
3) Los Angeles Lakers
4) Phoenix Suns
5) Sacramento Kings
Analysis: It’s the top 2 teams and everyone else in this division. The Clippers and the Warriors clearly have the most depth on their roster so even if they sustain injuries, the rest of the team should be able to carry the load. I always believed that Del Negro was holding back the Clippers and that won’t be the case with Doc Rivers coaching the team. The Warriors will be consistent like they were last year, but the key to their team is to keep Steph Curry and David Lee/Andrew Bogut healthy. The Lakers are going to have a rough year, but pending on when Kobe is back, he will will this team to 3rd in division, but really no higher than that. Phoenix and Sacramento are still re-building teams in my mind and they have a lot of young unexperienced players. Although, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if Phoenix flipped spots with the Lakers.

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Southwest Division
1) San Antonio Spurs
2) Houston Rockets
3) Dallas Mavericks
4) New Orleans Pelicans
5) Memphis Grizzlies
Analysis: This by far the hardest division to pick and the strongest division in the Western Conference. For all I know, this division can be completely flipped of how I picked it and Memphis finishing in last may still make the playoffs and I don’t think any of these teams will have a losing record at year’s end. San Antonio always seem to get older, but just get more experienced. They do a great job resting their stars during the regular season knowing they’ll make the playoffs regardless. Houston made the biggest offseason splash by signing Dwight Howard, but is he as healthy as he was when in Orlando? Not completely sure yet, but either way Houston should be good. Dallas made some offseason moves also, has Dirk back and healthy, and have a lot of young stars in the making. New Orleans is another team with a lot of young talent that are ready to shine, but their success will be based off health like so many others. Memphis didn’t really gain any pieces in the offseason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad as they all have experience with each other, but not enough to really climb the rankings this season.

Western Conference
1) Los Angeles Clippers
2) Oklahoma City Thunder
3) San Antonio Spurs
4) Golden State Warriors
5) Houston Rockets
6) Dallas Mavericks
7) New Orleans Pelicans
8) Portland Trailblazers

Western Conference Champions
Houston Rockets

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NBA Finals
Miami Heat over Houston Rockets

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So there you have it. I predict the Heat to win once again and I hate the Heat, but they are clearly the best team that has not only the most depth, but the most talent, and probably the best player in the NBA in his prime. Regardless of Wade’s health, the Heat should be just as dominant as they have been over the last few years and they are another team that knows their limits during the regular season where they will be completely amped by the post season. The West has a whole is very talented, but may beat each other up in the playoffs by the time a team emerges in the Finals. Miami’s only real competition in the east is the Chicago Bulls and I would be the first person to say I hope the Bulls can beat them, but it’s difficult to predict it when you haven’t seen it. LeBron should also win another MVP award and people should probably get used to seeing the imagine above.  

2013-14 NFL Predictions

National Football Conference

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NFC East
1) Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
2) Washington Redskins (10-6)
3) New York Giants (9-7)
4) Dallas Cowboys (7-9)

Analysis: Like from years of the past, this division is always up for grabs and get switch around week to week. I think the new Eagles offense ran by Chip Kelly is going to lead them to first place. They have a slightly easier schedule than the Redskins and the two games between the two may decide the winner of the division. The Giants and Cowboys will be fighting for the bottom of their division. I have high hopes (as usual) for my Giants, but they already had a lot of injuries hit them hard during the pre-season. If they are fighting to be healthy all year it may not end well. Tony Romo has a lot to prove this year, but I still don’t think they made enough off-season changes to change their luck.

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NFC North
1) Green Bay Packers (11-5)
2) Detroit Lions (11-5)
3) Chicago Bears (8-8)
4) Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Analysis: Not too sure about this division, but I know when the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they will always be one of the best teams. They are counting on two rookies to carry the load for the rushing game and their defense is shaky, but you can always count on the high powered passing game. The Lions offense improved by adding Reggie Bush to the mix. Stafford will have a comeback year and is always a threat when you have Calvin Johnson. The Bears will decline this season in my opinion as Brandon Marshall may not be fully healthy, Cutler is always a question mark, and Forte needs to stay healthy.

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NFC South
1) Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
2) New Orleans Saints (10-6)
3) Carolina Panthers (7-9)
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10)
Analysis: In my opinion, Atlanta still has the strongest team in this division. The Saints are consistently good as long as they have Drew Brees on offense, but will their defense struggle again this season? I think Cam Newton will have a better season this year than last, but the struggle of holding onto wins may be a problem. I like Tampa’s team, but it all rides on the shoulders of Josh Freeman. If he has a good season, I see them competing with the Saints for 2nd in the division, but I haven’t seen enough to pick them to have a good season.

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NFC West
1) San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
2) Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
3) Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
4) St. Louis Rams (8-8)
Analysis: One of the most competitive divisions in all of football. The 49ers and Seahawks will duel all season for top of the conference. Arizona will be the surprise team, where they improved their QB situation with Carson Palmer, a reliable passing option to get the ball to their playmaker, Larry Fitzgerald. They also added Mendenhall for their rush attack and their defense doesn’t look too bad either. The Rams may be a surprise team also, but they have a lot of question marks and not proven players quite yet, like Sam Bradford and Tayvon Austin on offense.

Playoffs
1) San Francisco 49ers
2) Atlanta Falcons
3) Seattle Seahawks
4) Green Bay Packers
5) Philadelphia Eagles
6) Detroit Lions

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NFC Champion: Seattle Seahawks

American Football Conference

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AFC East
1) New England Patriots (13-3)
2) Miami Dolphins (9-7)
3) Buffalo Bills (6-10)
4) New York Jets (3-13)
Analysis: This isn’t the year where a team topples the Patriots over. A team without Aaron Hernandez and at the moment, Rob Gronkowski, won’t affect their success in a weak division. Miami will have a decent year and may even win 10 games and sneak into the playoffs. Buffalo and the Jets will fight for the cellar and won’t be pretty to watch. The one positive for both teams would be to get NFL experience for EJ Manual and Geno Smith.

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AFC North
1) Cincinnati Bengals (13-3)
2) Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
3) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-10)
4) Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Analysis: This division may be a bit of a runaway. I think the Bengals are the far more superior team where they have great offense and defense, they are young and talented and will go far. A bit of a sleeper pick for the Super Bowl in the AFC. There is a drop off for Baltimore being that their defense was always their strong point and they lost a lot of their starters from their Super Bowl winning team. Pittsburgh always seem to get older and more fragile, yet find a way to get it done. This may be the year, where they decline and look for a change of pace during next offseason.

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AFC South
1) Houston Texans (12-4)
2) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
3) Tennessee Titans (8-8)
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
Analysis: Houston and Indy will compete for the top spot again, where both teams are equally strong. Houston bulked up their defense, but they have to be careful with running Foster into the ground. Will there be a sophomore slump for Andrew Luck? I don’t think so. He has a lot of strong pieces around him and I see another successful year, if not better year for Luck and the Colts. Tennessee will improve this season, but they just don’t have enough pieces to compete with Houston or Indianapolis. 

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AFC West
1) Denver Broncos (14-2)
2) Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
3) San Diego Chargers (5-11)
4) Oakland Raiders (2-14)
Analysis: Now this division is a runaway and probably the weakest overall division. The Broncos are obviously the strongest team led by Peyton Manning. The suspension to Von Miller shouldn’t hurt their defense too much. The Chiefs will have a respectable comeback year led by Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles. Andy Reid should change the attitude in KC, but this won’t be the year they make it back to the post season. San Diego is on a decline, but not as much as Oakland where they really just don’t have an identity or really even a dependable QB.

Playoffs
1) Denver Broncos
2) New England Patriots
3) Cincinnati Bengals
4) Houston Texans
5) Indianapolis Colts
6) Miami Dolphins

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AFC Champions: Denver Broncos

Super Bowl: Seattle Seahawks over Denver Broncos

Marshawn Lynch would be extremely happy if they won it all!

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All-Star Break and Mid-Season Grades

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You can close the books on the first half of the MLB season and you’ve seen some players have excellent halves, horrible halves, and teams climb their way out of the cellar. We are nearing the trade deadline (end of July) and there may be some big trades to move stars to teams that are contenders.

The 2013 All-Star Game was played last night where American League pitching completely shut down the National League All-Stars, holding the NL to just 3 hits. The highlight of the game was when Mariano Rivera (pictured above) entered the game in the 8th. He was the only player to take the field to his familiar intro “Enter Sandman”. Fans of all MLB teams in the stands, his AL All-Star teammates, and NL All-Star peers gave him a standing ovation. Well deserved. For a guy that has been in the biggest situations year after year, he still got choked up, which shows he is human after all, not just the greatest closer of all-time. Out of his 18 seasons, Rivera has been an all-star 13 times. His first being in 1997 and his last being this season, 2013. He’s pitched in 9 of those games, where he has given up no earned runs and only 5 hits. Not so surprising when you take a look at his overall stats, which I will be sure to break down when the season comes to an end.

The first half of the season had memorable moments such as Homer Bailey throwing his 2nd career no-hitter against the Giants and not even 2 weeks later, Tim Lincecum of the Giants threw his own no-hitter against the Padres. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is hitting .315 with 70 runs, 35 home runs, and 93 RBIs, while last year’s triple crown winner, Miguel Cabrera is hitting .365 with 73 runs, 30 home runs, and 95 RBIs. We’re in for another great half of the season, which will be filled with individual milestones, trades, and most importantly, the race to the post season. Here are my grades from the first half!

{The standings below reflect my predictions from the beginning of the season}
[Numbers in brackets and bold reflect where the team is in the standings now]

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NL East
1) Atlanta Braves                [1]   B+
2) Washington Nationals     [2]    C-
3) Philadelphia Phillies        [3]    C 
4) New York Mets               [4]    D+
5) Miami Marlins                 [5]    D-

Analysis: If Atlanta was healthier, they would be running away with this division. Most would say they already are, but the type of players Washington has in the rotation and in their lineup, they can always make a run. This is a 2 team race for the division, but there is also a good chance Washington makes a run for the Wild Card. The Phillies made it to .500 on the last day of the first half, but I feel like with Howard getting hurt, they may be looking to trade away some pieces. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them give up Utley and possibly Ruiz to get some prospects in return and look into the future. The Braves have a lot of upside when they get Beachy back and if BJ Upton and Dan Uggla ever get their batting average above .250.

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NL Central
1) Cincinnati Reds        [3]   B+
2) St. Louis Cardinals   [1]   A+
3) Pittsburgh Pirates     [2]   A
4) Milwaukee Brewers  [5]   F
5) Chicago Cubs           [4]   C

Analysis: I give the Reds a B+ because even though they are sitting in 3rd, the top 3 teams in this division may still make the playoffs. The Reds would be in 2nd place or maybe even first place if they were in other division. They just need to be a little more effective on the road. Pittsburgh is the team to talk about because everything is clicking for them. They have solid starting pitching, bullpen, and hitting. I expect to see them make a move or two to bulk up their rotation so they can compete with St. Louis down the stretch. Just a few things to look for, the Brewers and Cubs are basically out of it, so watch for them to move some of their players, such as Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, and they may be on contenders by August.

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NL West
1) San Francisco Giants     [4]   D+
2) Los Angeles Dodgers     [2]   A-
3) San Diego Padres          [5]   D-
4) Arizona Diamondbacks  [1]   B+
5) Colorado Rockies           [3]   C

Analysis: So this division is just confusing and jumbled from what I originally thought. I wouldn’t count San Francisco out of it yet, but they REALLY need some hitting. I wouldn’t be surprised if they looked to trade Lincecum for some hitting in return. Also, they have a solid bullpen guy, Javier Lopez that can probably be used as a closer elsewhere. Detroit would love a guy like that. The Dodgers have really picked it up since they promoted Puig to the majors and really gave them some life. They made a deal to bring Nolasco to help the starters and I don’t think they are done. Getting Matt Kemp back healthy would be like trading for an upgrade also. Arizona is hanging onto first for dear life, but I still think they will drop out of the playoff hunt, but probably not 4th like I originally predicted.

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AL East
1) Tampa Bay Rays      [2]    A
2) Toronto Blue Jays    [5]     D
3) Boston Red Sox       [1]    A
4) New York Yankees   [4]    B-
5) Baltimore Orioles      [3]    B+

Analysis: So I was completely wrong about Toronto and Baltimore, but that’s okay. I still think Tampa will take the division and they are only 2.5 games out of first to start the second half. They always seem to make a second half run and they are better mid-season this year than they have been in the past. I like Baltimore’s team especially if Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and the rest of their lineup can keep up the pace, but they won’t be able to do it without another starter. Maybe Matt Garza is in their future. Boston is hanging in there and still has a great chance to make the playoffs, but the end of their bullpen has had injury issues and Clay Bucholtz needs to come back healthy as Jon Lester has been struggling. The Yankees should get Derek Jeter back soon and possibly A-Rod, but I still don’t think they have much of a chance this season.

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AL Central
1) Detroit Tigers             [1]   A
2) Cleveland Indians      [2]   B+
3) Chicago White Sox    [5]   D-
4) Kansas City Royals    [3]   B
5) Minnesota Twins        [4]   D

Analysis: The Tigers will look to improve their team for the playoffs because they will definitely be getting in. Miguel Cabrera is having another incredible season and their pitching staff has been impressive as well. Many didn’t think Cleveland would be hanging around as long as they have, but I liked their team to start the season, but can they hang on? Aside from the last week, KC had brought themselves back up and is making it a race somewhat. A young team that is starting to put it together and they have a bright future, but probably not this season.

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AL West
1) Los Angeles Angels  [3]    D
2) Oakland Athletics     [1]    A+
3) Seattle Mariners       [4]    C
4) Texas Rangers        [2]    B+
5) Houston Astros        [5]    F

Analysis: The Oakland Athletics are the most enjoyable team to watch in the AL, and quite possibly the league. They have a ton of likable guys and a lot of talent. I foresee them making moves at the trade deadline and may be a good destination for Chase Utley or Carlos Ruiz. The Angels are one of those teams that had high expectations yet again going into this season and is just not performing. They have high priced guys like Josh Hamilton, CJ Wilson, and Albert Pujols that just aren’t putting up great numbers and may be making too much to trade away. Texas has been one of the most consistent teams in the majors over the last 5 seasons and they continue to do it with both pitching and hitting. They are a shoe in for the playoffs, its just a matter of beating out Oakland for home field and NOT the wild card.

NBA Finals Prediction and Preview

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It’s the beginning of June which means we have our conference champions! Congrats to the San Antonio Spurs and to the Miami Heat. As successful as I was in the Semi’s for predicting the series, I was quite wrong on the conference finals. The Spurs played the series so fast, you may even have forgotten who they beat. The team they beat was the Memphis Grizzlies who had played great up until that series. At hindsight, San Antonio steam rolled through their competition in the playoffs and only losing a total of 2 games in the first 3 rounds. The last time the Spurs played a game it was on May 27th when they beat Memphis by 7 points while Tony Parker knocked down 37 points. Did someone say the Spurs were old and worn out? They haven’t looked like it. I always hear analysts say how rest kills a team’s momentum, but I think in this case with a veteran lineup with the likes of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan, they’ll be well rested and ready to play on Thursday. As for the Eastern Conference champions, they struggled their way through a 7 game series against the Pacers. The Pacers gave them all they can handle, but going into the playoffs I knew Indiana had a good defense, but the question was always can the score points consistently. When you play a team like Miami, you can frustrate them on the defensive side of the ball, but you still have to put the rock in the basket. Let’s jump right into the analysis and prediction.

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#1 Miami Heat
vs.

#2 San Antonio Spurs
3rd round outcome: Miami over Indiana in 7. San Antonio over Memphis in 4.
3rd round prediction: Miami in 5. Memphis in 6.
Analysis: I already jumped into some of the analysis of each of the teams playing in the Finals in the Intro, but let’s get a little deeper. San Antonio may not be the most fun to watch on the court, but they play defense, they drive the ball in the paint, they post up, they don’t turn the ball over often, they never quit when behind, and they always seem to get the job done. As I mentioned before, the Spurs have only lost 2 games during the post season and they were both to the Warriors. This isn’t the first time a Gregg Popovich coached Spurs team has face LeBron James in the NBA Finals. They swept the Cavaliers back in 2007, but LeBron is a different player than he was back then and has a supporting cast, but I’ll get to that. The Spurs really had a remarkable year and they always seem to be at the tops of the Western Conference. Tim Duncan had arguably one of the best seasons in his career, while Tony Parker has been ailing, but he was insanely good last round. If there is a team that can beat Miami, this is probably the team, especially how disciplined and experienced they are.

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As for Miami, this is their (count it) third straight year reaching the NBA Finals. The first year they fell to the Dallas Mavericks, last year they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, and now they play San Antonio who are not too far off from the type of team Dallas was 2 years ago. LeBron has improved his game over the last few years (if that’s even possible). He can knock down three’s, he can pass the ball spot on, he can knock down a jumper anywhere on the court, and oh yeah, he can post up if they need him to. The Heat got a lot of criticism from fans and analysts through the Eastern Conference Finals for the poor play from his supporting cast (more specifically, Wade and Bosh). However, Wade stepped up in Game 7 when it really mattered. What really hurt the Heat against the Pacers was their inability to rebound. Miami is a fairly small team generally speaking, but when you have shooters like that, you can manage a game without winning the rebound battle. It may hurt Miami more in this series because as Indiana lacks shooting percentage, San Antonio does not have that problem. Miami came off a little vulnerable in the last series, but knowing they are 4 wins away from back to back championships, is this when adrenaline and LeBron’s super powers come out and shine under the lights? 

Prediction: San Antonio over Miami in 6.

As a reminder, to start the season I predicted the Miami Heat would beat the Oklahoma City Thunder (again) this season, so I’m 50% right that Miami would make it here again (not a shocker). I’m hoping for three things personally as I watch the Finals: 1) That the officials let these two teams play and showcase their talents and don’t ruin it by excessive flopping mis-calls. 2) That all games played are competitive and don’t lack super star shows (i.e. LeBron knocking down 50). and 3) I wouldn’t be sad if the Spurs somehow swept Miami.

After the Finals are complete, there are about 3 months off but it doesn’t stop any of the potential off-season excitement. Keep on the look out for posts about coaching changes, free agency signings, trades, the NBA draft, and of course the 2013-14 NBA schedule. And, good riddance to David Stern!

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