Celtics take on challenge, sweep Durant/Irving Nets out of playoffs — ProBasketballTalk | NBC Sports

Boston showed off an elite defense, depth, great chemistry, plus it had the best player in the series in Jayson Tatum.

Celtics take on challenge, sweep Durant/Irving Nets out of playoffs — ProBasketballTalk | NBC Sports

NBA Playoff Predictions (First Round)

Eastern Conference:

#1 Miami over #8 Cleveland/Atlanta 4-1

In a post this morning, I picked the Hawks to eliminate the Cavs. That said, I’ll take the Heat in five games in this series.

#2 Boston over #7 Brooklyn 4-2

The Celtics look like they are for real, but they will get a challenge from Brooklyn in this series.

#3 Milwaukee over #6 Chicago 4-1

The defending champs gets perhaps the most favorable draw in the first round, as the Bulls are trending in the wrong direction.

#4 Philadelphia over #3 Toronto 4-3

I question the Sixers’ depth going forward.

Western Conference:

#1 Phoenix over #8 LA Clippers/New Orleans 4-1

I picked the Clips in the play-in game, but they run into a buzz saw here.

#2 Memphis over #7 Minnesota 4-1

Ja Morant and company cruise in round one.

#3 Golden State over #6 Denver 4-3

Will the Warriors be able to physically hold up long enough to battle the playoff-tested Nuggets?

#5 Utah over #4 Dallas 4-3

Donovan Mitchell vs Luka Doncic. Should be fun.

NBA Play-In Predictions

Friday, April 15, 2022:

Eastern Conference:

#9 Atlanta over #8 Cleveland

The Hawks will use their playoff experience to leapfrog the Cavs into the #8 seed. Their reward will be getting the #1 Miami Heat in the first round.

Western Conference:

#8 LA Clippers over #9 New Orleans

The Clippers move on to play the top seeded Phoenix Suns.

NBA Play-In Predictions

Eastern Conference:

#7 Brooklyn over #8 Cleveleand

The Nets pose a fairly serious threat to the Celtics and the rest of the Eastern Conference as a scary seven seed. Meanwhile, the Cavs must win another play-in game to move on.

Western Conference:

#8 LA Clippers over #7 Minnesota

The Clippers are just starting to get it together, while the Wolves will need to regroup after losing this one at home.

NFL Divisional Round Playoff Predictions

AFC:

Cincinnati at Tennessee

The Bengals and their fans can finally celebrate a playoff victory after 31 years.  Their win against Las Vegas was a struggle at points during the game, however, Joe Burrow and company are moving on.  Cincinnati will have to push through a handful of injuries, especially to its defensive line.  Tackle Larry Ogunjobi is out, while tackle Mike Daniels’ groin injury would make him doubtful.  Meanwhile, impactful end Trey Hendrickson needs to clear concussion protocol.

The Titans have their own big injury question, namely running back Derrick Henry.  Tennessee’s head coach, Mike Vrabel, anticipates a “big week” for the burly All Pro, regarding getting back up to speed in preparation for Cincinnati’s defense.

The Bengals’ defense was middle of the pack before the key injuries to their line.  I look for the Titans to exploit that, with or without an effective Henry, managing the clock, and keeping Burrow, Ja’ Marr Chase, and the explosive Cincinnati offense off the field.

Tennessee 23 Cincinnati 17

Buffalo at Kansas City

The Bills looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders in their opening round rout of New England.  Indeed, after a lull earlier in the season, Sean McDermott has Buffalo firing on all cylinders, with quarterback Josh Allen portraying a world of confidence as he carves up opposing defenses.  This will be an interesting test at Arrowhead Stadium this coming week.

The Chiefs did nothing to quell Kansas City’s Super Bowl aspirations in their first-round matchup with Pittsburgh.  Andy Reid’s troops have won 10 out of 11 after a slide of their own.  While quarterback Patrick Mahomes, receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce garner the headlines, it’s the defense that has been responsible for much of this Kansas City run.

Playing at Arrowhead is a tough task for any offense, especially one that is facing a hot defense.  I like Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to utilize a scheme that will slow Allen down just enough and gives Mahomes and company the opportunity to outscore the Bills.

Kansas City 27 Buffalo 21

NFC:

LA Rams at Tampa Bay

Matthew Stafford enjoyed his first playoff win in the first ever Monday night playoff game.  He leads a Rams squad that spread the wealth running the ball (Sony Michel 58 yards rushing, Cam Akers 55 yards rushing, Cooper Kupp 5 receptions and a touchdown, Odell Beckham Jr. 4 catches and a score, Tyler Higbee 3 receptions for 46 yards) and must now go on the road against the defending champions.

Tampa Bay had an easy time with Philadelphia in the first round, but Tom Brady’s supporting cast is depleting.    Already having lost top wideout Chris Godwin to an ACL, the Bucs had to play against the Eagles without running back Leonard Fournette due to a hamstring injury.  Furthermore, running back Ronald Jones’ injury woes and the well-publicized termination of wideout Antonio Brown adds to Brady’s dilemma. 

I went 6-0 predicting first round games, in part because I took a road team (San Francisco) to pull an upset.  I would not head there with this game if the Bucs were at full strength.  That said, I think LA’s defense, especially their heavy hitters, can do enough to slow Brady and company down.  The question is will Tampa’s defense be able to do the same to Stafford and company.

This one is a coin flip.  I don’t want to be a home team homer, so…….

LA Rams 20 Tampa Bay 17

San Francisco at Green Bay

The Niners made me look good this past weekend via their controversial win at Dallas.  Not flashy, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo just wins games, leading a balanced offensive attack that features running back Elijah Mitchell, receiver Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle, and do-everything Deebo Samuel. 

Meanwhile, the Packers are just waiting to play a meaningful game, having clinched home field in week 17.  Everyone knows what the Packers bring, with Aaron Rodgers, backs Aaron Jones and Austin Dillon, and wideout DaVante Adams.  The difference just might be an underrated Green Bay defense that could pose problems for San Francisco.

I love the Niners.  I really do.  However, I think the Packers defense will do to Garoppolo and company what Dallas could not.  The 49ers struggle in a cold night game at Lambeau Field, while Rodgers and his cohorts feel right at home.

Green Bay 30 San Francisco 17

League Championship Series Thoughts 10-20-2021

Astros 9 Red Sox 2 (Series Tied 2-2)

Good old Laz Diaz. He usually finds himself in the middle of something, and usually in a negative manner. Game Four’s home plate umpire missed 23 pitches, whether strikes that should have been called balls, or balls that should have been called strikes. None was more important than the pitch he called a ball from Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to the Astros’ Jason Castro in a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth. Clearly in the strike zone, the pitch should have ended the inning. Instead, given new life, Castro singled to give Houston the lead and the Astros piled on from there. Game over. Series tied.

So, Game Four will be known as the Laz Diaz game, just as another game four from many moons ago in 1999. In that fateful game, since retired umpired made a crucial call on a “tag” by Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch applied to Boston’s Jose Offerman. This was another potential series altering call.

But let’s also not forget the anemic Red Sox offense after the first inning last night. Boston’s unworldly offense in this postseason was shut down by a plethora of Houston relievers that has suddenly turned this series from what appeared to be a foregone conclusion to anything but. In what has become a disturbing trend on two fronts in these playoffs is Boston’s inability to put a team away by continuing to pile up runs and in holding a late lead. Games 2 and 3 vs Houston were indeed put away early, however, last night, it seemed they had Zach Greinke and relievers on the ropes only to squander opportunities. There was also Game Four against the Rays in the division series in which the Red Sox put up a five run inning and couldn’t score again until the series winning run in the ninth inning. In both games, the Sox had the lead in the eighth inning and couldn’t hold it.

While this series seemed to be tilting in Boston’s favor, we are now in a best-of-3 scenario where both team’s pitching staffs are taxed. Two of these games would be played in Houston. I am much more nervous today than I was yesterday.

National League Championship Series Prediction 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Atlanta Braves

How They Got Here:

The Dodgers fought toe to toe with the San Francisco Giants, finishing one game behind their fierce rival with 106 wins in the regular season.  After walking off the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild card game, the Dodgers dispatched the Giants in the division series in five games, winning game five 2-1.

The Braves endured a roller coaster season, which included inconsistent play, as well as the loss of their best player, Ronald Acuna Jr. to a season ending injury.  Atlanta benefitted from playing in the mediocre NL East and righted the ship to win their third consecutive division title.  The Braves eliminated the Milwaukee Brewers in 3-1 in the division series.

Offense:

The Dodgers feature an explosive offense, with the likes of Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Will Smith, and Cody Bellinger (who had a rough regular season but produced the game-winning hit to oust the Giants).

The Braves, despite the loss of Acuna, have talented guys who can swing the bat, as well, including Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Joc Pederson, and Adam Duvall.

EDGE:  Dodgers.  Too many weapons for LA not to get the edge here.

Starting Pitching:

Los Angeles will throw Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Julio Urias, but don’t be surprised to see manager Dave Roberts use any of them in a relief role.  The Dodgers’ embarrassment of riches would have been even more if Clayton Kershaw did not suffer a season ending injury.

Atlanta’s starting pitching shut down a weak Milwaukee offense, with Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson leading the way.  They face a much stiffer challenge in this round, however.

EDGE:  Dodgers

Bullpen:

Traditional bullpen roles tend to go by the wayside in October.  Case on point, Max Scherzer closed out the Giants in game five of the first round.  That said, the Dodgers feature Kenley Jansen, Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel, Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly, and Phil Bickford.  If things get hairy, however, don’t be surprised to see Roberts get creative.

The Braves feature closer Will Smith (no relation to the Dodger’s catcher of the same name), as well as Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, and AJ Minter.

EDGE:  Dodgers

Manager:

Roberts has a plethora of postseason experience and is looking for his fourth pennant in five years.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Brian Snitker has quietly had a successful run as the Braves’ manager.

EDGE:  Dodgers

Prediction:

Dodgers in 6.

The Braves gave the Dodgers a run for their money in the 2020 NLCS, losing in seven games after being up 3-1.  Unfortunately for them, Los Angeles is simply too talented and too experienced to vanquish those demons.

American League Championship Series Prediction

Boston Red Sox vs Houston Astros:

How They Got Here:

The Astros took over first place in the AL West and never really looked back, cruising to another division title.  The Red Sox meanwhile, scuffled during August and September and won on the final day of the season to secure a wild card berth.

In the postseason, the Astros took down a talented and up and coming Chicago White Sox team 3-1 to advance to the ALCS.  The Red Sox knocked off its archrival New York Yankees in the wild card game, before dispatching the top seed, 100-win Tampa Bay Rays 3-1.

Offense:

Both teams possess plenty of firepower.  The Astros have the likes of Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alverez, and Carlos Correa up and down its lineup.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox counter with Xander Boegaerts, Rafael Devers, Kyle Schwarber, Kike Hernandez, and JD Martinez.  Both squads are sure to put up their share of runs and drive up pitch counts.

EDGE:  Even

Starting Pitching:

This matchup is difficult to determine based on how the starting pitching will play out.  The Astros have concerns reportedly about Lance McCullers Jr. regarding a forearm issue.  Meanwhile, former Cy Young award winner Zach Greinke pitched only one in in relief in the division series.  Houston’s other starters, Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia, had rough outings against the White Sox, but are otherwise solid.

The Red Sox have questions, as well.  Clinching the division series a day earlier allows them to line up its best starter, Nathan Eovaldi, for game one.  Meanwhile, Chris Sale, fresh off Tommy John surgery, had a rough one-inning stint vs the Rays.  Eduardo Rodriquez pitched a great game in the clincher, however, seems to follow up good starts with bad ones.

SLIGHT EDGE:  Red Sox, only because of the uncertainty surrounding McCullers and Grienke, plus the fact Eovaldi is slated for the first game and a potential series altering game five.

Bullpen:

Ah, postseason baseball.  Mixing and matching.  Where managers find creative ways to get key outs.  For Houston, the thought of Greinke in this sort of middle relief role is intriguing, but one wonders if they would not be better served with him starting.  In addition, the Astros feature Kendall Graveman, Ryan Pressly, Phil Maton, and Ryan Stanek as part of a solid, if unspectacular bullpen.

Meanwhile, Boston has gone through a complete makeover in its pen.  Manager Alex Cora seems to have settled on rookie Garrett Whitlock as his closer, so to speak, and likes Ryan Brasier in a late inning role.  Cora can also come in with Hansel Robles and Josh Taylor, while utilizing converted starters Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck in a hybrid relief situation.  Both Pivetta and Houck played keys roles in the series against Tampa Bay.

SLIGHT EDGE:  Astros.  Houston’s bullpen has pitched well in the postseason to this point, while the Red Sox walked a tightrope in the late innings against the Rays.  In Boston’s victories in games three and four, the Red Sox blew eighth inning leads, only to win in dramatic walk-off fashion.  I expect to see Pivetta and Houck take some innings away from Robles and Brasier in this series, which may even out the bullpen matchup.

Manager:

The Astros play under the steady leadership of longtime baseball man Dusty Baker, who had the unenviable task of replacing AJ Hinch, who was let go as part of the team’s sign stealing scandal in 2017.  Baker has done a fantastic job and has Houston on the cusp of another, and legitimate, World Series appearance.

Countering Baker is Boston’s Alex Cora, who has yet to lose a postseason series.  Whether it’s making seemingly crazy, but, inevitably, the right decision, Cora seems to have an aura of magic around him.  He leads a younger generation of managers, along with Tampa’s Kevin Cash and Hinch, who has rebounded with Detroit, in guiding a team through the postseason by utilizing unorthodox methods.

EDGE:  Red Sox.  While Baker is an underrated manager, look for Cora to make a head scratching decision or two that could turn the tide of the series.

Prediction: 

Red Sox in 7.  This will be an extremely competitive series.  In the end, Cora will push the right buttons, and someone like Pivetta will turn in a performance such as Eovaldi in the hybrid role during 2018 World Series that will be the determining factor.

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